Taking Flight

Act I, Thursday Morning: CAP Presentation

“It was a big day for Noah,” Beth said when it was all over.

“It was,” he agreed.

It started with him dressing up in a suit for the first time ever. There have actually been a lot of occasions when we considered buying Noah a suit—mostly notably when he was in sixth grade and we got legally married, and for various oral presentations he’s made in high school. The C in CAP stands for Communication, so there have a been a lot of presentations over the past few years. But we got married in our living room, and he had a school-issued tuxedo shirt for band that year, so a suit seemed like overkill and then he had a habit of saying, “I really should have a suit for this,” a day or two before or he needed to make a presentation so we never bought one.

This time he thought to ask well ahead of his senior CAP presentation. The senior presentation summarizes five school assignments—two required and three of the students’ choosing—and explains what the student learned in them and in CAP in general. Noah spoke about and played clips from the movie he made this fall about the process of making his Halloween costume, the podcast of interviews with parents and alumni of his preschool, a dystopian film about social media, a paper comparing 1984 to the Trump campaign, and a research paper about a local hospital’s plans to move and the impact of the move on the community. The assignments spanned his four years of high school and gave a nice overview of his skills as a researcher, writer, audio technician, and filmmaker. It’s also the last big assignment he has in a CAP class because in their senior year, CAP students mostly take classes outside of CAP. The senior seminar will focus on interview and resume skills before it ends in late January and his AP Lit class will last until the end of the school year, but other than that, he’s finished with CAP.

Around one o’clock in the afternoon of his presentation day, there was a bomb threat at his school and everyone had to evacuate and stand out in the cold for an hour and a half until the time school would normally be dismissed. I think it’s telling that, after hearing from the school, texting him and ascertaining he was alive, the first thing Beth and I both thought of was to be grateful it happened after his presentation, which was during the second period of the day. While they were standing around and chatting, his senior seminar teacher told him he’d passed. (Anyone who fails gets a phone call from a teacher that evening and has to do the presentation again, a possibility much dreaded by CAP students.)

Act II, Thursday Evening: Winter Band Concert

Afterschool activities were cancelled while the police searched the building, but they completed their search in time for evening activities to go on as scheduled, which was nice because Noah had his penultimate high school band concert that night. He got home at his usual time and studied for a King Lear test before we had an early dinner of spinach quesadillas with black beans and corn on the side (which North ate an hour before we did before hopping on a bus to play rehearsal). By six o’clock, we were on our way to his school.

There are five bands at Noah’s school: two jazz bands, the ninth-grade Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. Noah plays percussion in the Wind Ensemble. There were a couple seasonal nods in the jazz selections. The Jazz Combo played “Autumn Leaves,” and “Let it Snow! Let it Snow Let it Snow!” The non-jazz bands play in order of expertise, so they get better as the concert goes along, not that any of them sound bad. Blair has a great music program.

So, the Wind Ensemble played last. Noah got to play drum kit in their first song, “Ride.” That’s a rare treat, though it also makes him a little nervous because it’s more visible than most percussion roles. He played snare, triangle, and chimes in the next piece. The real showstopper (and I guess it literally stopped the show, being the last song of the concert) was the “1812 Overture.” They played a version arranged without strings and also without cannons. Later Beth and I both made the joke that on a day with a bomb threat the cannon-free version might be better. But even without cannons, they rocked it. Noah played snare drums, triangle, and tambourine. And he got a chance to do it again the next day when they gave a shortened version of the concert for a group of visiting preschoolers. (He says the preschoolers were an appreciative audience, clapping every time the music stopped, even if the musicians were only warming up and doing scales.)

After the concert, Noah noted that at his next band concert, the band teacher will be calling him up to the stage and announcing where he’s going to college. It’s a spring concert tradition for all the seniors. It was something to think about as we drove to the theater to pick North up from their last rehearsal before Peter and the Starcatcher opened, because that happened the next day…

Act III, Friday Evening: Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel to Peter Pan. I’d seen North play Peter in a scene during their acting class showcase last month and few more scenes done by the whole cast at a preview event a week before opening night, but other than that, I didn’t know much about it. North is playing four roles, two in each of the rotating casts. In the older cast, they are Alf (a sailor) and a mermaid. In the younger cast, they are Slank (the captain of one of the two ships), and Fighting Prawn (the king of the fictional island of Rundoon). Being in two casts meant North had to be at nearly every rehearsal for two and a half months. It’s been intense and it’s meant a lot of late nights.

Opening night featured the older cast, who are (mostly) in seventh to twelfth grade. The set was beautiful and quite elaborate, featuring two ships with moving parts and an alligator that runs along the ceiling. North’s part as Alf was bigger than I thought from what they’d been saying and I also didn’t know Alf had romantic scenes with a character played by an eighteen-year-old boy in drag. But that’s part of why we go to the theater—to be surprised.

Later North told me they’d been assigned some of another sailor’s lines at the last minute because of an illness that caused several parts to get re-arranged and there was supposed to be a kiss but the director nixed it because of the age gap between North and the actor playing their love interest. “Did you want to kiss him?” I asked and their eyes got big and they said, “No!”

It was a fun show, with good acting in many roles, but especially the girls playing the pirates Black Stache and Smee, who had excellent chemistry with each other. North’s often cast in comic roles and Alf was no exception. They’re playing more against type in the other version of the show, at least with Slank, who is something of a villain. Fighting Prawn is comic, too.

As I write, North’s at the second of five shows this weekend. They will be at the theater from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today and from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow. And then they will do it all over again next weekend, with five more shows. We’ll go to closing night so we can see North in their younger cast roles.

You might expect flying in a show about Peter Pan, and other than the alligator and a stuffed cat, there isn’t in this one, but nevertheless, the theater’s announcements about the upcoming show said it was “taking flight.” It’s been quite an exciting few days here, watching our kids test their wings in endeavors academic, musical, and theatrical.

The Sun Also Ariseth

“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever…. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down…”

Ecclesiastes, quoted in the epigraph to The Sun Also Rises

Well, life goes on. There was a party on Saturday night for the seventh and eighth-grade Spanish immersion students at North’s school to welcome the Colombian exchange students who are visiting this week. It was held at a vineyard owned by the family of one of the eighth-graders about an hour north of us. Everyone picnicked and the kids ran around in the dark with glowsticks and sampled grapes off the arbors and there was karaoke and man playing guitar and singing in Spanish and there were two bonfires for making s’mores.

Going to a party was just about the last thing I wanted to do on Saturday. I thought I was so sad I’d cry if anyone mentioned the Kavanaugh confirmation and that if anyone talked about anything other than the Kavanaugh confirmation it wouldn’t seem important enough to bother discussing.

But it was fine, better than fine actually. After all, all the adults there were parents and our kids always seem important enough to talk about. And when conversation did turn to Kavanaugh, it actually helped a little to talk to other broken-hearted people. I felt particularly bad for the woman who works for NARAL.

Two days later it was Columbus Day, otherwise known as parent visitation day at the kids’ schools. This is the last time we’ll have to balance both visiting both the middle school and the high school, which has proved challenging the past couple years. Both kids have so many classes it’s hard to know which ones to prioritize.

Both kids’ school operate on a block schedule, which means they have four long periods a day, rather than eight short ones and each class meets every other day. (Actually, the high school bell schedule is a little more complicated than that but you don’t need the minutiae.) The high school runs an all-period day on visitation day so parents have the option of going to any class they like, but the middle school keeps to its normal schedule, so our choices were North’s Spanish, English, chorus, and science classes. Except that day most of the first period (Spanish) was given over to another welcome event for the Colombians, a breakfast in the courtyard. We’d volunteered to bring bagels to the breakfast so that was our first stop.

There was a lot going on a the middle school. In addition to the Colombians’ first day at school and parent visitation day, it was also the departure day for the first contingent of sixth-graders going on the  annual outdoor education field trip. I made note of the piles of luggage in front of the school, one for boys and one for girls and remembered what a conundrum that caused North last year. (We’re planning a meeting with school administrators soon to discuss how to find an accommodating family for a non-binary kid when the seventh- and eighth-grade immersion kids go to Colombia in the spring.)

