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.

Spooked, Part 1

Last Saturday, we made out annual trek out to Potomac Vegetable Farm for our jack-o-lantern pumpkins, cider, kale, pumpkin bread, and decorative gourds. It’s a long drive out there, forty-five minutes when there’s no traffic and there’s usually traffic. It’s just a little farm stand in Northern Virginia, with no corn maze, hayrides, petting zoo, or rides like some other pumpkin farms have. But we started going there many years ago because it’s run by the family of a friend of ours from college, and we are a family prone to loyalty and tradition. The kids have never even asked to go somewhere else. They may not realize it’s possible.

It was a busy day. There was a homecoming at the kids’ preschool and we all went, though not at the same time because North had a rehearsal for Peter and the Starcatcher so they had to go at the very beginning and it made more sense for Noah to go at the end, so he’d have a longer uninterrupted block of time for homework. He was working on a film for his senior seminar about making his Halloween costume. He’s going as a Chinese spyware microchip. The film’s called The Halloween Hack. (One big benefit of choosing this topic was that his costume was almost finished a week before Halloween, which never happens.)

At the Purple School homecoming we hung out in the play yard and chatted with a couple families from North’s class and one from Noah’s and with more from other classes while Noah was inside interviewing alumni and their parents for more episodes of the podcast he produced for the school last summer. It was nice to catch up with some people we haven’t seen in a long time, particularly the family from Noah’s class.

We went straight from preschool to the theater to pick up North and then we drove out to the farm. Rehearsal was over at 4:30 and the farm was closing at six, but Noah’s interviews ran late so we didn’t get to the theater right at 4:30 and then there was a traffic jam, so it was around 5:40 by the time we got to the farm, but that was plenty of time to examine the pumpkins and gourds, make our choices, and take the traditional photographs.

Afterward we had dinner at Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant we discovered a couple years ago, which has pretty decent vegetarian shrimp (or at least it seems like that to two adults who haven’t had real shrimp in over thirty years and two kids who’ve never had it). Then we went to Dessert Story for honeydew bubble tea and macarons (North and I split a serving of each) and Nutella-Oreo waffle sundaes (Beth and Noah’s choice). We listened to Halloween playlists all the way there and back, but even so it never got to “Purple People Eater,” which was the only disappointing thing about the outing, from North’s perspective. Beth said it was “a little melancholy” knowing it could be Noah’s last trip to the pumpkin patch with us and I had to agree.

This week Noah burned the midnight oil working on his film and other homework for several nights in a row. Tonight he’s working on his UMBC honors college application essays. Meanwhile I’ve been writing a series of Christmas-themed blog posts for a herbal supplement and tea company. One of them involved finding and testing holiday recipes using tea. Tuesday afternoon, while I was sitting down to compose that one, with a glass of freshly made hibiscus-orange punch at my side, I was amused by the contrast between the cheery tone of the blog post I was going to write and the decal of a ghostly woman with bleeding eyes who peers at me while I work in October, so I posted a picture on Facebook.

My friend Allison (hi, Allison!) responded, “You seriously don’t get spooked by this a hundred times a day?” And actually, I don’t. I did a few times last year, which was the first year she haunted my desk, but this year I’m pretty used to her. Maybe after almost two years since the election of Donald Trump, it takes more than a creepy image to scare me. I mean, consider the last few weeks: the indifference to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the pipe bombs sent to Democratic politicians and CNN, and the White House’s attempt to erase trans people out of existence. And by next week there will be some new horror. I can guarantee that.

So I’ve picked up the pace of my get-out-the-vote postcard writing, because the midterm elections are in less than two weeks and in many states early voting is already in progress. So far I’ve written 161 postcards to voters in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas and I’ve got a batch of fifteen more stamped, addressed, and ready to write this weekend. Because no ghost or ghoul would terrify me more than another two years of the Trump presidency with both houses of Congress under Republican control.

Unfit

Jesus, where do I start?

I am not a survivor of sexual assault, not really. Just the normal catcalls and unwanted attention in my teens and twenties. Just being groped by a fellow student on a crowded stairwell in my high school and by a stranger on a street corner in college. Just being stopped on the street at night by a man who offered me ten dollars to have sex with him when I was sixteen or seventeen. (At least he didn’t touch me and left when I said no.)  I’ve heard so much worse from so many women I know, including my own sister, these past few weeks. It seems everyone has a story to tell. Every new revelation is depressing and the cumulative effect is staggering. Why is this normal? This should not be normal. But it is. 

Okay, I guess I’ll start with the hearings. A week and a half ago, like many of you, I spent much of the morning glued to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave and moving testimony in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. I didn’t mean to watch as long as I did, but if you watched, too, you know how riveting it was. (It was made even more so  by the fact she’s almost exactly my age and so relatable and because I know one of her lawyers who was sitting right next to her. The lawyer’s son went to preschool with Noah.) While I watched, I made a batch of postcards for Phil Bredesen’s Senate campaign in Tennessee.

I was thinking at the time I would have preferred to be writing for a female candidate (on that day especially) but the address-dispensing bot doesn’t always give you a choice. Some days there are addresses for two or three candidate available and some days it’s only one. To make matters worse, I read a profile of Bredesen in the Post the other day and when asked if he would vote for Kavanaugh (in some alternate universe in which the vote didn’t take place until next year) he wouldn’t commit. But I keep telling myself the individual, mostly centrist, candidates are not the main reason I’m volunteering to do this. Flipping the House and maybe even the Senate is the goal. And I did get addresses for a woman (Katie Porter in California) the very next day.

A week after those hearings I met Beth in the lobby of her office a little after noon. There was a CWA contingent marching against Kavanaugh’s confirmation and I was joining it. The march started at the federal courthouse where Kavanaugh currently works and proceeded to the Supreme Court. While we were at the first court house I heard someone say Elizabeth Warren was in the crowd, but I didn’t see her.

