The Next Chapter

It was a big week around here. North started eleventh grade on Monday and Noah boarded the first of three planes that would take him to Queensland on Friday evening. As I write on Saturday morning, he’s on the second one, from Los Angeles to Sydney.

Back to School

Beth thought North would wear eyeliner on the first day of school because they’ve only been allowed to wear eye makeup since they turned sixteen last spring, and it was a big deal to them at the time, but they said they didn’t want to get up any earlier than they were already, plus they didn’t want to “set expectations too high” right off the bat. (It was Thursday before they wore any makeup to school.)

North didn’t have too much to report when they came home other than that their painting teacher was the only one to ask for students’ pronouns (the English teacher asked on a subsequent day) and based on a story about his glory days playing high school football, they think their AP World History teacher is going to be full of boring stories.

More information trickled out over the course of the week: They’ve switched from taking Spanish to French, and they can now say, “I prefer cats,” when asked if they like cats or dogs better. They had to research different kinds of computers based on buyer specifications for their tech class. AP World History started off with a geography unit and then moved on to the Song dynasty in China. Their AP Lit class is mostly seniors (because they chose to take it before AP Comp instead of the other way around). They had to pick three celestial objects to research for a poster in Astronomy and they went with dwarf planets, moons, and black holes. The fall play is going to be Clue. They’re auditioning for a part, and they’ve also applied to be costumes manager, so we’ll see which they end up doing. (If they get an ensemble part, they may do both.) They’ve also applied to be a play reviewer (for plays at other high schools). They say only about a quarter of kids are still masking and when I asked if that was enough for them not to feel self-conscious, they said yes.

To a Land Down Under

Meanwhile, Noah continued to tie up loose ends for his trip. He got the letter he needed to take meds into Australia on Monday, four days before his departure. (Speaking of letters from doctors, the letter North needed to take their meds to camp arrived a few days after they got back from camp. I’m glad it wasn’t the other way around because I think customs would be less likely to bend the rules than North’s camp.) Beth got him some Australian cash. The bills are made of flexible plastic and feel strange in your hand if you’re used to paper money. He got his hair cut on Wednesday and he wasn’t happy with it because it was shorter than he wanted. Independently of each other, Beth and I both said it wasn’t as bad as the shortest haircut he ever had (in eighth grade). Apparently, that’s the benchmark.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, in different combinations of people, we got halfway through season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (our revised goal for the summer), finished season 6 of Blackish and season 2 of The Strain. Any show that anyone was watching in a group that did not include Noah was put on hold while we made progress though shows he was watching. He and I finished reading Sourcery (from the Discworld series) on Friday morning. It was the eighth novel we read this summer, all of them fantasy, science fiction, fantasy-adjacent (Terry Pratchett), or science fiction-adjacent (Cory Doctorow). My favorites were all three books in The Magicians trilogy, but I enjoyed everything we read. To finish Sourcery in five days, we had to read for about an hour a half a day, instead of our usual forty-five minutes to an hour, so it was a bit of a rush, but we both wanted to finish one more book.

On Thursday, Noah’s last night at home, we went out for ice cream again and he chose Ben and Jerry’s. The kids split a brownie sundae. At the patio table Beth quizzed North for their geography quiz the next day. After we got home, Noah and I watched The Strain and North read aloud from the almanac desk calendar we read from at bedtime, Noah started printing his boarding pass and other official documents.

Noah had a late afternoon flight. North had wanted to come to the airport, and we considered picking them up from their bus stop or directly from school, but in the end, we decided it would be cutting it too close, so they settled for waking him up to say goodbye (with his consent) at 6:30 when they left for school.

We read the last sixty-odd pages of Sourcery. I did one last load of laundry with his clothes in it, and he folded it. Beth and I worked, and Noah finished packing. He wanted to know if when we took his by-the-gate, back-to-school photo for college departures if we included luggage or not, so I checked my blog photo folder and the answer was there one with and one without (and no gate photo for sophomore year, because he spent that year at home). I asked how he’d prefer it and he said with, so around 2:15 we piled his luggage around him at the front gate and took his picture with it before we put it in the car. Ten minutes later we were on our way to the airport.

