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.