Plateau: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 22

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Back at the Hospital: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 21

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

Before the Hospital: Wednesday

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

ER Visit: Wednesday Night to Thursday Morning

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

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

Back to the Hospital: Thursday Night to Sunday Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back Home (Mostly): Sunday Afternoon to Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School’s Out: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 11

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces…

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not come back at all

From “School’s Out,” by Alice Cooper

Thursday: Last Day of School

North was promoted from middle school, virtually, on Friday evening, so I guess it’s summer break now. It may be hard to tell the difference, as North’s schoolwork had been pretty minimal since it went online, but it’s a milestone nonetheless. They finished their last assignment, a short essay on the role of slavery in the Civil War, on Thursday so they could relax and celebrate all day Friday, or “North Day,” as Beth dubbed it.

We also had a telemedicine appointment Thursday at the pain clinic, with the doctor who helped set up North’s physical and aqua therapy for their last bout of chronic pain, the one that lasted from February of seventh grade to November of eighth grade. Because North mentioned some intermittent  muscle weakness and that’s a new symptom, the doctor wants to see them in person, so we made an appointment for Monday. (I can’t go because only one parent is allowed to accompany kids to the National Children’s Medical Center right now, and since Beth drives, she’s the obvious choice. I’ve been avoiding both public transportation and ride-sharing services since March, which has really curtailed my transportation options.) As much as we all wish we weren’t in this situation, it’s a good thing to be on a path to a treatment plan.

Thursday is North’s cooking night and it was also their turn to choose our weekly family activity evening, so they made cucumber-tofu sushi and then organized a scavenger hunt. Because it’s Pride month, we were searching for little colored pieces of paper in arc shapes. (They printed a rainbow and then cut it into bands and then cut each band into several short strips.) They hid them around the house and yard while Beth was sequestered in our room on a work call and Noah and I went for a short walk so we wouldn’t see them hiding the papers. When we got back, they directed the hunt from the living room couch, where they issued occasional clues. The hunt was supposed to end when someone found strips with all six colors, but time ran out and as I had five at the end, I was declared the winner.

Friday: North Day

On Friday, Beth took the day off and wore her “Let Summer Begin” t-shirt. At lunchtime we got takeout from an Italian deli and Starbucks and we all had a picnic at Wheaton Regional Park. We also let North choose the venue for takeout pizza that night (they chose Roscoe’s) and Beth made a cake—chocolate with a raspberry filling between the layers and white chocolate frosting. We stuck the numeral nine candle in it because they are now a ninth grader. When we lit the candle, I put on Elizabeth Cotten’s “Graduation March,” but because it wasn’t the more familiar “Pomp and Circumstance,” and because there was cake, the kids decided we needed to sing “Happy Promotion” to the tune of “Happy Birthday” so we did that.

When we presented North with a promotion card and gift—an iPad, with a keyboard and pencil— they were really surprised because they weren’t expecting anything. I have to admit, I felt some retrospective guilt about the fact that we didn’t get Noah anything for eighth grade promotion—and he worked so hard in middle school!—but it’s kind of late for that now. And he did get a class party on a riverboat and an in-person promotion ceremony, while North’s class trip to Six Flags was cancelled, so maybe this evens things out.

The prerecorded promotion video was supposed to be available at 6:30, but there were technical difficulties and it was 8:30 before we were able to view it. After we’d been waiting a while we started to watch The Way, Way Back, which Beth or North found in a list of coming-of-age films. (They were both looking for one because North thought it was an appropriate genre for the evening.) When we finally got the message that the promotion videos had gone live, we paused the movie to finish the next night.

The virtual promotion was a lot like an in-person promotion. There was music from the school orchestra, speeches from the principal, faculty, and students, and awards for various virtues (Caring, Thinker, etc.)  Then the names of the roughly four hundred eighth graders scrolled down the screen. Finally, there was a slideshow of photos students and parents submitted. I sent in photos of North at Outdoor Ed in the fall of sixth grade, and in chorus concerts, plays, and coffeehouses. The teacher who organized it (North’s Spanish teacher) picked four of them and Zoë sent in a few pictures of North, too, so they were well represented. I hadn’t told North I sent in pictures, so that was a surprise, too, and they seemed pleased. I think North Day was a success.