As Noah was checking his baggage at the international counter, the clerk wanted to see his visa and then commented that the paper Noah produced wasn’t a visa, but a letter stating a visa had been approved. Sounding doubtful, he said he’d see if that was good enough, typed on his computer, asked some questions, and after an uncomfortably long silence, told him to start loading his bags on the scale. So, that was a little nerve-wracking.

Beth and I watched Noah go through the security line, load his things on the conveyor belt, and go through the body scanner, and then he was walking away from us with his carry-ons, headed for another continent. I only teared up a little in the car on the way home. Saying goodbye at the beginning of a new school year is still hard, but it’s gotten easier each time we’ve done it. Or maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet.

Friday also marked one year since my last period, so I am officially postmenopausal. When my mom hit this milestone (also at age fifty-five), my sister told her she was a crone now and she was not pleased to hear it, though Sara just meant she had entered the age of wisdom. In the maiden/mother/crone progression, though, I feel mother is still the most relevant stage for me, as I have a kid at home, at least for a couple more years.

As if watching my eldest embark on a fourteen-time-zone journey and reaching menopause on the same day wasn’t enough, it was also the one-year anniversary of my diabetes diagnosis. My most recent bloodwork (done a couple weeks ago) was good. My 1Ac (a measure of average blood sugar over the past three months) was a smidge higher than the last test, in February, but still in the lower half of the prediabetic range. That doesn’t mean I don’t have diabetes. It just means that with medication and dietary changes, my blood sugar is the same as an unmedicated prediabetic. My nurse practitioner seemed pleased and said I should keep doing whatever I’m doing.

So, the kids and I have all started a new chapter. I’m glad North continues to be active in theater and the GSA and is taking some challenging classes. Somehow junior sounds a lot older than sophomore, doesn’t it? Suddenly we’re in the second half of high school. And Noah has jumped forward, too, launched into an international adventure and his last year of college. I am proud of both of them and I am eager to see how the year unfolds for all of us.

Perfect Week

North had one week between camp and the start of the school year. They didn’t have any babysitting jobs or social engagements, though they did go to school on Thursday evening to staff a table for the GSA at the picnic to welcome incoming ninth graders and other new students. North is going to have a leadership role in the GSA this year and building membership is one of the organization’s goals. They said it was a success. They talked to a lot of people, got ten signups, and talked to a faculty member about the campaign to replace the annual powderpuff football game with something less sexist.

Creek Walk

On Wednesday afternoon, the kids and I went on a creek walk, which we do almost every summer, usually near the end. Occasionally these outings end in mishap, as when I fell and hurt my knee six years ago (it has never been quite right since then) or when Noah got fifteen bee stings last summer, which is why Beth urged us to “Be careful!” when we left shortly before three. We promised we would be.

We walked Starbucks for refreshments and then we made our way to the creek. It was quite pleasant. No one got hurt and it was nice to be in the water on a warm day. We found some deep places, where North submerged themselves almost completely by sitting on the creek bed and we walked further than I thought they’d want to, all the way to the bridge closest to our house. We would have gone under to arrive at our side of the street—it’s always kind of cool to be under the street, or I think it is—but North spied a man under the bridge who seemed to be relieving himself, so we gave him some privacy and backtracked until we came to a place that was clear enough of underbrush to get out onto the path and walk home that way. Walking in the creek always makes me nostalgic for when the kids were younger and used to pretend there were trolls under the footbridge where we typically start. Even if that sort of imaginative embellishment is in the past, I’m glad neither of them feels too old for this activity.

Hershey Park

Friday afternoon Beth and I quit work early and we all piled into the car to drive to Hershey Park for one last, quick trip of the summer. We arrived in time to check into our hotel and spend a couple hours in the park. We got pizza for dinner, rode a few rides, and everyone but me got desserts, either ice cream or in North’s case a chocolate-covered frozen banana. (I would have ice cream the next day, when I was able to space it apart from other carbs.) We got two rooms so the kids could have their own space and we could have ours. We also had a king-sized bed and a fancy shower that didn’t have a curtain or wall because it was big enough to have its own entryway. It was deluxe.

