The Year and a Half of Living Cautiously: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 53

I remember saying a while back I was going to take the Coronavirus Chronicles subhead off my blog after Labor Day when the kids were back in in-person classes and Beth was back in her office. Well, the kids are back, but Beth’s office is continuing to allow remote work at least through mid-October and possibly permanently. She goes in to her office occasionally, but most days she works at home. My main reason for leaving the caption on, though, is that with the delta variant, everything feels more precarious than I thought it would by now. Our lives are returning to something pretty close to normal, but the pandemic isn’t over. Unvaccinated people are still dying at a pretty fast clip and I’m not taking it for granted that the kids are going to stay in school.

In March I did a covid year in review and since we’re at least potentially at an inflection point now, I thought I’d recap the last six months. Here’s hoping the next time I do something like this, it’s to mark a more definitive end of covid.

Meanwhile, here’s what we did in the last third of the pandemic to date:

March: North turned fifteen and gained the privileges of drinking coffee and watching some (vetted) R-rated movies. They celebrated with a pre-birthday campfire with Zoë and a backyard party with their three closest friends. During the three-day overlap of the kids’ spring breaks, we spent a long weekend in Deep Creek, where we explored waterfalls and the Maze Rocks in Garret State Forest. Beth and Steph got their covid vaccinations, driving back out to Western Maryland to get them.

April: We went to the National Arboretum to see the cherry blossoms for the second spring in a row, as it was too crowded for safety at the Tidal Basin. Noah got his first shot. Beth and North went camping. Noah gave a paper on the philosophical paradoxes of time travel in Back to the Future at an online undergraduate symposium. North started going to school in person, four out of every ten days.

May: Noah turned twenty and did not gain any special new privileges. The brood X cicadas emerged and completely charmed me. Beth took up kayaking. I turned fifty-four. (No new privileges for me either.) North got their first shot. Noah’s sophomore year of college ended and he spent two and a half weeks in West Virginia with Beth’s mom. While Beth and North were dropping him off, I spent a restorative weekend at home alone. Then we all road tripped to pick him up over Memorial Day weekend and seeing Beth’s mom for the first time since Christmas 2019 was nice, too.

June: Once we were all fully vaccinated, we went to the movies for the first time. North attended a quinceañera and a lot of friends’ birthday parties, which were larger and more frequent now that their peers had been vaccinated. North finished ninth grade and attended an outdoor drama camp, culminating in a performance of several songs from West Side Story. Our eighteen-year-old cat Xander came down with a serious skin and ear infection (which continued into July) and we were all quite worried, but he pulled through. The death toll for covid reached 600,000.

July: Noah and I started going kayaking with Beth. There was no Fourth of July parade or fireworks in Takoma, so we all watched the DC fireworks from the roof of Beth’s office building. Noah spent two days assisting on a film shoot and then helped edit the film. North spent a week volunteering as a counselor at a day camp at their old preschool. Beth and I celebrated the thirty-fourth anniversary of our first date. We spent a lovely week at the beach with both our mothers, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece. While there, my mom got to celebrate her seventy-eighth birthday with both daughters and all three grandchildren. Also, Beth and I went kayaking with Sara’s family in the Bay and I got to take my niece Lily-Mei on her second-ever trip through the Haunted Mansion. It was the first time I’d seen any of my relatives in two years and it was wonderful to be reunited with them. After we got home from the beach, we went berry picking and came home with blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, which we baked into a kuchen and a cobbler.

August: The kids and I took a walk through the creek and Noah stepped on a beehive while climbing over a deadfall and ended up with at least fifteen stings. North spent a week at sleepaway camp, and served as head of house, a leadership position that involved running meetings and serving as a mentor to younger campers. Noah got his pandemic mane shorn after seventeen months. We drove him up to school while North was at camp and spent a few days helping him move into his apartment and enjoying Cayuga Lake and the many waterfalls around Ithaca. On the way home, we visited my cousin Holly and picked North up from camp. A week later, North went back to school. The United States pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving it in the hands of the Taliban.

September: I wrote and mailed thirty postcards to California voters, urging them to vote no on the gubernatorial recall. It was my first batch since the spate of special elections that followed the November 2020 elections. I was diagnosed with diabetes. (My intake appointment with the diabetes coaching program is next week.) Noah was assigned two shows to edit on ICTV and applied to join the drone club. North tried out for the school play and applied to be the stage manager (they went to callbacks on Tuesday) and they came kayaking with Beth and me for the first time. The Takoma Park Folk Festival was cancelled for the second year in a row. (Well, there was an online version, but the draw is that it’s live music.) The Takoma Park annual pie contest is cancelled, too, which is sad for North because they are a two-time winner.

We’ve weathered another six months of covid. The U.S. death toll is currently at 665,235. The vaccination rate is not what it should be, with only 57% of Americans fully vaccinated, but there are more every day and with luck, vaccinations for kids under twelve will be approved sometime this fall.

In many ways, for our family, things are better now than they were six months ago. We are all fully vaccinated, the kids are back at school, and the cascade of medical problems North had from July 2020 until February 2021 (paralysis, non-epileptic seizures, urinary difficulties) are pretty much cleared up. All they have left are some minor tics. They’ve just finished the round of cognitive behavioral therapy they started a year ago for these problems, but since they still have chronic pain that limits how far they can walk, we’re going to pivot to addressing that. They had a two-hour, online intake appointment at the pain clinic a week ago and they’re going to start CBT, with a different therapist, for coping strategies. I’m feeling hopeful about that.

In what may be a sign that covid is less ever-present in my mind, I only read one book about a pandemic (Station Eleven) in the past six months, though I do have The Pull of the Stars in my pile.

How are covid conditions where you live? Does life feel normal, semi-normal, or anything but?

Hurry Back to School: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 51

Go in and out the window
Go in and out the window
Go home and get your dinner
And hurry back to school

From “School Days” by Richard Barone and Will D. Cobb

North went back to school today, their first full-length, in-person day in almost a year and a half. (They were in the school building for sixteen shortened days during the fourth quarter of last year.) We managed to packed a lot of fun into the last five days of summer break.

Wednesday

“Are still wearing KN95 masks?” North said when they saw me grab one off the hook near the front door. For a couple weeks before North left for camp, we were extra cautious, because they were about to spend a week with kids aged eight to fifteen and the younger ones would be unvaccinated. We didn’t want to risk having North pick up an asymptomatic infection and pass it on to one of them.

I said a cloth mask was fine. We were headed to the Crossroads farmers’ market in Langley Park to pick up some peaches and for one last pupusa stand lunch before school started. We were also going to Starbucks so North could start spending down some soon-to-expire stars on their card. They got an iced vanilla latte and a pumpkin-cream cheese muffin and felt the need to justify themselves because they know I have strict rules about seasonal treats (but only for myself). “You do you,” I told them. I got a matcha lemonade. I asked if they were excited for school next week and they said, “Not really.” I don’t suppose I was either, going into tenth grade, but I thought absence might have made the heart grow fonder.

As we walked home across the Carroll Avenue bridge over Long Branch, a bridge which we would have walked under on our ill-fated creek walk two weeks earlier if we had gotten that far, I asked North if they thought Noah would ever go on a creek walk again after his mishap with the bees and they said maybe. Would they, I asked. Yes, they said, but we resolved to stay far away from deadfalls that might harbor beehives.

Thursday

The next day North and I went to a matinee of Coda. We boarded a bus to Silver Spring around 3:55 and within minutes it was pouring rain. We had to walk a couple blocks to the theater, with a pit stop at Starbucks to use up more stars (North got another iced vanilla latte and I got a black tea lemonade). We had a big umbrella, but we still got moderately wet. I was afraid my feet, bare inside wet crocs, would cause me to get chilled in the air-conditioned theater so I lined the crocs with paper towels from the bathroom, which made North laugh, but soon the towels absorbed the rainwater, my feet were dry, and I made it through the movie without developing hypothermia, so I think it was a successful strategy. The movie was well-acted and fun (with some fairly unrealistic plot points, but what are you going to do?). Afterwards we had soup and sandwiches and split an Oreo shake at Potbelly’s.