First Weekend of Summer Break

The only thing on the agenda North didn’t get a chance to do on Friday was get their head shaved, which we’d promised them they could do once the school year was over. They’ve been wanting to do it for months, but first I was making them wait until after my sister’s wedding in July and then when the wedding was postponed until next summer I proposed after promotion as a good time for it, so they could mark the end of middle school. This was back in May and they wanted to do it right away and grumbled a bit, but Beth advised them to “take the win,” and they must have seen the wisdom in that because they stopped complaining. But by the time we’d watched the promotion on Friday night, it was dark out and all quarantine hair cutting has been taking place in the back yard, so they had to wait another day, but on Saturday morning Beth shaved their head, as promised.

Today North and Zoë got together to wade in the creek and they painted their faces to mark the fact that today was supposed to be D.C. Pride, before it was cancelled. I’m glad North is able to socialize in person with Zoë now and that it’s motivating them to move a bit more, since they have to meet outside.

Summer and Fall

North will be free for a while. Starting in July, they’re going to take an online summer school class in computer science to get their tech requirement out of the way and to give them a little something to do, as other than a two-week, half-day socially distanced drama camp, also in July, they don’t have many plans. It’s unclear if  they will be going back to school in person in August. We got a message from the school district just today informing us that no decision has been made and if we’ve heard anything one way or the other, it’s just a rumor.

As for Noah, we got his academic calendar a few weeks ago. Because his college is starting in early October and ending not much later than usual, it’s compressed—with no fall break and shortened Thanksgiving, winter, and spring breaks. Students are encouraged not to go home during either the Thanksgiving or spring breaks, but that’s not mandatory. Of course, this is all assuming these plans go as currently scheduled. The School of Health is openly lobbying for a different plan for fall semester—a hybrid one in which the students start online classes in August, switch to in-person classes for October and November and then finish up at home in December. This disturbs Noah because he’s applying for summer jobs and internships and he’d like to know the exact length of his break.

Parks and Protest

Speaking of Noah, Beth and I continue to go on weekend outings with him to fly his drone. (It was probably on one of these rambles that Beth got bitten by a tick. She was diagnosed with Lyme Disease on Monday. It was her second go-around with it, so she was able to recognize the symptoms and get on medication quickly.) A week ago we went to Quiet Waters Park in Anne Arundel County, which is on the South River. The name is something of a misnomer, because there are a lot of powerboats in the river and there’s a dedicated dog beach, which is a great idea for dogs and their people, but it’s not exactly quiet.  We did find a nice open field in front of a stage and a little botanical garden, though, and these were good places for flying. Then yesterday we went to Rockburn Branch Park, in Howard County, which was notable for the fact almost no one was wearing a mask, so we gave everyone a wide berth. There are some historic houses and barns in the park and Noah flew around and over them, then we walked along some trails, and by the numerous sports facilities (baseball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, and a mountain biking skills course).

We also went to a youth-organized, socially distanced march in Takoma Park a week and a day ago. I’ve been skittish about protesting, because of COVID, but this seemed like a good starter march because the crowds would not be as big as downtown and it was going to be mostly kids and their families so I thought there would be a focus on safety. The route was pretty short and close to home, so we thought North could manage at least part of it and it would be pretty easy to get them home when they were done. I also like to support youth activism in these days when we need it more than ever.

There was a good turnout (including several families we know), nearly everyone was masked (with the exception of the guy standing on the corner yelling about how Jesus was the solution) and for the most part, folks kept their distance. “Black Lives Matter” was the most popular sign, but we also saw “Stop Killing Black People,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Say Their Names.” I saw the younger sister of one of North’s friends carrying one that said, “My Friends’ Lives Matter.” We carried the sign North made that says “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Do,” taking turns with it.