We said goodnight to the kids and told them to be ready to leave the hotel at 9:30 the next morning. The park doesn’t open until eleven, so we thought we’d do the factory tour ride at Chocolate World beforehand because it opens earlier. Beth and I went down to the hotel breakfast bar around eight, but there wasn’t a single thing I could eat, at least not in the morning when my metabolism is very reactive. The vegetarian fare was all muffins, waffles, flavored yogurt, and a couple unappealing looking apples. Beth got a little container of vanilla yogurt and some juice. We’d decided to go to a nearby grocery store in search of food, but there was a Starbucks in the parking lot so I was able to get a latte, kale and mushroom egg bites, and some string cheese, which I supplemented with some mixed nuts I’d brought with me, while Beth picked up a few items for herself at the grocery store.

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

Shortly before eleven we left Chocolate World and got a wheelchair for North from customer service. They used one when they went to Hershey Park on a camp field trip earlier in the month and wanted one because it would be a long day of walking. They also had a pass for expedited entry on some rides, which hadn’t expired yet. We were able to accompany them and avoid the lines. The way it works is you can enter your first ride of the day without a wait and then the ride attendant writes on the pass how long you have to wait before entering another ride. It’s based on the average wait time for that ride. As North said, “you wait after instead of before.” It saves you from having to stand in line if that’s difficult for you and it also saves some time because you can use your wait time for getting to the next ride or eating or going to the bathroom.

So there were some advantages to using the chair and the pass, but also some disadvantages. It was work pushing it uphill (Beth, Noah, and I took turns) and we often had to split up and leave someone behind to watch the chair. We only did this later in the day because of what happened while the kids and I were riding the smaller of the two flume rides. We left the chair at the bottom of a staircase, and three teenage boys stole it. Beth, who was waiting outside the ride, actually saw them leave with it, and she wondered if it could be North’s, but she wasn’t sure, so she didn’t confront them. It wasn’t until we got off the ride and found it missing that we all realized what had happened. Beth texted security and they tracked down the culprits and returned the chair before our kids had even returned from their next ride.

It was a busy day. We made a list of rides we wanted to do in the morning but as the day progressed, we had to keep paring it down. I was sorry that we skipped the mine ride because it’s one Beth will do. She is the least adventurous of us at amusement parks and as of this summer I am the second least. When North was at Hershey Park during camp, they rode the Candymonium,  the newest and biggest coaster in the park, which at 210 feet, is just a little taller than the biggest coaster I’ve ever ridden, the Magnum at Cedar Point. (I have not been on that coaster since I was twenty-two, for the record.) Given the fact that Noah rode the Great Bear, his first big coaster, on a band field trip in middle school makes me think that being with peers and not your parents makes you more daring when it comes to amusement park rides (and other things of course, for good and for ill).

North tried the Great Bear this year for the first time, Noah rode the Candymonium with North, and the two of them also did the bigger of the two flume rides for the first time. As the kids pointed out, it’s because they keep adding rides that we can’t find time for all our favorites in one evening and one day anymore. The kids and I also rode the Wild Mouse, the Comet, the smaller of the three wooden coasters in the park, and the Sooper Dooper Looper, the smallest looping coaster. It has just one loop, but it was one of the first looping coasters ever built, so it has historic significance. These rides are at the very edge of my own comfort zone. (After some consideration the day before about whether I didn’t want to be the kind of person who wears my tie-dyed Sooper Dooper Looper t-shirt while riding the Sooper Dooper Looper or whether that’s exactly the kind of person I wanted to be, I went with the latter.) We all rode the swings and the Ferris Wheel, which is Beth’s favorite. She took the picture of the park from up there.

We also went to the waterpark, but the lines were so long we gave up on doing a waterslide or the lazy river, but the wave pool had no line or just a short one when different members of our party arrived. It was nice to get wet, though, because by late afternoon we were all hot and tired. Beth and I took turns watching the wheelchair so everyone could go into the pool.

As we left the park, North took one last ride on the Candymonium while Beth returned the wheelchair and Noah and I did some shopping at Chocolate World. We were intending to eat dinner there, but the place we usually eat—it has several vegetable side dishes you can use to make a meal—was closed and the only option was pizza. Neither Beth nor I wanted pizza two nights in a row, so we went to Panera before hitting the road for home.

There wasn’t much traffic, so we were home by 10:15, which was good because Beth and I are usually in bed by ten and because Noah had scheduled a call about another place to live in Australia at eleven. If you’re thinking, wait, I thought he found somewhere to live, that fell through. This one is a room in a house where the owner also lives, a ten to twenty-minute walk to campus. He was offered the place on the phone and accepted, but he hasn’t paid the deposit yet, so I’m still a little nervous about it. Meanwhile he has an AirBnB booked for his first week and we’re not cancelling it quite yet, just in case.