We arrived in the courtyard and examined the spread, which consisted of bagels, muffins, doughnuts, and coffee cake. I told Beth it was a nightmare for the gluten-free, though I suppose if you were gluten-free or otherwise low-carb you could have spread cream cheese on the tomato slices in the bagel fixings area. I’m not, so I had a sliver of raspberry coffee cake and half a whole-wheat bagel, with veggie cream cheese and some of the aforementioned tomatoes. North was excited that there were asiago bagels left when they got to the front of the line and that they got to spend some time with Zoë, who’s not in any classes of their classes this year. I talked to Zoë’s mom, who works as a lawyer for Health and Human Services and is about as discouraged as you’d expect these days.

We left before the breakfast was quite over because we’d decided to attend Noah’s third and fourth period classes before circling back to North’s school. Third period was the CAP senior seminar. This is the only required class CAP students have in twelfth grade (though they also have to pick from a short list of English classes). In the senior seminar they work on their college essays, do a service project, an independent academic project, and present a portfolio of several assignments from their four years in CAP. There are three sections of the class and Noah’s in the one taught by his ninth-grade history teacher, Mr. G.

At the beginning of class Mr. G had the parents in the room introduce themselves (it was just me, Beth, and one other mother) and asked us how we felt about the college search. Beth said it was sad to think about Noah leaving and the teacher was surprised. He said he expected us to say something about being worried about money.

Next he handed back their organizers for the senior presentation, gave some guidance on the presentation, and talked about their college essays. So far Noah has turned in three drafts of his Common Application essay. It has really improved, though the biggest change was between the first two drafts. (I’ve read them all.)

Then Mr. G started to expound on the importance of the essay, how tens of thousands of dollars could ride on getting them just right, because the better the essay the more schools they’d get into, the better the chance of getting into one with a large endowment, and the better the chance of getting substantial aid. Then I realized why he was surprised at Beth’s answer. He’d wanted us to set up this point for him. I was glad we hadn’t because while of course money’s a concern for almost any parent of a college-bound student, I don’t think cranking up the pressure on these kids is the right approach. They’re all high-achieving, highly motivated students, not slackers. They’re doing what they can and that’s all we should ask of them. So I found it ironic that the next thing Mr. G did was hand out a worksheet on dealing with negative emotions, including anxiety. They worked on these while he met with a couple students to go over their essays.

We followed Noah to his next class, AP English Literature. I wanted to hear the discussion on The Sun Also Rises because I’ve been reading it to him. Noah is a slow reader so I often read his school assignments to him, particularly if they are of interest to me, and any novel for an English class automatically falls into this category. We were not quite three-quarters of the way through it on Monday, and when Ms. A put the quiz questions for the last reading up on a screen, I realized with a little surprise I wouldn’t have done very well on this quiz, which was character identification from quotes. I think I’ve disengaged from the book because, as I mentioned in my last post, it’s not the best book for me to read in this particular moment. I read the words aloud, but I’m not thinking much about them. I resolved to pay better attention to the last four chapters. If I’m going to read this classic, I should know something about it when we finish. So that was useful, on a purely personal level.

Next Ms. A had the students edit a sample introductory paragraph for a four-paragraph essay on the AP exam in small groups. When they’d finished, the whole group discussed thesis statements, grammar, wording, and general AP exam strategy. Then it was back to The Sun Also Rises. The students had to read a passage, pick one important word from it and then explain why they’d chosen it. Ms. A used this exercise to get them to practice close reading. While most CAP students take AP English Literature, it’s not a CAP-only class like all his other high school English classes to date. Later I asked him if it was harder, easier, or about the same. About the same, he said.

After English, we went to the band room to drop off some brownies Beth made for a bake sale to benefit the band and then we decamped to Starbucks where we killed a little time until North’s chorus class started. We were going to chorus because it was North’s favorite class and the one they most wanted us to observe. As we waited in the room for Mr. N and students to arrive, I remembered chaperoning the sixth-grade chorus on a field trip last March and how rowdy the kids had been. North’s in advanced chorus (comprised of seventh and eighth graders) this year and I wondered if maybe after some winnowing and self-selection, the group would be better behaved.

The short answer was they were not. And it was a shame because Mr. N’s attempts at discipline kept interrupting the flow of his lesson. And as is always the case in these situations, it wasn’t all the kids, or even most of the kids causing problems. It only takes a few uncooperative students to throw a wrench in the works.

The class started with vocal warm-ups, then a sight-reading exercise, and finally they practiced two songs for their winter concert, sometimes in sections, and sometimes all together. Mr. N’s instruction and critiques made me reflect on how little I know about choral music, but I think many observers would have been puzzled by his praise of the altos for being “vampires.” Later, North explained it was because they were singing in minor key, which can sound creepy, so when people do that well he tells them they’re vampires.

We left after chorus. North had science next and they thought they were going to start working on their hydroponics project. This sounded interesting and I felt a tinge of regret about not managing to fit in any of their academic classes this year, but if Beth and I were going to have lunch together (a traditional part of this day) we needed to go. Later North told us they didn’t actually start the building the hydroponics equipment, that it was a lecture on cells instead.

Beth and I had time for a lunch at the arepas place in Silver Spring and a quick run to the grocery store for celery, which I needed for dinner. We got home shortly before Noah did. Soon both kids were home—North, who was in the house briefly before heading to acting class and play rehearsal, and Noah, who settled in to work on his National Merit essay. He’s a semifinalist and hoping to advance to finalist, which could potentially lead to some scholarship money. But even if it doesn’t, I’m proud of him and I hope he’s proud of himself. He’s worked hard and however things turn out, he’ll still go to college and the sun will keep rising every day.

Which Side Are You On?

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair

From “Which Side Are You On,” by Florence Reece

We’re a few weeks into the school year, which means North’s activities are starting. They’re taking an acting class at the rec center, they have rehearsals for Peter and the Starcatcher starting next week and they’re going to try out for glee club at school. Rainbow Alliance should start meeting soon as well. They’re also involved in a program at the rec center for middle and high school students to write TED talks and they get weekly coaching on their speech, which is on the theme of assumptions.

September also means a lot of meetings. We’ve been to North’s school twice, once for a meeting about the seventh and eighth-grade Spanish immersion trip to Columbia next spring and once for Back to School Night. We’ve also been to Noah’s school twice, once for a twelfth-grade CAP meeting and once for its Back to School Night. It was my very last Back to School Night for Noah. I might have been sad about that, but they keep you busy running from one classroom to another at those things, so there wasn’t really time.

Tuesday we went to Children’s National Medical Center for a meeting of their trans kids’ support group. We went for the first time in July and it was our first time back since then. (We were out of town during the August meeting.) The kids and parents meet separately. The middle school group is pretty small, consisting right now of North and two trans boys who are both in eighth grade. North seems to like it and it’s interesting to hear other parents talk about their experiences, although ours are often a little different because being non-binary presents different issues.

When it was over North asked what we talked about and Beth said, “Our kids. Did you talk about your parents?” North said yes, among other things. The group meets from five to six-thirty and I didn’t have anything started for dinner at home so we ate at the hospital cafeteria and then we went out for gelato, as it wasn’t a school night. (It was the night Yom Kippur began.)

Meanwhile, Noah’s working on getting materials together for his first college application. UMBC has a non-binding early action application deadline in a little over a month. It’s the only early application he’ll do as the others on his list only have binding early decision deadlines and he doesn’t have a clear front-runner. We went to tour the campus about two weeks ago. (The kids had the day off for Rosh Hashanah.) We’d been to their open house in August, but we couldn’t stay for the tour because North had a chorus camp concert that day. Nothing we saw on this tour really changed Noah’s mind about the school one way or the other, but I was glad we went so we wouldn’t wonder what we’d missed.

Last weekend we went to the Takoma Park Folk Festival. A few weeks ago when I mentioned that unless he goes to school close to home, it might be the last folk festival Noah attends with us, Beth told me I couldn’t get sentimental at every event all year because it’s the last one before Noah leaves for college. But still… we’ve gone almost every year since Noah was a toddler. When he was in preschool and elementary school he loved this festival and he always wanted a t-shirt so for a while we had quite a collection of them. (And I’m going to mention that as we left the festival, Beth and North were bemoaning the fact that Noah probably wouldn’t be there next year. So I’m not the only sentimental one.)

