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.

To Everything There is a Season

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

From “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger, adapted from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A Time to Reap

When we went camping with Unitarians two weeks ago, North carved a pumpkin with the words Spooky SZN (season). That pumpkin departed in the compost truck a while back, but the spooky season certainly has begun. Our yard is gradually getting creepier, mostly thanks to North’s after school efforts, though I pitched in with the ghosts and Beth set up the giant witch and put batteries in a bunch of things. The clown skeleton on the swing is one of this year’s new additions. In other Halloween preparations, on Saturday morning Beth and North made the dough for Halloween cookies and over the course of the weekend we all rolled them out and baked them and frosted them. I think they came out really well.

Saturday afternoon we all drove out to Northern Virginia to get our jack-o-lantern pumpkins, though we can’t carve them yet or they’ll join their predecessor in the compost before Halloween rolls around. Getting pumpkins at the same farm where we’ve been getting them since before the kids were born felt bittersweet without Noah and it didn’t help that the place seemed to be teeming with little kids, all boys. But we soldiered on. North wore a new orange (maybe more golden) sweater bought specially for the occasion and a single candy corn earring. (The other one is lost). We took the requisite pictures and bought decorative miniature pumpkins, banana bread, an herbal tea mix, cider, apples, two varieties of squash, and sweet potatoes at the farm stand. Afterward we went out for dinner at Sunflower, one of our favorite vegetarian Chinese restaurants, and then to Dessert Story, where Beth and I split a waffle sundae with crushed Oreos and North got mango snow—it’s like fluffy, airy ice cream, with mochi, boba, and little cubes of mango. Then we drove home, listening to our Halloween playlist, singing along to “Monster Mash” and “Psycho Killer” and admiring the almost full moon peeking out of appropriately atmospheric clouds.

A Time to Plant

October is also high school application season in Montgomery County (and middle school and upper elementary school application season, but all those applications are behind us). So far we’ve been to a panel of alumni of North’s middle school who came back to talk about their current high schools, to an overview of the different application and interest-based programs, and to open houses at two high schools, with two more to go.

If you’re a Montgomery County parent with kids in eighth grade or older, you might want to skip the next bit, because you already know all about this surprisingly complex process. To make it as short as I can, there are magnet programs at several high schools you can apply to and if you get in and choose to, you attend that school. There’s a math/science magnet, a communications magnet (Noah’s program), an International Baccalaureate program (both a magnet version and an open enrollment version at different schools), an engineering magnet, a Biomedical magnet, a Visual Arts magnet, a Leadership Training Institute, and more. Some of them are county-wide, some only take applications if you live in a certain part of the county.

If you don’t go the magnet route, you can attend your home high school, but you can also enter a lottery to attend any of the high schools in your consortium—there are five in ours. In fact you have to enter the lottery and rank all five schools even if you want to go to your home school. (I don’t understand this because you are guaranteed a spot in your home school if you rank it first, so I’m not sure why you have to rank all the rest.) And why would you choose a different high school? Each one has several academies, which is kind of like choosing a major, or maybe more like a minor—you take one class a year in your academy, or more if you want.

When Noah was in eighth grade, he was pretty set on going to our home school (which houses the two magnet programs he applied to) either in a magnet or in the general school population, so we didn’t visit many schools. North wants to keep their options open, though, so we’re going to most of the Open Houses. They’re also planning to apply to the Visual Arts magnet and working on a portfolio for that.

First we visited our home school. If North goes there, they would choose the Media, Music, and the Arts academy. This school offers the shortest commute, and more of North’s friends will probably go there than anywhere else because not only is it the closest to us, it’s also the largest public high school in Maryland. We always kind of assumed both kids would go there because it’s a very good school, but North’s not set on it.

The second school we visited is next door (literally) to a vocational-technical school with a culinary arts program that interests North. But you can attend the culinary arts program—a one-year, half-day program—while enrolled in any of the five schools in our consortium and the visit failed to convince us that going to the school next door to the vo-tech would offer any advantage other than convenience in that one year. And that convenience would be outweighed in the other three years by the fact that it’s pretty far away and none of the academies are a big draw, so North’s ruled it out, though they might consider enrolling in the culinary arts program while attending another school.

We have a one-week hiatus before the Open Houses at the other two schools North wants to see—one for its academy of Music, Theatre, and Dance, and another for its Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, so North has some time to work on their art portfolio before the early November deadline.

Speaking of school, it was parent visitation day at North’s current school yesterday, so Beth and I spent the afternoon there. We opted to go in the afternoon rather than the morning because North’s morning classes were gym and Spanish and Beth doesn’t speak Spanish. I would have liked to see art, because it’s a new class for North, and English, because I always like to see English, but North has each class every other day and didn’t have those two on the visitation day. What they did have in the afternoon was geometry and science.

But that morning the school had to shelter in place because there was a fatal shooting in a nearby parking garage and police were looking for the suspect. North got stuck in the field house for four hours because kids who had gym when it started weren’t allowed to walk back to the main building, although other classes were proceeding as scheduled. North ended up missing their Spanish class, but the shelter-in-place ended in time for them to go to lunch. It so happened that fifty-four French exchange students were spending their first day at the school. It must have been a sad and perhaps frightening introduction to American culture for them. North was unfazed.

Anyway, Beth and I had lunch at Busboys and Poets and then arrived to watch North’s geometry class. North really likes their geometry teacher and while math is still not their favorite subject, they’re liking it better than they have in a few years, so I was glad to be able to see her in action. The lesson was about isosceles and equilateral triangles and triangle congruence. The kids were moving through different stations, sometimes listening to the lecture, making their own triangles with colored sticks that snapped together, and answering questions on their laptops. The teacher could see how many people had answered and what their answers were, and she projected some of them on the screen (anonymously) to discuss whether they were right or wrong. When they weren’t in the small group with the teacher, students worked individually on laptops or composition books. The class seemed to run smoothly. There were a lot of Spanish immersion kids North has known since kindergarten so I recognized many of them and that was fun.

Next was science. There were fewer familiar faces here and the teacher did not have very good control over the class. We were expecting this, as North had mentioned it. They’re doing a unit on weather and the lesson was on air masses—polar, tropical, continental, and maritime. There were a couple videos and a worksheet to fill out. The teacher did an experiment in which he put food coloring in hot and cold water in separate mason jars and they compared how quickly it spread (faster in the hot water). Then he balanced the warm water jar face down on top of the cold water jar and they observed how the colors didn’t mix because the hot water stayed on top. This was the part of class during which everyone seemed to be paying attention and not having side conversations. The last twenty minutes was devoted to working on a four-paragraph essay (North’s was on natural disasters but there were other topics) that’s due soon. There was not full participation in essay writing, however. It’s the teacher’s first year and he seems a bit overwhelmed by his charges, even with an aide who was trying to keep the kids in line. This was the last class of the day, so we left with North and Beth drove them to their afterschool acting class.

A Time to Weep

I have some sad news. My uncle David died on Friday from sepsis following a kidney infection. He was my father’s younger brother, seventy-four years old. He was a math professor and once worked as a code breaker for the CIA. In recent years he’d been living in Costa Rica with his wife in a house with a lot of room for their many cats and dogs. Between the two of them they had two daughters and nine grandchildren. He was still teaching math at the Instituto Technológico de Costa Rica.

I didn’t see David a lot, only twice in my adult life actually, but he was a friendly, warm person and I was fond of him. The last time I saw him was at my father’s memorial service nine and a half years ago. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues, friends, and family.

Four Road Trips and a Bus Ride

Beth spent a lot of time in August driving. In fact, over the last three weeks of August (and the first day of September) she was on the road a total of ten days. We took four road trips, in various combinations, but as the sole driver, she was the common denominator on all of them.