Last Night of Summer Break

Sunday evening, after we enjoyed a nice summery dinner of barbequed tofu, fried okra, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes that Beth cooked, we went to Sweet Frog. We’ve always taken the kids out for ice cream (or occasionally frozen yogurt) on the night before school starts. It’s something my mom used to do for me and my sister and the tradition continues.

I finished first, having taken a relatively small amount of soft serve from the dispenser. I got up and walked up and down the block because I was short on steps, and when I returned Beth got up and did something similar because she was short on activity minutes. When she returned, she showed us that her Apple watch told her she’d had “a perfect week.” I’m not sure North would agree that a week brought their summer break to an end was a perfect one, plus we weren’t at the beach, but we were all together after a week split up into three groups and on the cusp of a longer separation from Noah, and we got to enjoy natural and not so natural amusements, so I’d say it was pretty near perfect.

Finales: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 75

The Last Day of School

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Week of Summer Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Weekend of Summer Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the Breaks: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 69

There was a three-week stretch between the end of Noah’s spring break and the beginning of North’s. The first week you’ve read about already—that was the week of North’s birthday and closing night of their show.

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

At the worst of it, last weekend, North had quite a high fever—it got up to 103.3 and they were pretty miserable with chills. They slept a lot, occasionally emerging from their room to eat or watch television. It’s always sad to see your child lethargic like that. On Sunday afternoon we cuddled on the couch and watched The Shining together. North said it wasn’t as scary as It. We’ve been on a horror movie jag and we watched both installments of that one recently.

In addition to the fact of their being sick, the timing of North’s illness worried me because I was afraid they’d miss end-of-the-quarter assignments and not be able to make them up. But they went back to school on Wednesday and they say they’re on top of everything. They came home from school pretty happy because they got a 98% on a five-page persuasive essay arguing against abstinence-only sex education that was their biggest third quarter assignment in English and the teacher asked for a copy to use as a sample for future classes. By Thursday they were well enough to stay after school and organize and put costumes from the play into storage, to come home long enough to make a pan of brownies for Zoë’s birthday, and to go her house for dinner and a movie. They’re having another friend over tomorrow to bake and watch a movie, so even though they’ve still got a lingering cough, I think they are almost recovered.

At the same time Noah was going through his own rough patch. He’s making a film for his advanced cinema production class and he’s been having trouble finding actors and a crew. Approaching people for this kind of thing isn’t his strong suit and after several people who auditioned either backed out or ghosted him he got so frustrated he was on the verge of withdrawing from the class. I felt sad for him as he’d been really looking forward to taking it and it’s ended up being very stressful for him. So I was proud of him when he texted me to let me know he’d talked about his problem in class and people volunteered for his crew. He still has no actors and he doesn’t have all the crew members he needs, but as of Friday he was saying he was going to stick with it. I volunteered to post a message to the IC parents’ Facebook page and he agreed and parents started responding right away. I posted last night and by this morning I’d sent his recruitment form to fourteen parents who expressed interest on behalf of their kids. We’ll see if that translates to some of those students contacting him and choosing to participate.

Through all this, I tried to mother both kids through food. I found a recipe for vegetable-chick pea soup with ginger and turmeric that claimed to be “the very essence of healing goodness” and made it for dinner on Monday night, by which point North had been sick for five days. They were actually already on the upswing by this point, though it would be a couple more days before they went back to school, so maybe the soup exerted some small effect. Meanwhile, I decided to send Noah a planned care package of Easter candy a little early, in hopes that a chocolate-hazelnut bunny, peanut butter eggs, mini eggs, and jelly beans would be cheering. I did not mail it in an Easter basket, for reasons of space, but I did pack the box with Easter grass. Noah was home last Easter and the one before because of covid so this was his first Easter-in-a-box from me. If he wants Easter eggs, I guess he’ll have to dye them himself as I don’t think they’d ship well.