It was the same as it always is. We listened to a few bands and shopped at the craft booths, where North bought some bath salts and a bundle of sage for Xavier’s birthday (as well as some to keep) and we ate festival food (tofu burgers and plantains for the adults, fried rice or lo mein for the kids and ice cream for everyone). We visited Lesley at the booth for the kids’ preschool and she praised Noah’s work on the podcast and told us one of my former students from George Washington University (now in her thirties with a husband and a toddler) visited the booth and is considering the school because after she graduated from college she babysat for us for a long time and she remembered hearing us say good things about it. I had this student in two classes in the 2001-2002 school year and we still exchange Christmas cards. How’s that for a long-term recruitment plan?

The first band we saw was singing Hazel Dickens union songs. The audience skewed older and when we walked in, I wondered if the kids were going to find this boring. I remembered how when we’d seen Magpie perform (perhaps in the very same middle school gym) for a crowd of mostly middle-aged and elderly Takoma Park lefties seven years ago, North actually fell asleep in my lap. One reason I wanted to go to this session is that we know the lead singer. He’s the dad of a girl who has acted at Highwood and the rec center drama camp with North in quite a few shows. (She also attended the kids’ preschool in the year ahead of North. Why, yes, everything always does come back to that preschool.) I always appreciate it when people we know turn out for North’s performances and I like to pay it forward, and not just for kids.

I enjoyed the set and I even found myself unexpectedly moved when the whole room was enthusiastically singing “Which Side Are You On?” It made me want to make a difference and reminded me that I’d been meaning to get set up as a writer for Postcards to Voters, which is just what it sounds like, a campaign to get people to write get-out-the-vote messages on postcards to Democratic voters in districts with close races. My friend Megan (a mom from preschool, naturally) had posted about it on Facebook a few days earlier and it struck me as something I could easily do. Other than writing modest checks, I haven’t been very politically active recently and there is an election around the corner. But I’m not a natural organizer. The idea of calling people up on the phone or knocking on doors gives me hives, but writing postcards…Sure, I can do that.

So a few days later, I wrote a sample postcard, photographed it, submitted it, and committed to write fifteen postcards in three days. (You choose how many you want to do, from four to fifty at a shot.) Within forty minutes, I’d been approved as a postcard writer and I was sent fifteen addresses from the Cincinnati metro area. I went to the post office, bought some postcard stamps, came home and started writing postcards. While I was writing postcards North was (coincidentally) burning their bundle of sage in the fireplace in the same room. It felt as if we were both purging demons. The whole experience was very satisfying and I did another batch to people in the Anaheim area last night. If you’d like to do this, too, check out the Postcards for Voters web site.

The midterms are in less than seven weeks and they could make a real difference in the direction our country takes. I’m going to be writing postcards as often as I can between now and then because I know which side I’m on.

The Middle of the Middle and the End of the End

The Last Few Days of Summer

Well, it happened again. The seemingly endless summer break that stretched out before us in mid-June ended. Today Noah started his last year of high school and North embarked upon the middle year of middle school.

Friday

I took the kids on our traditional end-of-summer creek walk. We splashed through the creek, observed the spider webs that span it and the crawfish that crawl on the bottom. There were a couple of deer on the bank near where we got in and they were seemingly unimpressed with us and disinclined to run away until we were quite close. I could see the velvet on the male’s antlers. 

North swam in the deeper spots, but Noah stuck to wading, maybe because we discovered when we set out that his bathing suit was missing (left we thought in the changing room at the swimming hole in Ithaca or in the hotel in Altoona) so he was dressed. As I moved slowly and cautiously through the creek and over the fallen logs that blocked our way, mindful of the bad fall I took two years ago in the creek, Noah started to point out slippery rocks and good handholds to me. It felt like a role reversal, and a sweet one.

Saturday

We left the house at nine a.m. and drove to the Kennedy Center. Highwood Theatre was having its season preview in a small performance space there and North was singing in three numbers, one each from Peter and the Starcatcher, The Wedding Singer, and Footloose. They don’t actually know which fall show they will be in yet. They’re trying out for an audition-only production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in about a week so we’ll know shortly after that. The preview consisted of songs and scenes from several plays, including The Glass Menagerie and Sweeney Todd. It looks like it will be an interesting season. I’m sure we’ll be seeing many of the shows. North didn’t have any solos but they were one of two featured backup singers in “It’s Your Wedding Day” and when the other kid forgot a line it turned into a solo.

Sunday

North was busy making a test run of the strawberry-yogurt parfait and cucumber-tomato-fresh mozzarella concoction they are assembling in mason jars for school day breakfasts and lunches. Noah spent most of the day editing podcast audio and updating his journal about the experience.

Monday

Beth made pancakes for breakfast, as she traditionally does on the third morning of three-day weekends. North was busy decorating their school supplies, making stripes on the binder with duct tape and affixing stickers of musical notes to it. In the afternoon Beth and North went to a church pool party and we had picnic dinner in the backyard. Beth asked the kids what they wanted out of the coming year. Noah said to graduate and get into college. Beth predicted he would get into one or more. North wanted to have their friends in their classes and to make new friends.

After dinner we all went to Ben & Jerry’s for last-night-of-summer ice cream, another family tradition. We let Noah choose the venue because it’s his last year of high school. It would have felt a little more celebratory if he was finished his essay about the podcast (and essay I didn’t know about until that morning) but you can’t have everything. As it was he was up late working on it. The podcast itself turned out really well.

Tuesday: First Day of School

The big day came and the kids went to school. Noah found his errant bathing suit while he was packing his backpack and was on his way to the bus stop at seven and forty minutes later North went to meet their bus (and then waited twenty minutes because it was late). I went about my day and I was startled when Noah came home about an hour early at 2:55.

“Why are you home?” I asked.

“This is when I get home now,” he said cheerfully. For the first time in his high school career he doesn’t have a ninth period class, which was happy news. He was pleased with his schedule, too, because he’s in Silver Lens (which produces longer films than the ones he made last year for the school television station) and the highest level band (where he’s percussion section leader) and while he didn’t get the teacher he wanted for the CAP senior seminar, he also didn’t get the one he’d least like to have. This teacher is awful, so he really dodged a bullet there. The other two are both good. He’s had all three before. (And even better he didn’t know the objectionable teacher was teaching the class so he didn’t have to worry about it all summer.)  He had no homework due the next day so we read The Book of Dust, which we’d just started over the weekend and then he took a nap.

North got home and reported they don’t have any classes with Zoë or Giulia, but their day was good otherwise. They also had no homework. We read Serafina and the Splintered Heart until it was time for me to start making dinner.

About a week before my kids went back to school, my niece Lily-Mei (aka Lan-Lan) started kindergarten, or the beginning of the beginning of her K-12 education, at a nature-based public charter school. Here’s to a great school year for my kids, my sister’s kid, and your kids, whether they are at the beginning, the middle, or the end.

The Home Stretch, Part 2: Climbin’ up the Mountain, Children!

The Movie

Wednesday of last week Beth, North, and I engaged in some role reversal. A little background: Noah chose to make a movie for his CAP Diamond project, a culminating junior year assignment. It’s called Sharon and it’s about a fictional social media company called Quest that uses an artificial intelligence entity named Sharon to customize users’ newsfeeds, which leads to the splintering of news consumption and the proliferation of fake news, but also to increased profits for the company.

I tried to encourage Noah to employ our resident actor, but he wanted all adult or at least teenage actors because all the characters are adults. So he played the CEO, Beth played a company engineer, I played the profit-driven board member, and two of his classmates played a television reporter and a camerawoman—this part was filmed at his school’s television studio.

That’s how it came to pass that while Beth, Noah, and I were filming all the scenes that take place at corporate headquarters at Beth’s office late one afternoon, North was at home cooking dinner, which is normally my job. They made bucatini with a homemade cherry tomato sauce topped with veggie bacon crumbles from a recipe I gave them. It made me think I should have them cook more often. They’re perfectly capable of it. I don’t know if Beth and I should act more, but it was fun. I particularly enjoyed my line; “Mr. Parker, this isn’t The New York Times we’re running here.”

Noah worked on this movie pretty much non-stop for a week. It might have been better if he could have gotten an earlier start because none of the actors had a chance to memorize their lines, which he wrote the night before he filmed each scene—we were all reading them from laptops and other props. But it’s hard to see how he could have gotten much work done on the script before AP exams—he was taking four AP classes this year and then shortly after the exams were over he had to write a thirty-two bar composition for band, a task I think he would have really enjoyed if the assignment had been to write a shorter song. As it was, it took him most of Memorial Day weekend. Anyway, both the song and the movie are finished. He showed the film in class yesterday and while he wasn’t completely satisfied with it (he never is), his teacher loved it. Have a look: https://youtu.be/IetQAG2t3DM. (It’s about five minutes long.)

