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!

Anticipation: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 38

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

From “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon

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

Vaccination

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

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

Celebrations

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

Mini-Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

Occupation

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

Presentation

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

Education

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

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

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

Reproduction

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

Deliberation

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

More Education

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

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

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

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

Predation

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

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

Anticipation

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

Plateau: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 22

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Back at the Hospital: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 21

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

Before the Hospital: Wednesday

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

ER Visit: Wednesday Night to Thursday Morning

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

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

Back to the Hospital: Thursday Night to Sunday Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back Home (Mostly): Sunday Afternoon to Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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