While I was fretting about my sick and discouraged children, I also had two little mourning dove chicks on my mind. Every spring (and once in the fall) for the past several years we’ve had nesting birds on our porch and this year is no exception. This would be a joyful thing, but more often than not the babies never fledge because either the eggs don’t hatch or they do and the chicks are killed by predators. I don’t even know what kills them. According to the internet, it could be birds of prey, snakes, cats, dogs, or squirrels. Considering the nest is on a ledge near the ceiling of the porch and the column it tops is pretty smooth, I think it would have to be something that can fly (bird), jump (cat, squirrel) or reach the ledge from the porch wall (large dog). I (almost) never see any of these animals in my yard except squirrels, so that’s my best guess. I didn’t even know squirrels were omnivores.

The eggs did hatch this year and four days after I first caught of a glimpse of two babies being fed by a parent, I started seeing them unattended in the nest for short periods, and of course whenever I saw that, I’d worry for them. I kept counting the days since I first saw them and hoping they’d get bigger and fly away before something bad befell them. Several more days went by and I noticed the chicks, especially one, had grown quite a bit and the bigger one was starting to walk around the ledge and half-open its wings, which made me think it might be ready to fledge soon. (That’s a young bird, not a parent in the picture. The other one is obscured behind it.) Fingers crossed for a happy outcome.

So to sum up, North is mostly recovered and Noah has some leads and the chicks are still alive. Things could be worse.

First Week: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 62

First Day: New Year’s Day

Last weekend Beth and I went on a First Day hike at Patuxent River State Park. These are organized by various state and municipal parks to encourage people to get out into nature on the first day of the year. We go on one most years, usually just me and Beth, as the kids are often tired from seeing in the new year, which Beth and I never do, even when we have a party to attend, which we did not this year for the obvious reasons. We generally either stay home or come home early, leave the kids with many bowls of salty snacks, and go to bed well before midnight, which is what we did this year. I think of it as sibling bonding time.

We chose a hike on a newly made trail that goes past Howard Chapel Cemetery, a small historic African-American cemetery where descendants of Enoch Howard—who bought himself and his family out of slavery and then bought the land of his enslavers—are buried. Despite the wet conditions, fifteen or twenty people (and three dogs, one charmingly named Ruthie for Ruth Bader Ginsburg) had showed up. Because the trail was so new and it had been raining earlier in the day, it was very muddy in places. One hiker slipped and twisted her ankle so one of the two rangers stayed with her until a park employee could come get her back to the trailhead.

The rest of us kept going, led by a very cheerful guide along the wooded path, up the ridge, to the cemetery and then back down. It took two hours and I didn’t slip and fall in the mud until pretty near the end. (I sustained no injury. The mud was quite soft.)

Back at home, I put together a cheese plate, which is another New Year’s tradition of ours, and we ate a lot of cheese. Later that day, I made Hoppin’ John for dinner, because it’s good luck and we are not taking any chances as we approach Year Three of the pandemic.

First Week: Monday to Friday

The first week back after break was an abbreviated one for North. We got seven inches of snow in the wee hours of Monday morning and that was enough for two snow days and a two-hour delay on Wednesday, when they finally went back to school. Thursday there was a full day of school and then it snowed again (three more inches) and they had Friday off, too.

If you’ve read this blog for a couple years or more you know I’m no fan of snow days, but more than a year of remote school has put things in perspective at least a little. Plus, I’m not sure in-person school should even be happening right now, with omicron what it is. I was a little grumpy about the snow days (because I just can’t help it) but I made the best of it. Given that the weather was unusually cold all week, I declared it Soup Week, and we had soup for dinner four nights last week (hot dog and bean, cheddar-broccoli, chili, and curried noodle soup). That was as much festive spirit as I could muster. And the snow did get both kids outside. North took a long walk with Zoë on Monday and Noah went out and took pictures of our yard (some featured here).

The not quite two days of school North did have were disrupted for other reasons as well. There are district-wide school bus driver shortages and their route was cancelled. Beth had to drive them to and from school Wednesday and Thursday, which is more of a hardship than it would be if their school wasn’t a half hour drive away. Two of their teachers (English and Psychology) are out with covid and they say attendance is as low as 50% in most of their classes. I don’t know if kids are out sick or their parents are keeping them home out of caution. I do know people who are doing that, so it was probably both.