North walked several blocks and then wanted to sit on the curb, so I stayed with them while Beth and Noah went on. After they decided they were done and not just resting, I went to try to catch up with Beth and Noah with the plan we’d all meet back where North was waiting for us. It took a while to find each other, as the march went off-route at the end, and I went with it while Noah and Beth stayed at the official end point. But eventually we reunited. I went to the farmers’ market to get strawberries and Beth drove the kids home. The march went well enough that we feel ready to tackle another protest next weekend in Silver Spring. This one is a kneeling protest, so I’m hoping people will stake out their spots and stay put, minimizing close contact, but we’ll see.

I imagine there will be more protests this summer and more drone-flying expeditions and I hope, more physical activity for North.

Doing Quarantine Right: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Birthday,” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in non-birthday related news…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Has Changed: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 2

I was listening to Taylor Swift’s Red yesterday and the line “Everything has changed” from the song of the same name struck me hard. It really has, hasn’t it? Every passing week seems so distant from the last one. I wonder how long it will be like that.

So, the first day with everyone home was Monday, six days ago. Here’s a tally I put on Facebook at the end of the day:

2 out of 2 people with jobs worked
0 out of 1 person with schoolwork did any (due to technical difficulties, now solved)
1 out of 1 person who plays a musical instrument practiced
3 out of 4 people spent some time outside 
No one yelled at any one else
No one cried (as far as Steph knows)

Let’s take these one by one:

2 out of 2 people with jobs worked

Beth and I both worked from Monday to Friday (and she worked over the weekend, too). On Monday, she had a workstation on the dining room table, but by Tuesday she’d moved into our bedroom, as my desk is in the living room and there are no doors between those two rooms. Between my liking (almost needing) to play music while I work and her not being able to concentrate with it on and the fact that she’s on the phone a lot, it’s better for both of us to be at opposite ends of the house.

The new arrangement required moving a fair amount of clutter out of the bedroom and installing a new desk in its place. I’m hoping there’s a long-term improvement in the appearance of the room once we no longer need the desk, which is kind of wedged between the bed and a bookcase. If so, it will be thanks to Beth, who did almost all of the reorganization work.

For me, working from home with everyone else here too has been harder than it seems like it should. After all, I have no little kids. Everyone is capable of entertaining themselves and the kids are pitching in with the extra housework. They do yardwork, fold laundry, vacuum, clean the bathroom and kitchen, and cook, and Noah cleaned the bottom third of the fridge the other day. (God, the dishes, though! There are so many dishes! Sometimes it seems as if I’m doing them all day long. Maybe that’s why it’s harder to get work done.)  And I’m used to having the place to myself during work hours, so it just seems as if my concentration is always being broken. Plus, I’m frequently interrupting myself to check on North and make sure they’re doing something productive and not stuck to screens all day.

0 out of 1 person with schoolwork did any (due to technical difficulties, now solved)

Speaking of North, they’ve been working on the review assignments they have for school, but there have been some ongoing technical blips that make some of the work hard (or maybe impossible) to do. It’s understandable. The teachers had to throw it all together at the absolute last minute and it shows. This should in no way be taken as a criticism of the teachers, who did their best under trying circumstances. Meanwhile, the school system sent out a message today saying it was unlikely that students would be returning to school a week from now– no surprise there– and that a more formal system of online learning will take effect then. I’ll welcome that, as North could use the structure.

Meanwhile, Ithaca closed for the rest of the semester on Tuesday. Online classes start tomorrow. I don’t check on Noah much because he’s technically an adult and if he wants to watch movies all day, that’s his business. But theoretically, he’ll have more to do soon, though it’s hard to figure out how his audio production class and band will work remotely.

1 out of 1 person who plays a musical instrument practiced

After finding out he wouldn’t be going back to school, Noah stopped practicing his drums. “What’s the point?” he said. “There’s not going to be a concert.” He’s also wishing he’d brought his camera and other filming equipment home with him. We won’t be allowed on campus to clean out his room until May. I’m sorry he doesn’t have the creative outlets of music and filmmaking right now, but he is taking photographs with his phone and I’m hoping once the sting of the missed concert fades, he’ll start drumming again. The drums are still in the basement, waiting for him.