Road Trip #1

A little over three weeks ago, Beth and I took North to camp. This was a day trip, as the camp is only three hours away, in South-Central Pennsylvania. We needed to feed North lunch before drop-off so we went to the same pizza place where we’d had lunch the year before. North actually remembered the name, Paradise by the Slice, which aided us in finding it. It has a subtle tropical theme in its décor and pretty good pierogies in addition to pizza. I think I may sense a tradition forming.

Road Trips #2-3

The second and longest trip, just over two weeks ago, was to fetch North from camp and drop Noah off at college, and if you read my last post, you know all about that. The third trip, a week and half ago, was to Wheeling. Beth took North to her mom’s house for the traditional week of one-on-one grandmother time the kids call Camp YaYa and then drove back the next day. (Noah attended his session of Camp YaYa in June, right after graduation.) While at YaYa’s, North swam and did leg exercises in the condo pool nearly every day, went shopping for school clothes, went to the movies, gave a reading about fracking at YaYa’s church, attended a performance of bluegrass singer Hazel Dickens songs at the library, ate out a lot, and made banana bread.

Home Alone

While North was gone, Beth and were alone for five days, which is the longest we’ve ever been alone since Noah was born. In fact, I think I can count the kid-free weekend get-aways we’ve had on one hand. I’ve always been a little jealous of parents we know who manage to send their kids to sleep-away camp or the grandparents’ house at the same time. So I’m sorry to report we didn’t really use the five days well. It was all work days and AT&T was on strike so Beth was working some evenings, sometimes long after I’d gone to bed. We did go out to dinner the first night, at the (relatively) new Mexican place in Takoma Park, Cielo Rojo. I’d only been there once before and I like it so that was nice. And then I made four adult-friendly dinners in a row, kind of a luxury. Beth’s favorite was zucchini-eggplant sandwiches with queso blanco. (She’s a big fan of eggplant, and up until this summer neither of the kids liked it. Noah’s the convert. North’s the holdout.)

On Thursday morning I went out to get the newspaper and I was startled to see a crowd at the middle school bus stop, then I remembered it was sixth-grade orientation. I found it slightly amusing how many parents stayed until the bus came, being the jaded middle school parent I am now. It made me think how school was just around the corner, though. I honestly hadn’t been thinking much about it, and I’m usually counting down the days.

Road Trip #4

The Friday before Labor Day Beth came home early and we hit the road around 2:45 for Wheeling. The traffic was awful and getting out of the D.C. metro area took forever. It was around 10:15 when we finally pulled into YaYa’s condominium parking lot— the drive usually takes five to six hours. We did stop for dinner in Cumberland, at a restaurant in a converted mansion that once served as a joint Union-Confederate hospital during the Civil War. There’s dining on at least three levels and the back stairways and narrow halls that connect dining rooms, kitchens, and restrooms are a crazy warren. We were eating in the brick-lined “pizza cellar.” We eschewed the chance to have pickles or penne on our pizza, going for the more staid mushrooms and spinach instead. We got the fried eggplant appetizer, as well, because we’d only had eggplant twice in the week before.

When we got to YaYa’s she was out at a season preview event at a community theater, but North was still up and making chamomile tea. (North had attended the event, too, but Beth’s aunt Carole brought them home because YaYa had volunteered to help clean up afterward.) I was tired—I haven’t been sleeping well recently—and went straight to bed, but Beth and North waited up for YaYa.

Saturday morning we went to Target to buy school supplies and some more clothes and had lunch out at a restaurant where you can get French fries inside your sandwich. Not having grown up with this delicacy, I didn’t see the appeal, but Beth did so she indulged. That’s how it is sometimes with food. We went to Oglebay Park pool in the afternoon and then up to the lodge gift shop where YaYa bought some t-shirts for Beth. We had Mexican for dinner and while we were out, Carole texted she’d left something on the porch for us.  She and YaYa had spent the morning (and in Carole’s case the day) at a Labor symposium and there was a sheet cake with the faces of labor leaders in the frosting. She brought us a big slice of it with Walter Reuther (fourth President of the UAW and civil rights activist, born in Wheeling) pictured on it. Beth was really tickled by this. Carole came over and we had cake with sliced up Klondike bars and then we watched the beginning of Fantastic Mr. Fox. (YaYa moved recently from one condominium to another and now she lives two doors down from Carole. I think they are enjoying being neighbors.)

Sunday morning we went to YaYa and Carole’s church. It’s a small Unitarian church right over the West Virginia-Ohio border. They’re between ministers right now, so services are member-led. It was Carole’s turn. The service was Labor Day-themed and YaYa gave a talk about women in the labor movement and there was a discussion about it afterward.

After church, Beth helped her mom with some technical and mechanical issues around the house and North collected some water from YaYa’s pool in a bottle to bring to church next week. (They’re having a water service in which everyone brings water from a special place.) We left for home a little after two, and had much better luck with traffic. Even with a stop for dinner at a shopping center sushi place, we were home by eight-thirty.

Home Together

We had a relaxing day at home on Labor Day, the last day before the new school year. Beth and North went grocery shopping and Beth worked on some home repairs and rested while listening to podcasts. I read the newspaper and wrote this and took a walk with North. As we approached the bridge over Long Branch creek, I asked North if there was anything they were looking forward to in the new school year, because they’ve been pretty negative about it. North guessed (correctly) that I was trying to get something positive out of them and if they didn’t come up with something I would. “So, fine, seeing my friends,” they said grudgingly. I decided to leave it at that. I remember eighth grade well enough to know it’s often no picnic.

But we did have a picnic that night because we do it every Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day— I made veggie dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, macaroni salad, potato salad, and watermelon. We ate it on the porch because it rained in the late afternoon and our patio chairs were wet. Afterward we went out for frozen yogurt, another last-night-of-summer-break tradition. As we were eating our frozen treats, another family was leaving and the dad said, “Another summer in the books.” And it was.

Bus Ride

The next morning North made themselves a smoothie for breakfast and packed a lunch in their new bento box. (They’re always enthusiastic about breakfast and lunch preparation at the beginning of the school year.) They posed for the traditional first-day-of-school at the front gate and five minutes later they were at the bus stop, waiting for the bus for the first time as an eighth grader.

At 3:20 they were home and moderately cheerful. They have Zoë in two classes and the two of them are on the same lunch shift after having no classes together last year. North also got into art, which was their first-choice elective. They had a little bit of homework (of the introduce-yourself-to-the-teacher variety) in two classes, but nothing taxing.

Most years I’m chomping at the bit for the school year to start, or a little melancholy about summer ending, or most often a mix of the two. But my usual impatience has to do with having a quiet house to work in, and North was gone so much of August that I wasn’t as eager for it as I usually am. And all the family traditions, the picnic, the ice cream, the picture at the gate seem a little wrong without Noah here, but at the same time, they also seem right. I think that’s how tradition works, stitching us together and easing us through the transitions.

You’re Done, Too

Noah and YaYa left for Wheeling the day after he graduated, after a farewell breakfast at Panera. That evening Beth, North, and I watched a supernatural teen romance (Every Day) because North had wanted to see it and Noah wasn’t interested. I also made chocolate pudding with them, took them swimming, and to Pride with Zoë, so it was a pretty jam-packed weekend. Beth had to work the weekend of Pride, so it was just me and the kids. It’s been thirty years since Beth and I attended our first Pride festival in Cleveland and it felt a little strange to be there without Beth and with a couple of thirteen year olds, more like chaperoning a field trip than anything.

North went to school the next week. A lot of it was the usual end-of-year movies and parties, but they did have an algebra test as late as Wednesday. North recently had this to say about the past school year: “I hated it, I’m glad it’s over, and I will miss almost nothing about it.” Still, I hope it wasn’t all bad. They were in two plays, sang with the county honors chorus, performed a solo concert, won an honorable mention on the National Spanish Exam, and fulfilled a long-standing wish to visit a foreign country. I kind of get what they meant, though– early adolescence can be rough.