The school district was using a metric that if 5% of students, faculty, and staff in any given school tested positive for covid, the school would go remote. Then between Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, it went from just a handful of schools at 5% or higher to 60% of the schools in our enormous school district (including North’s school) reaching that level. And then they gave up on that metric. In-school classes are continuing, but who knows for how long? If the district, albeit under pressure from the governor, changed its minds on a dime once, it could happen again. And the schools are stretched incredibly thin. Teachers have to use their free periods to cover for absent colleagues and sometime there’s just no teacher in the room and the kids just get a message about what work to complete in class. This has been the case in North’s psychology class. In Noah’s old high school (which is huge and has four thousand students) they are down to two janitors.

On Wednesday, before the 5% rule was abandoned, I started a pool on Facebook asking when people thought the school district as a whole would shut down under the weight of all these burdens. Everyone guessed it would be last week or early next week. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. There is going to be distribution of home test kits and KN95 masks to all students on Monday. I’m not even sure what I want to happen. To say remote school was not a good fit for North would be putting it mildly. None of us want to go back to that. But it would be worth it if a short closure, say two weeks or even a month, prevented a longer one later. But is that what would happen if the schools close their doors? I keep remembering how the two-week closure in March 2020 ended up stretching to April 2021. Honestly, I’m glad it’s not up to me.

Meanwhile, Ithaca announced on Friday that the first week of the spring semester will be virtual. It does not affect when Noah goes back because he has training for his IT job the week before classes start and those dates have not changed. Beth’s driving him up to school on the Sunday of MLK weekend and returning on Tuesday, his move-in day. Students (with limited exemptions) are required to be vaccinated and boosted, to test three days before their move-in days, and again on the move-in day, so I feel like the college has a clear, serious plan.  Of course, it’s a private college and it has more freedom to take effective health measures than a public school system that has to be open to everyone, vaccinated or not, and which is subject to pressure from the state government.

Before Noah was assigned his move-in date (just a few days ago) we were hoping we could all go up to Ithaca for MLK weekend and drop him off a day earlier. I do enjoy a road trip and seeing him in his adopted hometown. Plus, Ithaca is a fun place, with a lot of natural beauty and good restaurants (not that we would have patronized them in person). But North has school the day he moves into his apartment, so North and I will be staying behind. I am sad about this.

I’ve been kind of blue and discombobulated all week, truth be told. Partly it’s the disruption of our schedule, partly it’s not knowing what’s coming next, plus I’m still having trouble with glucose monitor reliability, which is really vexing me, and there’s more I don’t care to go into, but I’m hoping 2022 is an improvement over its first week. North got their booster shot today, so that’s a start.

Sugar, Sugar: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 54

Here are some of the song titles I considered as a title for this largely diabetes-related post:

“Sugar, Sugar”
“Sugar Won’t Work”
“I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl”
“Pour Some Sugar on Me”
“Blood Sugar Sex Magik”

As you can see, I went with the simplest and broadest one because I have had a lot of different feelings about my diabetes over the past six weeks.

For a little over two weeks I’ve worn a continuous glucose monitor on my arm. Here’s how it works, when it works (more on when it doesn’t work later). I have an app on my phone and when I hold the phone up to the monitor it takes a reading, which I can view in various ways: a line graph of the last twenty-four hours (with the line running through, above, or below a green band that represents the desirable range), a color-coded log of all the readings, a graph of my average blood sugar at different times of the day in line or bar graph form, etc.  Beth is quite taken with the cool tech aspect of it.

When I first heard about the monitor, I was a little alarmed at the idea of living with this level of surveillance accountability. Several healthcare professionals–my primary care provider, a nurse, and eventually a diabetes coach I haven’t met yet–all have or will have access to the data. But despite my misgivings, it is educational to have real time feedback and it’s more convenient than the finger sticks I used to do when I had gestational diabetes in 2006. It quickly won me over, in theory.

However… in practice I am having a lot of trouble with the sensors. They expire after two weeks and have to be replaced. Of the first four I applied, only one worked. Two wouldn’t take a reading at all and one gave numbers that were clearly wrong. For instance, it told me my blood sugar had fallen into the 40s, which the nurse told me couldn’t be true because I would have felt quite ill (dizzy, with blurred vision, etc.) and I did not. Later it told me my blood sugar had jumped from 50 to 150 after eating a taco and some salad, which isn’t in line with how I’ve been responding to food, so I discarded that sensor. And whenever I do that, or one won’t start, we, and by we, I mean Beth, spends half an hour on the phone arguing with recalcitrant agents about why we need a new one. I am deeply grateful for this service, as it’s the kind of thing that would cause me to burst into tears and give up.