I did see a lot of signs. The ACLU was passing out ones that said “Women Must Be Heard” on one side and “Unfit to Serve” on the other. I took one of them. There were a lot that said, “Believe Survivors” and “Kava-Nope.” (Other variations I saw later in the day: “Kava-Naw” and “Kava-No.”) The President of Beth’s union had a hand-lettered one that said, “Were You Drunk When You Ruled Against CWA in Connecticut?” But my favorite was another homemade one that read “I Hear Merrick Garland Is Available.”

Once we got moving, I realized the crowd was bigger than I thought. We filled a few blocks at any rate. It was pretty good turnout for the middle of a weekday. But then again so many people—women and men, too—are just so sad and angry, how could we not take to the streets?

It was an unseasonably hot day for October—it eventually got up the mid-eighties and because we were standing on asphalt a lot of the time, it felt warmer. There weren’t as many people in costume as you often see at these things—a few people in Kavanaugh masks clutching huge beer cans, a woman in a Statue of Liberty crown. My favorite prop was the pair of cut-off khaki pants held up on sticks with shiny flame-colored ribbons attached to the knees. It took me a second or two to get it—pants on fire.

At the Supreme Court, there were many speeches from sexual assault survivors from the states of wavering Senators—Alaska, Maine, and Arizona. While we were there, Heidi Heitkamp’s decision to vote against Kavanaugh was announced to cheers from the crowd. I hadn’t even realized her vote was in play, but apparently it’s hard to be a Democrat in North Dakota. When the speeches were over, we headed over to the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. The original plan had been a direct action on the steps of the Capitol, but it was barricaded.

I have to say the atrium was probably a superior place to protest anyway. It’s eight stories tall, with marble walls and the acoustics are great. The chants echoed and swelled and just filled the space. I found myself yelling more loudly and with more emotion than I had in the street. (Beth later said it was “cathartic.”) Plus you could see into some of the glass-walled offices, where supportive senators had hung signs that said things like “We Believe Survivors” and staffers peered out to watch the protesters. Seeing them see us made it all seem very real. Bernie Sanders and Amy Schumer were both there—Schumer got arrested, but I didn’t spot them. I only heard about it later.

We didn’t want to get arrested—though Beth considered it—so we moved up to the second-floor balcony when the Capitol Police cleared the floor. We had a good view of people being arrested from up there. It was all very orderly. The people who wanted to be arrested got into line and every time the police took them away in small groups, the crowds who were standing on the periphery of the atrium or up in the balconies would burst into cheers and chants. “We Will Remember in November” was a popular one. A group of protesters unfurled a banner from the sixth-floor balcony that read, “We Believe All Survivors.”

By this point, I was getting choked up. “I hope she’s watching this,” I said.

One of Beth’s colleagues wanted to know if I meant Susan Collins, but Beth, who knows me better, said, “No, she means Blasey Ford.”

I left before Beth, a little after four, hoping to get home in time to make dinner and supervise homework. However, by the time I got home I was too worn out from the heat and the emotion of the day to do anything more elaborate than heat up frozen burritos and corn. I did read a couple chapters of The Sun Also Rises to Noah, though reading about the exploits of a group of continually drunk and poorly behaved expats was not really high on my hit parade that week.

But back to the Hart Building… before I left I went to the restroom. As we were washing our hands, a woman asked me, “Do you have any hope?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered honestly. Then I thought to clarify whether she meant for the short-term or the long term.

“Either,” she said.

I was not feeling particularly hopeful for the short term, even right after watching that stirring demonstration, but I have a little more hope for the long term… at least sometimes. We may be on the cusp of an important change in how we as a culture think about sexual violence. It’s important to remember more people believe Ford than Kavanaugh and we didn’t want Kavanaugh thrust upon us any more than she did wanted him thrust upon her thirty-six years ago. But with the current composition of the Senate, it just didn’t matter.

Later that night, at home, I told Beth that “The people united, will never be defeated” has to be one of my least favorite things to chant at rallies because it’s so patently untrue. We are defeated again and again and again. My favorite chant of the Trump era is the call and response: “Tell me what democracy looks like./This is what democracy looks like.” It’s factual but spirited. Democracy is loud and messy and a work in progress. It’s never over. No defeat is the end of the story.

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway, and I wrote another batch of postcards for two female candidates in Georgia yesterday.

Which Side Are You On?

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair

From “Which Side Are You On,” by Florence Reece

We’re a few weeks into the school year, which means North’s activities are starting. They’re taking an acting class at the rec center, they have rehearsals for Peter and the Starcatcher starting next week and they’re going to try out for glee club at school. Rainbow Alliance should start meeting soon as well. They’re also involved in a program at the rec center for middle and high school students to write TED talks and they get weekly coaching on their speech, which is on the theme of assumptions.

September also means a lot of meetings. We’ve been to North’s school twice, once for a meeting about the seventh and eighth-grade Spanish immersion trip to Columbia next spring and once for Back to School Night. We’ve also been to Noah’s school twice, once for a twelfth-grade CAP meeting and once for its Back to School Night. It was my very last Back to School Night for Noah. I might have been sad about that, but they keep you busy running from one classroom to another at those things, so there wasn’t really time.

Tuesday we went to Children’s National Medical Center for a meeting of their trans kids’ support group. We went for the first time in July and it was our first time back since then. (We were out of town during the August meeting.) The kids and parents meet separately. The middle school group is pretty small, consisting right now of North and two trans boys who are both in eighth grade. North seems to like it and it’s interesting to hear other parents talk about their experiences, although ours are often a little different because being non-binary presents different issues.

When it was over North asked what we talked about and Beth said, “Our kids. Did you talk about your parents?” North said yes, among other things. The group meets from five to six-thirty and I didn’t have anything started for dinner at home so we ate at the hospital cafeteria and then we went out for gelato, as it wasn’t a school night. (It was the night Yom Kippur began.)