Also, if you’re on the fence about going to the movies these days, I recommend weekday matinees. When Noah and I went to see The Green Knight the week before we’d had the theater to ourselves and this time there were only four other people.

Friday

Friday afternoon Beth took North shopping for school supplies and new clothes (and to get a pink drink at Starbucks that finally used up North’s expiring stars). They were gone a couple hours and I found with Noah at school there were a lot more undone chores at the end of the week, so I folded a load of laundry, mowed half the back yard before it started to pour rain, cleaned the remaining half of the bathroom North had started to clean the day before, and made a half-hearted attempt to straighten up the kitchen before deciding I should spend at least some of my time alone in the house reading on the porch.

It had cooled off after the rain and it was pleasant out, if only temporarily, and I had the new Stephen King book. I bought it before Noah left and saved it on purpose to distract myself once he was gone. But I didn’t even want to pick it up the first several days. Reading a book seemed like more than I could  manage, until that afternoon when it suddenly seemed like a good idea. I have to admit the beginning didn’t really grab me, but I trust King enough to give it a chance.

When Beth and North returned, North put on a fashion show for us. The fitting rooms had been closed at Target, so they wanted to see what fit. Everything did except one dress. They seemed happy with their new togs and it was nice to see them taking pleasure in them. 

We had Little Caesar’s for dinner, because North was in the mood, and then we watched Midnight Sun, which really isn’t the best film you can see about fatally ill teen(s) in love. I think North’s favorite in this genre is Five Feet Apart.

Weekend

Saturday morning North decorated their binder with stickers, which isn’t something I’ve seen them do in years, and they wrote the ingredients for their school lunches on the grocery list. Beth went kayaking, but I skipped it, thinking I could use some down time. I read a lot that day, but I also finished mowing the lawn, menu-planned for the next week, and cooked dinner.

North slept over at Zoë’s that night. They’d been bummed all three of their best friends were out of town during the week between camp and school, so they squeezed in all the time with Zoë they could over the weekend. They were at her house from early Saturday evening until late Sunday afternoon. I suspect they were up late because one of the first things North did on getting home, after cooking sushi rice for their school lunches, was to take an hour and a half nap.

While they were gone, Beth and I had avocado tostadas for dinner, because North does not care for avocado, and watched Summer of Soul, because they instantly veto any documentary. I made pico de gallo for the tostadas, with garden tomatoes and cilantro and it turned out pretty well. The movie is excellent. You should watch it if live performances of B.B. King, David Ruffin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, Mavis Staples, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and 5th Dimension (and interviews with many of these artists) sounds like a good time to you.

Sunday after dinner, we went out for North’s last-night-of-summer-break ice cream. They wanted to go to Dairy Queen and the closest one is in Rockville, but as no one was rushing to print out summer homework assignments—North had none this year for the first time in our fifteen-year history with MCPS—a drive didn’t seem like a bad idea. North got some kind of strawberry cheesecake concoction, I got a chocolate malted, and Beth got a raspberry-chocolate blizzard.

Monday

North got up before the sun, at 5:30, after a summer of not emerging from their room until late morning most days. Because they aren’t going to our home high school they have a long bus ride and they have to get up even earlier than Noah did in high school. I got out of bed long enough to wish them a good first day and then went right back to bed. They left around 6:20 and Beth walked with them to the bus stop as part of her morning walk. She reports that she passed a lot of high school bus stops and all the kids at every stop were wearing their masks, even outside and without their parents watching. She found that heartening. Maybe this in-person school thing is going to work out.

Beth and I went about our normal routines, except I made a small batch of sugar cookies because I thought it would be nice to come home to the smell of baking. North did seem pleased with them when they came home at 3:30. But first they collapsed on the couch, exclaiming “Air conditioning!” They said they had a good day. Their teachers seem nice. One kid they knew from middle school was in a couple of their classes and they saw another at lunch. They could have eaten outside, but didn’t. Everyone wore their masks but one teacher had to keep yanking up his falling mask. They decided to apply to for a stage manager position for the school play they learned about in Theater class (and did it online soon after getting home). Their Spanish feels a little rusty after a year off to take Japanese, but they’re pretty sure it will come back. They only had homework in one class (a get-to-know-you PowerPoint for English). It was the kind of assignment that would have paralyzed Noah, but they made short work of it.

And speaking of Noah, I texted with him a little during the day and learned he’d reconnected with one of his friends from his first year, inviting him over to his apartment and meeting up with him at an on-campus screening of The Breakfast Club. Because he was a lone wolf in high school and during his at-home sophomore year (except the time he spent on two film shoots), I was glad to hear was he socializing again.

So it seems both kids are off to a good start. If you’ve got kids in school, I hope they have a smooth and safe start to the new year.

August, Slipping Away: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 49

August slipped away into a moment in time
‘Cause it was never mine

From “august” by Taylor Swift

August is a bittersweet month. Even when the kids were younger and I was checking the days off until school started (sometimes in my head, sometimes literally on my work wall calendar), there was a little bit of me that was sad to see the long, lazy afternoons of eating popsicles and blowing bubbles on the porch and reading under the biggest tree in our yard and splashing in the inflatable pool come to an end. Once their day camps were over for the summer, we’d often have one last hurrah in the form of a trip to the county fair or an amusement park and that would be what made it feel as if summer was really over.

August took on a whole new intensity two years ago when Noah was about to leave for college. I was excited for him to embark of the adventure of his young adult life and at the same time undone by the idea that he was actually leaving. And then last August we were mired in North’s cascade of medical problems and unsure when or if Noah would go back to school for his sophomore year. (The answer was never. He did it entirely online, at home.)

And that takes us to this year. North’s at sleepaway camp right now. Both Ithaca and MCPS are planning on full-time, in-person classes for the fall. We’re leaving to drive Noah to school on Thursday, his classes start the following week, and North goes back to school the week after that. But I have a nagging worry that sometime this fall, the Delta variant will send one or both of them back to virtual classes (attended from Noah’s apartment in Ithaca and/or our house). Time will tell. Meanwhile, the kids said their goodbyes when we dropped North off at camp Sunday (more on that later). When we pick them up from camp, he’ll be gone.

I am happy that North got to go to camp and both kids get to return to a more normal high school and college experience, masks, social distancing and all. But, of course, I am sad that after seventeen months at home, Noah will be leaving again. Sometimes it seems like he never left and that we’re doing this milestone all over again, with all its joy and heartache.

The first time it occurred to me to count the days until our departure for Ithaca, it was twenty-five days away. Now it’s two. In the past couple weeks there have been a lot of lasts.