Noah was able to spend most of last weekend recording Sharon’s speech, adding stock footage, and editing the film because he only had a little bit of calculus and Spanish homework, which he finished Saturday morning. The house was unusually quiet all weekend because he was ensconced in his room working and Beth and North were on a church camping trip from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.

Noah did take a few breaks, long enough to listen to me read a big chunk of Song of Susannah and to watch Get Out with me. Would you believe I made it more than a year without hearing any significant spoilers about this film and then just a couple months ago basically learned the whole plot? I don’t remember where. Anyway, fifteen months after the rest of you probably saw it, I finally saw this movie, and I enjoyed it very much, even with the spoilers. Noah liked it, too. It’s nice to have someone to watch horror movies with, as Beth is not a fan. He said one of his teachers almost showed it to them earlier this year, but ended up going with The Shawshank Redemption instead as fewer kids had seen it.

As the year comes to a close, a few of his teachers have been showing movies or turning their classes into study halls, especially in the AP classes, which have slowed their pace considerably since the exams are over. Calculus is the only AP class that’s still going full steam, though they read a book of short stories in English and took a test on three hundred vocabulary words after the exam and he’ll be making another movie on biodiversity for AP biology this weekend.

The Concert

Unless something comes up at the last minute, we’ve been to our last end-of-the-year events for North. We attended a church picnic on Memorial Day and the spring chorus concert was on Tuesday. Sadly, Noah couldn’t come because he was still editing the film. North was put out because it’s the second chorus concert he’s missed this year and he also missed The Canterbury Tales in April. I understand their disappointment and I wonder if they will hold it against him as long as my sister held the fact that I missed her performing the lead role in her sixth-grade production of Barnum against me, which is to say, to this day. It’s almost enough to make me wonder if I should require him to go to these things, but North has quite a lot of performances and Noah has quite a lot of homework. At least he saw the honors chorus performance and both School of Rock and Romeo and Julian this year, so he’s batting about .500 and I think he made it to the most important ones.

Beth had quite a long day the day of the chorus concert and Noah had an even longer one. The band was performing at Noah’s school’s graduation and he needed to be at school at 6:30, so Beth set her alarm in order to wake him up at 5:15. This is the second year he’s played at graduation, so I guess he’ll know exactly what to expect next year when he’s one of the ones in a cap and gown.

After an early dinner Beth, North, and I left Noah at work on his film and drove to his school, where the concert would be held. (North’s school has no auditorium so any event that’s too big to fit into the band room is held at Noah’s school.) North had to be there a half hour before the concert started so we parked and North went into the building while Beth and scooted over to the Starbucks that’s around the corner.

When we got back to the school, took our seats, and surveyed the program, I guessed the concert would last between two and two and a half hours, as there were a total of fourteen songs played by the orchestra, the a cappella club, and the combined sixth-grade and advanced chorus and Noah’s eighteen-song concert last month stretched to three hours. But after the orchestra and a cappella club had performed and it was time for intermission, the chorus teacher told us intermission would be short so the concert could resume by eight and finish by eight-thirty. Even though I was enjoying the music—it’s especially nice to hear a middle school orchestra when you’ve recently been attending elementary school orchestra concerts—this was welcome news. I like music, but I’m not a fan of late nights for me or the kids.

I thought the orchestra’s first song, “Tribal Dance” sounded familiar and later North told me they played it in orchestra either in fourth grade or maybe at orchestra camp. I often joke about how often young musicians have to play or sing the popular music of their parents’ youth so I was a little amused that the a cappella group sang “Stand By Me,” which would be more like the music of their grandparents’ youth. Still, they sounded good.

When the chorus took the stage, a teenage boy in the row in front of us said with mock indignance, “It’s 8:05!” but all the exits and entrances and moving about of chairs, music stands, and risers between groups had gone very efficiently so I wasn’t about to complain. North was pleased that the sixth-grade chorus was singing with the seventh and eighth graders at this concert, taking it as a sign they’d improved sufficiently over the course of the year to sing with the older kids. And North got some individual recognition on the program, too, with notations of their status as an Honors Chorus member and a member of Tri-M Music Honor Society, a group North will be President of next year.

North was wearing a rainbow-striped bowtie purchased especially for the concert but it kept coming undone and hanging vertically and they kept fiddling with it all through the chorus’s six songs. I hope this wasn’t too distracting for them. We’ll have to make sure it’s tied more securely at their next concert.

As always, there were songs in different languages-four in English, a pretty song in Latin called “Et in Terra Pax,” and a Nicaraguan folk song called “Todos Quieren La Banana,” during which North and a few other sixth graders played the conga drums. This was a fun bilingual song about how people of all nations love bananas. My favorite of the songs in English might have been the African-American spiritual “Climbin’ Up the Mountain, Children!” but maybe that was just because that’s how the end of the year feels sometimes, especially for my overworked eldest. North preferred “Can You Hear?” during which they played the drums again. The eighth-graders had a song to sing by themselves during which time the sixth and seventh graders held up their lit cell phones, like people used to do with lighters. The concert didn’t end by 8:30 but it was close, around 8:40 rather than the 9:00 or 9:30 I’d predicted.

When we got home Noah was still working and still wearing his band clothes from that morning and since both kids were dressed up at the same time, I thought we should get a picture. He was up until midnight working on the film. He’s still climbing up the mountain. In addition to the biodiversity movie, he also has to make a poster and write and memorize a presentation about Diego Rivera (in Spanish) and both assignments are due Monday and there’s a big calculus packet due Wednesday so it should be a busy weekend, but the summit is in sight, only a little over a week’s journey from here.

The Home Stretch, Part 1: The More Important Thing

The school year is winding down. The kids still have three weeks of school left, but North’s school’s end-of-year awards ceremony was on Wednesday, so we’ve entered the home stretch.

The way these events work is that if your child is being honored you get a letter in the mail, but you don’t find out what which award it is until you arrive.  At Noah’s middle school you didn’t find out until they called your name and you came to the stage. At North’s middle school the names—nine pages of them—are printed in the program. Having experienced both, I can say there are advantages to each system.

The element of surprise keeps it interesting, but it can be stressful, too.  A little background– in seventh grade Noah got an award for perfect attendance, which would have been nice except he didn’t have perfect attendance that year. It was a letdown, as he didn’t get any other awards. At the eighth grade ceremony, I was nervous the whole time, and relieved when he got the award for maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA for every semester of middle school because that is a bona fide achievement.

So we were able to scan the program when we arrived at the high school cafeteria where the ceremony was being held. We’d guessed the honor would either be North’s honorable mention on the National Spanish Exam, or being nominated for the Tri-M Music honor society, or perhaps both. It was the former, which was near the end of the long program, so we settled in to watch kids file up onto the stage and to clap for them.

I said later if I’d designed the program I’d have called the first section “Do-Gooders” and the second section “Smarty Pants” because it started off with community and school service awards, awards for character traits, club awards, etc. and then moved on to academic awards.

The first awards presented were for the eighth graders’ community projects. It was interesting to hear what kind of projects kids do for this graduation requirement—one kid instituted a composting system in the cafeteria, a group collected feminine hygiene products and bras for women in homeless shelters, etc.  Then we found out which of the sixth and seventh graders were “Balanced,” “Caring,” “Knowledgeable,” and so on, who’d been active in various clubs (including Rainbow Alliance, which caused North to clap enthusiastically), and which middle schoolers had already completed their 75 hours of community service required for high school graduation. Three of them were sixth-graders, which meant they’d done it in just a year.

Then it was time for awards for Music, English, Math, and Science. It was nice to see North’s friend Edwin win the sixth-grade Science Scholar award and a girl who used to be in Scouts with North win an award for both Math and English. Finally, we got to World Languages. Kids in the French immersion program who’d scored a platinum, gold, silver, bronze or honorable mention on a national French test were first on the program, but to our surprise, they weren’t called to the stage by name, just asked to stand in their seats en masse. And it was the same with the Spanish immersion students.