Meanwhile, Noah’s working on getting materials together for his first college application. UMBC has a non-binding early action application deadline in a little over a month. It’s the only early application he’ll do as the others on his list only have binding early decision deadlines and he doesn’t have a clear front-runner. We went to tour the campus about two weeks ago. (The kids had the day off for Rosh Hashanah.) We’d been to their open house in August, but we couldn’t stay for the tour because North had a chorus camp concert that day. Nothing we saw on this tour really changed Noah’s mind about the school one way or the other, but I was glad we went so we wouldn’t wonder what we’d missed.

Last weekend we went to the Takoma Park Folk Festival. A few weeks ago when I mentioned that unless he goes to school close to home, it might be the last folk festival Noah attends with us, Beth told me I couldn’t get sentimental at every event all year because it’s the last one before Noah leaves for college. But still… we’ve gone almost every year since Noah was a toddler. When he was in preschool and elementary school he loved this festival and he always wanted a t-shirt so for a while we had quite a collection of them. (And I’m going to mention that as we left the festival, Beth and North were bemoaning the fact that Noah probably wouldn’t be there next year. So I’m not the only sentimental one.)

It was the same as it always is. We listened to a few bands and shopped at the craft booths, where North bought some bath salts and a bundle of sage for Xavier’s birthday (as well as some to keep) and we ate festival food (tofu burgers and plantains for the adults, fried rice or lo mein for the kids and ice cream for everyone). We visited Lesley at the booth for the kids’ preschool and she praised Noah’s work on the podcast and told us one of my former students from George Washington University (now in her thirties with a husband and a toddler) visited the booth and is considering the school because after she graduated from college she babysat for us for a long time and she remembered hearing us say good things about it. I had this student in two classes in the 2001-2002 school year and we still exchange Christmas cards. How’s that for a long-term recruitment plan?

The first band we saw was singing Hazel Dickens union songs. The audience skewed older and when we walked in, I wondered if the kids were going to find this boring. I remembered how when we’d seen Magpie perform (perhaps in the very same middle school gym) for a crowd of mostly middle-aged and elderly Takoma Park lefties seven years ago, North actually fell asleep in my lap. One reason I wanted to go to this session is that we know the lead singer. He’s the dad of a girl who has acted at Highwood and the rec center drama camp with North in quite a few shows. (She also attended the kids’ preschool in the year ahead of North. Why, yes, everything always does come back to that preschool.) I always appreciate it when people we know turn out for North’s performances and I like to pay it forward, and not just for kids.

I enjoyed the set and I even found myself unexpectedly moved when the whole room was enthusiastically singing “Which Side Are You On?” It made me want to make a difference and reminded me that I’d been meaning to get set up as a writer for Postcards to Voters, which is just what it sounds like, a campaign to get people to write get-out-the-vote messages on postcards to Democratic voters in districts with close races. My friend Megan (a mom from preschool, naturally) had posted about it on Facebook a few days earlier and it struck me as something I could easily do. Other than writing modest checks, I haven’t been very politically active recently and there is an election around the corner. But I’m not a natural organizer. The idea of calling people up on the phone or knocking on doors gives me hives, but writing postcards…Sure, I can do that.

So a few days later, I wrote a sample postcard, photographed it, submitted it, and committed to write fifteen postcards in three days. (You choose how many you want to do, from four to fifty at a shot.) Within forty minutes, I’d been approved as a postcard writer and I was sent fifteen addresses from the Cincinnati metro area. I went to the post office, bought some postcard stamps, came home and started writing postcards. While I was writing postcards North was (coincidentally) burning their bundle of sage in the fireplace in the same room. It felt as if we were both purging demons. The whole experience was very satisfying and I did another batch to people in the Anaheim area last night. If you’d like to do this, too, check out the Postcards for Voters web site.

The midterms are in less than seven weeks and they could make a real difference in the direction our country takes. I’m going to be writing postcards as often as I can between now and then because I know which side I’m on.

Ease on Down the Road

North’s birthday was a week-long affair this year. In lieu of a party, they asked for tickets to see The Wiz at Ford’s Theater with Zoë and to have dinner before the show and a sleepover afterwards. They also had birthday get-togethers with Xavier and Megan the weekends before and after their birthday. And then we went to a somewhat larger gathering, with 800,000 people to protest gun violence.

Pre-Birthday Celebrations: Sunday to Thursday

Xavier and his one of his moms and his grandmother took North out to the lunch buffet at a vegetarian Indian restaurant the Sunday before their birthday. He gave them a rainbow-striped scarf, which might have been a reference to the fact that they both belong to their schools Rainbow Alliance (the gay-straight union). Then they went swimming at the community pool where I do my Sunday afternoon laps. This was a spontaneous development, so I was surprised to see them come in the door to the pool deck while I was doing the kickboard part of my routine.

The weather and the school district gave North an early birthday present of a day off on Wednesday and a two-hour delay on Thursday because we got four and a half inches of the white stuff. North went over to Zoë’s house and they spent Wednesday hand coloring invitations for Zoë’s birthday party, walking to the bakery to get treats, and sledding. North was the only one of us who had any fun that day, as Beth, Noah, and I were holed up in the house working.

Thursday, the day before North’s birthday, I made tacos for dinner, because they love tacos and I don’t make them much anymore because I made them on Election night 2016 and now tacos just make me sad. North thinks this is a ridiculous reaction and maybe it is, but it’s my reaction.

After dinner, Beth and North went to the party store to get the balloons they’d bought earlier inflated with helium. I thought it was kind of funny that despite the fact that North wasn’t having a party, we still ended up with balloons and a piñata. For reason I can’t quite articulate, this reminded me of the year they turned five and asked for a surprise party and then tried to plan exactly what was going to happen at the surprise party.

The Birthday: Friday

On Friday morning I got up earlier than usual and made my newly minted twelve year old a birthday breakfast of cheese grits and an egg. (They usually make their own breakfast so that was part of the treat. Also, they are quite fond of cheese grits.)  They went off to school and came home with Zoë, who admired the balloons, and helped them smash the piñata and dye the frosting for the baked but not yet frosted birthday cake a pretty teal color.

