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.

 

Hitting the Road

We have pizza every Friday night—we either go out, get delivery, or heat up frozen pizza. Because Noah came home from school on a Friday night and he had not eaten much all day, we got him Sbarro at Union Station, and after that I started measuring his time at home in pizza. Pizza #2 was at the lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park two days after Christmas; pizza #3 was frozen pizza at home I dressed up a bit with parsley from my winter herb garden, vegetarian sausage, and some veggies we had on hand; pizza #4 was delivery; and the fifth and final pizza was frozen again. This seemed kind of anti-climactic and I considered suggesting we go out, but Beth was having a busy week at work and she’d come home early the day before to go see the school play at North’s school—North was not in it, but some of their friends were—so I didn’t. It was after we’d eaten that last pizza and then settled in for our last Friday night family television night that it began to seem like he really would leave in a few days. (We watched three episodes of Speechless and finished the first season, which we’ve been watching for about two years. It only ran for three seasons so I joked we might finish it in another four years.)

I know most of you with kids in college didn’t have yours home for a whole month, so I should not complain. He had a nice stay and I got to spend more time with him that anyone else because for the last two and a half weeks, Beth and North were at work and school and he and I were at home together. Of course I was working, too, but we found time to watch television, read, take walks, and run errands together. He was useful around the house, too, cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, and doing a little yard work. Thanks to him, the digital clock in the dining room that runs slow now displays the correct time, the blades of the ceiling fan in our bedroom are clean, and the air-conditioning units are out of the windows and down in the basement.

Because he doesn’t volunteer a lot, a month was about how long it took to get some minimal information about his classes and his social life out of him, but it seems like he had a good first semester. He has a couple friends, he enjoyed his classes, and his grades were good. (About a week and a half ago, I had coffee with a mom of one of Noah’s preschool classmates and while we were talking the mom of one of his best friends from kindergarten saw us and came over and we all talked about our brand new college students. All three kids seems to have adjusted well to college life and all three brought home dirty laundry. It was good to hear about his long-ago friends and how they’re doing.)

Saturday was the fourth annual Women’s March, so Noah also got to attend a protest in D.C. before he left. Beth had asked him to come film the CWA contingent, and I came along, too. North was not interested in marching on a day with sleet in the forecast, so they spent the morning at their friend Norma’s apartment and roaming around downtown Silver Spring together. 

After we dropped North off at Norma’s building, we drove to the Metro and took it to the city. I saw women with pussy hats approaching the station at Brookland and there was a group of women sitting behind us talking about picketing Mike Pence’s house who I thought were almost surely headed where we were headed. Another group of women holding hand-made signs but piled up in a way you couldn’t read them were probably also headed to the march either to participate or possibly counter protest—the annual March for Life is on Friday, and there are some early arrivals around town.

At Beth’s office building, people were gathering in the lobby, making signs, and partaking of hot drinks, juice, and snacks. It was not as big a crowd as CWA had at the first Women’s March, but there was a decent turnout, especially from one New York local. They were easy to identify because they all had matching jackets. They’d been on the road since six a.m. and seemed energetic and happy to be there. Several of them had brought their kids.

We socialized with people Beth knew, especially Mike who’s married to the CWA Secretary-Treasurer and is a photographer who’s mentored Noah from time to time. Mike and Sara’s oldest daughter Rose applied to the Visual Arts Center (where North also applied) for high school, so we talked about that and how Noah’s first semester of college went. When it was time to get going, Sara gave a short speech about what it meant to her to be at the march with her three girls, who stood with her, displaying their signs. June, the middle daughter, is ten years old and running for President in 2048. She has professional-looking buttons made already. I look forward to voting for her.

Then we set off for Freedom Plaza, as snowflakes sailed lazily through the air around us and then melted on the sidewalk. Shortly after we arrived, the snow turned to freezing rain, as predicted, but it was more like freezing drizzle, so we didn’t get soaked. There were speeches, but we were too far away from the stage to hear much, except for Las Tesis singing “El violador eres tú”, so we people-watched and read signs instead. I have to say “Any Non-Criminal 2020,” was my favorite because it matched my feelings about this Presidential race. There are some candidates I like more than others, but my bar is pretty low. (Noah and I watched the debate on Tuesday and I thought everyone came off pretty well, though he and I had similar reactions to the Warren-Sanders spat. It’s puzzling to try to imagine what actually happened because it doesn’t sound like something he’d say and she doesn’t seem like one to flat-out lie.) As always, there were also a lot of pussy hats and baby Trump balloons and someone had made a MAGA cap out of an umbrella by covering it with red cloth and attaching a bill, but instead of MAGA, it said, “IMPEACHED.” To make things complete, there were also some anti-abortion protesters with bloody fetus posters and a man with a bullhorn who got right up into Beth’s face, yelling about abortion.

Once the marching started, there were the usual chants. I always like “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.” Based on when I could hear his voice, Noah seemed to like “Say it loud, say it clear. Refugees are welcome here” best. (Sometimes it was “immigrants are welcome here.”) People were also chanting, “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter,” and “Hey, hey. Hey ho, patriarchy has got to go.” Beth said she thought that seemed like a tall order, and she’d settle for getting rid of the current President as a start.