We did have a musical event here on Wednesday night. On the evening when we would have gone to see Billie Eilish, North organized an in-house concert. They asked for glow-sticks and we ordered some online for them. I was expecting we’d each have one to wave while we watched Billie Eilish videos, but North had something more extensive in mind. There were fifty glowsticks in the package (plus necklaces and rings) and North laid them on every horizontal surface of the living room, and they strung little white lights on the television cabinet. There was a concession stand with pretzels, Cheetos, and Sprite. Everyone got a hand-painted concert t-shirt and an assortment of glow sticks. We danced briefly and then settled in to watch a selection of videos. It was kind of magical. North really knows how to bring the party.

3 out of 4 people spent some time outside 

Taking a walk is part of my daily routine and that hasn’t changed. North’s been walking a lot, too, because of our “you can only socialize outside” rule. They meet up with Zoë most days and they roam around for hours. They read their step counts off their phone to me today and they’re definitely walking more than any of us. Noah will occasionally go on walks if someone invites him. Beth’s not getting out as much as she’d like, but she goes for walks sometimes, too. Other than Noah clearing weed trees out of the garden plot and North planting some flower seeds, we haven’t done much in the garden.

I’ve been taking a lot of nature pictures to keep my spirits up. That’s not hard, with bumblebees landing on daffodils in my front yard, mourning doves brooding on a new nest on the porch, and cherry trees, redbuds, and magnolia trees in bloom. Occasionally I find the exuberance of early spring in the Washington metro area jarring, under the circumstances, but mostly I find the beauty to be a comfort.

We didn’t know if we’d be able to go see the Tidal Basin cherry trees (which reached peak bloom on Friday) and practice social distancing at the same time, because the paths around the water are pretty narrow, and it can get very crowded. But there are two dozen cherry trees on the block just around the corner from us we’ve been enjoying.

We were also considering doing a Tidal Basin driving tour today. However, after crowds of people flocked there Friday and Saturday, city authorities closed Metro stops and roads that lead to the Tidal Basin, so we switched plans and went to the National Arboretum. It turned out to be a good choice. It’s much bigger, so people were spread out enough for it to feel safe, and it was lovely. The cherries there seem to be of more varied species, so the bloom is not as synchronous as at the Tidal Basin, but plenty were in bloom. They are also taller, have more slender trunks, and are planted in more wood-like groves.

No one yelled at anyone else

We’ve been doing pretty well on this count. There was some snapping on the first day, but we pulled back from the brink.

No one cried (as far as Steph knows)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t cry until Friday. It was before I got out of bed that morning, and I don’t even remember what set me off because that was two days ago– who can remember that far back these days?  I guess the stress was getting to me. I had an infected cold sore on my lower lip late in the week. I never get cold sores, so I was looking them up online and learned that they can be brought on by stress. So, okay, that makes sense. It was looking pretty bad for a while and Beth thought I should do a video consult with an urgent care doctor, but then it cleared up.

Overall, though, we are lucky. Beth and I both have jobs that can be done from home. We’re all together and life goes on, even in a crisis. North turns fourteen tomorrow, without a party, but as with the concert, they’ve figured out a way to approximate a party. I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Lovelady-Allens in the Time of the Coronavirus, Part 1

Well, things have gotten alarming, haven’t they? Here are all the headlines from the Metro section of Thursday’s Washington Post.

“National Cathedral, more than 200 other local churches to close for 2 weeks: Some services to be live-streamed: Episcopal Diocese of Washington plans to continue social work; church-run schools will weigh closures”

“Schools step up closure planning: Sidwell Friends shifts online as others will shut to prepare and clean”

“Cherry blossom fest events curtailed: Organizers cancel some, postpone others amid coronavirus worries”

“College students scramble as in-person classes axed: Georgetown and U-VA are among schools that are moving to online-only teaching”

“Aiming to keep doors open amid outbreak, nonprofits weigh difficult decisions”

No doubt there’s been a similar cascade of church, school, and special event closings and cancellations where you live. 