When seventh grade was finally over, North and Beth left for a weekend camping trip in Southern Maryland, where they burned all North’s school papers over a campfire and visited Smith Island. They brought home a Smith Island cake, which in case you didn’t know, is the state dessert of Maryland.

Often when Beth takes one or both of the kids camping I have an ambitious agenda or house and/or yard work, but I’ve had very little work from either Sara or Mike the past couple weeks and I’ve been doing a lot of house and yard work already. And though I haven’t even put a dent in everything that could be done, I decided I’d take it easy. The campers were gone from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning and in that time I read most of a thick Shirley Jackson biography that had been sitting on my bedside table for two or three years, took myself out to dinner at Kin-Da because I was in the mood for vegetable tempura, and went shopping at the farmers’ market.

Monday was the first weekday of North’s summer break and they were out of the door before 9:30, off to Zoë’s house where they’d spend the day and night and part of the next day. They only came home at two on Tuesday because I wanted them to clean the bathroom before we left for their trans kids’ support group. Today they were out the door just before 9:30 again. The reason for all this North-and-Zoë togetherness was that this was one of the only weeks (or maybe the only week) neither of them has camp this summer, so they wanted to squeeze in all the time they could.

North came home at four, so they could eat an early dinner before heading off to the first rehearsal for Sweeney Todd. Highwood Theatre has moved to a new (and less convenient) location, so I accompanied them on the bus to make sure they knew the route. Tomorrow North’s got a physical therapy appointment in the morning and another Sweeney Todd rehearsal in the evening. In between, Noah and YaYa will join us and the day after that we’re all driving to the beach. I’m pleased by the timing–we’re arriving at the beach on the summer solstice–but in some ways it feels like summer’s already in full swing.

You’re Done

Noah graduated from high school on Friday morning. In case there was any chance we’d forget, there were plenty of reminders in the week before. He had to go to school to pick up his cap and gown and tickets on Tuesday afternoon and then on Thursday there were not one but two rehearsals, one for graduating seniors in the morning and one for the members of the band and orchestra who’d volunteered to play at graduation in the afternoon. (He also registered for his college classes on Monday, the day registration opened.) 

In between these tasks, he helped me make baked ziti and clean fans, mowed the lawn, and started editing interviews he conducted in October for a podcast he’s been making for the kids’ preschool. Last summer and fall he interviewed a bunch of alumni and their parents about their experiences at the school as a volunteer project. He produced a few episodes from his summer interviews before school started in September, but other than taping a few more interviews, he hasn’t worked on it since then. Working on this and volunteering for two weeks at a film-making camp for middle schoolers are going to be his main summer occupations. But he also had enough down time to watch the livestream of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote and to watch a half dozen episodes of Orphan Black with me over the course of several days.

Beth’s mom flew in for Noah’s graduation, arriving Thursday afternoon. Beth picked her up at the airport, but no one else could come to meet her because Noah was at the band rehearsal and I was taking North to a physical therapy appointment.  Beth and YaYa got caught in rush hour traffic and it was two hours before Beth had dropped her off at her hotel to check in and swung around to get Noah, North, and me so we could all meet for dinner. Noah and I read from The Lottery and Other Stories while we waited.

Once we were all together, we had dinner at a tapas restaurant in Silver Spring. We got a selection of olives, pan a la Catalana, a cheese plate, mushrooms sautéed in garlic, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and patatas bravas.  They have a nice dessert sampler there, with churros, flan, tres leches cake, and sopapillas, but Noah wanted ice cream and it was his occasion, so we went to Ben and Jerry’s instead. Kung Fu tea is next door and North wanted bubble tea so we split up temporarily, though eventually we all ended up seated at Ben and Jerry’s.

As everyone was finishing up their desserts, North experienced another flare up in their leg (the third in a week). I was afraid we’d all be stuck there until it passed, but Beth brought the car around and I encouraged North to power through enough to stand up and walk to the car. (My back up plan was to see if Noah could carry them. I know I can’t.) Fortunately, they were able to walk across the street and get into the car, where we had some painkiller in the glove compartment. That night they slept on some cushions on the floor of their room because they couldn’t get up to the ladder to their loft bed.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one evening, after North was settled into bed, Beth noticed something was amiss with our cat Matthew’s paw. There was matted fur with something bright red in the center. From a distance, it looked like he was badly hurt and I was imagining a late night trip to an all-night vet, when we got closer and saw he had something clear and sticky all over that paw and a scrap of red paper had stuck to it. So we all got to go to bed, which was good because the next day we were all had to get up early.

Graduation was taking place at the basketball stadium at the University of Maryland and there were at least two graduations taking place there that day. Noah’s was at 9:00 a.m. and the musicians had to be at school to help move instruments into the van that was transporting instruments to the stadium at 6:15. He set an alarm for 4:45, slept through it, and Beth woke him at 5:05. She dropped him off at school came back to shower and eat, and Beth, North, and I headed over to YaYa’s hotel a little before 7:30. He texted Beth to tell her that the U-Haul’s parking brake was stuck and it looked like they might not be able to get any of the percussion instruments to College Park.

In further misadventures, as we got into the car North noticed Noah’s white, purple, and black cord lying in the driveway, where it must have fallen while he was getting into the car at the crack of dawn. It was for completing the Communications Arts Program and he was supposed to wear it around his neck. Beth scooped it up, in hopes of getting it to him.

We got to the stadium around 8:10 so there was ample parking and we could have sat anywhere we wanted, but North didn’t want to navigate the steep steps, so we stayed up in the nosebleed seats near the entrance. The band was practicing on the court, with all their percussion instruments (someone had fixed the van’s brake), so Beth walked down to the lowest seats, called his name and tossed the cord to him. It was lucky he was playing with the band because otherwise he would have been sequestered wherever the rest of the graduates were and it was unclear if she would have been allowed back there.

The ceremony started promptly at nine. The band played a tribute to John Williams, which began with the Star Wars theme and then some processional music by Wagner, “Pomp and Circumstance,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as the 718 seniors (minus members of the band, orchestra and chorus) filed onto the court in two lines, one in red robes and one in white. Until several years ago, boys wore red and girls wore white, but now it’s gender-neutral. You can choose whatever color you want. Red is slightly more popular.  Once everyone was seated, there was a red rectangle on the left, a smaller white rectangle on the right, filled in with more red at the bottom, plus the black robes of faculty down the outer sides, along the aisle between the rectangles, and in the back. It was kind of a cool, watching this design take shape.

It was also a treat to be able to see Noah playing, as percussion is usually in the back at concerts. It was in the back here, too, but because of the stadium seating we could see everyone on the court. Even as high as we were, I could still sometimes hear him on the snare drum and the bells, though sometimes the bass drum drowned him out.

I haven’t been to a high school graduation since my own (as I was in Iowa, taking a grad school summer school course when my younger sister graduated from high school in Pennsylvania).  But it was about what you’d expect. A lot of speeches, interspersed with a chorus performance, a band and orchestra performance of the school’s alma mater, and then after about an hour, the names. It takes a long time to read 718 names, almost another hour. And, to my surprise (and apparently Noah’s, too) the musicians were all called first, so he walked across the stage, shook his principal’s hand and received his diploma case (the actual diplomas were distributed later) quite early in the proceedings. I’m not sure why he didn’t know this was going to happen, as he’d been to two rehearsals the day before, but it went smoothly enough. It looked like everyone knew what they were doing.