This was a disappointment for North and for us. I’d been looking forward to seeing not just North but their friends Norma and Claire go up to the stage and get their Spanish exam awards, as I’ve known them since the kids were all in elementary school together. And it would have been nice to see North’s new friend Xavier collect his bronze award for the French exam, too. To make matters worse, kids in non-immersion language classes were called to the stage for awards such as most improved. We weren’t alone in being surprised and dismayed. I’m not on the school listserv, but Beth told me the next day there were a lot of irate immersion parents complaining there. I understand that it’s a very long program and they wanted to save time, but this seemed a clumsy way to do it. It might have been better to leave the French and Spanish exam awards off the program all together rather than to treat one group of kids differently than all the rest.

Beth had asked me earlier if we could cut out after North got their award and go for frozen yogurt. I’d been mulling it over, thinking it might be rude to leave in the middle, but I wasn’t in the mood to see any more kids walk up on stage, so we did leave. North took the time to find their friend Giulia, who’d won a gold award on the Spanish exam, to give her a congratulatory hug.

Shortly after we got to Sweet Frog, a boy we know (seventh-grade Spanish immersion Outstanding Linguist) and his mom and older brother arrived and we had a nice talk with them. I used to see his mom or dad every day at the bus stop when our kids (first the older pair, then the younger ones) were in elementary school, but we rarely see each other now, so I was glad about that. 

When they came by our table, Sam’s mom Barb said to North, “What did you get?”

“Cotton candy,” North said, probably figuring she couldn’t see the frozen yogurt under the copious neon-colored gummy products they had piled on it.

Barb explained she meant what award, while acknowledging the frozen yogurt might be “the more important thing.”

And North, who had been indignant a little while earlier, didn’t seem too upset anymore, so maybe it was.

Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

Thursday: Pre-birthday

“I’ve never been to any part of this hospital other than the emergency room and neurology,” North noted on Thursday morning as we were walking through the corridors of Children’s National Hospital. It was true, we were in a different part of the hospital than the one where we go for the specialist we see about North’s migraines. We had an intake appointment with a doctor, a social worker, and some other staff members in the Gender Development Program. We were there all morning, filling out forms and talking to people. We’re getting into their system now in case we ever need their services. We also signed up to get on the email list for two support groups we may attend, one for trans and non-binary kids and one for their parents. We have a follow-up appointment scheduled for July.

After the appointment was over we dropped North off at school and Beth and I went out for a pre-birthday lunch at Arepas Pues in Silver Spring. It was very good. Beth says she is going to be craving the cilantro sauce that came with the tequeños (fried cheese sticks) because cilantro has that effect on her. Arepas Pues is next to Smoothie King and I remembered I had a frequent buyer card in my wallet I hadn’t used in years because I am not actually a frequent buyer at Smoothie King. But the card was full because I used to be a frequent buyer, back when both kids used to go to drama camp in Silver Spring every spring break and summer and we’d often go get smoothies after camp.

Well, when I tried to redeem the card for a free smoothie, the cashier looked at it like she’d never seen such a thing, then called another employee over, then talked to someone on the phone and the upshot was there was no free smoothie for me. I was mildly annoyed because even though they clearly don’t use these stamp cards any more (they have an app now) the card had no expiration date. It would have been pretty easy to give me a smoothie, but I didn’t make a fuss because I’ve been a young person working retail and I didn’t want to be that customer.

Friday: 51/3 = 17

The next day was my birthday. Fifty-one is kind of an anti-climactic birthday, but it’s pleasing to me that now that Noah is seventeen and I’m fifty-one I’ve been a parent exactly one-third of my life. The day was pretty ordinary, at least until the evening. I sat on the porch and read a short story from this collection as well as the first few pages of Romeo and Juliet because I want to brush up on the play before I see it next weekend (North has a small part as a servant in the Capulet house). Then I finished ghost-writing a blog post on GMOs, exercised, and cleaned the kitchen. I had nice talks with both my sister and my mom on the phone.

When North got home from school I reminded them Beth was going to pick them up in a half hour for an appointment to get their braces off (the first phase is finished now and they have two years’ reprieve before the second phase) and then I left to go to Starbucks to redeem my birthday reward. Here I had better luck and successfully obtained a free iced strawberry-green tea and a couple cake pops.

When I got home North was gone but Noah was home, so we read Wolves of the Calla for almost an hour. We’ve been reading this book since January and we are tantalizingly close to the end, but I knew he’d be studying for AP exams all weekend and it was unlikely we’ll get to it again until next weekend. Then he practiced his bells and drums and Beth and North got back from the orthodontist with no braces and a new retainer and we all piled in the car to go to Highwood Theater.

It was Fine Arts Night, which is part preview for the two shows they have in production (Romeo and Julian and West Side Story) and part open mike night for the kids acting in these or previous Highwood shows. We had to drop North off for rehearsal at 6:30 but the event didn’t start until 8:00, so North while ate at home (a small pizza Beth picked up for them on the way home from the orthodontist), the rest of us had my birthday dinner of wood-fire oven baked pizza with eggplant and mushrooms and Greek salad on the patio of Pacci’s on a near perfect spring evening. We skipped dessert because we were going to have a red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake after the show.

The scenes from Romeo and Julian were the play prologue, the fight scene, and the balcony scene. The play was cast gender-blind and will be performed in modern clothes. Both leads are played by trans boys. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing on Friday. The kids in West Side Story did the scene in which Tony is convinced to come to the dance and the scene in which Maria sings, “I Feel Pretty.” Chances are we’ll go to that show, too, although North’s not in it. We pretty much go to all Highwood shows now because North always has friends in them.

Because kids come back to act in this student-based theater season after season, they get to know each other and they’re bonded. During the open mike part of the show, every single kid got thunderous applause from the other kids and many of them were enveloped in huge group hugs after they sang.  That’s what happened to North after they sang their original song “Guess What?” Beth said later it made her happy that North has found their people. Here’s how the song starts:

Guest what?
I’m not like anybody else
And guess what?
Maybe sometimes I mess it up myself
But guess what?
Maybe someday I’m going to be
Something you could never even see

‘Cause it’s not in my light hair
Not in my blue eyes
Not in my fair skin
Not in my freckles
Not in my big feet
Or the way I hold my tongue
But in the way I sing
And have always sung
‘Cause music takes the bad parts out of everything
And somehow kind of picks and chooses for me
And I love it oh so much
When I need it, it’s my crutch
Music’s always there
For me.

The show was diverse with teens singing songs from musicals, an adorable boy of eight or nine singing “Movin’ Right Along,” from The Muppet Movie, a girl about the same age singing “Octopus’s Garden” and accompanying herself on the ukulele, and a band of high school students that focused on classic rock (Pink Floyd, Toto, and Talking Heads). The teenage girl who sang “Hold the Line,” really rocked it.

The show was a lot of fun, but it was also long, about two hours instead of the one hour we were expecting. I was thinking I might rather delay my cake and presents until the next day (as Noah had the week before) rather than rushing through them at the end of a long day. I still wanted to pick up the cake, though, because Cold Stone was right around the corner, and it seemed silly to go make Beth go back to Silver Spring the next day.

Well, Cold Stone is open after ten on a Friday night, but thinking back to my own days as a Baskin Robbins employee one summer in college, I might have realized this isn’t the best time to pick up a cake. The staff was busy and unprepared for what I assumed would be a simple transaction. (I was in the store alone while Beth and the kids waited in the car.) I thought just giving them Beth’s last name would be enough but apparently there were a lot of cakes in the back and they didn’t have names on them. And because I hadn’t ordered the cake I didn’t know what size it was or if she’d ordered lettering. I said it might say, “Happy Birthday, Steph,” thinking that might narrow things down, but there was no such cake. (I later learned it just said “Happy Birthday.”) Employees kept coming to talk to me and wandering off and then new ones would come. Eventually Beth texted me the receipt and I thought that would help but it didn’t. Finally, they just took a cake from the display freezer and wrote “Happy B-day, Steph” on it right there and then and I was free to leave. It was ten-thirty by the time we got home and everyone went to bed, with no cake.

Saturday: Birthday, Belated

We had the cake after lunch the next day, after I organized a campaign to get everyone to finish their lunches by 12:15 (because North had to leave for rehearsal at 12:45). I opened my presents—an umbrella, headphones, a promise to get my Birkenstocks resoled and to buy Stephen King’s new book The Outsider when it comes out later this month. Earlier I’d received a Starbucks card from my mom and a card telling me Beth’s mom had a tree planted in my name in a national forest. I was very happy with the gifts. Beth’s card said “Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too,” which I thought was funny given the trouble we’d had with the cake.