After a while, a group started to sing, “This Little Light of Mine,” and then “We Will Overcome” and it was nice to sing something uplifting after all the chanting. The march couldn’t go in front of the White House, because Pennsylvania Ave. was blocked off and we’d gotten separated from the CWA contingent, so we abandoned plans to have Noah film the group in front of the White House and we split off from the march before it was quite done. We ducked into a Potbelly where I waited in line for almost twenty minutes to use the restroom and then we found a nearby Noodles and Company where we enjoyed a hot lunch. (I got tomato soup and mac-n-cheese with broccoli and it was quite restorative after a couple hours in the cold and wet.)

We came home and Noah and I finished the fifth and final season of Orphan Black, and North’s friend Jade came over, and after she left we all went out to dinner at Vicino, Noah’s favorite Italian restaurant and he got baked ziti, which is his favorite dish there. After North went to bed, the rest of us watched an episode of Dickinson. We’d decided we were all about finishing series or at least seasons of series before Noah left.

Sunday after various people went grocery shopping, swimming, and to the library, we continued our binge-watching. The four of us knocked out the last three episodes of the first season of Blackish, which we’ve also been watching for years. This show is in its sixth season, plus there are two spinoffs, so chances are we will never finish that one. But we were undaunted and after North went to bed, we watched the last two episodes of Dickinson.

Monday morning, Beth made a send-off breakfast of banana-chocolate chip pancakes. As we ate, we decided to skip our annual MLK day service project because the timing of Noah’s bus which left at eleven made it difficult, as most organized projects take place in the morning. North suggested we give money to an anti-racist organization in lieu of direct service and we decided on the Southern Poverty Law Center.

After breakfast, I folded the last load of laundry with Noah’s clothes in it and handed him a stack of clothes. I also prepared a bag of snacks for the bus ride to Ithaca, since there’s not always time for meals when the bus stops at rest stops. I sliced apples and carrot sticks, and put tortilla chips and walnuts in bags.

“Steph made you healthy snacks and I got you a candy bar,” Beth observed to Noah. “Who loves you more?”

At ten a.m., we left for Union Station and dropped Noah off at the bus bay thirty-five minutes later. There were a lot of parents hugging their college-aged kids and one mom trying to get on the bus with something her son forgot. We got drinks at one of the Starbucks inside the station afterward and while we were sitting just off the ornate lobby partaking of them, Noah texted to say he’d forgotten his brown bag of food. My impulse was to rush to the car and get it, but it was the exact time the bus was supposed to leave and when we got back to the car it wasn’t there anyway. He’d left it in his room. Well, so much for providing him with something healthy… I ate the apple slices and carrot sticks with my own lunch.

So, as I write, Noah’s on a bus, speeding toward Ithaca and his second semester of college. He’ll be playing percussion in the non-music majors band, which means he’ll have a musical outlet, which makes me happy. He’s also taking a computer science class, an environmental science class, Intro to Audio, and Intro to Media Industries (which is about the ethical, legal,  technological, economic and creative issues raised by new media). We’ll see him in early March when he comes home for spring break. As I told him as he got on the bus, I’ll miss him but I’m proud of him.

28/7

Noah’s still home and as a result, we’ve been trying to watch all the things with him, in different combinations. We all went to see Little Women last weekend (four thumbs up), and he and I went to see Parasite a few days ago (thought-provoking and recommended if you’ve got the stomach for some violence—the end is a bit of a bloodbath). On the small screen, the four of us continue to make incremental progress on the first seasons of both Speechless and Blackish, both of which we’ve been watching for years; Beth, Noah, and I have started Dickinson (which is very strange and very good); and Noah and I are nearing the end of the fifth and final season of the crazy complicated and addictive drama Orphan Black, which we started last summer. Noah and I are reading, too. We finished American War and we’re more than halfway through The Testaments. I think we’ll manage to finish it before he goes back to school on MLK day.

We had a little snow in the middle of last week, about a half inch, that resulted in an early dismissal and a two-hour delay, but North went to school for at least part of the day every day, which I count as a win this time of the year. Plus, it was the kind of snow that clings prettily to tree branches, and turns lawns white, but doesn’t stick to the sidewalks, so there was nothing to shovel. Noah and I took a lovely walk through the falling snow on Tuesday afternoon and ended up at Starbucks, where I got a mocha and he got his standard winter drink—the caramel apple spice. He enjoys the idea of hot apple juice with whipped cream (and the reality, too).

And speaking of things that happen in January, Beth and I had an anniversary this weekend. On Saturday it was the twenty-eighth anniversary of our commitment ceremony and the seventh anniversary of our legal wedding. This means we’ve now been married for a quarter of the time we wanted to be. I am looking forward to watching that fraction get bigger with time.

Beth was awake and looking at her phone before I woke up on Saturday and when I started stirring she told me Facebook had made us an anniversary video, which means it wished us a happy anniversary before either of us had wished to each other. Ah, modern life…

Beth took North to therapy and then they ran some errands while Noah and I watched Orphan Black. In the late morning, I started making our anniversary cake, which we served at our commitment ceremony and I’ve made on almost all our anniversaries since then. (In the early years I forgot once or twice.) It’s a spice cake, with a lemon glaze. Last year I mixed things up by making an orange glaze and there were protests. North went over to Zoë’s house around noon and after the remaining three of us had lunch and Beth did a little work, we watched three episodes of Dickinson, then Noah and I read a couple sections of The Testaments and I frosted the cake, adding some red sugar, leftover from Christmas baking.