Listening to the rest of the names and watching kids on the Jumbotron was full of sentimental moments as Noah’s classmates from preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school went by. Because Blair is such a big school and Noah’s been something of a lone wolf the past several years, I didn’t even realize some of them went to his school. A few names I was waiting for, but it was hard to know exactly when they’d be called because the graduates went up in alternating groups of red and white so alphabetization was only approximate. Finally, all the names, from Abarca to Zimand, had been called, the students turned their tassels and they were graduates. They weren’t supposed to toss their caps, but of course, some of them, including my usually rule-bound son, did. North asked later, how you got your own cap back if you did that and he said if you were in the main area , you probably didn’t, but if you were only graduate sitting with the band in the percussion section, it wasn’t that hard. The band played a recessional from Aida, and everyone filed out.

We expected a long wait for Noah because he had to help pack up the percussion instruments and go get his diploma. As we lingered outside the building, on a pretty early June day, we chatted with the mother of Jazmín, one of his preschool classmates, and the father of Ruby, his best friend for most of kindergarten. We talked about where the kids are going to college and later Beth reminisced about how once when Noah fell and was hurt on a kindergarten field trip to a grocery store a few blocks from the school, Ruby’s dad was chaperoning and carried him all the way back to school. Noah came out earlier than we expected. Apparently, as he was helping with the instruments, the band teacher told him, “Go on. You’re done.” We took pictures of him with YaYa, with North, with Beth and me, and with Beth and YaYa. Then we dropped North off at school for their afternoon classes and went out to lunch. Told he could have lunch anywhere he wanted, he chose Noodles and Company. He’s a man of simple tastes.

We went back to YaYa’s hotel so she could change clothes and then back to our house, where we hung out, napped, and read. When North got home from school, Noah opened graduation cards and presents. He got a t-shirt for tech podcast he listens to, a pair of cordless headphones, a teleprompter, and a lot of checks, cash, and gift cards. North’s present to him was a series of five paintings. The captions read: What I love about you (an amusement park scene)…Is that even on the scariest of rides… (a roller coaster)…You’ll always hold my hand (two clasped hands)… And let me know that I am safe (closeup of an eye)…and I will always believe it (heart).

Noah wanted to deposit his check, so Beth ran him up the credit union, and then YaYa, Beth, North, and I went for a stroll around the neighborhood before a pizza dinner. Then we came home and Noah packed for an almost two-week visit with YaYa. In the morning, we all had breakfast together at Panera before Beth drove YaYa and Noah to the airport.

He’s done. Now it’s time for him to go on, to West Virginia for some grandmotherly spoiling, then a week at the beach with more family, then a month and a half at home making podcasts and teaching kids to make movies, and then on to the great adventure of college. 

Noah in the Bardo

My book club met the Wednesday before Memorial Day to discuss Lincoln in the Bardo, a book that imagines President Lincoln’s grief when his son Willie died of typhoid and Willie’s first night in the afterlife, or rather the bardo, which is a Tibetan Buddhist concept of a holding area between life and rebirth. In this book it’s located in a Georgetown cemetery and populated by all the dead folks buried there who can’t accept their own deaths, insist they’re just sick, and therefore refuse to move on to the next place. Some of them pass through the bardo in minutes, others linger for years or decades. The bardo is also used as a metaphor. The Civil War is a bardo. Grief is a bardo. This weekend, Noah found himself stuck in a kind of bardo as well.

Friday

The school year ended for seniors on Friday. (All the other grades have three weeks left, much to North’s consternation.) Going into the last week Noah had homework in all his classes due, mostly at the end of the week, and mostly big, time-consuming assignments. He also had all of the mornings from Monday to Thursday off or partly off because the ninth to eleventh graders had standardized tests. I thought that might help and I guess it did, but Thursday night he still had homework due in five or six classes. He ended up staying up half the night and went to school Friday morning on four hours of sleep…and with undone assignments in four classes.

He’d given up on the statistics chapter and a bevy of little assignments for health, but he wanted to finish two things he’d been working on all week—the storyboard for his hypothetical film version of Isben’s Enemy of the People for English and his film on 5G cell phone networks for Silver Lens (his school’s documentary-making team). It’s his third movie of the year and the second one on 5G. The first one was about safety and regulatory issues. This second, shorter one was about how close the technology is to being finished. And, like 5G technology, it wasn’t ready.

At school he secured permission from his English teacher to stay after school for about an hour and turn in the storyboard then. And he got an extension on the movie (the second one—it was originally due Wednesday).

On Noah’s last day of eighth grade he came home and yelled “Middle school is over!” so loudly and so many times that he went hoarse. He came home Friday more subdued, maybe because he’d had so little sleep the night before and maybe because high school wasn’t really over, not quite. We were planning a celebratory pizza dinner at Roscoe’s, followed by gelato, and we still did it, but because he got home late we scrapped plans for Noah and North to hose the dust and pollen off the porch that afternoon. We do this once a year sometime in in May and the kids get into their bathing suits, spray each other with the hose and make a game of it. It’s their favorite chore, but it would have to wait.

And Noah wasn’t the only one with undone work. I hadn’t finished a draft of my Great Lakes chapter that I needed to send to the graphics person that evening so we also postponed our weekly Friday movie/TV night until Saturday night. I finished the draft after dinner and we were all in bed by ten.

Saturday

The next day I took care of some less urgent work tasks and Beth, North and I went to the pool, an outdoor one, not the one where I swim laps every week. Noah stayed home to work on his movie. It was a near perfect late May day, sunny, warm but not hot, and not too humid. I should have realized everyone would want to linger for a few hours and brought something to read, but I didn’t so after I’d swum as long as I wanted to and relaxed in a chair on the grass for a while, I got restless and wanted to leave. Beth and North wanted to stay, so I considered walking home—it’s only about a half hour—or going to a nearby grocery store and fetching a few dinner ingredients.

I settled on the second plan because it seemed practical. At the register with my frozen ravioli, mushrooms, and asparagus, I put my hand in my shallow, diagonally cut front pocket and found the twenty that should have been in there was missing. (Later in telling Noah this story I had to explain how a lot of women’s clothes either lack pockets or have non- or semi-functional pockets and he was really surprised.) So, I put all the food back and started to walk back to the pool. My route was mainly along a busy thoroughfare. Imagine my surprise when I spotted my twenty in the grass just off the sidewalk, fifteen or twenty minutes after I must have lost it. I went back to the grocery store, purchased the food, and Beth swung by on the way home from the pool to get me and then Noah and I made dinner. After we ate it, we had our delayed TV night, watching two episodes of Blackish.

Sunday

Beth and I were busy with errands, house and yard work for much of the middle day of the weekend. Between us we menu planned for the next week, grocery shopped, mopped the kitchen floor, weed whacked, mowed the back yard, and prepared a bed for tomatoes and planted them in it. Then Beth and North made miso soup, asparagus, carrot, cucumber and tofu sushi, edamame, and seaweed salad for dinner. Noah continued to work on his movie all day. North spent the afternoon at Sadhbh’s house. Beth, North, and I wrapped up the day with an episode of The Great British Baking Show.

Monday

Beth made homemade waffles for breakfast because that’s a three-day weekend tradition and she and I did more work in the yard and garden in the morning. She weeded along the fence line and I transplanted kale seedlings into the bed she’d prepared for the tomatoes the day before as there was some extra room. While I was weeding an overgrown area near the pea plot, I was surprised to find a ripe strawberry on a stem with some little white ones in my hand. We once tried to grow strawberries there—maybe last year, maybe as long as a few years ago—and apparently the plant survived and seeded outside the garden bed without us ever seeing it in the tangle of weeds. But looking for something with similar leaves in the ground I couldn’t see it, so I quit weeding in case it was still there, but I fear I uprooted the poor thing, just as it was fulfilling its destiny. The berry was quite good, though. I split it into four and we all had a bite.