  • The first Tuesday in August, Beth, Noah, and I played Settlers of Catan. We’ve been playing it once or twice a month since early in the pandemic. Beth won. She nearly always does, but Noah often gives her a run for her money.
  • Later that week, all four of us finished the second season of Dickinson. We watch television shows in a lot of different combinations, but we’ve been gradually finishing up or coming to stopping places in the shows Noah watches with one or more of us. First it was season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then season four of Blackish, then Dickinson. And finally, just yesterday, Noah and I watched the series finale of The Leftovers.
  • The following Saturday, Beth, Noah, and I went kayaking. We set out from Jackson Landing in Patuxent River Park in Prince George’s County. It’s a very pretty stretch of water and we saw a heron up close, osprey, and a lot of red-winged blackbirds. The water was glassy smooth when we started out, but soon it started to rain and then there were spreading circles all over its surface. As the rain got harder, there were bubbles where the drops hit the river. We went down a narrow inlet so shallow Noah and I both ran aground. I saw a frog in the water there—it swam right into the side of my kayak. My guess is it was a young and inexperienced frog. We turned back a little earlier than we might have if not for the rain, but we were on the water almost an hour and a half and then we had Noodles & Company and Starbucks for lunch.
  • Two days later, the kids and I went on a creek walk, which is something we usually do near the end of the summer. (It was our only creek walk of the pandemic, as North wasn’t walking well enough to do one last August, but I guess it was still technically the last one.) We hadn’t been in the water long when we noticed there were two big deadfalls blocking our path. We all scrambled over the first one (pictured), but the second one was probably twice as tall and looked like too much of a challenge, so North and I decided to get out of the water and go around it. But Noah tackled it and soon he was sitting on top of it, looking satisfied, while North and I looked on from the path next to the creek. Then all of a sudden he was yelling and running down the side, losing both of his crocs in the mud at the bottom. Apparently there was a beehive in the branches and he’d disturbed it. He ended up with around fifteen stings, including five on just one wrist. (I tried to count them later, but I kept losing track.) When he reached us, his swim top was covered in live bees, probably a dozen or so. I sent North to go fetch his crocs out of the mud—they almost lost one of their own in the process—while I slowly, carefully brushed each insect away. Noah has longer nails than I do, so he used them to remove a few stingers. When that was done, I looked back and an ominous cloud of bees had risen over the deadfall, but North already had all four crocs in hand and had moved a safe distance away. We washed the shoes in the creek and walked home on the path, in order to get back more quickly. One bee followed us for a long while, circling my head. At home, Noah found another in the bathroom, which may have come in with him. I captured it with a plastic cup and released it outside. Once he’d washed the mud off himself, I checked him again for stingers and put baking soda paste on his stings. He was in pain for a couple hours, even having taken some ibuprofen, so I pampered him a little, making him fried tofu cubes for lunch. Beth, who was out while all this happened, brought him some M&Ms after I texted her about it. Eventually he recovered enough to fold laundry and play his drums and go about the rest of his day.
  • We had our last family activity night on Tuesday. It was Beth’s turn to pick and she went with a game of Taboo. We usually pair one kid with one parent but this time we played parents against kids and Beth and I wiped up the floor with our offspring.
  • Wednesday was my last cooking night with everyone at home, so I made a family favorite—skillet mac and cheese. I served it with sauteed kale from the garden and I made a peach-blackberry cobbler with some of the berries I froze after we went berry picking last month.
  • Friday was our last family movie night. We watched My Girl, which I’d put in the pile of index cards we draw from every week. (I picked it weeks ago, before Noah’s mishap with the bees.) The weekend prior Noah had his last turn and we watched The Castle in the Sky, an anime film by Hayao Miyazaki. These have been a running favorite of his—we’ve seen five of them while he’s been home. Before that we watched Footloose (the original 1984 version, not the remake) because Beth was aghast that I had never seen it and of course, the kids hadn’t either. She says it’s a “magnificent cultural artifact.” North’s last contribution was Yes Day.
  • We would have liked to go to the Montgomery County Fair on Saturday, but North’s camp had instructed all the campers (who took and mailed in covid tests four days before camp started) to avoid large crowds after taking their tests and the Montgomery County Fair is as big as most state fairs, so we couldn’t in good faith go and then send North to camp, where half the campers are under twelve and unvaccinated. Instead, we had our last droning excursion. Right before we left the kids compared notes and North was surprised to learn Noah was going to fly the drone and that it wasn’t just a trip to go swimming in the South River at Mayo Beach Park in Anne Arundel County while Noah was surprised to learn “there was a water component” to the outing. I don’t know if the kids just heard what they wanted to or if they were really incompletely informed. I thought I mentioned the river to Noah. Anyway, we had a picnic lunch (Beth made her signature tofu salad and North made lemonade) and then Noah flew the drone and we had a long soak in the salty, muddy water of the tidal river. The beach was uncrowded and the day was hot and muggy (after a miserably hot week) so it was nice to be in the water, far away from the other swimmers. Afterward we went to Rita’s and got Italian ice and soft serve. It was a nice day.

Sunday morning we left to drop North off at camp. It’s in central Pennsylvania, about a two and a half hour drive away. We listened to the first few episodes of Edith, a fictionalized podcast about Edith Wilson and had lunch at a pizza place near camp. We ate out on the patio, all alone. There was another family eating inside in a big room all by themselves, and a lot of unmasked people sitting close to each other at and near the bar. None of the waiters wore masks either. It felt as if we’d driven more than a couple hours from home.

At camp, North was greeted warmly by counselors who remembered them from two and three years ago. We registered, visited the nurse to drop off North’s meds and for a lice check, and then we brought their things to their cabin, where Noah and North said goodbye for (fingers crossed) a few months. Right before we got home, we made a detour to Value Village to buy kitchenware for Noah, who’s living in an on-campus apartment this year. If I needed any reminder that he’s really leaving soon after all this time at home, that was it.

This week he’s been taking care of loose ends; he got his first haircut in seventeen months and applied for a passport. (He wants to study abroad the fall semester of his senior year, in Australia.) He had his last online drum lesson of the summer this evening. Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to play hooky and go to the movies with him. We’re going to see Green Knight.

In one more last, Noah and I are still reading the last book of our mother-son pandemic book club, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. We’ve got ninety pages left, so we will probably end up taking it to Ithaca and finishing while we’re there. Beth and I are staying a couple days after we arrive, to enjoy the natural beauty and fine dining in and around his college town, and to spend just a little more time with our firstborn before he resumes the on-campus portion of his college life.

Party On: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 43

Beth asked me recently when I’d take the Coronavirus Chronicles subtitle off my blog posts. At the time, North was still in hybrid school so it seemed the pandemic was still having a noticeable effect on our day-to-day lives. Now school’s out and it’s expected to be 100% in-person for the next school year and most (but not all) of the camps North would normally attend are a go this summer, so their life is creeping back to normal. Noah’s still living at home, but he’d probably be here for the summer even if the pandemic had never happened. Beth’s still working from home, except for roughly one day at week when she goes into the office. So I may keep the designation on my posts until September, when Beth goes back to the office full time and both kids are attending school in person. I think that’s when things will feel truly normal again.

Things are trending in that direction, though. As of Thursday, we’re all fully vaccinated, which means we’ve been doing things like going to Ikea to browse and sit in chairs instead of just ordering one online (Wednesday), going to the movies (Thursday), and attending a large, partly indoor party (Saturday). Plus I’ve stopped keeping my contact log, as of a few days ago. All these things feel deeply strange, but in a good way.

The end of the school year was a little anticlimactic. There was none of the normal end-of-the-year bustle of concerts, plays, award ceremonies, or other special events to attend. The last couple of days of school are always light on academics and heavy on parties and movies, but even that was different. North’s last day was Tuesday. They had a Japanese oral exam on the Thursday before that and on Friday they took a biology exam and glazed their last piece of pottery. And then on Monday and Tuesday literally nothing happened. Their English teacher had promised to screen a film version of Romeo and Juliet, but for some reason didn’t. They just had to check in and out of each class for two days, except for history during which the students chatted with the teacher about things like what their Hogwarts houses were. I asked if that seemed like a party, sitting around making casual conversation, and I got a firm no. The lack of activity of any sort, academic or otherwise, was disheartening and seemed emblematic of all the lost opportunities of this year. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that going to school in person, even part-time, made the fourth quarter the best one of this strange school year for North. It helped them engage more than they had earlier in the year.

Thursday we went to see In the Heights to celebrate the first day we were all fully vaccinated. If you’re local, it’s playing at AFI, which has recently re-opened, and we saw it in the main theater with the big screen and the art deco decorations, which was a perfect atmosphere for our reintroduction to movie theaters. It felt downright festive to sit in a dark, cavernous space and eat popcorn we didn’t make ourselves and watch a movie with people not related to us.

Saturday afternoon Beth, North, and I went to the new bubble tea place in downtown Takoma because they were serving rainbow boba in the tea for Pride, but I guess you had to request it because while other people had multi-colored boba, ours were the standard black. We got rainbow-frosted cupcakes, though, and there were rainbow flags all over the patio, so there was no dearth of pride there. (Or anywhere else in downtown Takoma, which is festooned with pride flags of all sizes and which has multiple rainbow crosswalks. Just walking down the street is like a party.)