Sunday: Mother’s Day

The next day was Mother’s Day so there were more gifts. Beth got a pink carnation at the supermarket, where they were giving them away to moms. The kids got Beth some treats—a dark chocolate bar and a bag of chocolate wafer cookies. I got another Starbucks card from Noah and a little herb garden in a pot from North. It has oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and nasturtiums. It was a thoughtful gift, as I’d been saying I thought I’d focus the garden on herbs and flowers this year because I’m tired of squirrels, rabbits, and deer eating our vegetables and melons. I already had basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley in various stages, so this makes a nice assortment. (And because I can’t stop myself sometimes, I do have some lettuce plants in the ground already and cucumber seeds planted in starter pots. And when North brought kale seeds home from church on Mother’s Day, I planted some of those, too, though I’m saving most of them for a fall crop.)

Monday to Thursday

We’re near the end of a busy week for both kids. Noah took four AP exams—in Biology, Calculus BC, English Language and Composition, and World History. He just took the last one this morning. It’s tech week for Romeo and Julian, which means North has had rehearsal until ten o’clock on Monday, Wednesday, and tonight and then the show runs from Friday to Sunday, three evening shows and two matinees.

North also got to go to a ceremony at school honoring kids who were on the honor roll and/or got straight As third quarter. It was their first time getting straight As so that was exciting. And then they were nominated by their chorus teacher to join the Tri-M Music Honor Society and that was even more exciting. Finally, after an article in the school magazine in which North was interviewed about why separating boys and girls in gym class was problematic for non-binary kids, their gym teacher started having them do their pacer tests all together. North is proud to have made a difference. And we’re proud, too.

Life seems full these days, in a good way. I’m appreciating this more keenly because early spring—from early March to mid-April or so—was a hard, out-of-sorts time for me. Now it’s better. It’s like I have my cake and I’m eating it, too.

We Are Headed South: College Tours, Installment #2

Saturday morning I was out of bed by 6:45, which is earlier than I usually am on a week day. The reason was that Beth, Noah, and I were going to an Open House at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which, despite the name, is not a Catholic school. It’s Maryland’s public honors college, located in St. Mary’s city in Southern Maryland. After visiting two professionally-oriented schools over spring break, we thought a liberal arts college would be a good next step. That it’s close, affordable, and rigorous all make it an appealing school to have in the mix.

It takes about two hours to drive to St. Mary’s, a little less on a Saturday morning if you leave the D.C. suburbs just after 7:30, a little more if you are driving back on a Saturday afternoon and hit a little traffic re-entering said metro area. We got to the campus at 9:30 on the dot, parked, registered, picked up a free t-shirt for Noah, sampled the pastry buffet, and found seats on the bleachers in a gym. The floor space was taken up with tables where more teens and parents sat. Noah commented that each presentation crowd gets bigger and he was a little scared of what it would be like at the next college. (At Champlain an administrator made his pitch to just us and one other family; at Emerson there were maybe fifty people. Here there were probably a few hundred.) I started to explain how this was a special event, not just a tour you can sign up for any day and Beth stopped me because he knew that already—he’d just been joking.

We listened to presentations from administrators and a panel of current students. It was a little more detailed than the presentations at other schools and I liked getting the students’ perspective. From there we went to an information fair where the academic departments had booths under a big tent. It was crazy crowded in the tent, so we just picked up some brochures, one for Theater, Film, and Media Studies and one for the music department. I pointed out it would be easier for him to take music classes here, as neither Emerson nor Champlain has a music department, (though Emerson has an arrangement that allows students to take classes at Berklee College of Music).

We strolled about campus a bit before lunch, taking in the scenery, watching students fencing on a quad, and visiting the book store. I was charmed that it had a selection of musical instruments for sale (guitars, ukuleles, and bongo drums) and a whole aisle of art supplies and that there were a lot of books outside the assigned books section. The campus is quite pretty—red brick buildings, a fair amount of green space, woods, and ponds. It’s right on St. Mary’s river. There’s a boat house with boats you can take out on the water and it’s only about a ten-minute drive from the Chesapeake Bay.

We had tickets to eat lunch in the dining hall so we did. Noah wasn’t pleased that there was no pasta on offer at that particular meal and he didn’t care much for the pizza he got. I didn’t try the pizza but what I got seemed decent for cafeteria food. The dining area is an airy space with a soaring wooden ceiling and a lot of light.

We had a campus tour next. Our attention was attracted to the guide by the person in the Sea Hawk costume dancing around near her. (They are serious about the mascot at this school. At Champlain the guide pointed to a beaver weathervane and told us the beaver was the mascot and at Emerson we never even learned if they have one, but those sea hawks are everywhere.) The guide took us to the boat house, a dorm room, and a lecture hall. The rooms can’t compete with the Victorian mansions at Champlain, but the room we saw had a view of a pond and the lecture hall was fairly small (it only seats about sixty), which I think was the point—even your big intro classes won’t be that big here. The campus is so lovely I kind of wish I’d taken some pictures, particularly down by the boat house, but I didn’t want to be the embarrassing mom, so I didn’t.

The whole visit, as we walked around, I was thinking of one of my best friends, Joyce, who went to college at St. Mary’s. It was strange to think we were walking down paths she’d probably walked countless times as a young woman, long before we met as a graduate student (her) and an adjunct (me) sharing a tiny office with five other grad students and adjuncts at George Washington University. Joyce and I both had babies several years after that. Her daughter Gwen is a year younger than Noah. And now they’re in high school, Noah soon to be in college. It hardly seems real sometimes that we could all be so much older, except when it seems very real indeed.

We were back on the road by 1:40, heading back to weekend homework and chores. It was hard to get Noah to say much about what he thought of the school, but that’s par for the course. He rarely makes snap judgments, he needs time to ponder things. When I pressed him at dinner that night, he said he thought Champlain was still his favorite, though everything’s preliminary at this point.

We’re probably done looking at schools until summer, when we’ll visit Oberlin and maybe some other schools in that area. Oberlin is my alma mater and Beth’s; many of you already know we named Noah for the dorm where we met. If I felt pleasantly sentimental yesterday for Joyce as she was a decade before we even met, just imagine that trip.

We Are Headed North: College Tours, Installment #1

Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
We are headed north

From “I and Love and You” by the Avett Brothers

Monday: Takoma Park, MD to Lake George, NY

“I don’t know why they call it a resort,” North said as we drove into Lake George after a long day of driving. “It makes it sound like staying there is your last resort.”

Staying in the picturesque little town on a mountain lake in upstate New York was hardly our last resort. Beth chose it because it was most of the way to Burlington, Vermont, where we’d be touring Champlain College the next day and because of the mountains, although the hokey, brightly colored statuary (Santa Claus, Paul Bunyan, etc.) you often see in family-oriented summer resorts was a bonus.

We had a late dinner at a Chinese/Japanese restaurant and then it was time for showers for two of us, a bath for one of us, and for bed for everyone. North was disappointed it was too late for a swim in the hotel pool, especially since for them hotel pools were one of the selling points of the first portion of the trip, which would be focused squarely on their college-bound brother.

Tuesday: Lake George, NY to Burlington, VT

Beth and North managed to squeeze in a swim the next morning between breakfast in the hotel restaurant and a brief walk to the mostly frozen Lake George, where the kids stood on a dock and threw rocks at the thin edges of the ice. When they ran out of rocks, Noah ran back to shore for more. It reminded me so strongly of how much both kids loved to throw rocks at ice when they were little (and Noah’s complicated scoring system for this activity) that I couldn’t help but smile at Beth. It was like getting a fleeting glimpse of our little boy before we spent two days imagining our young man.

We got coffee and tea from the hotel coffee bar and hit the road at 9:30. We took the scenic route around Lake George but it was hard to tell when it ended because the whole drive to Burlington was scenic, full of tall evergreen trees rising from the snowy woods and mountains ringing lakes.

We got to Burlington in time for a very tasty lunch at a ramen place and then reported to Champlain College for a presentation by an admissions office administrator and a tour of campus by current students. We opted to take the shuttle down to a lakeside part of the campus where the Emergent Media Center is located because Noah is interested in both the film and computer science programs.