On Wednesday night, in the middle of what was supposed to be Noah’s week-long spring break, we found out he’d be home an extra three weeks at least. Break’s extended for a week, then there will be two weeks of online classes and then the college will re-assess. His school year’s been extended a week as well, to recoup the time from the extra week of break, which I’m assuming faculty are using to try to figure out how to turn their classes into online classes. I have a lot of professor friends, having been one myself back in another lifetime, and right now they’re all saying on Facebook that this is basically an impossible task.

Then Thursday afternoon the governor announced all Maryland public schools would close for two weeks, starting next Monday. (North’s class went on a field trip to the National Geographic museum to see a Jane Goodall exhibit that day and the very next day, the museum closed.) There were supposed to be packets of work to bring home Friday, but North came home empty-handed. Apparently, the packets didn’t arrive at the school. There’s review material available online, but it’s optional. Not for North, of course, because we’re that kind of parents, but for the student body in general. Apparently, the missing packets were not that extensive, though. One of North’s friends who goes to another school finished hers over the weekend.

Beth’s office is switching to telework, too. They had a trial run on Friday, after which they decided everyone would stay home for two weeks. So it’s looking like the house is going to be a lot fuller than usual during my work weeks for the next few weeks, with all four of us home. I have a little trepidation about that, especially as my office consists of a desk in the corner of the living room. But Beth’s in the same boat (or worse, having no desk at all) so we can commiserate.

Once we knew everyone was going to be home a while, Beth and I found ourselves wrestling with a lot of questions. First was how strictly to impose social distancing on ourselves, well mostly on North, the only extrovert in the family. If it’s too dangerous to be at school, should they be at friends’ houses? Or at the Billie Eilish concert we bought tickets for as an early birthday present? And in the event the concert was cancelled, could they have the slumber party they requested as a consolation prize?

One of these questions resolved itself. The concert was postponed with a promise to honor tickets at a later date. That was a relief because it spared us from having to be the bad guys (and yes, that was a pun). And we decided no party, but our current stance on hanging out with friends is one at a time, if they stay outside and don’t touch each other. This needed specifying because North is physically demonstrative with friends.

Even before all this, it was already kind of a strange break for Noah. Every other break he’s had in college so far we’ve immediately or almost immediately gone somewhere—Hershey Park during fall break, Rehoboth during Thanksgiving break, Blackwater Falls State Park during winter break.  But this time because North wasn’t off school we didn’t make plans to go anywhere. (And now that both kids will be off at the same time, overnight travel seems ill-advised.)

So he’s been having a low-key break. Beth fetched him from Ithaca a little over a week ago, because his last class was too late in the day for him to take the bus he usually takes. Last weekend and the following several days we all went about our normal routines while he watched a lot of movies and television. He didn’t even have any homework to do, other than occasionally practicing his drums for band. (He ended up with a surprisingly light course load this semester.)

Monday he had a dentist appointment and did some yard work for me, then he was sick for two days—no fever, no cough—and he pretty much laid low. By late Wednesday afternoon he was recovered enough for a walk to Starbucks when North got home from school. Thursday he did some more yard work. Friday he did some housework and got a haircut. Over the course of the week we read The Rest of Us Just Live Here and started The Caledonian Gambit.

One thing we did plan for Noah’s original break and had decided to go ahead with was a maple syrup festival at Cunningham Falls State Park. We decided that since it mostly an outdoor event, the risk was relatively low. And if we’re going to be even more restricted in our movements later (because who know how this is going to turn out?) we thought it would be nice to have an outing. But the festival, which was scheduled for today, was cancelled.

Noah and I spent the day at home. We read some more and, because we have time for a new television series, watched the first two episodes of Counterpart. North spent the afternoon with Zoë, roaming around Takoma. Beth was mostly at home, but ventured out to drop North off and pick them up and do a little grocery shopping. Among other things, we needed pies for Pi Day.  We now have Dutch apple and chocolate cream. Beth had also been to the grocery store yesterday and reports that they’d been low on frozen vegetables, canned beans, and potatoes yesterday and today they were almost completely wiped out of fresh produce. (Tip for locals, the Co-op is pretty well stocked.)