Around noon Noah said he needed a title for his movie, which made me think he was almost finished. I suggested Talk to You Later. He was tepid about it but didn’t have any better ideas, so that’s what it’s called. (Get it? It’s about phones and the future. I swear, I am underappreciated sometimes.) Sure enough, he finished the movie little after two. There were already plans in the works to go out for frozen yogurt, but now we had a decent justification for dessert on a day when I was already planning to make strawberry shortcake to go with our Memorial Day picnic dinner—with berries from the farmers’ market since our crop consisted of a single berry.

When I asked Noah if he’d like to wash the porch after we got back from frozen yogurt or the next day, he initially said the next morning, because it would be cooler then. I reminded him North would be in school tomorrow morning so it had to be that afternoon or the next one. “Oh, I forgot about that school thing,” he said breezily. And then as we drove home from frozen yogurt, we passed his school and he said, “Oh, look, it’s Blair, where I used to go to school.”

I think he’s out of the bardo.

Texts from Colombia: An Adventure

When North was in second grade, I told them we were going on an “adventure,” when we were actually just going on a walk. This was a holdover from when the kids were very small and I used to call any outing an adventure. North patiently explained to me that it’s only an adventure if it involves “climbing a tree or going to another country.” This became a family joke.

Well, North’s climbed a few trees since then, but until this month they hadn’t had the other kind of adventure. They returned from the seventh and eighth-grade Spanish immersion trip to Colombia on Monday evening. I wasn’t there, so I’m going to tell the story in North’s own words, though their texts, mostly to Beth. I check my texts less frequently, so Beth was the main conduit of information. Also, some of my text exchanges with North were in Spanish. I included a little of that as bonus content for those of you who can read Spanish. All texts are shared with North’s permission and they were at least as redacted as the Mueller report.

Note: All time stamps are U.S. Eastern time. It was an hour earlier in Bogotá.

4/5, 5:51 p.m.

North: On the plane
I get to be buddies with Zoë
But the customs line is sooo long
And I have to stand

4/6, 1:01 a.m.

North: IM IN COLOMBIA
I  met P and J [North’s host couple], very nice, I’m tired so I don’t completely remember our plans for this weekend, but they sound fun and we’ll be hanging out with Zoës family [North’s host family consisted of a school administrator and her husband. They had no kids, so they often socialized with Zoë’s host family, and at school, North and Zoë both shadowed Zoë’s student.]

4/6, 6:34 a.m.

Beth: You didn’t get much sleep

North: Nope
I think what she said were doing today is that we’re going to drive through a little town with lots of mountains and a lake, and then we’re having dinner with Zoës family

Beth: Sounds amazing!

North: Yeah and we’re making plans to spend most of Sunday with her family too, on Sunday we have a welcome dinner for our chaperones that I’m going to, and the students have welcome breakfast at the school on Monday

4/6, 2:11 p.m.

North: I ordered at a restaurant in Spanish
Oh yeah and I’ve been communication solely in Spanish for the past twelve hours
I am in pain because apparently public bathrooms aren’t a thing in Colombia

Beth: Sorry!

North: 2 hours later we got home and I used the bathroom
It was wonderful

Beth: Sorry you had to be uncomfortable for so long
Early to bed tonight?

North: Not right now we’re going out to dinner with zoë’s hosts

Beth: Have fun!

North: Were you expecting me to go to bed at 6:30?

Beth: No, but maybe by 9?

4/6, 10:32 p.m.

North: It’s always seemed normal to me, but I’m realizing now that the fact that I can speak 2 languages is really cool. Language is still such an abstract thing that we don’t quite understand, and the fact that some people can understand more than one is really spectacular if you think about it.
We’re still not home from dinner btw [North learned first-hand about the late hours people in Spanish-speaking countries often keep on this trip.]

4/7, 9:18 a.m.

North: We were walking around and my host brought me into a clothing store. I think it’s her way of saying, “your wardrobe is atrocious” [P quite generously bought North a lot of clothes on the trip.]

North: A guy stopped us on the street, tied strings around our wrists and told us how much Jesús  loves us (hint: he apparently loves us a lot)

4/9, 5:51 p.m

Me: Que hiciste hoy?

North: Fuimos al museo de oro, y el quinto de Bolívar 

Me: Divertiste? Usaste una silla de ruedas o caminaste?

North: Silla de ruedas porque temenos que caminar much, era muy divertido

4/9, 5:53 p.m.

North: I’m starting to see bits of freckles peeking out

Beth: Sunshine power!

4/10, 6:59 a.m.

North: I like this whole going to school for half an hour then getting on the bus with Zoe for two hours thing. It’s nice [The American students spent one whole day at the host school, but the rest of the days, they were mainly on field trips.]

Beth: It will be hard to go back to your regular routine

North: In the US, kinder eggs are illegal, here, it’s illegal for a minor to drink coffee

Beth: Interesting! How old do you have to be for coffee

North: 18

4/9, 6:37 p.m.

North: My knee has been getting more stiff and painful recently, it’s getting harder to do my exercises…We’ve mostly been using the wheelchairs on field trips because I don’t enjoy standing on one foot for hours on end

4/9, 9:08 p.m.

North: Zoë got me a kinder egg

Beth: Nice!

North: Cuz I wasn’t allowed to get the one I found at the store
I’ll be careful not to choke and die

4/11, 7:45 a.m.

North: Today we had papaya with Parmesan on top for breakfast
I did not like it
In the slightest
But I ate all of it
I wouldn’t recommend it

Beth: Good for you for eating it

4/11, 10:05 a.m.

North: Is putting sunscreen on your hands a thing? [The kids got a lot of warnings about using sunscreen because the sun is stronger at the high altitude of Bogotá.]

Beth: Yes

North: My hands never burn it’s weird

4/11, 3:32 p.m.

North: Guess what I got you?

Beth: Salt? [There was a field trip to a salt mine that day and Beth, who is a connoisseur of salt requested they bring some home]

North: You guessed it!

Beth: Thanks!

North: They had no small bags so

Beth: Wow that might put your luggage overweight!

4/11, 5:39 p.m.

North: The back of my neck is burned and my cheeks are redder than usual

Beth: They said that might happen! Lots of sun in the salt mine?

North: It seemed dark lol but outside of it yeah

North: Today they said something I was very annoyed about, the only after school activity available was robotics and they said, “but robotics is not for girls.” There is so much wrong that sentence and I would have proved them wrong and gone to robotics, but I don’t like robotics.

Beth: Computers were not for girls when I was in junior high. It’s terrible but people keep fighting for change and change happens

4/11, 8:38 p.m.

North: Tim Burton dumbo just came out here so we saw it
It’s literally the equivalent of 3 dollars each for tickets

Beth: Was Dumbo dubbed into Spanish

North: Yep
It was fairly easy to understand but the lips not matching the words was trippy

North: I’d love to go to this school. No yelling teachers, people are very causal and call their teachers by their first names and use informal conjugations, the food is amazing, and THE HALLWAYS ARE OUTSIDE

North: It’s past 9:00 and we still haven’t ordered
I’m never going to bed tonight

Beth: You are going to need a lot of rest when you get home

North: But I still have to get up at 6:30 the next morning to get to school
Well shoot, I just realized that the two adults coming home with me are drinking
Who will drive safely
Nobody [We don’t drink, so North’s not accustomed to seeing adults drinking and doesn’t really have much context for what’s safe, so they needed some reassurance.]

Beth: If they are having a glass of wine with dinner it will be OK
I am sure your teachers will make sure you are safe

4/12, 6:48 a.m.

North: It’s driving P crazy that she can’t coordinate my outfit cause we’re going to the wetlands today and I can only wear stuff that can get dirty

North: Oh no
I just looked
They put cheese on mango
You can’t mess up mango
But I just saw it happen

North: I have to somehow navigate wetlands on crutches today
It’s our community service

11:16 a.m.