Just before five, I herded Noah, North, and Zoë to the bus stop so we could meet Beth for pizza at Roscoe’s, where North opened cards and presents. Zoë gave them a card she’d circulated around school and gotten a bunch of friends to sign. North was delighted and read the messages—many of which were mysterious in-jokes—aloud.

Zoë’s folks were dropping off her presents for North later, so the gifts were just from us and the grandmothers. North received some money, an Amazon gift card, three novels (A Wish After MidnightEvery Day, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), a mug that says, “Warning: I may spontaneously break out in show tunes,” a t-shirt that says “I’m not yelling, I’m projecting” and permission (and funds) to dye all their hair purple. Up to now, they’ve always had to keep at least half of their hair its natural color. This has been my rule since they first started dyeing their hair the summer before fourth grade.  I like their natural golden blonde color and I didn’t like the idea of their whole head being white blond when the purple dye fades. But this is something they’ve wanted a long time and it’s not my hair, so I finally relented.

We took a train into the city, had some pre-show lemonade, café au lait, and pastries. Then we hurried to Ford’s Theater and found our seats. The Wiz was fun (and a sentimental favorite if you happened to be a kid in the late 1970s). Of course a show like this is mostly about the song and dance numbers and these were just what you’d want. I’ve actually been singing “Ease on Down the Road,” to my kids on school mornings when they need a little push to get out the door since they were little. I’m not sure they believed it was a real song other people knew until we saw the show. Anyway, the actress playing Dorothy was full of earnest emotion and a powerful singer, but Zoë and North liked the scarecrow best for his physical humor and comic line delivery. The costumes were sumptuous and the set effectively used projections as well as physical pieces. There were some updates, such as references to Black Panther and the guard at the Emerald City using Siri to open the city gates but overall, it was pretty faithful to the original show.

We got home very late. Metro was single-tracking on the Red Line and while we were waiting at Metro Center  it was announced that the train was coming on the opposite side of the track from where it actually arrived so there was a stampede across the bridge that goes over the tracks. We made it onto the train, which was good because it would have been a twenty-minute wait for the next one. At home, North opened Zoë’s presents—a 3D puzzle, a stress ball, a fidget cube and a big Tootsie Roll—and we all went to bed.

After the Birthday: Saturday and Sunday

Zoë slept over at our house and the next morning different people ate fruit salad, leftover pizza, vegetarian sausage, and birthday cake for breakfast. (Everyone had cake.) Beth and I made signs for the March for Our Lives. Beth mixed up some orange paint and painted “#Enough. End gun violence” on hers. I went with a similar sentiment: “Enough is Enough” on one side and “¡Basta ya!” on the other because I am fired up enough to say it in two languages. Noah affixed a sticker that says “2019” to his shirt. The date represents the year he can vote in state and federal elections. He got it at school and a lot of teens at the march were wearing similar ones.

Dropping Zoë back at her house, we were headed back into the city to attend the March. The name was something of a misnomer because it wasn’t a march so much as a rally; once we found a place to stand we didn’t ease on down Pennsylvania Avenue as much as stand there for several hours, along with masses of other people. The stage was in front of the Capitol and screens were set up along the road at intervals. We were in front of the Archives building, several blocks away, but we were close to a screen and Beth, Noah, and I could see and hear well. North, being shorter than most of the people around us, could only hear.

We were there an hour before the speeches started so we had plenty of time to people watch and read signs. There were many variations on the idea that there should be a background check before you could buy a Republican senator and quite a few said, “The NRA is a terrorist organization.” A girl in front of us had one that said, “Please DO NOT arm my gym teacher.” Kids held signs that said, “Am I next?” and “I am not a target.”

I have to say it was pretty well organized as these things go. Even though it was a huge event, there were enough porta potties and even after it was over, they still had toilet paper. It was also possibly the most moving political rally I have ever attended. I think that’s because all the speakers were young people—kids, teens, and one or two twenty-somethings (including the brother of a teacher killed at Sandy Hook). There was not a politician in the bunch. Several of the Parkland students spoke and their eloquent speeches were interspersed with other heartfelt speeches by young people from all around the country who had lost siblings or other family members to gun violence. There also musical acts. Andra Day opened the program, and Common, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and others all sang.

Even if you weren’t there, you’ve probably seen a lot of the speeches online already, so I won’t try to summarize them all. The eleven year old girl from Alexandria was a big crowd hit, as was Martin Luther King’s nine-year-old granddaughter. They saved Emma González for last. If you haven’t seen her speech, which begins passionately, and ends with a long silence that stands for the six minutes and twenty seconds it took the Parkland shooter to kill his victims, you should. You can see all those speeches here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43531391.

North, who’d been up more than two hours past their bedtime the night before and who was using a cane because of a twisted ankle and who couldn’t see the screen, tired of the speeches before the rest of us did, so Beth took them home for a nap. Noah and I stayed until the end.

We lingered in the city for a while the crowds slowly dispersed. Noah wanted pizza and I tried to convince him we should just eat the snacks in my bag but having established a post-protest pizza tradition this year, he was adamant and he stood in line that snaked out the door of a pizza place while I sat wearily on the sidewalk and looked at my friends’ pictures of the march on my phone. While I was waiting for him I saw a big group of kids from Newtown High School go by in matching t-shirts and considered how some of them were young enough to have been fourth and fifth graders at Sandy Hook Elementary five years ago.

Noah came back with the pizza and we ate it, still sitting on the sidewalk. Then since we’d already ruined our dinner it seemed like a good idea to get milkshakes from an ice cream truck. It ended up being a good plan because the Metro wasn’t crammed by the time we got there and we got seats on the train.

We got home around the time Megan was arriving for the second of North’s back-to-back sleepovers. North opened her gift—a Broadway-themed board game—and after an hour or so we went out to dinner. Noah was full from his mid-afternoon lunch and stayed home. I went along but didn’t eat much. At home, we all ate more birthday cake and everyone was in bed by ten o’ clock.