Here are today’s Metro headlines.

“Metro reducing rail and bus services”

“Local cases: Where the area stands”

“All of region’s schools to shutter: Coronavirus move is a first: extended closures pose huge range of challenges”

“This is the scariest thing”

“Buying, hoarding and some fighting, too”

“Md. Legislators prepare for possibility of session ending soon”

Among all the bad news, we do have a little good news. North found out today they got into their first-choice high school in the second chance lottery. We are still waiting to hear from the VAC, but North’s very happy.

Meanwhile, North has made the following homebound schedule for themselves:

  1. Drink four glasses of water
  2. Drink a cup of tea
  3. Meditate for five minutes
  4. Listen to a song that I like
  5. Read a book for fifteen minutes
  6. Listen to an audiobook for fifteen minutes, not as part of my bedtime routine
  7. Eat a meal I enjoy
  8. Take a bath every other day
  9. Take a walk
  10. Swing in the hammock for ten minutes
  11. Find an online course to take and do some of it
  12. Call or facetime a friend
  13. Draw
  14. Journal
  15. Sew teddy bears
  16. Listen to an audiobook as part of my bedtime routine

Noah and I plan to read every day and watch our new show on days when my work permits. Beth and I are going to try to do something outside every day, including getting the garden started. And we’re going to make a list of chores for the newly available teenage labor force.

So, we’re hunkered down for the long haul. We’re all feeling well, we have each other, and we have pie.

How are you?

Vault Year

Two leap years ago North was in kindergarten in a Spanish immersion program and I wrote a blog post, called “Leap Year” about how kindergarten is a year of social, cognitive, and physical leaps. That year North learned to spend a longer day away from me than in preschool, they learned to speak Spanish, and they learned to read and write in both English and Spanish. Plus they learned to jump rope and pump on the swings. It felt like a big deal.

Then one leap year ago Noah was in ninth grade and I wrote another blog post, called “Hop Year” about how the transition from middle school to high school had gone smoothly and how being in a high school humanities-based magnet program wasn’t that different from being in a middle school humanities-based magnet program .

Well, here it is, four years later and Noah’s in the midst of another transition, this one bigger than starting elementary or high school. He’s living away from home, managing his own life, taking the first steps of young adulthood. I thought I should write a leap year blog post about that. “Vault Year” seemed appropriate, given the magnitude of the changes.

The problem, of course, is that he’s not here, and while we do text, he’s not what you’d call forthcoming with detail, so I’m not sure I know enough about his life to fill up a blog post. (Maybe that’s why when the Ithaca College magazine comes, I read it with more curiosity than my own alma mater’s magazine.) But here I am, giving it a try.

By the way, if you’ve got your own college student or soon will, my blog friend, Swistle, has two sons in college and recently wrote about communicating with college students. Here’s her take on it.

Here are some things I know:

  1. He applied to be a video editor at ICTV, the college television station. He got his pick of several shows and chose two—one he describes as “a Ghostbusters knockoff” and another one that’s “a sitcom about artists.” But there are so many editors he hasn’t had a chance to work on either show yet, which is frustrating. Something similar happened last semester. He may have only edited one episode. When he worked on his high school’s news show during his junior year, he was editing it on a daily basis. I wish he was getting more hands-on experience outside of the classroom.
  2. He’s playing percussion in a band for non-music majors. It meets once a week and he says the band teacher is “less intense” than his high school band teacher, who used to send them and the parents extremely long, online pep talks every week that contained gems like this: “How do you make a strong, sturdy blade? …… You have to plunge it into the fire and Keep Hammering…” (I’ve kept some of the messages in my email for their entertainment value.) Noah’s been practicing in his room with just his drumsticks and when he comes home for break he wants to bring his portable practice pad—which he used in elementary school before he got his own drum kit— back to school with him to facilitate this.
  3. His favorite class is Intro to Media Industries, which, according to the course catalog, is about the ethical, legal, technological, economic and creative issues raised by new media. He says it’s interesting. Overall, his workload is lighter than last semester.
  4. Left to his own devices, he’s most likely to spend his free time watching movies or television in his room. But he’s got a couple friends and one of them is able to convince him to go out and do things once in a while, like go to an Oscars viewing party.