So after a few days without one, I have a new sensor I’ve been wearing since yesterday evening and it seemed a little off–the values are not completely out of the ballpark, but consistently lower than what I’d expect. So I dug out my old glucose monitor and got some new strips for it (the original ones expired in 2007) and I tested the sensor against the fingerstick method and at least the one time I tried it, my instinct was right. The fingerstick reading was 13 points higher than the sensor. It’s discouraging not to be able to trust the numbers because when it worked, it seemed to be a good tool for helping me stay in range.

And speaking of the range, I found out just the other day that I’d misunderstood the range my primary care provider had given me as a target and I actually have more leeway than I thought. This is good because even though I was staying in range, it was hard. I was very limited in the foods I could eat and I was often hungry (which is pretty much how I remember gestational diabetes).

Now there is going to be a lot of detail about what I can and can’t eat. If that seems unbearably boring, skip to the end of the post for updates on the kids and other non-food related items.

Still reading?

Breakfast is a challenge. When you have diabetes whatever you eat first hits you much harder than it would if you ate it later in the day, so it originally seemed foods I could eat in small quantities later in the day (almost any kind of grain or fruit) I couldn’t eat in the morning, which is too bad because a bowl of cereal with fruit is pretty much my standard weekday breakfast.

I kept experimenting with ways to eat cereal. Could I stay in range if I ate the grain-free cereal in which chickpeas impersonate oats? No. If I tried that cereal with unsweetened almond milk instead of cow’s milk? No. Is hot cereal better? Yes, but not enough. How about a half portion of oatmeal with walnuts in it and eggs and veggie sausage on the side. Bingo. A three-quarters portion of grits with cheese? You should have stopped while you were ahead.

However, when I went back and looked at my chart, I found only two breakfasts put me out of the new range, both of them cold cereal, though the full portion of oatmeal took me right up to the new limit. Smaller portions of hot cereal seem feasible, and in the meanwhile I’ve found a couple protein-rich breakfasts that work (Greek yogurt mixed with peanut butter or eggs with vegetarian sausage). Today I tried the yogurt and peanut butter with half a banana mashed into it and even if I mentally add ten to fifteen points to what the sensor told me, it went fine.

The nurse has encouraged experimentation, even if I go out of range, because everyone’s response to food is individual and if I stick to just a few safe foods I’ll never really know what I can eat. When I said never eating dessert again would not be sustainable for me, she latched onto that word and seemed really happy about it. I guess I stumbled on a buzzword. She suggested I try a small dessert, just to see what happens. So last week I went to Starbucks and bought a pumpkin scone. You know, the ones with frosting and five hundred calories? I love those. It’s my favorite fall pastry and I’d been bemoaning all the seasonal foods I can’t eat to Beth and she’d suggested I try getting a scone and cutting it into small pieces to eat over the course of several days. So I did and to my delight, I did not go out of range (and that was the old range). I had a piece every day for three days in a row. (I gave one to North.)

Besides cereal and dessert, what I really want to eat is pizza. It’s what we have for dinner every Friday. In fact, it’s a tradition that dates back to my family of origin, so a Friday night without pizza would seem very sad. Both times I tried it, eating only one slice with a salad, I thought I’d gone out of range, but as it turned out, I hadn’t.

I’m glad to be able to eat more fruit. I was already eating small portions in the afternoon paired with a protein (e.g. half an apple with peanut butter, half a peach in a salad with goat cheese, fourteen raisins in cream cheese on a celery stick, etc.) but because I wasn’t eating it at breakfast, my fruit consumption went down while my vegetable consumption stayed about the same, so overall I was eating less produce, which was disheartening and made me worry a little about my fiber intake.

At one point in our conversation, the nurse told me the goal was to fit diabetes into my life instead of fitting myself into diabetes. At this point, that’s aspirational. I’m spending a lot more time than I’d like thinking about food, but that’s probably to be expected in the beginning.

Uncomfortable in My Skin

And to complicate matters… four weeks after my diabetes diagnosis and just two days after I started wearing the monitor, I went to see an allergist. I’d been breaking out in hives all over my body since mid-July. I think I only mentioned it once, around the time it started, because I was able to keep it more or less under control with antihistamines. Back in August, my primary care provider suggested I keep a food and hives log and I did, but neither of us could find any pattern in it. Next she said to try two weeks of taking an antihistamine every day, not just when the hives appeared, to see if a break from them would cause my body to reset, but they came right back as soon as I stopped.