Champlain is a small college in a stunningly beautiful location, in the mountains very near Lake Champlain. The larger University of Vermont is in the same town so Burlington has a nice, funky college town feel. The campus is lovely, too. First-year students live in nineteen Victorian mansions. The rooms are all different shapes and a far cry from your standard cinder block-walled dorm room.

We knew Champlain had a pre-professional focus but I don’t think any of realized how pre-professional it was until we heard the presentation. That could be a plus or a minus (or both) but it’s definitely something to think about.

We were done by three-thirty, so we headed back to the hotel room and North, who had sat patiently through a boring (to them) presentation and walked around campus a bit hobbled from a twisted ankle got to swim for the second time that day. Beth and I partook of the pool as well—I swam laps for almost an hour in the tiny pool—and we all used the hot tub.

We had dinner at a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. Everything was good but the highlight was probably one of the two entrees Beth and I ordered to share—seitan with garlic mashed potatoes and spinach, though the sweet potato-mushroom soft tacos were very good, too, as was the guacamole in wonton wrappers. We all got different flavors of cake for dessert and shared bites with everyone else. Mine was maple because we were in Vermont and it seemed the thing to do. (We also got a tin of maple syrup at the college bookstore.)

Wednesday: Burlington, VT to North Truro, MA, via Boston MA

We hit the road shortly before nine and drove to Boston where Beth navigated heavy traffic amid confusing directions from Siri. We arrived in time for a quick lunch at a taqueria around the corner from Emerson College. Then we did the admissions presentation/tour thing again.

Being in downtown Boston, Emerson has a very different, more bustling feeling than Champlain, so that made for a nice contrast. The buildings that house the classrooms, labs, offices, and dorm rooms are all high rise buildings interspersed with non-college buildings along one city block. There’s no real campus, but it is right on Boston Common, so there’s nearby green space. Like Champlain, Emerson also has a pre-professional focus, but in addition to the communications, media, and film classes that attracted Noah there’s a robust performing arts program that piqued North’s interest. They’d been prepared to be bored again but by the end of the tour, which was conducted by two very animated performing arts majors, they were saying they would like to go to Emerson.

Noah was more reserved. It takes him a while to form opinions but he seems mildly positive about both schools, not sure if he’ll apply or not, but considering it. Of the two, he had a slight preference for Champlain. He thought it had a broader curriculum outside the majors. (I had the opposite impression, which just goes to show you how different people walk away from these presentations with different impressions.)

All week I’d been seeing Facebook posts from people I know with high school juniors who were doing exactly what we were doing, which made it feel like a communal experience. (Going into Emerson we also ran into a boy who’s been in all three magnets Noah’s attended, ever since fourth grade. I guess it’s not too surprising, as the last two magnets have been communications-focused.)  Some families had more ambitious itineraries than we did—we know one family that did seven schools in five days, but two felt like enough for now. Our next school will probably be St. Mary’s (Maryland’s public honors college) later this month, so Noah can see a more traditional liberal arts school, but for this trip we were done touring schools. It was hard for Noah to get started choosing schools and I was just glad he’d begun the process. Now we could relax a little with the R&R portion of our trip.

We left Boston immediately after the tour because we were heading for Cape Cod, where we’d spend the next three nights and two days. On the way to the Cape, we stopped to see Plymouth Rock and to eat dinner at Friendly’s. We were staying in North Truro, which is close to Provincetown.

Provincetown is a special place for Beth and me. We road tripped out there the spring break of my junior and her senior year of college, exactly thirty years ago, and then in the nineties and in 2000, we spent several Memorial Day weekends there because Beth was working for HRC and their retail store used to open for the season that weekend. Beth would help set up the computers in the store while I wandered the town and the beach. Often we stayed in houses with friends of hers from HRC. It was always a fun time. The last time we were in Provincetown, Beth wasn’t working at HRC anymore, but we came up again for Memorial Day weekend in 2004 when Noah was three, to hang out with HRC folks during their off hours and to play with Noah on the beach.

Thursday and Friday: North Truro, MA and Provincetown, MA

The first night we were in our beach house the thermostat went haywire and sent temperatures in the house soaring to ninety degrees. We had to open the windows in the middle of the night (it was in the thirties outside) to try to get the house down to a reasonable temperature until Beth could apply herself to the problem the next morning. She did fix it and the house, a charming, low-ceilinged, nineteenth-century home, was comfortable the rest of our stay. That morning while we were waiting for the house to cool down, the kids and I enjoyed the somewhat cooler enclosed porch.

Sadly, Noah didn’t get to relax as much as the rest of us. While we were on the road, he hadn’t done any schoolwork and he had a lot, so most of the time we were on the Cape, he was working. Beth and I went for a walk along a pond and down to the nearby bay beach about a mile from the house while he worked on an overdue AP biology chapter. North stayed at the house, too, wanting to rest their ankle. (North did get Noah to try out the backyard hammock.)

It was a sunny day in the forties, but it felt warmer. There was mist over the water that made it hard to see where the land on either side of the water ended and also where horizon was. We walked along the sand a bit and then got supplies for a picnic at a little corner grocery near the house. All four of us got in the car and drove to the Truro Lighthouse, where we ate bread, cheese, pickles, olives, chips, macaroni salad, one orange shared between us, and chocolate-covered cashews, all spread out on a bench on an observation platform at the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Next we drove to Head of the Meadows beach where we rambled on the beach, finding pretty rocks until Noah asked to go back to the house and Beth drove him there, then swung back to get me so Beth, North, and I could wander through Provincetown, window-shopping in the mostly closed stores. We did find an open bakery (not the Portuguese bakery we used to frequent—it was opening for the season in two days) but somewhere we could get hot drinks and baked goods. And then we found a candy store where we needed to buy chocolate rocks, and molasses taffy, and lemon and maple fudge and I don’t know what else. As we were sitting outside the store, a passerby informed us Spiritus (our favorite pizza place in P-town) was having its annual free slice day. We were too full to have a slice each, but we walked over there and got one to split between the three of us. We also visited the long causeway of boulders that goes to the beach. I used to love this walk (which takes about forty-five minutes each way) but North wasn’t up to it, so we walked far out enough to inspect a recent shipwreck and turned back.

We went back to the house and I tackled the laundry we’d accumulated thus far on the trip and then we all went out to dinner at a nice restaurant where we got vegetable alfredo, mushroom ravioli and curried tofu with apple chutney.

The next morning I was out of bed early, by 6:35, because rain was predicted to start as early as ten and possibly last all day and I wanted to go for a walk on the beach. Well, it never did rain, other than a few sprinkles, so I got in three walks. The first two were at the bay beach. It was called Cold Storage beach. I’m not sure why. I wondered if people dug root cellars into the sandy cliffs back in the day.

It was a cloudy, windy day even though it didn’t rain, and it felt colder than the day before. I had to keep moving so as not to get chilled. In between the two walks I went back to the house to warm up and fold laundry. When I returned, the tide had come in considerably and there wasn’t much room to walk between the water and the base of the cliffs. I found a platform in front of one of the boarded up shacks (storage units? changing rooms? showers?) on the beach. It was satisfying to be standing there as the biggest waves went right under the boards where I stood, as close as I could get to being in the water this time of year.

On the way back to the house, I stopped by the little grocery store and got a baguette and some maple-smoked cheddar cheese that had tempted me the day before. With these additions, we had a smorgasbord lunch of picnic and restaurant leftovers.

After lunch, for my third beach jaunt of the day, Beth drove me to Race Point and dropped me off so she and North could go browse the shops in Provincetown again. I spent over two hours walking and sitting. It’s a broad beach on the ocean side with a lighthouse and big dunes. After I’d walked a bit, I found a cleft in them and I thought it might be sheltered from the wind in there and a good place to sit if you could still see the ocean, but it turned out to be windier than the beach. I was intrigued by the shapes the wind had sculpted into the sand there and I considered exploring, but sand was blowing in my face, so I left.

When Beth and North picked me up North showed me a button they’d bought that had a unicorn and the word Queer on it. They’d seen a t-shirt in the window of the HRC store they liked, but the store wasn’t open for the season yet, so Beth ordered it for them online. Beth was disappointed, too, because she wanted to see if anyone she knew would be working there. We swung by a coffee/ice cream shop where I got a latte to help warm myself up and Beth, who hadn’t been walking on a windy beach got ice cream. (North got a bagel.)