I think that’s it. I’m tapped out. But that’s kind of the point of this year. He’s making his own way and we don’t know every little detail of what’s going on with him. And I think it’s going well. He seems happy, his grades were good last semester, and I expect the same this semester, though I haven’t asked. I think he’s still considering taking next semester off to volunteer for a campaign (either for whoever wins the Democratic primary or maybe something down ballot), but I’m not sure.

I can ask him in person soon because he’ll be home for spring break in a week. I’m looking forward to seeing him. We have no big plans, because North will be school that week, but we’re thinking of going to a maple sugar festival at Cunningham Falls State Park the Saturday before he goes back to school. It’s a little ironic, as Western New York is more maple sugar country than Western Maryland is, but it sounded fun.

Meanwhile, North thinks I should do my next leap year blog post about their senior year of high school, even though it’s the last year of something and not the first. It’s the year before the leap, they pointed out. It’s possible by then they’ll know where they’re going to college, or at least have it narrowed down to a few choices. It seems a lot closer and more real than it did when Noah was in middle school and I was barely thinking about college. Now that we’ve launched one kid, it seems like something that actually happens, not some abstract theoretical concept.

Of course, there’s still high school to get through. Thursday after school North proposed a walk to Starbucks because they didn’t have an afterschool activity and it was a sunny day, if a bit chilly, and we both had Starbucks gift cards from Valentine’s Day burning holes in our pockets. While we were there we talked about the pros and cons of the school they were assigned in the lottery, their first-choice school, and the Visual Arts Center. They won’t hear the results of the second chance lottery for a month and the VAC will be accepting students off the waitlist for another two months, so nothing has changed since the last time I wrote about this. North is simultaneously impatient to know where they’re going and sanguine about all the options. No matter how it turns out, I’m looking forward to seeing how their high school years unfold. I know now how fast they will go by.

Happy in Winter

Imbolc and Groundhog’s Day

Saturday morning Beth, North, and I were talking about the collection of early February holidays that fell that weekend: Imbolc (Wiccan), Candlemas (Catholic), and Groundhog’s Day (secular) and about how they are all related to each other and mark the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s not spring, but a time to look forward to spring.

North was supposed to have Jade sleep over on Friday night but she was sick and had to cancel. (All three of us have been sick, too, with different symptoms, united only by a cough.) North and Jade had been planning an Imbolc ceremony, so North asked if Beth would do it with them. (On that particular day I was the sickest of the family and had retreated to bed.) There was music involved and maybe some kind of craft, though I never saw evidence of it. Finally, they left an offering of juice, milk, honey, grains, nuts, and bread on the porch.

And then two days later, the Groundhog predicted an early spring. My daffodils seem to agree. They are poking out of the ground and some of them have yellow-green heads formed. Now they sometimes stay stalled like that just a couple inches above the ground for several weeks at a time, but I’d welcome spring, whenever it wants to come. Still, I am also sorry for Beth, who loves snow and has had to make do with two measly snowfalls, both a half-inch or less. There was some patchy snow on the ground at Blackwater Falls State Park when we were there at Christmas, but it didn’t snow while we were there either. But here’s the thing—those tiny snowfalls resulted in one snow day, one early dismissal, and one two-hour delay, so I can’t quite find it in my heart to wish for any amount of snow. Still, as I reminded Beth, we’ve probably got a month and a half left in the snow danger opportunity season.

As we were discussing the dearth of snow at dinner Saturday night, North said it must make me happy and I said, “Can I really be happy when Beth is unhappy?”