So the allergist was the next step. I got a skin test for dozens of allergies and basically my whole back broke out in welts. The allergist said it didn’t seem likely I am actually suddenly allergic to all the things I reacted to, a list which includes: soy, rye, oats, various nuts, a couple kinds of seafood, a couple kinds of seeds, dust mites, cats, cockroaches, rabbits, mice, and a bunch of different kinds of grasses and pollens. He suspected that some unknown thing was causing my body to be (possibly temporarily) highly reactive and it might not be a true allergy or sensitivity.

His plan was to repeat the antihistamine-every-day experiment, but for two months instead of two weeks, to see if a longer hive-free period was needed to banish them. But he also said while it would not be practical to stop eating all the foods on the list, I should avoid soy during this test period, because that was the food that provoked the strongest reaction. That’s right, soy, while I’m trying to eat a high-protein, vegetarian diet. So, that’s been fun. The good news is a lot of the higher end fake meat we don’t usually buy is soy-free, so now we have an excuse to buy it. I am hoping I will be cleared to eat soy again, but I have noticed I do have fewer breakthrough hives than when I was taking a daily antihistamine and still eating soy, so maybe not.

Non-Dietary Related News

Little by little, events that were cancelled last year are happening. First, the Takoma Park street festival was the first weekend of October. Since the folk festival (usually held in September) didn’t happen two years in a row, it was nice to get a little fix of live music at a stage tucked in a side street between all the booths of vendors. Better still, the performer we went to see was a girl who went to the kids’ preschool, one year ahead of North. Anna Grace and North also attended drama camp together for many years and they both acted at Highwood Theatre before it closed two years ago. She sang Hazel Dickens, Janis Joplin, and Jerry Garcia covers, along with some of her father’s music. Her dad is also a musician and they have been performing together for years. It was fun to see them making music together.

Next, my book club met in person last week for the first time since January 2020. In fact, we’re meeting three times in October and twice in November to discuss Vanity Fair (four times) and The Haunting of Hill House (once). I’m leading the discussion on Hill House, so I’ve been busy re-reading the book and a thick biography of Shirley Jackson and watching the 1963 film version and trying to remember what I used to know about Hill House and Jackson when I taught this book.

Best of all, the Halloween parade and costume contest is on. Long-time readers know how important this event is to my kids. North and Beth went to Value Village to buy costume components last weekend. They’re going to be a drowning person.

Meanwhile, North’s been keeping busy with the school play. They’re costumes manager and one the kids on the costume crew is a preschool classmate. North and Talia went to different elementary and middle schools, but they played on the same basketball team for six years (remember the Pandas?) and when a teacher said they seemed to be working well together, Talia said, “Well, we’ve known each other since we were two.” One of the lead actors is also a Purple School alum, from another class.

North has also gotten involved in student activism at their school. They formed an organization to try to replace the powderpuff football game that’s held every year before Homecoming with some less sexist, more gender-inclusive activity. They call themselves the Powerpuffs. So far they’ve met with a school counselor, student government, and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. They are going to talk to the principal soon. It seems like it will be an uphill battle, as a lot of people are invested in this tradition, but since Homecoming was last week, they got some publicity. North has been managing their social media presence. I think it’s helped North meet some like-minded people.  As ninth grade was almost entirely online, North didn’t make friends at their new school until this year. It’s nice that between theater and the Powerpuffs, they’re back in the mix socially.

Noah is doing well, too. He’s enjoying his apartment and cooking for himself so much that he’s decided to switch to the minimal five-meal-a-week dining plan. We’re giving him the money that change will save for groceries. He’s playing in a band for non-music majors that will have a concert in early December, he’s still doing video editing for ICTV, and he’s joined the drone club. He went flying with them on Saturday and when he texted me about getting to fly a more advanced drone than the one he owns, he seemed happy. He provided a lot of detail, which is not always a feature of his texts, and he even used an exclamation point. He’s also thinking about getting a job and he asked Beth to mail him a couple of his dress shirts for interviews.

I’m really proud of how both kids are bouncing back after the pandemic school year. Maybe they can inspire me as I face my own new challenges.

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!