Beth and I left around four o’clock to go on our anniversary date—Harriet and dinner at a Burmese restaurant. It was interesting to see this movie when we did because on New Year’s Day, Beth, Noah, and I went on a first day hike on an Underground Railroad trail at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park. It’s a guided hike, with two interpreters providing background about the Underground Railroad in Montgomery County as you walk through the woods. I recommend the hike, if you’re local. It’s usually not done in the winter, though—they added a New Year’s Day hike this year—so you’ll have to wait until spring if you want to do it. It’s not dramatized, but it’s full of interesting stories and it really makes you think about what it would be like when you’re walking in the very place escaped enslaved people once did. I also enjoyed the film, despite some hokey moments. Harriet Tubman’s story is a truly amazing and inspiring one. (Beth said it made her annoyed all over again that she’s not on the twenty-dollar bill yet.)

After the film we went to dinner at Mandalay, which is one of our stand-by restaurants. There was a surprisingly long wait, but once the food came it was delicious, as usual, and the wait gave us time to talk. It was a very nice date.

We returned to the house to find Noah, North, and Zoë (who was sleeping over at our house) watching a movie in the living room. It had fifteen minutes left, so Beth and I exchanged cards and gifts while we waited for the teens to be available to eat cake. I got Beth a new wallet, and she got me two books, The Girls and My Sister, the Serial Killer, both of which look good, plus a roll of postcard stamps. I asked for these, to help me get back on track writing for Postcards to Voters. I imagine it’s going to be a busy year for that. When I opened my card from Beth, she asked me if she’d gotten it for me before. I said yes, that I’d kept it on the windowsill near my desk for a long time.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when I opened the old card that I noticed that inside she’d written:

Happy 26/5
Beth

And in the new card, she’d written:

Happy 28/7
Love,
Beth

When I showed it to Beth and North, North said “You’re so basic.”

Beth protested she wasn’t basic, she was “unchanging, like a rock.”

“You’re my rock,” I told her, giving her a hug. And then she said she supposed this was going in my blog, and of course, she was right.

At dinner that night, I showed the cards to Noah and the teasing began anew. I noted she had changed a word, adding “love” in this year’s card. Beth said it was evidence that her “ardor has increased.” And then she predicted, “Two years from now it will be “lots of love.”

Stay tuned to see if that’s how it turns out. I’m pretty sure we’ll be eating the same cake.

To Everything There is a Season, Part 2

Well, it’s still October so that means we’re still awash in high school applications and Halloween preparations.

High School

This past week we went to the last two high school open houses. These were for the two schools North was most interested in, for their arts academies. One also houses a visual arts magnet, to which North is applying.

All through this process I’d been wondering, since all the high schools have some kind of arts academy, why North couldn’t just go to our home school, which is closest and very well regarded. But I kind of understand. There was definitely a difference in the way the schools present themselves at the open houses. The last two put a bigger emphasis on the arts. There were more musical, dance, and dramatic performances interspersed between the informational speeches. (Our home school had some but not as many and the school that’s known as the most STEM-focused had none.) The last school, which is North’s first choice, was also the most enthusiastic. The principal kept prompting the audience to shout that it was “the place to be” at various points in her speech. (I later commented to another parent that it wasn’t clear if it was a high school or a cult.)

There was a short break-out session for the Visual Arts Center, at which we got some useful information about the application process—mainly that the online application is due this week but the art itself doesn’t need to be submitted until December—but not much information about the program itself, which was a little frustrating. Anyway, North filled out and submitted their school rankings on Friday, the day after the last open house. Beth and I were considering telling them they had to put our home school second because if you put your home school first or second you’re guaranteed a spot and the worst outcome would be if North ended up at a school that they’re not interested in and that’s far from our house. That could happen if they don’t get into their first or second choice because our home school is the most requested school in the system and if they gave up their spot by ranking it third, there’s almost no chance they’ll go there. But they were willing to risk it, so we let them.

Halloween

Meanwhile, costume preparations have been less intense with just one kid home (and with it being the one who doesn’t get quite as angsty about what to be at that). North decided to be a doll with its mouth sewn shut this year. They created this effect by covering their mouth with a layer of latex and sewing through that. Beth and North went shopping for clothes and a pink wig at Value Village (a big thrift store up the road from us) and they bought the latex and makeup online.

On Saturday, the day of the Halloween parade, they set off for Zoë’s house and applied the makeup there because North, Zoë, and their mutual friend Norma were going to the parade together. So when Beth and I left the house it felt a bit odd to be setting out for the parade without any kids at all, and with no deliberation about whether the paint on Noah’s costume was dry enough to go in the car or not.

We met North and their friends in the parking lot of a local middle school. Zoë was a cereal killer (dressed all in black, with a balaclava and single-serving size cereal box fronts attached to her torso, and carrying a wooden knife) and Norma was Wednesday Adams. The three of them were all in black and they looked like they belonged together.