The following morning, I went to church with Beth and North. The religious education leader had put out a call the night before for kids to speak at the service about gun violence. Never one to shy away from a microphone, North jotted down some notes in the time between when Megan left and when we left for church. Here’s the speech. It’s about the experience of sheltering place because of a (false) rumor about a kid with a gun at their school and about the walkout they organized during a field trip. It’s a little over three minutes long.

When the service was over we went to the coffee social afterward and listened to people congratulate North on their speech.

Back at home, we settled in for a day of work, homework, housecleaning, and packing because tomorrow we are easing on down the road again—on a spring break college visit road trip to Burlington, Vermont and Boston to see Champlain College and Emerson College, with a side trip to Cape Cod so North and I can get a beach fix. After all the celebrating, protesting, and traveling, we will all be ready for some R&R.

Kids

Kids!
You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
Kids!
But they still just do what they want to do!

From “Kids” by Lee Adams (Bye, Bye Birdie)

In the space of ten days, the kids have: seen three plays, played and sang in music festivals (both with a solo), walked out of school to protest gun violence, gone on two field trips, participated in a day of service, sung karaoke and performed in an acting class showcase. On hearing about just one of these days, Beth’s mom said, “North’s a busy bee.” Here’s how it all went down:

Saturday: Bye, Bye Birdie

The theater where North did School of Rock last fall had two shows running on consecutive weekends this month, Bye, Bye Birdie and Sweet Charity. North wanted to go because they had friends in each show so we did. We saw Bye, Bye Birdie first. It was a fun show and nice to see so many kids from School of Rock perform again. I got a root beer float from the concession stand during intermission because it seemed appropriate for the time period. And speaking of the time period, when the show was over I had to explain to North what it meant to get pinned. They looked at me skeptically and said, “People don’t do that anymore, do they?” As we left the theater and walked down the staircase toward a corridor lined with actors waiting to greet the audience, several kids yelled North’s name. They all seemed happy to see each other.

Monday: Band Festival

Noah played in a band festival and just as at North’s chorus concert earlier this month, there was an issue with his band clothes. The problem was he forgot to wear them and he arrived at school in street clothes. Beth saved his bacon by running the band clothes to school for him. He forgot to ask for a belt so she didn’t take one and his concert pants wouldn’t stay up, so he wore the fleece pants he’d worn to school, which luckily, were black. Because of a percussionist shortage, Noah played not only with his own band but his school’s two other bands. He had to learn a timpani part with one day’s notice for one of them. (Having no timpani at home, he practiced it on his bells.) The ensemble (his regular band) got straight superiors and will advance to the state festival, which is always gratifying for him. I’m proud of his flexibility and hard work.

Tuesday: Walkout and Field Trip

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the seventeen-minute walkouts all across the country last Tuesday to commemorate the one month anniversary of the Parkland shootings. The kids at Noah’s school decided to have theirs in front of the White House (and then the Capitol) so he was out of school nearly the whole day, rather than just seventeen minutes. Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, and our senator (Chris Van Hollen) and representative (Jamie Raskin) and the representative from Parkland, Florida and another one from the Sandy Hook area spoke to the assembled kids. Noah said the sound system was better than at the last walkout and he could hear the speeches. A kid we know who’s a senior at Noah’s school got to shake John Lewis’s hand.

Most of Noah’s teachers let their classes know there wouldn’t be anything happening that day, just in case they should happen to find themselves elsewhere, say, in front of the White House. I know it was not as easy for students in less accommodating schools and in more conservative parts of the country. But in schools in big cities and small towns all over the country, they did it anyway. Beth, who has a more politically diverse group of Facebook friends than I do, said she was surprised how much support these student protests are getting from all quarters. She says it’s like the NRA is the Wizard of Oz and the kids have pulled away the curtain. I hope so.

I like Randy Rainbow’s take on the protests as well. The song, perfectly enough, is a parody of “Kids” from Bye, Bye Birdie. I couldn’t place it at first, but finally I realized why it sounded familiar.

Meanwhile, at North’s school there was a walkout to the athletic field, but the whole sixth grade was on a previously scheduled field trip to see Hidden Figures at AFI. About ten of them, including North, walked out of the movie for seventeen minutes.

Thursday: Day of Service

On Thursday, there was a Day of Service for the kids in the Communications Arts Program at Noah’s school. He volunteered at Community Forklift, a group that collects and redistributes tools and architectural salvage to provide the community with affordable home improvement supplies and reduce construction waste. He says he carried a lot of doors around the warehouse.

Friday: Chorus Festival

Friday was North’s turn for festival. After many years of hearing about Noah going, they were very excited. And after all the trouble we’d had with concert clothes, they had their clothes out two days in advance. So you won’t be surprised to hear when they put on their pants the morning of the festival, they discovered the snap was broken. We looked all over for safety pins but could only find some small ones that weren’t strong enough for the stretchy material of the pants. I texted the chorus teacher who said it was okay to wear their shirt untucked and as the pants were staying up without the snap, they went with that look. The only other option was black capris leggings and it would have been hard to tuck a shirt into those, too.

I’d volunteered to chaperone the trip, so I showed up at the chorus room at eight a.m. while North was checking in with their first period teacher. As the kids started showing up, the room began to buzz with young people in high spirits. Then some of the kids noticed the flurries outside and this nearly caused them to lose their minds. The chorus teacher had to shout to make his directions heard. He sent me outside to see if the buses had arrived while the seventh and eighth grade chorus practiced a song. The buses had arrived and soon we were boarding them. There was only one other chaperone and she and the teacher rode with the seventh and eighth graders so I was the only adult other than the bus driver on the sixth-grade bus. Let’s just say they weren’t saving their voices for the competition.

Once we were at the high school where the festival took place, we sat in the audience and watched choruses from other middle schools perform. Each chorus sang three songs and then one of the four judges would come on stage and critique the performance and ask them to sing certain lines again. Then the chorus would exit the stage, go to another room and do a sight reading test for a fifth judge.