North: Somebody decided that rather than having me organize a library with the eighth graders it would be a good idea to take me on a 2 hour hike

4/12, 7:03 p.m.

Me: Did you survive the hike?

North: Barely

Me: What kind of terrain?

North: Tall grass, it was wonderful for crutches

Me: And did you dance at the dance?

North: Nope

Me: What’s the plan for tomorrow?

North: Idk

Me: Well you can rest your leg Monday on the plane

Me: You’re visiting a colonial village according to P 

4/12, 9:15 p.m.

North: Did I mention that I spent $12 on the hate u give only for it to be available for free on the flights
I just realized I forgot to wear my retainer on this entire trip

Beth: You can start tonight!

Beth: Did you go on the mountain hike?

North: Nope [This was the only activity North skipped due being on crutches, on a very active trip.]

4/13, 6:06 p.m.

North: There are so many stray dogs here but they’re all so calm, they don’t bark and aren’t scary at all. I’m petting a dog [North is very afraid of almost all dogs. Finding a host family without a dog was one of the factors that delayed North getting matched with a family until almost before the trip started. Being vegetarian was another. It’s possible being non-binary was yet another, although North says they were perceived as a girl by almost everyone. They weren’t even sure if P and J knew, though the trip organizers from North’s school told us months ago that they were looking for a tolerant family so I assume they did.]

4/14, 8:42 a.m.

Beth: Sounds like the hotel was kind of a disaster… I mean adventure. Ms U sent out a message [After they left their host families, the Americans spent a couple more days in Colombia and stayed in two very different hotels]

North: There were fleas, exposed wires in the shower, and of course no WiFi and little service
But there was a cat

Beth: A stray or did it live at the hotel?

North: It was a stray but lives in the hotel where guests pet, feed it and let it into their rooms

4/14, 8:34 p.m.

North: This is like the size of a room you would get for all four of us and it’s just me and Zoë

4/15 1:05 p.m. 

Beth: Welcome back to the USA [North was going through customs in Atlanta]

North: I put the salt in my carry on.
They thought it was drugs

Beth: Did they confiscate it?
Is it weird to be back where most people are speaking English?

North: They just scanned it thoroughly and patted me down
It’s fine

4/15, 5:30 p.m.

North: About to take off. I have the entire row to myself

A few hours later, North came off the plane, tired but very happy. It’s been nice having everyone at home together for the past five days, but I’m glad they finally got to have the non-tree climbing kind of adventure, thanks to the hard work of the teachers and administrators of both schools and the generosity of their Colombian hosts. ¡Gracias a todos!

Suburban Maryland Wants to Be Western New York, Part 2

Late Friday morning, after just four days at home, Beth and I were pulling into the parking lot of Noah’s school to pick him up halfway through the school day, for our last college trip. We were going to Admitted Students Day at Ithaca College. I asked Beth if she would sometimes like to know if North will go to this high school so she knew exactly how nostalgic she should feel about the fact that Noah will be finished attending it in just over a month. She said no. Turns out that’s just me.

We rolled into Ithaca around dinner time. It’s a slightly shorter trip than Rochester and we didn’t have to make a detour to the airport this time. We found our AirBnB, which was in a neighborhood of stately old houses in eclectic architectural styles, many of them slightly shabby but cheerfully decorated with strings of lights or Japanese lanterns or Tibetan peace flags or colorful woven hammocks on the porches. The yards were dotted with flowers or yard signs supporting liberal causes, pretty much the same ones you’d see on a stroll through Takoma Park.

We walked a few blocks to a pizza place, where we got pizza, Stromboli, and garlic knots. While we were standing in line to order, there were some college kids behind us in line, talking about how they were meeting friends at ten, so there should be time to go to the gym after dinner and before that. It took me back to my younger days when plans could conceivably start at ten. Now if they end at ten, it feels like a late night. It made me hope when Noah’s up late a year from now, it’s not always because he’s working.

Noah wanted to watch a movie, so after some discussion we settled on A Serious Man and watched the first half before bed around ten, because though I might like to reminisce about late nights in college, I don’t actually want to relive them.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the AirBnB and headed over to the college. We registered and settled in at one of the tables set up in the middle of the stadium. There was a student activities and services fair going on around the perimeter. Beth went and collected some brochures and freebie pens while Noah set up his laptop and tried to get some work on his Chaucer PowerPoint presentation done. Like hobbits, we had a second breakfast of muffins and bagels. Eventually it was time to move to the folding chairs set up at the front of the stadium floor. A dance club performed and then some administrators spoke and then the admitted students left to go hear a panel discussion of current students while the parents stayed behind and heard more administrators and a student speak about Ithaca. Beth said she thought it was a good idea to split the kids off from their parents in case they had questions they didn’t want to ask in front of the their parents.

Indeed, Noah came back claiming they’d all been sworn to secrecy, but he did mention the current students gave tips about which dorms were quiet ones and which one were more party-oriented. (Meanwhile, the parents were listening to the administrators talk about how drug use isn’t endorsed anywhere despite the existence of a substance-free house. This discussion went on for quite some time, apparently because New York may be legalizing recreational marijuana soon.) Noah also had some restaurant recommendations and was informed there are so many hills on campus, the student all develop “Ithacalves.”

There was a buffet lunch set up in the stadium and the vegetarian options were much better than what we ate at RIT. There was cheese tortellini, baked tofu, salad, fresh fruit, and cupcakes.

After lunch, it was time for the academic presentations. We went to the Park School of Communications, where we started off watching video presentations and speeches by faculty and students. There are ten majors in the school—Noah was accepted to Emerging Media—but what struck me was how much interaction between them and flexibility within them there seems to be. This was something that concerned Noah at RIT. He thought the Motion Picture Sciences major seemed like it might be too narrow. There also seems to be a lot of institutional support and encouragement for undergraduates to attend conferences or get travel funds to film events or meet sources for documentaries.

Two of the students who spoke had oddly specific things in common with Noah. One had two moms and was making a documentary about meeting her donor and half-siblings. Another travelled to the Women’s March and filmed it with a 360-degree camera, which is also something Noah’s done (even with the same kind of camera) while assisting CWA’s videographer. It almost seemed like a sign. Of course, when the singers at RIT sang a song called, “It’s Your Puzzle,” that also seemed like a sign, because Noah’s Common App essay was about puzzles. And the RIT mascot is a tiger and when he was two, he loved to wear his tiger costume and insisted on being addressed as Mr. Tiger when he did so. (It was also the mascot of his first elementary school.) When you’re trying to see the future, signs are everywhere.

Next we had a chance to meet with the director of Emerging Media and two current students in the major. We had a surprisingly long and detailed talk with them. One of the students is a double major with Computer Science—Noah is very interested in the intersection between computing and film. Noah got some handouts outlining the requirements for the major and different tracks you can take within it and asked some questions about how his AP credit in calculus and computer science will count as coursework. The director asked what other schools Noah was considering and while he, of course, favored Ithaca, he said RIT was a good choice, too. He was somewhat dismissive of Boston University, which he said was more focused on graduate students and wouldn’t offer the same kind of opportunities for undergrads. It reminded me how at BU, the tour guides seemed to think highly of Ithaca, but not RIT. Everyone has a different opinion, but hearing a few of them can help a composite picture emerge.

Before we left campus, Noah posed by the display of Rod Serling’s Emmys, which are housed at Ithaca because Serling taught there. (Noah’s merit scholarship is named after Serling.) We could have gone on to see dorms and dining facilities, but we were all kind of tired, so we went back to the AirBnB, where Noah and I read the second act of A Doll’s House and then I napped while he worked on the Chaucer presentation until it was time to leave for dinner.