From bubble tea, North and I went straight to a real party at Zoë’s house, while Beth headed to a goodbye party for a colleague. We had two parties at the same time– that’s how celebratory things are getting around here– so we had to divide and conquer. North’s actually attended a lot of birthday parties recently, even before being fully vaccinated—two I can remember this month, plus a quinceañera, and an end-of-school party. (Between North going to school and socializing in larger groups or our trip to Wheeling in late May or maybe from taking the bus more often, I caught my first cold in sixteen months a couple weeks ago. It was mild and totally worth it.)

The party was nice. I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time, parents of North’s friends from elementary and middle school, and we talked about how we’d weathered the pandemic, what our kids were up to, work, and summer plans. People played cornhole and jenga and some of the adults got a bit tipsy. We arrived around three and by six I was feeling like I’d had enough and I was considering leaving North there and going home, but a lot of people left around then and it started to feel more intimate and introvert-friendly. We ended up staying past ten, when Beth swung by from her party to take us home.

North’s first camp starts tomorrow. It’s musical drama camp, the same one they’ve attended every year since they were five.  It’s being held in a neighborhood park, as it was last summer, and considerably scaled down (a week of four-hour days instead of the two weeks of six-hour days it ran pre-pandemic). They’re doing West Side Story, not a production of the play so much as a revue of songs from it, as they did for Pirates of Penzance last year. I’m glad it’s happening at all, though. It’s largely the same group of kids who come back every year and it will be good for North to see them again.

Chorus camp is cancelled for the second year in a row and it’s the last year North would have been able to attend, as it’s for rising fifth-to-tenth graders, so that’s sad. But their sleep-away camp is on and I think that’s the one North cares about most. They’re also going to volunteer as a counselor at a tinkering camp at their old preschool for the first time and they’re excited about that. North attended this camp for several years when they were in elementary school and Noah’s been a counselor there, so it’s a family tradition.

For me, the most exciting part of our (almost) post-pandemic summer will be seeing my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and eight-year-old niece, and Beth’s mom and possibly her aunt, when we share a big house at the beach for a week in mid-July. It will be the first time I’ve seen my extended family in two years. I hope your summer is also full of festivities and joyous reunions. Happy solstice!

Anticipation: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 38

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasin’ after some finer day

From “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon

Things are slowly starting to seem, well, not normal exactly, but as if normal is on the horizon. Hopeful signs are everywhere on the pandemic and other fronts. Here are a few, plus one not so hopeful one:

Vaccination

Just a little over a week after Beth and I got vaccinated, Noah got his first shot. Like us, he had to travel outside Montgomery County, which does not seem to be getting its fair share of doses. I guess I shouldn’t complain, though, since the state seems to have enough, and it’s a small state so no site is that far away. Beth drove him to the stadium in Baltimore where the Ravens play. His second shot will be on Friday, so when that’s taken effect in mid-May, three out of four of us will be fully vaccinated. Now we just need to wait for a vaccine to be approved for twelve-to-fifteen year olds, which may happen soon. If North and their peers are able to get vaccinated sometime this summer, that should mean school will be more like regular high school in the fall, with the whole class and the teachers all in the same room at the same time. The mind boggles.

My sister and her husband are partially vaccinated, too, and they bought their airline tickets to come East to visit my cousin Holly in Pennsylvania and then to join us at the beach in Rehoboth in mid-July. All the adults in the beach house will be vaccinated, which is the condition we set.

Celebrations

Zoë had an outdoor birthday party the second weekend in April. It was in her grandparents’ backyard, which is bigger than her family’s backyard. It also has a zipline. There were about ten guests, which is probably the biggest group of teens North’s been in since drama-camp-in-the-park last summer. Beth said when she went to pick them up afterward, North seemed really, really happy. Then about two weeks later North went to Miles and Maddy’s birthday party, which took place around their family’s firepit. North has a lot of friends with spring birthdays so their dance card has at least one more upcoming birthday party plus a quinceañera on it in the next month and a half. This is a happy thing because last spring there was a dearth of parties and now they are happening, albeit in different forms than they would have pre-pandemic.

Mini-Vacation

The third weekend in April, Beth and North went camping in West Virginia, where they stayed in a camper cabin and explored Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown. Until Noah started college, Beth used to take each kid on a solo camping trip every year (Noah in the fall and North in the spring), but this was the first camping trip during the pandemic. When Beth decided to go, it occurred to me wonder why they hadn’t camped earlier, as it seems like a pretty covid-safe activity. Beth said she’d been worried about crowded campground facilities, and sure enough they encountered several drunken, beer-toting and unmasked women in the bathroom (as well as unmasked but presumably sober folks in the camp store). Of course, North couldn’t avoid the bathroom, but when only one person needed to go inside somewhere, like the camp store or a grocery store, Beth did it. They also ate at a restaurant (outdoors) for the first time since last summer, when we did it in Ithaca. Beth and North both found this very cheering.

I felt really unsettled when Beth and North left for their trip, even knowing it was just for two days, because we are always all together now and have been for over a year. The only nights the four of us haven’t spent under the same roof have been the ones North spent in the hospital with one mom or the other last summer. I have to say, I prefer a camping trip to that.

Left to our own devices, Noah and I read six chapters of Ninth House and watched four episodes of Death Note, and two movies. On Friday we ordered pizza and watched Pan’s Labyrinth. We were originally going to order from a place that used to be our go-to for pizza, but which we haven’t patronized in a long time. However, in the process of ordering we discovered they don’t deliver anymore—it’s carryout only. The name of the place is Pizza Movers. Think about that for a second. As Noah said, “It’s right there in the name. They’re supposed to move the pizza.”

The next night we made penne with an asparagus-cherry tomato sauce. After dinner, I made banana pudding on a whim, and then we watched Daughters of the Dust, which Noah needed to watch for a cinema class he’s taking. So, even though I did miss my wife and youngest, I can’t say I suffered terribly. It was nice to have so much one-on-one time with my firstborn.

It also made me think about all the little trips that will have us split up in different combinations over the next several months. After his finals in mid-May, Noah is going to go to Wheeling to visit Beth’s mom for two weeks. North will probably do the same thing some time this summer, though we haven’t set a date. North may also be able to start sleeping over at friends’ houses when kids in their age group start getting vaccinated (and after we’ve compared ground rules with other parents). Plus, their sleep-away camp will be in session this year in August, whether campers are vaccinated or not. The biggest change, of course, will be when Noah goes back to college, also in August. I imagine I will be simultaneously overjoyed and gutted when that happens, so I guess it’s good we’ll have these little practice separations first.

Occupation

The day after Beth and North got back from camping, Beth did an unusual thing. She went to her office. She’s been back there a couple times, but only to fetch things she needed. The office will be slowly reopening, possibly allowing some people to opt into returning starting in June. She wants to ease into this transition and she had a dentist appointment in the city that day, so she decided go into the empty office to work. She said the Metro platform was “less crowded than I remember” and the office was nice and quiet, which was probably because she was the only one on the whole floor.

Presentation

Beth was trying to get home from the office by 5:20 because Noah was participating in an online undergraduate symposium and she wanted to see him give his paper on what plot changes would be needed to resolve the philosophical paradoxes of time travel in Back to the Future. She ended up having to watch part of it on her phone on the bus and the rest of it at home on my computer, where I was already watching. I was glad when she got home because I’d been unable to access his complicated graphics representing branching timelines and she got them on the screen. If you know Noah, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it was all very Noah. He sounded confident while he presented and he came in within the time limit. (He’d spent a lot of time editing the paper down to ten minutes.) Beth said all the oral presentations he gave in his high school communications magnet program paid off.

Education

Meanwhile, the same Monday Beth went into the office and Noah gave his paper was also the first day of in-person classes for the first group of ninth graders, the ones who are in the red group. North is in the blue group, so they had another week to wait. The most notable change was that three of their four classes (Japanese, Algebra, and History) all met for the full hour of assigned class time, or nearly so, and this has been a pretty rare occurrence during remote schooling. However, the yoga teacher announced at the beginning of class she was going to focus on the in-person students, so she took attendance and dismissed the online students. I wondered if that was just a first day thing or if North will only have yoga now every other week. Three days later, which was the next time yoga class met, it was the same. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I figured it is what it is.