We saw a lot of schools and I’m not a musician so it would be hard for me to say that one school was better than another. They all sounded pretty good to me. I was interested in the way different schools organized their choruses. Some schools sang all together, others were divided by grade (this is how North’s school does it), others into a boys’ chorus and a girls’ chorus, at least one had an advanced subgroup sing after the main group. The dress codes were different, too. Black and white was the most common color scheme, but there was a red and black school, a blue and black one and a burgundy and black one. Some co-ed choruses had different dress codes for boys and girls. I thought about what a headache that would be for North and other non-binary kids and I was glad in their chorus all genders sing together and everyone wears white tops and black bottoms.

The sixth-grade chorus went relatively early in the proceedings, but after we’d had a chance to see a few others schools go. None of those schools had a soloist so I was wondering if the onstage judge would give North individualized feedback in front of a whole auditorium of people and if that would be nerve-wracking for them. Anyway, their solo went well, by which I mean they sounded good and their pants didn’t fall down during it. They were singing in Hebrew and later I asked if they knew what the words meant and they said, “No idea.” When the judge came onstage he asked for an extra round of applause for the soloist, but all the critique was for the chorus as a whole, which I think was just about the best outcome for them, public recognition without public criticism.

We watched some more schools and after we’d been there a few hours, a kid from another chorus fainted onstage, falling straight onto his face. It was during the critique portion of the proceedings and once he’d come to and had some water and was able to stand, his whole chorus exited without finishing.

Shortly afterward the seventh and eighth grade chorus from North’s school performed. And then one of their singers got woozy and had to leave the stage but he didn’t actually lose consciousness so the show went on. (North later speculated it was because the stage lights were so hot.) Because the other chaperone went to sit with the sick boy and the chorus teacher went to the seventh and eighth grade sight reading, I was left in charge of the twenty-some sixth-graders, who were supposed to leave the auditorium and wait in the lobby near the doors so once the seventh and eighth-graders came out, we could all board the buses.

It was a long wait—at least fifteen minutes—and the kids were very wound up. I decided early on the most control I would try exert was to keep kids from exiting the building and to break up roughhousing (both of which I needed to do multiple times). When they started to rock a vending machine because a treat had gotten stuck, I just let them, though I didn’t feel good about it.

Finally the teacher and the other chorus came out and we got back on the buses for a ride that was even louder than the ride to the festival and included a few kids loudly singing music with rather alarming lyrics. I was glad North had asked to borrow my earbuds and was listening to something else. Before we left, the teacher came on the bus to tell them their scores—straight excellent ratings for their performance and a superior for the sight reading. You need straight superiors to advance to the state festival so that’s it for chorus field trips until the Music in the Parks festival in the late spring when they’ll go to Hershey Park.

Saturday: Little Mermaid, Sweet Charity, and Karaoke

A friend of North’s who goes to a different school invited them to see a production of The Little Mermaid at her school. North knew three of the actors, from school and drama camp, including the one playing Ariel, so that was nice. We were going to see Sweet Charity later that same day and we had an extra ticket because Noah was swamped with work so we picked North and Leila up after the first play and took both kids out to lunch and then to the second play. I’d been iffy about seeing Sweet Charity because the subject matter is somewhat adult and it ended up being even more risqué than I’d imagined a middle and high school production would be so I was a bit nervous the whole time I was watching it, wondering what was going to happen next. It wasn’t a disaster, but I did feel the need to apologize to Leila’s mom afterward, even though Leila liked it and did not appear to be traumatized. I do have a reputation as the strict mom to uphold. 

We dropped Leila off but then while I was messaging her mom about the play, she asked if North would like to go do karaoke with Leila and her dad at a local church, so I hurriedly fed North and Beth drove them over to the church. There was a big crowd apparently, and North never got a chance to sing, but they enjoyed watching. Leila’s mom said “Roar,” was performed five times.

Monday: Acting Class Showcase

North’s been taking an acting class at the rec center this winter. The last meeting was Monday and there was a showcase for friends and family. I showed up fifteen minutes before the audience was supposed to arrive to deliver North’s costume—a pair of pajamas—and ducked back out to wait for the audience to be admitted. While I was rummaging through their pajama drawer I realized the green and gray striped ones were in Slytherin colors, which was perfect because North was playing Scorpius from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

They started with some acting warm-up games and then the scenes began. It was an eclectic mix: The Parent Trap, The Dead Poets’ Society, City of Ember, Anne of Green Gables, The Gilmore Girls, and Waiting for Godot. North’s scene from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was the one in which Scorpius is convincing Albus to destroy the time turner. North was very expressive and did a good job inhabiting the role. There was a lot of good acting on display. Other than North’s scene, I think I liked the one from The Gilmore Girls the best, even though I never watched that show. The actors were fantastic and the emotional stakes were clearly established.

After each scene the teacher, Gretchen, had the actors repeat some part of the scene with the lights up brighter so parents could take pictures. Then when all the scenes were over, the kids discussed some of the acting techniques they’d learned in the class and how they applied them. They finished up with an improv game in which the players have to repurpose a prop. Members of the audience were invited to join. I didn’t, but Zoë, who’d come to see North perform, did. She’ll be in the school play with North next month and I think she might be interested in taking this class some time.

If she does and North’s in it again, I will be happy to be in the audience. I love watching my kids and other people’s kids do just what they want to do, on stage, in front of the White House and wherever else they happen to be. If there’s a bright spot in these troubled times, they are it.

You Never Know

Tuesday and Wednesday: Walkouts

“There was a lot of drama at school today,” North said as soon as they were through the door on Tuesday afternoon.

“What kind of drama?” I asked.

“A fistfight and a walkout,” they answered.

Apparently a seventh grader pushed North and a friend of theirs out of the way as they walked to the locker room after gym class and it ended up getting physical between North’s friend and the girl who started it. North’s friend got a lunch detention and the other girl got three. North was named as a witness on an official form.