We ate at Moosewood when we visited Ithaca in August and Noah wanted to go again and I certainly had no objection. I had a samosa wrap, Beth got a vegetable soup and a cheese plate, and Noah had pasta with asparagus in a cream sauce. We stopped at an ice cream parlor on our way home and watched the rest of A Serious Man.

While not as unfortunate as the besieged protagonist of the film, Noah is a serious young man and not prone to quick decisions. He’s going to make a pros and cons chart over spring break, which started today. He’s behind in a couple classes and he worked on statistics all day today, but I hope he has a little space over the next few days to relax and to weigh his options.

Suburban Maryland Wants to Be Western New York, Part 1

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal or power tools, 
It wants to have a diner where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel, 
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the skids, 
And it wants to have a snow day that will turn its parents into kids, 
And it’s embarrassed, but it’s lusting after a SUNY student with mousy brown hair who is 
Taking out the compost, making coffee in long underwear.

From “Southern California Wants to Be Western New York,” by Dar Williams

The children persist in growing up. Late Friday morning we dropped North off at BWI airport to join thirty-six of their classmates in the Spanish immersion program who were embarking on an eleven-day trip to Bogotá. The trip takes place every other year—you go in seventh or eighth grade—and in the alternate years, the French immersion kids go on their own trip.

We’d hoped North would be off crutches by the time they left and the fracture is healed, but despite twice-weekly physical therapy, they still have pain when they put weight on that leg, so the crutches went to Colombia with them. That meant we needed to stay in the airport for an hour or so, until their suitcase was checked. Not that we were the only parents lingering. Apparently sending your twelve-to-fourteen year old off to a foreign country without you is a little unnerving. But the first couple days they were gone we received a steady stream of texts and pictures. It’s slowed down, but we’re still getting dispatches from them and we also got a nice email from their host mom, so we don’t have to wonder how they’re doing. They seem to be having a great time. More on North’s adventures in a later post.

After we tore ourselves away from our jetsetter and collected Noah from the bench where he was working on computer science homework on his laptop, the three remaining members of the family got lunch at Panera and then hit the open road. We were headed for an Admitted Students Day at RIT. (Next weekend we’ll be back to New York state again, for Ithaca’s version.)

We arrived at our hotel around 9:30,  after a long drizzly drive. As we drove north, I could see spring receding. The flowering trees disappeared and there was even a dusting of snow on the ground at the highest elevation, near the Pennsylvania/New York border. We had dinner at a brick oven pizza place about one hundred miles from Rochester. For much of the ride, Beth and listened to podcasts—Throughline, Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, and Desert Island Discs while Noah disappeared into his headphones to listen to his own podcasts and watch television on his laptop.

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast room was crowded with teenage boys in track suits, some kind of high school sports team from Montreal, we gathered. They were well behaved—which isn’t always the case for large groups of teens in hotels—but it made for tight quarters. There were also a couple teen boys with middle-aged parents I thought might be going where we were.

When we arrived at RIT, we were greeted by the pep band, wearing orange and white hockey jerseys, standing on the steps of the building where the event started, and playing a cheerful tune. I noticed there were a lot more young men than women streaming into the building. (We later learned from a tour guide the student body is 70 percent male.) When we took our seats in the stadium where there was a mostly female a cappella group performing. I joked to Beth they were there to convince all these young men that there are women at RIT.

There were some speeches by administrators and then we were split up by schools. We followed a student carrying a School of Film and Animation sign to the brand-new MAGIC Spell Studios building, which opened this fall. We started in an auditorium where the interim director and other faculty gave an overview of the different majors within the school. It was during this presentation we realized that co-ops (paid, full-time, semester or summer-long internships required by most majors) are not required in the School of Film and Animation. For me, the co-op opportunities had been one of RIT’s draws.

When it was time to tour the building, we went with the Motion Picture Sciences guide. This is the program Noah applied to. It’s an engineering-based program that covers the technical aspects of film. We saw studios for color correction, sound mixing, a big green screen (but not the biggest one they have) and a couple grip cages full of equipment. Noah said later it was a really impressive facility and he’d know.

Lunch was provided, but the vegetarian option was a sad, sparsely filled roasted vegetable sandwich that was mostly lettuce and peppers. It was similar to lunch at UMBC, actually. I wondered if they use the same catering service. There was fresh fruit and brownies, though, and I had smoked almonds in my bag, so I supplemented my lunch with those.

Next we took a residence hall tour. The guide showed us a standard dorm room and lounge. The most interesting feature of the tour was the network of tunnels that connect the dorms to each other and to the academic buildings. It’s a nice feature on a campus with harsh winters, but they’re in use all year. There are student-painted murals on the walls, some dating back to the nineties, but there’s still blank space you can request to paint. There are laundry rooms and mailrooms in the tunnels under each dorm, and even a convenience store. It’s a whole hidden, underground part of campus.

In Noah’s information packet there was a coupon for the Ben and Jerry’s in the student union, so we were forced to go get ice cream. After that, we went to Disability Services and learned how Noah can pick up his ADHD medication and to Spectrum Services to talk to two very nice administrators about what kind of support and social and organizational coaching they offer. For those of you who weren’t reading this blog back in the day, we had Noah tested for Asperger’s when he was nine. He didn’t quite meet the criteria, but the psychologist who tested him said he had a lot of the same characteristics and challenges kids on the spectrum have. And you don’t need an official diagnosis to use Spectrum services, so it’s nice to know there’s a built-in support network if he cares to take advantage of it.

That appointment was our last stop of the day so we went to the bookstore to use another coupon to buy A Handmaid’s Tale (because Noah and I are thinking of making it our next mother-and-son book club book and I’ve lost my copy) then back to the hotel room so Noah could research a paper about Chaucer for a few hours. But before he started to work, we debriefed a little. He was concerned that the Motion Picture Science major might be too technical and not creative enough. He’s interested in technology and skilled with it, but he is interested in the bigger picture of storytelling, too, so to speak. We talked about how he’s eligible to take other classes in the School of Film and Animation that might be more on the creative side, even if they’re not requirements. He seemed pensive and unsure. I think this is going to be a hard decision for him, but maybe the visit to Ithaca next weekend will put the schools side to side in a helpful way.

When Noah’s laptop ran out of power we went into Rochester proper for a late dinner at a Asian noodle restaurant. As we walked down a residential block where we parked the car, I noticed snowdrops and crocuses in people’s yards, underlining the fact that we’d driven into an earlier, more tentative phase of spring than we’re having at home, where there are daffodils everywhere and the cherry blossoms are past peak, and there’s a sprinkling of early tulips. (Rochester still had big piles of melting snow in parking lots.)

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was late, so I had a shower, Noah had a bath, and we all went to bed. In the morning, we ate breakfast and hit the road again. Beth and I listened to more podcasts, mostly Hit Parade, a music history podcast about—you guessed it—songs that have been in the Hit Parade over the decades. In an episode about songs that peaked at #2, there was a snippet of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Shop Around,” and Beth and I sang along with the line “My mama told me, you better shop around.”

It’s true, both Noah’s mamas advised him to shop around, but the time for that is almost over. There’s just one more college to visit and sometime in the next few weeks, he’ll make his choice.

We Are Headed North (Again): College Tours, Installment #5

Before Boston

Noah skidded into the end of first semester in a blur of late work and later nights. He never did finish all his English assignments, because they’d gotten backed up behind other work, but what’s done is done (or not done, I guess). Then the kids had a three and half day weekend (early dismissal Friday and Monday off) to allow teachers to complete their end-of-semester grading. This was really nice for Noah, who had almost no homework. He practiced his drums or bells every day and we read so much of Crooked Kingdom that we almost finished it. On Monday I gave both the kids some chores around the house and yard and Noah sawed up some weed trees Beth had felled earlier so they could be bagged with the yard waste. He also helped me make baked ziti for dinner.