On Tuesday, North’s English, Sculpture, and Biology classes all met for the full hour or within a few minutes of it. Even in the advisory period, during which students usually check in and are immediately dismissed, the students stayed for twenty minutes, during which they got information about people running to be student members of the school board. I am hoping this pattern of longer classes points toward more academic engagement for North this quarter, whether they’re in the classroom or at home. That would be welcome.

When I asked North what seemed different with students in the classroom, they said the obvious things, that the teachers were wearing masks and they were switching back and forth between talking to the in-person group and to the online students. They also said the Algebra teacher wandered too far from his mic sometimes and was hard to hear.

Reproduction

On Tuesday afternoon I noticed that there was no dove sitting on the nest on the ledge of our porch. The mother and father bird have been taking turns on it continually for more than three weeks and I’d been afraid the eggs might be duds. (This did happen one year.) So I climbed up on the porch wall and had a peek and there were two tiny, fluffy chicks in there. I didn’t see the chicks again for five more days, as usually one parent (and sometimes both of them) was usually sitting on the ledge at angles that hid the babies.

Deliberation

Just about an hour after I first spied the chicks, the triple guilty verdicts in Derek Chauvin’s trial were announced. It won’t bring George Floyd back, but as a friend of mine, a white woman with two mixed race kids about the ages of mine, said on Facebook, it’s “three small steps in the right direction.” I don’t want to imbue one verdict with too much meaning, but I think Naomi got it about right. It did make me feel hopeful. And I don’t even want to think how depressing it would have been if this egregious case had gone the other way.

More Education

North went to school, in a school, for the first time in thirteen months and thirteen days today. (Their last day of in-person school, in March 2020, was Friday the 13th.) That spooky detail aside, it went pretty well.

Because the students who opted to remain all-virtual plus the red team, which goes to school on alternate weeks, were at home, the class schedule was the same as it was when everyone was virtual—four one-hour blocks a day, with breaks between them so those four hours of class occur between nine a.m. and two-thirty p.m. However, on the first day North needed to be there early because there was a tour of the building for ninth graders at 7:45.

Beth was driving them to school so they wouldn’t have to be on the bus at the crack of dawn and I got up a little earlier than usual to see them off. I took the traditional first-day-of-school photo at the back gate instead of the front gate because that was the gate they’d be walking through to get to the driveway. That small difference (and the fact that it’s April and not August) should remind us of the strangeness of this year when we look back at the picture—though I doubt we’ll need any reminding.

North came home on the school bus, arriving a little before 3:30. It’s a long ride because we live out-of-boundary for their school. They said their day was “not horrible.” They recognized someone from their middle school art class on the tour. There were only two to six in-person students in each class. They took a quiz in Japanese and got an A. In Algebra, they came up with a way to solve a problem that was different than what the teacher had in mind and he praised their ingenuity. They were allowed to eat lunch outside and they did. They were pleased with the pesto and fresh mozzarella sandwich and fruit salad they’d packed. Turns out the yoga teacher isn’t teaching the in-class students either, at least not today, and she took attendance and had them sit on the bleachers with no explanation. I am baffled by this and hope it doesn’t continue. Tomorrow North will have their other classes. The Biology teacher isn’t teaching in-person, so they will attend on their laptop in the school building, but the other classes will be in person.

Predation

While North was at school, I checked on the nest and it was empty, and I know those chicks were too little to have fledged. There was no bloody, feathery mess to clean up, as happened the first time we had doves on the porch, but something must have carried them off. I took it hard, as I’d gotten attached. I always do. I hope their end was quick.

Life is fragile and uncertain, as we’ve all come to appreciate this year.

Anticipation

I know the pace of re-opening varies a lot depending on where you live. Some of you have had in-person classes since fall or have being going in and out of lockdowns, some of you are still waiting to be vaccinated, and one of you is anxious for the U.S.-Canadian border to open because your son is at school on the other side of the border. It seems like we’re all in different phases of the pandemic, and of course, no one knows if the rate of vaccination will be able to outstrip the appearance of new, more virulent variants. But despite all this, most days I am more hopeful than not that finer days are on their way. I hope you are, too.

Plateau: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 22

After North’s last ER visit almost three weeks ago, things have plateaued. This is both good and bad. The good part is that no new symptoms cropped up, North didn’t need any emergency medical care, they were able to start attending class regularly, and life calmed down. We got to have two more low-key weekends than we’d had in a while.  During the first one I wrote postcards to voters in Colorado and Noah and I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

That weekend we all went for a walk at Font Hill Wetland Park in Howard County, which is apparently famous for its dragonflies. We did see some, but not a remarkable number. We also saw a heron, a deer, a bunch of turtles, and some ducks. Noah took some drone footage and when North wanted to throw sticks into an algae-covered pond, he filmed them splashing into the water from overhead. I thought of all the time I spent when the kids were younger watching both of them throw sticks and rocks into water or through ice. Minus the drone (and the masks and the wheelchair), the scene could have taken place a decade ago. It felt sweetly nostalgic to me.

 

The bad part of the plateau is that North’s two main problems, the seizures and the bladder issues, remain unchanged. The seizures are more dangerous now that North’s walking is almost back to normal.* Now that they can walk, they want to and we want them to, but this means they sometimes they fall if they seize while standing. They know it’s going to happen just a fraction of a second before it does and luckily they’ve been trained in stage falls, so they can usually manage not to hit their head, but some days they fall several times. If they are going to stand for an extended period (while cooking for example) they put the walker behind them in the locked position so they can fall into it. Outside they usually use the wheelchair, for safety.

Tuesday of last week was a good day, or what passes for one these days. We finally got the sedated MRI scheduled. Beth had been calling and calling about this for almost a week and a half. It wasn’t clear why it was so difficult, but Urology didn’t want to see us until spinal compression causing the bladder difficulties was ruled out, so having it on the calendar was a breakthrough. The same day, we had our second telemedicine appointment with the psychologist who’s doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with North. She spoke to us together, then alone with North, then alone with me and Beth. She seemed to be hearing what we were saying, which has not always been this case on this journey, so that was nice. North, who’s been having trouble concentrating in class some days, due to their chronic pain and fatigue from the seizures, had a focused and efficient school day. Finally, we’ve been having some home repairs done—because in the midst of all this, we got cited by the city during the summer for peeling paint on our porch and some other issues—and the stucco people finished on Tuesday, two days earlier than planned, which means I could schedule the painters.

Of course, things couldn’t go well forever so the very next day when Beth, having secured the MRI, got an appointment with Urology, it was for early November. That’s a really long time from now, so we were discouraged all over again.

We had another relatively calm weekend, though we were of course saddened by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and more than a little alarmed by the political implications. Honestly, I get more terrified about the election every day and this doesn’t help. I wrote postcards to voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and that helped a little. On Sunday, Noah painted part of the section of fence we had replaced after the car accident last spring (helping to continue to chip away at our home repair to-do list) and then we watched a couple episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. We’re trying to finish it before our three-month Hulu subscription expires—we’re two-thirds of the way through the first season.  I’m enjoying it, but as I watch I do find my mind wandering to worst-case political scenarios, especially when we were at the part that covers the backstory of the Waterfords’ role in the coup that installs the theocracy.

On the positive side, that night Beth made a very satisfying late summer/early fall dinner of matzoh ball soup with fried green tomatoes and apple slices and then I watched the first half of the Emmys with Noah, while eating popcorn and writing more postcards, which was fun. Another nice thing about the weekend was that I slept in my own bed for the first time in about a month. North had been sleeping there with Beth, but we had them experiment with sleeping in their own bed Friday and Saturday night. They agreed, but wanted to return to sleeping with Beth for several nights after that. (On Thursday, with some encouragement from the psychologist, we all switched back to our own beds again, for good, I hope.)

Monday morning North went to Children’s for a covid test (#5 for them) which was required for their MRI on Wednesday. They continue not to have it. We all had to quarantine for two days after the test, which wasn’t a big change, though we did have to postpone some errands and Beth and I skipped our morning walks. The MRI itself went smoothly, though we don’t have the results yet. I was sad, but not surprised of course, to see the total of covid deaths in the U.S. hit 200,000 that day.