People were milling around and admiring each other’s costumes until it was time to line up by age and have the judges come inspect the costumes. There were some political costumes, but probably not as many as there will be next year—one Bernie Sanders, one Elizabeth Warren, and a baby draped in whistles, with a cape that said, “Whistleblower.” There was a mad scientist on stilts, carrying a brain in a jar and a mime wandering through the crowd. Keira, a girl who went to North’s elementary and middle school and who is now in high school, went as a college brochure, for the fictional Takoma University. Keira is a many-time costume contest winner but this year I thought her mom, who has helped with many of these costumes might give her a run for her money in the teen and adult category. She went as Rosie the robot maid from The Jetsons. Before I knew who was inside (the cylindrical cardboard headpiece completely obscured her face) I commented to Beth that no one younger than us would know who she was and sure enough, of the many people I heard compliment the costume, I don’t think one was under fifty.

I sized up the teen and adult group, wondering who North’s competition for Scariest was. I kept coming back to a man wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt and a rubber mask that looked somewhat like the monster on it. As a family, we do not approve of awarding prizes to people in store-bought costumes and while this costume did involve putting a couple of elements together, the main part of the costume was the mask. However, I know the contest judges do not use the same rubric that the Lovelady-Allens do.

After the judges had seen all the costumes, the parade commenced. The age groups were dismissed one by one. The parade had a new route this year, its third in the many years we’ve been doing it. We’re not crazy about change when it comes to traditions and this route has the decided disadvantage of not passing through any commercial areas where one could get coffee or hot chocolate on a chilly afternoon or gelato on a warm one. But so be it.

The parade ended in the parking lot behind the community center. Kids collected small bags of candy and juice boxes and there was a band playing. I was pleased to hear it was the Grandsons, a local band that often plays at the Halloween parade but last year didn’t. We chatted with a family whose oldest daughter went to preschool with North, talking—what else?—about where the kids want to go to high school.

When it was time to announce the contest results, we moved closer to the stage. It took a while to find a place to stand where we could see the winners, so we missed most of the under-fours, who I’m sure were adorable. When we heard the winner for Most Original in five-to-eight was a dragon Beth and I gave each other skeptical looks. A dragon? For Original? But then we saw the kid and we understood. His costume was made out of cardboard boxes painted black and the jaw was hinged so that he could open and close it from inside by pulling a string. It was a very cool effect. A pair of kids in gray angel costumes with their hair and faces painted gray, who I thought might be weeping angels from Dr. Who, won a prize in nine-to-twelve. I can’t remember if it was Scary or Original.

Finally it was time for teen to adult. Cutest went to Zoë, the cereal killer. Most Original was Rosie the robot and Scariest was…the Iron Maiden monster. We knew North would be disappointed and they were stewing about it a little, though they were gracious to Zoë, who was a little surprised to have won. “I just threw this together,” she said. What made North perk up, more than the hugs we gave them, was a text from Noah who said losing to someone in store-bought mask “doesn’t count as losing.” Sometimes he knows just what to say.

Beth drove the kids back to Zoë’s house where they stayed until that evening. I made a kale, white bean, and porcini soup for dinner and then we carved our pumpkins. Beth did the bats, I did the ghost, and North did the bee. Apparently, the theme was things that fly. Before bedtime, North was wrestling with their Visual Arts Center application, trying to trim it from over five hundred words down to two hundred. (Despite the fact that this kind of thing is what I do for a living, they didn’t want any help.)

On Sunday, after roasting two trays of pumpkin seeds, grocery shopping, and swimming, the three of us went to Cielo Rojo, a Mexican restaurant that was having a Día de los Muertos fundraiser for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. So we got guacamole, queso fundido, and a quesadilla and ate them on the patio because it was a beautiful afternoon with temperatures in the seventies. You could also decorate a sugar skull, which North did.

And when we got home, North finished editing their Visual Arts Center essay.

Dancing Through Life

It’s just life
So keep dancing through

From “Dancing Through Life,” Wicked

So, for some reason we came back from the beach. Oh, wait, I remember why: Beth’s got this job and North was enrolled in musical theater camp and Noah had committed to being a counselor at a film camp for middle schoolers, so we couldn’t just spend the whole summer as beach bums.

We’ve been back two and a half weeks and they’ve been busy weeks, especially for North. In addition to going to the camp which culminated in a production of Wicked on Friday, they had rehearsals for Sweeney Todd six evenings and one weekend afternoon, and one day they babysat in between a six-hour day at camp and a three-hour rehearsal. But they had enough down time to go to see Yesterday with Beth and me one weekend and go swimming at an outdoor pool the next.

Meanwhile, Noah was largely free the first week we were home (other than working on his nursery school alumni interview podcast) and film camp started the second week. He needed some shots and medical forms for college and now that he’s eighteen he can be vaccinated without parental permission, so he went to the doctor himself. Somehow of all the things he does by himself now, that seemed particularly adult. He also had his first two drum lessons of the summer.

No one had camp or school on the fourth of July, so we went to Takoma’s eccentric little parade, complete with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, marching bands, people playing bagpipes and steel drums, walking dogs, and pushing reel mowers. These are standard parts of the parade but there was also giant wooden rooster festooned with American flags (the rooster is the symbol of Takoma Park) and a Trump Baby balloon, which is a new addition.