The other, more schoolwide drama was that there was an attempted walkout to protest gun violence. At first North said kids left campus and went to downtown Silver Spring, although they later amended their story to say they weren’t sure where they went, or if they even managed to leave the building. There were two kids who left North’s Spanish class, on the pretense of going to the bathroom and never returned, but neither of the escapees has a class with North later in the day so it wasn’t clear if those kids came back for their other classes.

There was a robocall from the school that night explaining that some students had been planning to walk out and outlining some alternative forums the school had provided and would provide the next day during lunch and after school for students to air their views. The call went on to report that students at several local high schools were planning to walk out the following day to attend a rally on Capitol Hill and urged parents to tell their middle school students not to join that walkout. The odd thing about the call was that it never clarified the very thing North didn’t know—whether any kids successfully left the building. I say this is odd because in the past whenever there’s been a call about an incident at school it’s always been clear what happened.

I had foreseen the possibility of a walkout at Noah’s school in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and I’d already told him if there was one and if he took part he wouldn’t get in trouble at home. I hadn’t even thought to tell North the same thing (or something different). I guess I just didn’t expect it of middle schoolers.

“You beat us!” Noah exclaimed at dinner when North was telling us about it. He was planning to  participate in the walkout the following day and North wanted to as well. Beth and I considered it, because we want to encourage the kids to speak their minds and be politically active, and I think we might have said yes if North knew a big group of kids who were going and would promise to stick together, but they were unable to confirm that any of their friends were going and from their middle school to Capitol Hill is a longer trip on public transportation than they’ve ever made solo before. More important, there was the sometimes chaotic environment of a protest to consider. A month shy of twelve didn’t seem old enough to navigate it alone and I didn’t think they could necessarily find their brother in the crowd.

We told them there will be other opportunities to protest. There’s going to be 17-minute walkout in mid-March, one minute for each student killed—and I hope their school will accommodate it, as it’s a much more modest action. There will also be a march in D.C. on the first day of spring break we’re all planning to attend together. North seemed to accept our decision. And as it turned out all the students at North’s school who attempted to leave on Wednesday were stopped by security so all our deliberation was moot. (A seventh-grade boy from North’s bus stop found himself in the same position as North so he made a sign for his tenth-grade brother to take to the protest.)

As for Noah’s school, there was no warning call to parents and when the principal spoke about the walkout on the P.A. the day before it happened, she noted the school did not officially sanction it and then helpfully provided the time and destination of the protest. “She all but encouraged us to go,” Noah said. After the fact the school was retweeting a member of the County council praising Blair students for exercising their First Amendment rights. One of Noah’s teachers said anyone who didn’t go would have an alternate assignment, basically making going to the rally the default position.

So Noah left for school Wednesday morning without even taking his binder, attended his AP biology class, and then between that class and the next one, walked out with hundreds of his classmates. Here’s a picture of them from an MSN tweet. Noah’s in the green t-shirt. They walked to the Metro and rode into the city, where they rallied in front of the Capitol, listened to our Congressional representative Jamie Raskin and several students from different high schools speak.

Back at home, I was watching coverage of it on Representative Raskin’s Facebook page on and off for hours. There were thirteen hundred students from several Montgomery County high schools there, according to the school district. The students carried signs that said, “Is Our School Next?” and “My Life > Your Guns,” and they chanted, “Enough is enough,” “Our blood, your hands,” “Hey, hey, NRA. You can’t beat the PTA,” and “Hey, hey, NRA. How many kids did you kill today?” They were full of anger and hope and beauty and promise. It was all I could do not to cry, I was so proud of all of them.

From the capitol, the students marched to the White House and around 1:30 or so, the rally broke up. Noah got himself some pizza and then dropped by Beth’s office, where he spent the rest of the afternoon, attending the retirement party of one of Beth’s colleagues and enduring hugs and exclamations about how big he’d gotten from people who hadn’t seen him since he was a little boy and liked to go to Beth’s office on snow days and school holidays.

He came home a little sunburned on his nose and neck (it was a sunny day of record-breaking heat—82 degrees at National Airport) and saying he wanted to find Representative Raskin’s speech online, because he hadn’t been able to hear any of it. That’s so often true at protests. I didn’t hear a word of any of the speeches at the Women’s March last year.

Back at school the next day he said his teachers were congratulating the kids and there was only one assignment Noah missed and would not be allowed to make up (in band), so the walkout was close to consequence-free for him. “The resisting authority part of it didn’t really work,” he joked.

Even if it isn’t exactly braving fire hoses and police batons and dogs as children and adolescents did fifty-five years ago in Birmingham, young people all over the country are answering the call of their grieving and angry peers in Florida and because of their leadership just a week a half after the shootings some modest action on gun control seems at least possible. Republicans are talking about banning bump stocks, expanding background checks, and raising the minimum age for gun purchases. Companies are severing ties with the NRA left and right. It remains to be seen if any legislative change will actually happen, but even to be hearing these proposals taken seriously seems like a big deal.

Saturday: Working People’s Day of Action Rally

Three days after the student walkouts, on a damp, foggy morning, Beth and I took the Metro into the city and joined members of her and many other unions at a rally in Freedom Plaza in anticipation of arguments in the Janus vs. AFSCME case at the Supreme Court on Monday.

When we arrived someone was onstage singing “We Will Resist” to the tune of “I Will Survive.” There were speeches by union members and union leaders—including a rather fiery one by the President of CWA—and elected officials (Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia). Taking note of what’s on everyone’s mind these days, at least two people speaking in support of public sector unions noted that the teachers who were killed defending students at Parkland and Sandy Hook were union members.

I can’t say I felt as much hope that something might change soon at this rally—in fact, a few of the speakers seemed to acknowledge that the case is likely to be decided the wrong way, largely because of Neil Gorsuch’s ill-gotten seat on the Supreme Court. But you never know what might happen. Supreme Court decisions do sometimes surprise and a couple weeks ago I would have said the gun control debate was settled when twenty first-graders and six brave teachers and school staff died at Sandy Hook and even that couldn’t move the needle. But even though I felt that way I kept writing checks for gun control and for much the same reason, I go to rallies for things that seem as if they might be lost causes… because you just never know.