And then the next week barely happened. The kids went to school on Tuesday, but snow was forecast, so they had an early dismissal. It did sleet and then snow, about an eighth of an inch on my official measuring table, and it was over by early evening, so of course there was a snow day on Wednesday and a two-hour delay on Thursday. Yes, there was an inch or two in other parts of the county and yes, the delay was not for snow, but for morning temperatures in the single digits. I was still exasperated, because it meant we went over our limit of snow days for the year before January was even over. The school district has added a day in June and can add one more before we come up against the Governor’s absurd last-day limit. After that they either start chipping days from our already shortened spring break or they apply to the state for a waiver. I’m not enthusiastic about either of these options, to put it mildly. As a work-at-home mom, I really like getting those days back later in the year, but I’d also like for the kids to have a spring break. It was also too bad one of North’s Honors Chorus rehearsals was cancelled, because it only meets for two months.

On Friday morning, it was snowing again and I was surprised the kids went to school on time. But, puzzlingly, there was an early dismissal, which had the buses on the road at a time of day when it was actually snowing harder than it was when they would have normally come home. But never mind. I no longer expect any of this to make sense. I took advantage of having the kids home to make them shovel the walk, because this snow (about an inch and a half) actually required shoveling, unlike anything that fell earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, my friend Nicole who lives in Calgary, reports that her ninth-grader went on an outdoor education field trip that same week. It started with the kids skiing twelve kilometers uphill and staying for two nights in their choice of either a “backcountry cabin,” which I’m thinking was probably unheated or a snow shelter they built themselves. Let’s think about that contrast for a moment and hope the Canadians never invade, because, as Beth observed when I told her about this trip, if they do they’re going to kick our American butts.

Well, moving on…The next weekend was something of a relay race because Beth and Noah and I left on two separate trips. One of Beth’s cousins died unexpectedly (and quite young, in his mid-thirties) and she went home to Wheeling for the funeral. She left straight from work on Friday and flew home Sunday morning. Shortly after she got back, Noah and I left for Boston for a quick trip to visit Boston University.

Boston

Between March and August of last year we visited eight schools with Noah. He applied to three of those, plus BU, which he got interested in late in the process. He’s been admitted to Ithaca and UMBC (and the honors college at UMBC), but he’s still waiting to hear from R.I.T. and BU. He was having trouble ranking his choices without having visited BU, so we decided to make one last first-round college visit. Ironically, we were in Boston (to visit Emerson) on our very first college road trip almost a year ago, so it feels as if we’ve come full circle. We could be travelling a lot more this spring, though, for admitted students days, (and if he makes the first cut for a scholarship he applied to at Ithaca, for an interview there).

Getting to Boston turned out to be a little more exciting than anticipated, at least at the very beginning of the trip. We had a late afternoon flight on Sunday and around ten in the morning, when I decided to re-arrange all the cards in my wallet so everything I needed would be handy, I discovered my ID was missing.

So, a half hour later when Beth got home from her emotionally draining trip (which she made with a bad cold), I met her at the front door crying and she had to calm me down. She helped me look for the card for another half hour and then we gave up and she investigated flying without state-issued ID. She found you can sometimes, at TSA discretion, if you undergo extra screening, so I brought a long-expired passport (issued in 1987) with me and hoped for the best.

When we got to the airport, I showed the agent the passport, my voter ID, and my debit card. She asked if I had anything else with my name on it, like an insurance card. But I get my health insurance through Beth’s job so the card has her name on it but not mine. I showed it to her anyway and pointed out that Beth’s last name is the other half of Noah’s and oddly, that seemed to do the trick. I was taken aside to be patted down, but they let me through security. I’m not sure that would have happened if I hadn’t been a middle-aged white woman.

The flight itself was uneventful. We took a shuttle to the hotel, found a nice little crepe place for dinner, and were back at the hotel by eight. I needed to decompress and I considered whether a swim or a reading Crooked Kingdom with Noah would be more relaxing. I went with the reading. We finished the book and then I read The Night Ocean on my own while he watched something on his laptop until ten o’clock, when we went to bed.

It was the night of the Super Bowl and we were in Boston, but I didn’t hear any celebration. There was a police presence in the lobby of the hotel and we saw four busses full of police officers going down the street—bound I don’t know where—so I guess it wasn’t quiet everywhere in Boston that night.

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel and headed for the university for an information session and tour. The information session was pretty standard. When the administrator running it asked all international students to identify where they came from, in order to determine who had come the farthest, he seemed surprised at how many of them were from China. I wondered if Chinese students take advantage of their lunar new year break to visit colleges abroad.

The tour was next. It was a beautiful day for it, in the high forties and sunny. The sidewalks were wet with snowmelt and everything looked washed and shiny with it. We’ve been to a couple urban campuses and this one was more like Carnegie Mellon than Emerson, by which I mean there’s a defined campus set down in the middle of a city, rather than being tucked into a couple adjacent office buildings. It’s bordered on one side by the Charles River, which was partly frozen, and the T runs down that street, which I imagine is convenient. Some of the buildings are brick and concrete rectangles, but there are more pretty Victorian and Gothic buildings, though very little green space. Some of the dorms are huge towers (one houses 1,800 students in three interconnected towers) but there are also converted brownstones that house fifteen to sixty students each. The dorm room they showed us was in one of the tower-style dorms (not the biggest one), which I guess was honest, because more students end up in those.

After lunch at an Asian noodle place we’d spied on the general tour, we took another tour, this one of the School of Communications. It was our own private one—with three tour guides! They talked a lot about how state-of-the-art the facilities and equipment are, which is important to Noah. I’m no judge of this, but Noah seemed to agree with that assessment. Also, the fact that professional broadcast journalists regularly use their studios is impressive. When the guides asked him where else he’d applied, they said a lot of people who apply BU for communications also apply to Ithaca and Emerson, so that made me feel he must have visited and applied the right schools for what he wants to study. 

One discordant note, though, was that all three guides kept making jokes about how communications students don’t like math, not just once, but over and over again. And Noah’s very good at math. It got to the point where I wanted to mention he took AP Calculus BC in his junior year and aced the exam, that he got an almost perfect score on the math SAT and that he’s taking magnet math this year, even though he’s not in the math magnet, just to make them stop. It’s actually relevant because it made me suspect there’s not as much cross-fertilization between film and computer science as Noah would like. That collaboration between departments is one of the reasons Ithaca and R.I.T. both seem like good fits for him.

Noah didn’t have much to say after the tour, which isn’t unusual for him. He often needs time to let experiences settle before he makes a judgment. After the School of Communications tour, we had a couple hours before our shuttle to the airport. It would have been nice to explore Boston or the campus a little more, but he had homework, so we got a chocolate milkshake (him) and a strawberry smoothie (me) at a café where we meant to stay so he could work there, but it was playing sports radio at a pretty loud volume, so we headed back to the hotel lobby where he wrote responses to two chapters of Brave New World and I charged my phone and worked on this blog post. Back at the airport, I managed to get through security yet again, and we had dinner at Sbarro (him) and Friendly’s (me) before getting onto the plane and flying back to a busy week for both of us.

After Boston

We’ve all been hoping this will be an easier semester for Noah, because he swapped Logic for Statistics and the CAP Senior Seminar for Health. It’s hard to judge right now because we’re only two weeks in and they’ve both been irregular, disrupted weeks. He’s struggling to catch up from having been out Monday (and to be honest, I was, too, for a few days). He entered this weekend behind in three subjects. But whether second semester is easier or not, in four months he’ll be done with high school and looking forward to starting a new chapter in his life, somewhere north of here.