Speaking of the President, he presented us with a fireworks dilemma. We usually watch the fireworks in Takoma, but they’re doing maintenance on the lawn of the middle school where they’re normally held so it was cancelled and D.C., which would be our natural backup plan was obviously out of the question since the whole day had been turned into a campaign rally. So on the recommendation of North’s physical therapist, we checked out the College Park fireworks.

People set up chairs in a parking lot on the campus of the University of Maryland, and I thought it would be miserably hot sitting on asphalt, but it had rained in the afternoon and the lot was still damp, which kept it bearable. There were food stands and live music and people selling glow sticks to the very diverse crowd so it was a festive atmosphere. The display was impressive and long, too, like a half hour. I’d do it again if Takoma ever cancels again.

The other day North didn’t go to camp (except for the last two hours of the day) was the Monday of the second week. That was because we had an intake appointment at the pain clinic at Children’s National Medical Center. We’re thinking of switching their pediatrician to one there since between neurology (for their migraines), the gender clinic, and now the pain clinic, they get the majority of their health care there already.

Anyway, the appointment lasted all morning. We spoke to various members of the team together and separately. Their recommendation was for behavioral cognitive therapy for coping strategies, desensitization to try to stop whatever misfiring is causing North’s pain, and aqua therapy to work on strengthening the affected leg. We’re still trying to set up all these new appointments. I left the appointment feeling cautiously hopeful because all the medical professionals we spoke to seemed very matter of fact, and not at all baffled by what’s been going on.

Before we left North also let some medical students take pictures of their pupil while an electrode fastened to their toe transmitted electrical signals—it was part of an experiment to see if changes in the eye can help doctors measure physical sensations (like pain) more objectively. I thought that was kind of interesting.

On a lighter note, Thursday was free slurpee day at 7-11. It was a hot day (unsurprising for mid-July in the D.C. area) and I’d spent a long time unsuccessfully trying to find the apartment building where a writers/editors meet up was happening and I’d gotten hot and sweaty and discouraged and it seemed like ice and sugar would be cheering. As my bus pulled up to the 7-11, who should I see but Noah, the director of his camp, and four campers, all walking into the store. By the time I got back there, they were all exiting with their frozen drinks. “I swear I’m not stalking you,” I told him and then the camp director had enthusiastic things to say about what a help Noah was at camp and that was nice, too.

Friday was performance of Wicked. Beth and I met up at the community center. Noah had to leave his camp early to come see the performance and he was a little late, but he arrived during the first song and set up his camera in the back of the theater.

If you’re not familiar with Wicked, it’s a prequel to the Wizard of Oz and much of it takes place at a prep school in Oz. North’s playing Nessarose, the future wicked witch of the East and the sister of Elphaba, the future wicked witch of the West. (North’s character is the one who gets squashed by a house at the beginning of the film.) Here’s a clip (eight and a half minutes) from when most of the main characters are students at the school.

It was convenient there was a character in a wheelchair in the play, but when all the characters ran up the aisles of the theater, North was able to keep up on their crutches. The production was very good. Gretchen always gets impressive performances out of the kids in just two weeks. Elphaba was played by four different girls (all in green face paint) and Galinda/Glinda by three and they all managed to inhabit their roles. North’s old preschool classmate and basketball teammate Maggie was a very charming wizard and Gretchen’s older daughter had some nice song and dance numbers as Prince Fierro (who later becomes the straw man). I learned later she’d studied the dance moves in Saturday Night Fever for the ball scene.

There was a cast party at Roscoe’s that evening. Beth, Noah, and I got a separate table, partly because Beth and Noah were going to the White House to attend Lights for Liberty, a protest of conditions at the migrant detention centers. We thought they’d get in and out more quickly if they weren’t part of a large group. I’d have liked to go to the vigil, too, especially since I haven’t been nearly as active as I was in the early days of the Trump administration, but North objected to the whole family deserting them after their show, so I stayed behind with them. Once Beth and Noah had departed, I joined the big table at the grown-up end and reminisced with Gretchen, the camp director, and another mom of a long-time camper about the shows the kids did when they were tiny.  (North’s been doing musical theater camp since they were five years old.) Eventually the kids drifted off to get gelato and hang out in a nearby playground. It’s always hard for the actors to say goodbye to each other after the intense experience of putting a play together in two weeks.

It was almost ten when Beth and Noah got home. He said it wasn’t going to be as easy to get to the White House to protest when he’s in upstate New York, so he has to do it now. And speaking of that, I can’t believe how close his departure is, just five weeks away. In the summer I’m always happy to do the things we usually do, like going to the beach and the Fourth of July parade and watching North in drama and chorus camp performances and berry-picking (which was on the agenda this weekend), but usually at the same time I’m ticking the weeks off in my mind, counting down to a more normal schedule when the kids go back to school. But this year when that happens it’s going to feel less normal instead of more so, with my firstborn gone. That’s part of life, though, and a good one, too, so we’ve got no choice but to keep dancing through it.

Coda

And speaking of the passage of time, Beth and I marked thirty-two years since our first date on Monday. On Saturday we went to see Booksmart and then had dinner at Jaleo’s and then on Monday North and I made a blueberry kuchen with some of the berries we’d all picked the day before for an anniversary dessert. Noah went to the 7-11 to get some vanilla ice cream to top it. It seemed fitting everyone had a part in bringing the kuchen to the table, as if it hadn’t been for that first kiss one long-ago July night, we wouldn’t be a family.