Acting Out

North’s going to be in production of the musical School of Rock this December. It’s part of an educational program at a theater in Silver Spring for kids from second to twelfth grade. They really wanted to be in a play and the process of auditioning seemed daunting, especially given the fact that I don’t drive, which limits my ability to get them around the D.C. metro area to go to a lot of different auditions. So, this seemed like a good compromise. You just register and it’s first-come, first-served.

They’ve had three rehearsals so far. After the second one they’d been cast in their first-choice role, Billy. If you have only a hazy memory of the characters, he’s the kid who designs the costumes for the band, and the one in the “You’re Tacky and I Hate You” meme you so often see on Facebook. North likes that’s he’s somewhat gender creative and that he has a solo. (The kid roles in the play are more developed than in the film, I hear.) After the third rehearsal, they were tickled to bring home an official script on loan from the current Broadway production.

In the spirit of preparation, we watched the first half of the movie on Friday night. I don’t usually let North watch PG-13 movies. This might have been their first (if they haven’t seen any at a friend’s house). At any rate, it was the first authorized one, but since the play’s not that different from the movie, I thought that particular horse was already out of the barn. The scene where Summer confronts Dewey about groupies wasn’t exactly comfortable for me to watch with them, though.

Because there are two to three rehearsals most weeks from now through December (and then six to eight performances), we told North they’d need to cut some of their regular extracurricular activities, and much to my surprise, they decided to ditch them all—violin, guitar, Girl Scouts, acting class, running club, and even basketball, which doesn’t even overlap much with the play, as practices start in late November and games not until early January. Most of these activities they’ve been doing for years, so I guess they just want a clean slate for middle school. They did try to get into a cooking club at school but it turned out you were supposed to register beforehand and it had filled by the first meeting. They’re also considering attending an LGBT support group at school.

Last Saturday’s rehearsal conflicted with the March for Racial Justice, which Beth and I had been planning to attend. The theater schedules rehearsals around people’s conflicts (the ones you declare by a deadline) as much as possible, but not every conflict can be accommodated, so we had to decide whether to skip the rehearsal, skip the march, task Noah with getting North there, or teach them the route on public transportation. It’s our goal for them to be able to get themselves to weekday evening rehearsals eventually, but I was thinking I’d do it with them at least a couple times first because it’s not in a part of Silver Spring we go to on the bus often. And we didn’t really want to cut into Noah’s homework time, either, so Beth suggested we skip the march and go to the evening vigil at the MLK memorial instead and I agreed.

We left the house around five, shortly after Beth brought North home from rehearsal. It was just Beth and I, as the kids were not interested in protesting anything, or as North put it earlier in the week, “chanting things no one will hear.” It does feel that way sometimes, but it also feels like we’ve got to do something, and I don’t have much faith in petitions, I only have so much money to give, and the elected officials in our deep blue county and medium blue state can generally be counted on to do the right thing without our writing or calling and pleading with them to do it. So, I write and call them occasionally, write moderate-sized checks more often, and I keep marching and showing up for rallies. And I guess North’s feelings about protest vary, too, because at dinner Monday night they asked with interest if there were any marches coming up.

Metro was single-tracking on the blue, orange, and red lines, which happened to be the exact lines we’d need to get to the Mall. Parking’s out of the question, there, though, so we allowed ourselves almost two hours to get to the vigil, which was supposed to start at sundown (6:51 according to my phone’s weather app).

We had good luck with the trains and arrived on the Mall around 5:45, so we decided to take advantage of the restrooms and food trucks near the Washington Monument. We walked down the long line of food trucks, looking for vegetarian options. The first one we saw falafel, also the second, third, fourth, and fifth. In fact, the only other choice was a veggie burrito, and Beth wasn’t in the mood for either, so she decided to eat at home later, but I got some falafel and humus. By 6:15, we were walking toward the MLK memorial.

It was a pretty evening, with the clouds touched with pink and the water of the Tidal Basin rippling and silver. When we got to the memorial around 6:35, there was no evidence of a vigil, but it was still light and there was no precise official starting time so we walked around and looked at the MLK quotes carved on the back wall and then settled in on bench.

Eventually some organizers, mostly white women, showed up and started laying down posters of black girls and women who have been victims of violence or organized against it on the ground. They were unrolling a long canvas with a painted message when some park rangers came over. I guess they didn’t have a permit because soon they were picking up the posters and the canvas. There was some discussion about the food they’d brought as well, a bag of apples and some granola bars to distribute to anyone breaking their Yom Kippur fast. I think the fact that the march had inadvertently been scheduled on Yom Kippur and the ensuing criticism was probably the reason for the sunset vigil in the first place. But it never really got off the ground. We waited until 7:25, by which point it was full dark, but there were never speeches or candles, or anything very vigil-like, only a small knot of people (ten at the most) standing together, and dwarfed by a school group (mostly teenage girls and adults about the right age to be the parents or teachers of teenage girls, so I’m assuming it was a school group).

It was a disappointing outcome, but not all bad. The MLK monument is always a moving place. We watched all kinds of people—an elderly black woman on a younger woman’s arm, a middle-aged black couple, white teenagers—snap pictures in front of the statue of MLK. Plus, the Tidal Basin with the monuments all lit up is beautiful at night—there’s a reason it’s a classic D.C. date spot. It could have even felt like a date, as Beth and I were there without the kids. But it didn’t really. I was feeling melancholy and Beth seemed subdued as well. It just wasn’t the evening for activism or acting romantic, I guess.

But there’s always tomorrow. When North asked what we could do for National Coming Out Day, I wasn’t sure. Beth and I don’t really have anyone left to come out to, but I asked North if they’d like to write a guest post about being non-binary and they said yes. Stay tuned.