Wednesday was also North’s half-birthday, so we had cupcakes after dinner. This is a family tradition. There was a virtual Back to School Night for their school that night. The beginning of the evening was extremely glitchy, but eventually we got to hear from all of North’s teachers, except for their English teacher because she’d resigned earlier in the week. She’d found trying to teach and keep her own two elementary school-age kids on task unworkable. And really, who can blame her? Instead of the teacher, the chair of the English department explained the course objectives but it seemed she would not have mentioned the missing teacher except a mother brought it up during the Q&A. (Class the next day consisted of a screen saying to keep working on a personal essay the students are writing.) It was good to see the rest of the teachers and get a feel for their classes, though. I always enjoy Back to School Night. It turns out North’s history teacher is six months pregnant, so there will be a lot of subs in North’s near future.

Thursday was “a great day” in North’s words. They got an A on an algebra quiz and got completely caught up on homework. (Noah has been helping them with algebra when they get stuck and it seems to be paying off.) North’s friend Charlotte unexpectedly dropped off twenty-three homemade cupcakes, with a note that said they were for their half-birthday. Charlotte bakes for Bakers Against Racism and we’d ordered a dozen, so I wondered if the exact number of the extra ones were because the half-birthday was on the twenty-third. I’m still not sure. In addition to all that, North’s case manager at Children’s—we have one now—secured an earlier urology appointment for North in mid-October, out in Howard County, which is a schlep but it was an improvement over November, so we took it. Finally, we got takeout from Italian Kitchen for dinner, at North’s instigation.

Friday Noah and I spent over an hour moving furniture off the porch and stripping ivy from it so the painter could come power wash it in preparation for painting and North had a little backyard party. (Well it started in the yard and then rain moved it to the porch.) Back in March, when the lockdowns were startling and new and half of humanity hadn’t already had a scaled-back birthday, North turned fourteen and we let them see several friends one at a time on the porch to eat cake and promised them a proper birthday party when it was feasible. Three months later, I asked if they’d rather have a small, outdoor party instead of holding out for a sleepover and they said no. When I made the same offer recently, to my surprise, they said yes.  I guess sleepovers are seeming impossibly far away. So they invited four friends over, all at the same time, to drink root beer and eat Cheetos, pizza, and cupcakes. Three of the guests had celebrated with North six months ago, but one was a friend whose mom has been very strict about seeing friends so North hadn’t seen her since March. Norma even brought a present, which North wasn’t expecting.

And in another bit of good mojo, on that day the urology appointment got moved to next week.

 

*Bolded after the fact. As Nicole picked up in the comments, I seem to have buried the lede.

Back at the Hospital: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 21

In the past nine days, North’s been to an urgent care once, the ER twice, and admitted to the hospital for two days and three nights. It’s gotten to the point where when discussing some mundane family plans, like when Beth, Noah, and I will finish our currently-in-progress game of Settlers of Catan, we’ll append things like “assuming North’s not in the hospital.” 

Before the Hospital: Wednesday

North’s online classes meet Monday, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Wednesday is supposed to be a day to do homework and go to teachers’ office hours. The first week of school, North didn’t have much work, so they used Wednesday to finish the last of their summer homework assignments. We also had a 504 meeting for seizure-related accommodations, with the ninth grade counselor and several of  North’s teachers. It went surprisingly well. We tried to get a 504 plan for Noah’s ADHD twice, once in elementary school and once in high school, but were denied both times. We thought this accommodation would be easier to get, but not to have it granted in the meeting. I didn’t even know that could happen.

ER Visit: Wednesday Night to Thursday Morning

I was feeling happy both about that and the summer homework finally being done, so of course on Wednesday evening, things went sideways. Beth was at the grocery store when North told me they needed to pee, but they couldn’t. They’d already tried running the faucet in the bathroom, so I suggested a warm bath. By the time Beth got home, North was very distressed, so we decided they’d go to Children’s. I stayed home because there’s still a one-parent rule in the ER, but Beth and I were texting through the evening.  Apparently it was a strange night at Children’s, very crowded in the ER and there was a group of twenty-somethings who seemed to be having a tailgate party, playing music and smoking pot in the garage.

It took a while to get seen because of the crowd, and when they finally were, the doctors wanted to do a bladder ultrasound. If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know that means your bladder needs to be full, so it was 1:30 in the morning before North finally got a catheter to empty their bladder. They didn’t feel as if was completely empty, though, so they went to the bathroom and were able to go on their own. Because of that and because the urine sample and ultrasound didn’t show anything unusual, North wasn’t admitted and they came home.

Back to the Hospital: Thursday Night to Sunday Afternoon

However, the next morning when North woke up they were unable to go again. Beth called our pediatrician for advice. We tried another bath, this one with candles and rose petals (from our rosebush) floating in the water. I was trying to make it as relaxing as possible, but no go. It was dinner time before we got a call back from the pediatrician, who sent us back to the hospital, calling ahead to let them know we were coming and recommending admission.

This time Beth drove us there and dropped me and North off at the ER. One of the intake people recognized North from the night before. (This reminded me of the paramedic who came both times we called 911 this summer. And then sometime during the hospitalization I’m writing about now, one of the neurologists actually remembered North from the complex migraine that paralyzed their hands and feet in fifth grade). What can I say? North is well-known in greater metropolitan Washington area medical circles.

While we were talking to the triage nurse, North seized and all of a sudden all kinds of people rushed in offering oxygen and asking if we had rescue medicine on us, so I had to explain it wasn’t epilepsy so there is no rescue medicine and this wasn’t the problem that brought us here. It wasn’t even a very long seizure, something we’d pretty much shrug off at this point.

Once we got in an exam room, they wanted to do another ultrasound, so again, there was a long wait for the catheter. By this point it had been something like twenty-one hours since North had peed.

Now something I haven’t mentioned yet is that North had been feeling sick to their stomach since Sunday morning after breakfast and it was now Thursday evening. During this whole time they hadn’t eaten except to suck on some candy Sunday afternoon. They were drinking but probably not as much as usual. Still, they were very uncomfortable and as the doctors and nurses discussed whether or not they were dehydrated and needed iv fluids—opinions on this issue were divided—I kept asking everyone who came in the room, over and over, if they could get a catheter. Finally, they did. They also got some anti-nausea medicine and then they were hungry for the first time in days, so I asked a nurse if we could get something to eat. She came back with apple juice and an assortment of crackers. North ate a bag of goldfish and some saltines.

After the ultrasound, two different medical personnel told me North did not have a tumor blocking their urethra—that was something I hadn’t even thought to worry about yet. North got their fourth covid test of the summer, and we got a room. It was one a.m. before we got to bed. Then North was being examined and catheterized again with the lights on from four to five a.m. and a med student came in and woke us up at seven-thirty, so neither of us got much sleep.

Friday was kind of blur, honestly, as I was really tired, but there was a parade of medical personnel who came by, nurses, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, neurologist(s), urologist(s), etc. Beth came by in the late morning and we overlapped for a couple hours and listened to doctors and played Clue with North. I left for home in the early afternoon. Once home, I put in a load of laundry, slept, and updated my mom on the situation. I’d hoped to work but I was just too wiped out, even with the nap, so Noah and I ordered pizza and watched The Witch.

Back at the hospital, North had an MRI but seized during it, so they didn’t get the images they wanted. The doctors wanted to do a test to see if going an extended period of time without using the catheter would cause North to be able to pee, but it only caused them a lot of pain, so we never repeated the experiment.

I slept nine hours Friday night and stayed at home long enough Saturday to keep doing laundry, menu plan for the next week, make Beth a grocery list, and to work some—with a nifty new two-monitor setup Noah made for me—and I went back to the hospital in the late afternoon. While I was gone, they tried another MRI, with Valium, but it didn’t keep North from seizing. Apparently it’s harder to get slots for the MRIs with an intravenous sedative scheduled because you need a different kind of tech to do it. In their down moments, North tried to watch some of the classes they’d missed Thursday and Friday and do homework.