Chasing Stars

The night of the midterm elections we gathered in front of the television with popcorn and Halloween candy to watch the results. I thought I might overeat from the stress, but I soon found I’d crossed over into too-nervous-to-eat territory, especially as the House victories did not pile up as quickly as we would have liked and Noah, who was watching both the television and FiveThirtyEight on his laptop, announced that the probability of the Democrats taking the House had dipped. When it got down to 39 percent, he looked stricken and I thought how 2016 was his only reference point for following and deeply caring about an election. “It’s happening again,” he murmured.

But as you know, it didn’t. The Democrats took the House and there’s a remarkably diverse group of firsts headed for Washington, DC—the first Muslim women, the first Native American women, the youngest Congresswoman ever. Democrats gained seven governorships and didn’t lose any, and they made gains in state legislatures across the country. If it wasn’t for losing ground in the Senate, and some heartbreaking close misses at more Governorships in Georgia and Florida, it would have seemed like an unalloyed victory. We all went to bed past our bedtimes, more relieved than ebullient.

The next day I checked and the candidates I wrote postcards for did worse than average—only about twenty percent won—and that was disappointing, but Beth pointed out they wouldn’t recruit postcard writers for safe races, so I’m planning to write some more for Mike Espy’s Senate run-off in Mississippi this weekend.

And, as you also know, in the week and a half since the election, the wave only got bigger. Every time I hear how many seats the Democrats won in the House it’s a different number, but I know it’s in the mid-thirties and there are still undecided races, including at least one of my postcard candidates in California. Meanwhile the losses in the Senate are smaller than initially predicted. My postcard victory rate is up to about twenty-five percent.

Two days after the election, there were pro-Mueller investigation rallies all over the country after the President fired Jeff Sessions. There were two nearby, one in front of the White House and another one, which was more convenient but probably less impactful, in downtown Silver Spring. All day I was torn between which, if any, to attend. One complicating factor was that North had left the house without their ukulele, which they needed for a coffeehouse rehearsal after school, and they’d also forgotten their script for play rehearsal after that. I wasn’t sure if delivering the instrument and the script to school for them would constitute helicopter parenting but it would have taken me within walking distance of the Silver Spring protest, so I was considering that plan, even though it would have gotten me there very early and I’d promised to read several scenes of King Lear to Noah after school.

But then North texted me to say they’d found a ukulele to borrow and Noah came home and wanted to know if I could also quiz him on a huge pile of notes for a test in his Logic class on the history of mathematics and I hadn’t managed to make dinner ahead of time, so it seemed simplest to stay home, read Lear to Noah, quiz him on the Logic, and make a tomato-eggplant stew.

Beth went to the White House protest and because North thought I might be at the Silver Spring protest and they were in that neighborhood with time to kill between rehearsals anyway, they went to that one and sent me short video of people chanting. So the Lovelady-Allens were represented at each of the rallies even if we didn’t all make it.

Middle School Coffeehouse 

The next day we attended the coffeehouse at North’s school. They were going to play the ukulele and sing their original song “Chasing Stars.” I know most of you saw the music video Noah and North made of it when I put it on Facebook in July, but just in case you didn’t, here’s your chance.

The advertised start time for the coffeehouse was 6:00 and the performers were supposed to arrive at 5:45, so North left fifteen minutes before Noah and me. Noah had stayed after school to finish the Logic test and I was hoping he’d have time to practice his drums before we left but he took a long time to get started and after only fifteen minutes, I had to tell him to stop. Or I thought I did. The bus got us there at 5:50 and then we waited almost an hour for the coffeehouse to start. Apparently, there had been a mistake in the publicity and it wasn’t supposed to start until 6:30, then the band and orchestra teacher announced, much to Beth’s and my dismay, that they were delaying the start because the rain might be slowing traffic. So… let’s say it would have been safe for Noah to finish drumming. I was frustrated because he’s been so busy he’s been skipping practice a lot. I was also bored because in our rush to leave the house, I’d forgotten my phone and I hadn’t brought anything else to read either. I tried to take my own advice—given in a recent ghost-written blog post—about using unexpected waiting time as an opportunity for mindfulness, but I failed at it.

Once it finally started, the show was very nice. North went second out of ten performers. They sang well, but looked nervous, especially at the beginning of the song. They relaxed into it somewhat as they went on. As I told them later, when I used to give conference papers I always liked to go early so I could enjoy everyone else’s presentation and they nodded, either agreeing or humoring me.

And there was a lot to enjoy after North’s song. There are many talented singers and musicians at their school. Kids sang songs by Adele, the White Stripes, and Vance Joy and other pop singers. One boy played “Fur Elise” on the piano and there was a violinist who played a very impressive and intricate piece. North wasn’t the only one playing an original composition. A boy who went to North’s elementary school and attends the same church as Beth and North played a song he’d written on the piano and two more boys performed their own jointly written song for guitar and mandolin. Everyone did a great job.