Back at the house, I folded more laundry, and then Beth and I went back to Provincetown to pick up pizza from Spiritus to eat at home in front of the television because it was the day the second season of Series of Unfortunate Events was released. We’ve been waiting for this for over a year, so we settled in with our pizza and Easter-themed cupcakes (they had Cadbury mini eggs in the frosting and a whole Cadbury egg baked inside each one) to watch the first two episodes, which correspond to the novel The Austere Academy. It was highly satisfactory. The actress playing Carmelita is spot on. One addition I particularly liked was that the mascot of the Prufrock Prep is a dead horse and at pep rallies, the students chant: “What can’t be beat? A dead horse!”

Once North was in bed, Noah and I read a little bit of Wolves of the Calla. We’d been so busy we hadn’t read much (only once in the hotel in Lake George) so that was nice.

Saturday: North Truro, MA to Takoma Park, MD

In the morning we packed and left. There was a chalkboard in the kitchen where I’d written “SDL was here,” with a peace sign underneath shortly after we arrived. I added “Now she’s not,” with a frowning face underneath. Shortly before we left I regarded the stones I’d collected on the beach,  a couple that were translucent white and peach when wet but didn’t look as impressive dry and a few speckled ones. I decided to leave them at the house.

We went into town and picked up pastries at the Portuguese bakery, which had just opened that morning. I knew I used to have a regular order there but it’s been nearly fourteen years so I wasn’t sure what it was. I remembered it was one with a Portuguese name, so I chose two, a tiny tart filled with ground almonds and a sweet potato-filled pastry. We drove out to the causeway to eat. Once I bit into the sweet potato pastry I knew I’d picked the right one. We lingered a bit, walking out on the rocks, inspecting the shipwreck up close again and admiring the water and the dunes. No one was in a hurry to get on the road, but a little before ten we did and after a seven-state, thirteen-hour, too-many-podcasts-to-count drive, we were home.

You Never Know

Tuesday and Wednesday: Walkouts

“There was a lot of drama at school today,” North said as soon as they were through the door on Tuesday afternoon.

“What kind of drama?” I asked.

“A fistfight and a walkout,” they answered.

Apparently a seventh grader pushed North and a friend of theirs out of the way as they walked to the locker room after gym class and it ended up getting physical between North’s friend and the girl who started it. North’s friend got a lunch detention and the other girl got three. North was named as a witness on an official form.

The other, more schoolwide drama was that there was an attempted walkout to protest gun violence. At first North said kids left campus and went to downtown Silver Spring, although they later amended their story to say they weren’t sure where they went, or if they even managed to leave the building. There were two kids who left North’s Spanish class, on the pretense of going to the bathroom and never returned, but neither of the escapees has a class with North later in the day so it wasn’t clear if those kids came back for their other classes.

There was a robocall from the school that night explaining that some students had been planning to walk out and outlining some alternative forums the school had provided and would provide the next day during lunch and after school for students to air their views. The call went on to report that students at several local high schools were planning to walk out the following day to attend a rally on Capitol Hill and urged parents to tell their middle school students not to join that walkout. The odd thing about the call was that it never clarified the very thing North didn’t know—whether any kids successfully left the building. I say this is odd because in the past whenever there’s been a call about an incident at school it’s always been clear what happened.

I had foreseen the possibility of a walkout at Noah’s school in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and I’d already told him if there was one and if he took part he wouldn’t get in trouble at home. I hadn’t even thought to tell North the same thing (or something different). I guess I just didn’t expect it of middle schoolers.

“You beat us!” Noah exclaimed at dinner when North was telling us about it. He was planning to  participate in the walkout the following day and North wanted to as well. Beth and I considered it, because we want to encourage the kids to speak their minds and be politically active, and I think we might have said yes if North knew a big group of kids who were going and would promise to stick together, but they were unable to confirm that any of their friends were going and from their middle school to Capitol Hill is a longer trip on public transportation than they’ve ever made solo before. More important, there was the sometimes chaotic environment of a protest to consider. A month shy of twelve didn’t seem old enough to navigate it alone and I didn’t think they could necessarily find their brother in the crowd.

We told them there will be other opportunities to protest. There’s going to be 17-minute walkout in mid-March, one minute for each student killed—and I hope their school will accommodate it, as it’s a much more modest action. There will also be a march in D.C. on the first day of spring break we’re all planning to attend together. North seemed to accept our decision. And as it turned out all the students at North’s school who attempted to leave on Wednesday were stopped by security so all our deliberation was moot. (A seventh-grade boy from North’s bus stop found himself in the same position as North so he made a sign for his tenth-grade brother to take to the protest.)

As for Noah’s school, there was no warning call to parents and when the principal spoke about the walkout on the P.A. the day before it happened, she noted the school did not officially sanction it and then helpfully provided the time and destination of the protest. “She all but encouraged us to go,” Noah said. After the fact the school was retweeting a member of the County council praising Blair students for exercising their First Amendment rights. One of Noah’s teachers said anyone who didn’t go would have an alternate assignment, basically making going to the rally the default position.

So Noah left for school Wednesday morning without even taking his binder, attended his AP biology class, and then between that class and the next one, walked out with hundreds of his classmates. Here’s a picture of them from an MSN tweet. Noah’s in the green t-shirt. They walked to the Metro and rode into the city, where they rallied in front of the Capitol, listened to our Congressional representative Jamie Raskin and several students from different high schools speak.

Back at home, I was watching coverage of it on Representative Raskin’s Facebook page on and off for hours. There were thirteen hundred students from several Montgomery County high schools there, according to the school district. The students carried signs that said, “Is Our School Next?” and “My Life > Your Guns,” and they chanted, “Enough is enough,” “Our blood, your hands,” “Hey, hey, NRA. You can’t beat the PTA,” and “Hey, hey, NRA. How many kids did you kill today?” They were full of anger and hope and beauty and promise. It was all I could do not to cry, I was so proud of all of them.

From the capitol, the students marched to the White House and around 1:30 or so, the rally broke up. Noah got himself some pizza and then dropped by Beth’s office, where he spent the rest of the afternoon, attending the retirement party of one of Beth’s colleagues and enduring hugs and exclamations about how big he’d gotten from people who hadn’t seen him since he was a little boy and liked to go to Beth’s office on snow days and school holidays.

He came home a little sunburned on his nose and neck (it was a sunny day of record-breaking heat—82 degrees at National Airport) and saying he wanted to find Representative Raskin’s speech online, because he hadn’t been able to hear any of it. That’s so often true at protests. I didn’t hear a word of any of the speeches at the Women’s March last year.

Back at school the next day he said his teachers were congratulating the kids and there was only one assignment Noah missed and would not be allowed to make up (in band), so the walkout was close to consequence-free for him. “The resisting authority part of it didn’t really work,” he joked.

Even if it isn’t exactly braving fire hoses and police batons and dogs as children and adolescents did fifty-five years ago in Birmingham, young people all over the country are answering the call of their grieving and angry peers in Florida and because of their leadership just a week a half after the shootings some modest action on gun control seems at least possible. Republicans are talking about banning bump stocks, expanding background checks, and raising the minimum age for gun purchases. Companies are severing ties with the NRA left and right. It remains to be seen if any legislative change will actually happen, but even to be hearing these proposals taken seriously seems like a big deal.

Saturday: Working People’s Day of Action Rally

Three days after the student walkouts, on a damp, foggy morning, Beth and I took the Metro into the city and joined members of her and many other unions at a rally in Freedom Plaza in anticipation of arguments in the Janus vs. AFSCME case at the Supreme Court on Monday.

When we arrived someone was onstage singing “We Will Resist” to the tune of “I Will Survive.” There were speeches by union members and union leaders—including a rather fiery one by the President of CWA—and elected officials (Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia). Taking note of what’s on everyone’s mind these days, at least two people speaking in support of public sector unions noted that the teachers who were killed defending students at Parkland and Sandy Hook were union members.

I can’t say I felt as much hope that something might change soon at this rally—in fact, a few of the speakers seemed to acknowledge that the case is likely to be decided the wrong way, largely because of Neil Gorsuch’s ill-gotten seat on the Supreme Court. But you never know what might happen. Supreme Court decisions do sometimes surprise and a couple weeks ago I would have said the gun control debate was settled when twenty first-graders and six brave teachers and school staff died at Sandy Hook and even that couldn’t move the needle. But even though I felt that way I kept writing checks for gun control and for much the same reason, I go to rallies for things that seem as if they might be lost causes… because you just never know.