And then North, who can sometimes get right to the point, said, “So you can’t be happy in winter no matter what?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way and I said, “Maybe not.” But on further thought I decided it wasn’t true. After all, I’m not always thinking about the weather. And even with a number of challenges to happiness (being sick, missing Noah, the continuing erosion of democracy exposed by the toothless impeachment trial), we still had some nice moments over the past couple weeks.

Lunar New Year and Winter Greenhouse

This past weekend I was mostly taking it easy and trying to recover from my flu-like illness. You can put that squarely in the not-happy-in-winter column. But the weekend before that, after North’s cold was mostly better and before Beth and I were felled, we did a lot of fun things. We welcomed the Year of the Rat by going to see Winter Lanterns, a celebration of the Lunar New Year outside the Kennedy Center. It featured a collection of over one hundred large colored lanterns in various shapes—traditional Chinese symbols like a dragon and pandas, all the signs of the Chinese zodiac, plus other animals, flowers, and mushrooms. It was gorgeous and we all enjoyed walking through the display. And Beth only said, “This would be better if there were snow,” once.

In addition to the lanterns, there were white lights outlining the branches of the willow trees that grow outside the Kennedy Center, and an art installation of metal poles with lights on them. If you connect two of them by touching both, they light up more brightly. It also works if two people each touch a pole and then hold hands. That was very cool. Plus there were food trucks, and we got a funnel cake for North and a Nutella-banana crepe, which Beth and I shared.

Saturday we went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and on Sunday we went to Brookside Gardens, where we explored the warm and colorful conservatory, and then wandered on the outside paths. The landscape was mostly winter-bare, but I did spot snowdrops and some yellow acony. We walked through the labyrinth and tried to meditate, as the sign recommends, but the three little girls tearing through it soon after we started made that somewhat difficult. How can you be mad in a situation like that, though, when you’ve had your own small children? You can’t.

High School Update

I wasn’t going to say anything about where North’s going to high school until it was settled, but it may not be settled for a while, so here’s an update, which goes in the ambiguous column. Those of you who don’t live in Montgomery County, Maryland probably need a refresher about this whole complicated process: There’s a lottery to determine which high school you’ll attend if you don’t end up in an application program. Everybody enters this, ranking five possible schools. If you choose your home school as your first choice, you are guaranteed a spot, but they still make you fill out the form. Then if you want to apply to a magnet, you do that, too. If you get in and accept, your lottery results are moot. North had entered the lottery and applied to the Visual Arts Center magnet last fall.

Sometime in early January, North got their lottery results and they got into their second choice school. They were a little disappointed but within a few hours they had started to convince themselves of the good points of this school, principally that it’s one of two high schools that their middle school feeds into (assuming you go to your home school) so they would be more likely to know people than at their first-choice school. Since they seemed to be talking themselves into being happy about this outcome I decided not to say anything about the second chance lottery. Yes, there’s a second chance lottery. Students who don’t get their first choice are allowed to throw their hats back into the ring after all the application program spots are filled and there are some vacancies at all the schools. But after several days of mulling it over, North decided they did want to enter the second chance lottery and they did. We’re supposed to hear back sometime in late March. 

So then, on Friday, North heard from the Visual Arts Center magnet and they are waitlisted. The VAC expects to finalize the class by late April, so it could be almost three months before we know for sure where North is headed. But North’s genuinely happy to be on the waitlist because it’s very competitive and they didn’t expect to get in at all.

Crocuses and Poohsticks

Monday I was still sick and I had a scattered, unproductive day. As a result, when North got home from school, I hadn’t taken my daily walk yet, so I asked if they’d like to take one with me. They said the crocuses were in bloom down by the creek and we should go there. Usually I’m the one who notices that and takes them there. Ever since North was tiny they’ve loved to walk on the muddy path by the creek when it’s lined on both sides with thousands of tiny purple flowers. It was kind of a sweet role reversal to have them take me. We even played Poohsticks after I mentioned how the little wooden bridge reminds me of that doing that when they were little. They did not actually remember playing this game, but once I explained it, they said, “Let’s play.”

So for a little while, instead of looking forward, to spring or to high school, we looked back.

To Everything There is a Season, Part 2

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

High School

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

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

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

Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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