Toward the end of the show, there was a sixth-grade girl whose background music cut out in the middle of her performance of “Feel Better When I’m Dancing” and she just kept singing, completely self-possessed. Eventually people in the audience started clapping and stomping their feet to the beat to replace the missing music. It was one of those moments that makes you feel better about humanity. Also, I think that girl is going places.

Snow Day

About a week later, North was supposed to have the chance to perform “Chasing Stars” again at their induction into Tri-M, the music honor society. They were elected the President of their school’s chapter last spring, so they were going to give a speech and sing.

But we got a couple inches of snow that morning and school and all after school activities were cancelled. This is the earliest measurable snow I remember having in all the sixteen and a half years we’ve lived in Maryland and the latest in the morning a snow day has ever been called. I got an alert on my phone at 5:00 a.m. saying it would be at least a two-hour delay, with a possible cancellation, to be decided by 7:00. This is pretty standard procedure. At 6:50, the alert said it would be a two-hour delay. I didn’t quite trust it, though, because it was still snowing and it was supposed to snow until noon. Sure enough, at 8:45, fifteen minutes before Noah was supposed to leave the house, Zoë called and North put her on speaker phone and I heard the dreaded words, “No school!”

North was actually disappointed when the two-hour delay was called because the seventh grade had a field trip to Medieval Times planned and the students had been explicitly told a two-hour delay would scotch it, but North was consoling themselves with the fact that the induction ceremony would go on if there was school. Well, so much for that.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate snow days?  Yes? Okay. I’ll spare you the unreasonably emotional rant. I mean, what’s the point in saying it all again? It really makes no sense now that my kids are old enough not to be underfoot all day. Still, I felt really sad that morning, actually crying at the kitchen window as I watched it come down. I’m not sure exactly why snow days do that to me, but I have a theory it’s a trigger for me because my father died shortly before the big blizzard of 2010 that had the kids out of school for weeks. Fortunately, snow when we’re away from home doesn’t have that effect on me, so if it snows while we’re at Blackwater this Christmas, I can enjoy it.

North, perhaps wanting to avoid their morose mother or perhaps hoping to escape before I thought to give them a chore, left the house shortly after nine, meeting Zoë at a park. They spent the rest of the day at Zoë’s house, where the two of them made a snowwoman in a bikini, played with Zoë’s Guinea pigs, and watched television, not returning until after dinner. Noah spent most of the day in his room working on his senior presentation. I folded laundry, worked, and went on some errands, partly to get out of the house, partly because I needed stamps for the weekend’s postcard writing. I even stopped in a nearby store thinking I might try to do some holiday shopping but apparently that was a bridge too far because I started thinking about the impossibility of anything ever genuinely pleasing anyone and then I decided maybe I should just go home and leave the shopping for a less grim day.

High School Film Screening

The next day was Friday. There had been some speculation that there might be a two-hour delay but the kids went to school on time. That evening there was a screening of films made by students at Noah’s school and another local high school at a local art space. We got there about a half hour before the films started so we had some pizza and then went upstairs to look at the art on display. There was an exhibit of poems printed over each other, some abstract black and white architectural photographs, and a room in which visitors were encouraged to add a line to a collective poem written on the wall in marker.

The films started late, but comparing it to the coffeehouse the week before, it was remarkable how much less impatient I felt when I’d been fed and given something interesting to look at. The films were excellent. One of them we’d seen at the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival last spring, but most of them were new. Noah’s was about the White Oak duckpin bowling alley and the community of bowlers there. (One of Noah’s favorite parts of making the film was getting to go behind the lanes and seeing the pin -setting machinery.)

You can watch it here if you like. It’s about six minutes long:

We also really liked the film about a local tattoo artist who will cover gang and white supremacist tattoos for free. The students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase mostly showed footage from their weekly news show. In addition to screening the films, it was a chance for the students from the two schools to network and discuss possible collaboration. It was a fun event.

So, how to wrap this up? The election results were encouraging, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and we are all chasing stars in our own way, whether political or artistic.

Spooked, Part 3

Two Sundays ago I woke thinking of the synagogue shooting the day before. I was full of sadness for the world and the little spark of hope I usually feel after voting was almost extinguished. I muddled through the next couple days and on Monday evening I was idly checking my phone to see if there were any new Postcards for Voters campaigns; I was thinking I was probably finished because the deadline was the very next day and I was out of postcard stamps. When Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s name came up as one of the options I think I may have yelped with excitement. I know I went around the house telling everyone in my mildly amused family. A Senate campaign for an endangered Democrat who risked her seat by voting no on Kavanaugh was definitely worth a trip to the post office.

I initially started writing postcards with the goal of flipping the House and improving the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the Senate. But some days the only campaigns on offer were ones I’d already written for and down ballot races. It was tempting to learn about a lot of different campaigns and I started thinking about the importance of party building and getting people (especially women) in the pipeline for higher office so I ended up writing for all kinds of campaigns, for Governors, state legislators, even a county commissioner and a school board candidate. I also wrote for a ballot initiative in Florida to restore the voting rights of people with felony convictions who’d served their time. All in all, I wrote 231 postcards, from mid-September to the first day of November. Forty of them were in the last four days of that span.