Beth and I overlapped again for several hours that evening during which we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls with North. Beth needed to stay at the hospital because a nurse was going to show her how to use the catheter. If she could do it successfully that night and the next morning, North could be discharged. She got it on the first try and went home. I spent another night at the hospital with North and then Beth came back in the morning, used the catheter successfully again and North was discharged. We had lunch in the hospital cafeteria– which, strangely, is a treat for North– and went home.

Back Home (Mostly): Sunday Afternoon to Thursday

We were all very glad to be at home together, but frustrated that the new problem had not actually been resolved. North still needs to have the MRI, which is supposed to rule out any spinal compression from their herniated disk, and we need to secure appointments with neurology and urology.

We had most of Sunday and nearly all of Monday at home. North got caught up on schoolwork, Beth grocery shopped, I wrote a batch of postcards to Florida voters and Noah and I made dinner (pasta with basil-mint pesto and fresh mozzarella) on Sunday. Then we went out for frozen yogurt, which we’d meant to do the Sunday prior. Ice cream or frozen yogurt the night before the first day of school is a family tradition, but North had been either sick or in the hospital for a week and we are not people to skip something like that just because it’s a week late.

Monday, Beth made homemade waffles for breakfast because she always does that on three-day weekends and I made a peach-berry cobbler to celebrate the end of the first week of school. Noah and I watched the series finale of The Magicians. Zoë came over for a three-hour porch visit with North and had some of the cobbler with us. We had a backyard picnic for dinner and then went out for Noah’s last-night-of-summer vacation ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s.

On the way home I said something about everyone getting to sleep at home two nights in a row. I should not have said that. North suddenly developed symptoms of a painful UTI shortly after we got home. She and Beth tried an urgent care but they couldn’t handle a catheter, so they had to go back to the ER. It was “uneventful” in North’s words because they were diagnosed with a clear-cut ailment and treated for it. It did keep both Beth and North up late, though. It was two-thirty before they got home.

Meanwhile, in news of the other kid, Tuesday was Noah’s first day of the semester. He only had one class, Audio Production II. On Wednesday he had the remaining three: a computer science class, Ethnomathematics, and Intro to Philosophy. We weren’t able to get much information about his classes out of him. They are all “fine.” They’re all small, roughly twenty-five students each, except for Audio Production, which is about ten. He thinks this audio class might be more hands-on than the one he took last spring, which he would like. He declined to take Cinema Production II this semester because he’d rather have it in person. This makes sense, as the excellent film studios are a big part of what drew him to Ithaca.

North says their favorite class is Japanese because it’s interesting learning such a different language. But they also appreciate that yoga is the only class they are allowed to attend in bed. One day in sculpture class they were assigned to make an assemblage of items that represented their morning. North chose Sunday morning, the day they were discharged, and arranged their mask and some medical debris around their stuffed monkey Muffin, who always goes to the hospital when they do.

Tuesday we also had our first appointment with North’s new psychologist. She seems nice and she does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has been recommended to us for Functional Neurological Disorder by more than one person, so for now, we’re hanging our hopes on it.

Wednesday morning we couldn’t wake North for their first or second class, despite repeated efforts. They slept fourteen hours, from ten p.m. until noon. This was worrying, but when Beth called the pediatrician she thought it could just be fatigue from fighting off the UTI. This would be less of a problem if all of North’s teachers posted video of their classes for students who’ve missed them, as they are supposed to do. But not all of the teachers are doing it and North has been missing a lot of class.

Wednesday at dinner North said high school is hard, but I told them not to judge it based on two weeks full of medical drama. We trust it will get better—we just don’t know when. And in small sign of normalcy, North was able to attend all their classes on Thursday. (Only three out of the four met because their algebra teacher’s house flooded in the torrential rain and he had to cancel class.) It was the first time they’d been to all their classes since Tuesday of the previous week. I’m taking it as a win.

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.

Doing Quarantine Right: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 4

So we’ve been under a stay-at-home directive for eight days now. I thought it wouldn’t make much of a difference—for everyone except North—because we’d already been pretty much sticking close to home, only going out for walks and shopping, both of which are allowed under the directive. The difference for North is that our one-friend rule has been replaced by a no-friends rule, so their almost daily, hours-long rambles with Zoë are a thing of the past. They’re still in touch with friends, of course, as they are a teen with a phone, but it’s not the same as being together. It’s not easy being an extrovert under quarantine.

But even though I’m not the extrovert in the family, I have noticed some differences for me under the slightly tighter rules. I took a daily walk pre-COVID and I do it now, too, but the old walks were often errands (and often led to getting a cup of coffee). I’d amble down to the co-op if we were out of milk, or take the bus to the post office and stroll home, stopping at a coffeehouse or bakery along the way. Now that we’re limiting non-essential trips, grocery shopping is a once-a-week affair that Beth does on Sundays and I don’t do my mid-week re-stocking runs anymore. And last week when I need to mail a packet of non-urgent clippings to Sara, I weighed it on the kitchen scale, found a chart of postage rates online, and used stamps, adding an extra one to be safe and crossing my fingers it would arrive. I miss feeling like I have a purpose when I leave the house (and I miss the coffee). I get a little frustrated with my walks to nowhere, so yesterday I took an hour-long round-trip walk to the library to return a book to the book drop. The book wasn’t even due until May because the library has extended due dates, but I was happier feeling I was going somewhere.

Because Beth drives, she’s the one who’s valiantly handling most of our forays into the outside world. She’s noticed gradual changes in how businesses are operating. At the hardware store, they’re now limiting how many people can be in the store at once. Someone at the door tells you when you can enter. When we ordered takeout pizza from Roscoe’s two and a half weeks ago, you’d go inside to pick it up, but we ordered again on Friday and now they just stack the pizzas on the tables outside the restaurant and you grab it and go without seeing anyone inside. The co-op has switched to an online-order only system. When your order is ready they email you and you drive up into the lot, call out your name, and open the hatch of your car for a store employee to put your groceries in your car. For my part, while I was walking home from the library I looked inside a convenience store and noted the clerk was behind a clear plastic barrier that didn’t used to be there and he was wearing a mask and gloves.

For the most part, we’re settling into our new routines. Noah’s in his third week of online classes and North is in their second. Yesterday was the first day North had any synchronous class meetings and, not surprisingly, there were some bumps. They forgot their art class until I reminded them and missed the first ten minutes. And then their password to get into their English class didn’t work. (They texted a friend who couldn’t get in either, so it wasn’t just them.) Today went better. They successfully logged into all three classes that met via videoconferencing and their Spanish class had nearly 100% attendance. So far, English has been the least well-attended class, at less than 50% attendance.

Sunday night I asked Beth if she ever worries she isn’t doing quarantine right. I’m usually not that susceptible to comparing my life unfavorably to other people’s, based on their Facebook feeds. I realize everyone’s just showing a partial picture and I remember the parts I’m leaving out and assume my friends are doing the same. But now, as everyone’s trying to stay positive, there are a lot pictures of family hikes, home-baked goods, crafts, puzzles, newly started gardens, and home improvement projects. And I start to think, wow, we are really not doing as well as that.

The thing is, I’m trying to stay positive, too. I seem to be doing it mostly with pictures of flowers, because spring is so beautiful here, and it can’t hurt to notice it. (Some of the flowers are even ones I planted myself years ago.) There’s some danger in attaching too much symbolic importance to nature, though. That tulip I showed you in my last post (along with half my tulips) was eaten by deer early last week. Nevertheless, I’m presenting you with a picture of our first iris I took on Friday.

But I keep wondering if we are not being sufficiently wholesome. We’re watching an awful lot of television and North’s on their phone all the time and the kids seem to be trying to subsist on boxed mac-and-cheese and we’re all probably eating too many sweets and not even baking that many of them ourselves—though there was North’s birthday cake, which Beth made from scratch, and Beth and North made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Despite having the kids more available for chores than usual (neither of them seems all that busy with online school), the house is as messy as usual. But with everyone home all the time, maybe the fact that it’s not worse than usual could be considered a win.