I tracked down postcard stamps at the second post office I visited—they’ve been hard to find so I think my neighbors had been doing the same thing I was. I’d committed to write twenty-five postcards for Heitkamp and I thought it would be nice to have some on hand for upcoming special elections so I bought forty. But they kept extending the deadlines so I wrote five more for Andrew Gillum in Florida and then ten for Tedra Cobb in New York on short deadlines. I would have kept going but I ran out of stamps again. 

On more than one night, I camped out in Noah’s room writing postcards while he worked on homework or his first college application. He’s applying early action to the University of Maryland Baltimore College and the Honors College there. There were four essays for the Honors College, separate from the main essay he’s using for all his college applications, so he had a lot to write, too.

It was a shame it was such a busy week for him, because I would have liked him to come to the vigil in downtown Takoma for the victims of the shootings in Kentucky and Pittsburgh Monday night. North had rehearsal so they couldn’t come either. Beth and I could only stay for part of it because we needed to go pick them up, but it was nice, the speeches, and songs and the candles in the darkness while we gathered with our neighbors to honor the lives lost. My friend Becky, who’s active in gun control groups, was one of the organizers. Thanks for everything you do, Becky.

Noah didn’t skip trick-or-treating on Wednesday, though he was working before and after. He also took some time before dinner to get the battery-operated decorations and the fog machines up and running. I fed everyone a quick supper of grilled cheese sandwiches and canned soup and the kids were off around seven.  I stayed home giving out candy to about forty kids dressed as everything from Astronaut to Zombie. Several people asked to take pictures of our yard. Our around-the-corner neighbor came by with her daughter and posted a picture of our porch on Facebook with the caption “Best House in the Hood.”

When the kids got home at eight-thirty, I was tempted to tell them they should trade candy later because North needed to wash off their bloody makeup in the shower and go to bed and Noah’s application was stuck. He’d tried to submit it before dinner and the Common App site wouldn’t recognize the PDF. But it wasn’t really a crisis because it wasn’t due until the next evening and I realized it was probably the last time the kids would ever trick-or-treat together, so I didn’t rush either of them along.  It all ended well. Noah tweeted to the Common App before he and North left and they responded quickly with a workaround and before he went to bed on Halloween, his first application was in the bag.

The next weekend, Beth and Noah went on their annual fall camping trip. They’d had to cancel a few weeks earlier because of Noah’s workload so I was glad they got it in before the cold weather sets in—it did get down into the thirties at night. This year they went to Catoctin Mountain Park and stayed in a charming but drafty cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Depression. Noah worked on overdue logic homework that fell by the wayside while he was working on a presentation for his senior seminar and the UMBC application, but they also hiked and made S’mores and relaxed.

Meanwhile back at home, North and I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, and I took them to therapy and to get their hair cut and to the pool and the library. It was Noah’s half-birthday on Saturday so we all had cupcakes, which we ate separately. That was a little strange, but it was nice when the campers came home and we were all re-united over a dinner of breaded tofu and baked Parmesan-squash rings Beth made for us. They’d also brought home a pecan pie from an orchard they’d visited on the way home.

Today North’s acting class had its last meeting and they performed the scenes they’ve been working on since September. Mondays have been a tight squeeze for North all fall. They generally got off the school bus and I thrust a packed dinner at them, they grabbed their scripts and got on second bus to acting class, which they had to leave fifteen minutes early to catch a third bus to rehearsal at the theater.

So we did the first part of that except I didn’t have their dinner ready because I was going to bring it to the performance. I finished making the curried lentil-vegetable stew, put a thermos full of it into a lunchbox along with a Reese’s peanut butter cup and a couple lollipops from their Halloween stash and got on a bus to the Rec Center.

The kids performed scenes from The Parent Trap, Peter and the Starcatcher, one of the Harry Potter books, and The Hunger Games. In a was a strange coincidence, North ended up in a scene from the same play in which they’re performing at Highwood next month. They’d hoped to be in a scene from Dear Evan Hansen but couldn’t convince any other students to do it with them. So I got a preview of that scene with North in the role of Peter. (In the Highwood version they’re playing four small parts, but more on that in a later post.) The play is a prequel to Peter Pan, and in the featured scene Peter is shyly approaching a girl who kissed him in an earlier scene and who now seems to regret having done it or at least has mixed feelings. North did a good job conveying Peter’s embarrassment and hopefulness. I also liked seeing Grace (the teacher’s daughter who’s been in acting classes with North since they were both three) in the Hunger Games scene. She made an excellent Katniss. The scene was the one in which Katniss and Rue pair up. It made me wonder if I could entice North to read that series with me.

After the scenes, Gretchen had the kids discuss their scenes and explain what acting techniques they’d been using. North had left for rehearsal by that point and I was sorry not to hear what they would have said. Right when the improv exercises—with audience participation—were about to start I slipped out of the auditorium. When I got to my bus stop North was still at theirs (directly across the street) sitting on a bench, illuminated by the streetlight, eating lentil stew out of their thermos. We waved at each other. My bus actually came first, even though I’d stayed inside ten minutes longer.

Even though it was cut a little short, it was nice to see North up on stage. I always enjoy seeing them in their element. And it also kept me busy on a day when I was full of nervous energy about the election tomorrow. We’re all a bit spooked now, but soon we’ll know a little more about what the future holds, for better or for worse.