Beth said she didn’t worry much about those things, which makes sense because fretting about media time and nutrition is really more my department. She is more preoccupied with logistical and moral decisions about how to interact with the outside world. Should we wear masks? (North is in the process of making us some. Beth’s is finished and she wore it grocery shopping Sunday.) Is it a good thing we’re supporting a local business by getting pizza every other Friday or is it an unnecessary trip into town? What about going to the hardware store for seed-starting soil so we can get the garden going? Is that really essential? Are we endangering the people who work at these places or keeping food on their tables?

I don’t know if we’re doing this right. But I can tell you a few things North did on Sunday. Knowing how I miss my lattes, they tried to make an approximation from instant coffee, boiled milk, sugar, and vanilla. Then they spent an hour on Caribou, reading stories to their seven-year-old cousin Lily-Mei, creating a joint drawing, chatting, and laughing. Then they dropped Zoë’s birthday present and a hand-painted card off on her doorstep. One of the books they read to Lily-Mei was a Thomas the Tank Engine book about kindness. And kindness—to each other, and to ourselves when we start to get self-critical—has got to be part of how we do quarantine.

Plus, North says watching television and eating ice cream is exactly the right way to do quarantine.

You Say It’s Your Birthday: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 3

You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday, too
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time

“Birthday,” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

When we were returning from the National Arboretum two Sundays ago, we noticed some across-the-street neighbors having a family dance party in their front yard, with a Beatles tune blaring from the car in their driveway. It wasn’t until I was inside the house that I realized what song it was—“Birthday”—and that seemed auspicious since it was North’s fourteenth birthday the next day.

North couldn’t have a party, of course, so just as with the Billie Eilish living room concert, they came up with innovative solution. They’ve been doing this a lot. When their trans kids’ support group March meeting was cancelled, we walked to Starbucks—this was almost two weeks ago, when Starbucks was still open—and they got an iced chai. This was because right before group we often stop at the coffeeshop in the atrium of the hospital where it meets and they always get either a mango smoothie or a chai. And once they’d had their chai, they texted someone from group and chatted a bit.

North’s birthday celebration was what we dubbed a “slow-motion party.” One, or in one case two, friends at a time came over for a brief visit and a slice of birthday cake on the porch. It actually started two days before their birthday because two friends couldn’t come Monday. The cake wasn’t baked yet on Saturday, so North cut down a cupcake recipe and made three cupcakes, one each for Jay, Miles, and themselves. Jay and Miles are twins, so figuring they only bring one family’s worth of germs, we’ve let North see them together. They brought a big stuffed bee for North, who is fond of bees.

On the night before their birthday, we tasked Noah (who’s always the last one up at night) with blowing up the balloons of the “Happy Birthday” banner and hanging it up, so North could see it as soon as they woke up. I missed them spotting it because I went outside to fetch the newspaper right before they emerged from their room, but apparently, they came into the kitchen and started talking to Beth and Noah, angled in such a way that they couldn’t see it for quite a while, as Beth and Noah waited and waited for them to see it. When they did, they were very excited about it. It was shiny and extravagant and just right.

That morning North got a birthday email message from the eighth-grade class administrator at their school. That’s never happened before, so I guess they are sending them to all the kids whose birthdays fall during the school shutdown, which is a nice gesture.

In the morning, Charlotte came, bearing a Venus fly trap, and had her slice of cake with North on the porch. Casper came in the early afternoon. Zoë was the last guest, and she stayed a few hours, even though it was as damp, chilly day. At dinner time, Beth, Noah and I joined them and we ate a dinner of tacos and fruit salad together, spread out on our spacious porch.

After eating, North opened their present from Noah, a battery-powered flour sifter, and from us, a little pot of mixed succulents. Both of these things were on their list, but they were surprised to get a gift from us, as we’d told them the Billie Eilish tickets (which will be honored at a future, unspecified date) were expensive enough to be their only gift. We cracked, though, under the pathos of all the postponed birthday fun. We’ve also promised North a birthday party sometime in the future. I thought it would be fun to do it three months after their birthday, because 14 ¼ would look cool on the invitations. But if that’s not possible, maybe a half-birthday party is in their future.

By coincidence, a lot of North’s guests also have March or April birthdays. Zoë’s having a party in a park with just three guests (we made an exception to the one-friend-at-a-time rule so North can attend this event because Zoë is North’s best friend).* Miles and Jay are having a virtual party via video conferencing and are promised a trip to a resort with a few friends during the Time After we’re all wistfully awaiting.

After Zoë left, we let North pick the television and they chose Blackish, so we watched a couple episodes and then their birthday was over. Well, sort of over. We left the banner up all week and I let North menu plan dinners for the whole week, starting one day before their birthday—we had lasagna, tacos, breaded tofu sticks with applesauce, tater-tot-topped pot pie, fettucine alfredo with broccoli, pizza, and tortellini with broccoli. Gifts continued to arrive in the mail throughout the week, too. My mom sent a box of bee-themed gifts, which included a ceramic honey pot in the shape of a beehive my grandmother made in a ceramics class she took in the seventies. I didn’t remember it when Mom told me about it, but I recognized it as soon as I saw it. There was also a honey dipper, an oven mitt with bees on it, a beehive ornament, and a book about bees.

And in non-birthday related news…

On Tuesday, Beth’s office announced everyone would keep working from home through the end of April. Beth said it would be nice if they really go back on May Day, since she works for a union. Speaking of Beth’s work, she’s been slammed because there are so many health and safety issue for employers and the union to negotiate. I’ve been busy, too. Turns out health writers are in demand during a pandemic. Go figure. Actually, the busyness is partly coincidence. Only one assignment—a completed newsletter that switched topics from detoxification to immunity and had to be rewritten on short notice—was spurred by current events. The rest has to do with my other job, as the editing for EPA has picked up.

Noah completed his first week of online classes Friday. The more lecture and discussion-based classes (Environmental Studies, Media Industries, and Computer Science) are translating better to a remote format. More hands-on classes like Audio and band just aren’t going to be much like they were intended to be. Audio is turning into a discussion class with some optional assignments for students who own the program they use. (Some students didn’t buy it and were using it in the lab on campus.) I’ve encouraged Noah to do these assignments, not for his grade, but because it’s probably a better way to get the practical skills he needs out of this class. Meanwhile, and most disappointingly, band has turning into a writing-about-music class. I’d hoped the teacher would have them record themselves playing at home, or something like that, but that wouldn’t work because some students left their instruments on campus when they thought they were leaving for a week, rather than for months.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday our school district announced schools would be closed for at least four more weeks. Online classes start for North this week. During the two-week hiatus in between school closing and online school starting, they worked on some review assignments for English, history, and science the school district provided. They didn’t do any geometry because those assignments were in a subfolder and they didn’t see them (we just discovered this snafu) and there was no Spanish because their Spanish immersion classes have a unique curriculum that I guess serves too few students for the district to accommodate. They brought home a sketch book from art class and drew in it, too.

Overall, though, the work was pretty minimal. I’m hoping when formal online school commences on Wednesday, they will have more to do. As the only extrovert in the family, it’s hard for them being in a house full of very to moderately busy people and not having much to do themselves. (I am going to require them to do the geometry on Monday and Tuesday, in addition to the learning-to-use-the-software assignments they have those two days.)

Meanwhile, spring continues to progress. We had a very mild winter, especially in February and March, so all the flowers seem to be blooming in a compressed time period, the ones we usually have now, like daffodils and cherry blossoms (these past peak, but still pretty), plus tulips which we usually see in April and even irises, which are usually make a late April or early May appearance. It’s unsettling if I think too hard about what it means about climate change, and maybe we all should be thinking about climate change in addition to our current predicament, but for now I’m not going to look a gift tulip in the mouth.

*Update: I wrote this over the weekend and things have changed. This morning the governor issued a stay-at-home directive that takes effect tonight. Marylanders are not supposed to leave the house except for essential work or to shop for food, pick up prescriptions, or take short walks (alone or with people in our households). So, North and Zoë are getting together one last time this afternoon, and Zoë’s party in the park is scotched, (as are our tentative plans to drive to the Bay next weekend).