Elihu and I are tired. I slept all of maybe three hours total last night. He too had a strange night. Lying in bed, waiting for the gears in my brain to wind down, I suddenly heard the urgent thumping of feet on the floor in the hall. My son seldom wakes in the night (in fact he is such a deep sleeper it’s becoming a real challenge when it comes to some, shall I say, ‘personal’ issues that result in many extra loads of laundry) and so I instantly jumped up in high-alert mommy mode. I found him in the bathroom, throwing up. Oh no, I thought. He may only have two days left at Greenfield Elementary, I hope he doesn’t have to miss one of them. I pulled some toilet paper off the roll to wipe his mouth. “Don’t touch me” he said, taking the paper and cleaning his face. My feelings could have been hurt, but they weren’t. I know that when you’re sick sometimes you need to be left alone. We both stood there for a minute, waiting on another possible round. Nothing. A moment passed. “That was weird” he said. Then he turned and shuffled back to his bed and I swear he was literally asleep within seconds. I lay down next to him thinking he might open his eyes and say ‘stay’, like he does sometimes when he’s not feeling well, but he was gone, returned to deepest slumber. I hoped for the best and returned to my own sleepless bed.
I’m a little hesitant to reveal the measures I took last night in order to sleep – none of which worked – as it may seem rather extreme. But in spite of my radical self-medication I didn’t lose track of the clock til well past five. I took 8 over the counter sleeping pills, 12 mg of melatonin plus some valerian root for good measure. I tried concentrating on my breathing, visualizing peaceful waves, clearing my mind of all thoughts, and when that didn’t work I tried imagining my garden, home and coop as I’d hoped it might look one day – nothing did the trick. I tried vacating the swirling to-do lists from my mind by writing them down. I did everything I knew how to do. I recall my mother once saying – and perhaps she was in turn quoting another woman, I’m not sure – that she thought all the women of the world who were wide awake between 2 and 5 am could solve the world’s problems if they could just get on one big conference call. She was referring to the dreaded ‘change’ that, from what I heard her and the other older women in my life talking about, would rob me of sleep for months at a time, ultimately never allowing me to fully return to a proper sleep routine. Is this what’s going on? Since I had my Mirena put in this past fall I’ve hardly had a period. I don’t exactly know where my body is on the timeline with respect to menopause. Could be that. Could also just be the usual suspects; a zero balance on my food stamp account, unpaid debts, household repairs I can’t afford and so on.
Even after my long night, I still did my motherly best at seven thirty this morning and pulled my groggy body to Elihu’s room to wake him. He was so deeply asleep that shaking him didn’t even register in the flicker of an eyelid. Nothing. Was he sick or just sleepy? No fever. No other signs. Probably just pooped, like me. I crawled into bed next to him, telling myself we’d be a half hour late for school just this once. Then I fell asleep. An hour passed like a second, and now Elihu was waking me. “What time is it?” he asked, mild panic in his voice. I told him not to worry. Although we were still just a few hours away from learning whether or not the faculty at the Waldorf School of Saratoga would formally agree to accept him as a student, we were pretty sure they would. That meant that he had only two days left of school here in Greenfield; so getting there on time seemed a bit less urgent.
I took a leap of faith and began to wrap things up with his school after I dropped him off. Paid the cafeteria gals what I owed, then told them the news. They like Elihu, and he likes them. In his four years at the school he has praised the kitchen ladies many times, admiring them for their hard work and good cooking. (Perhaps his genuine appreciation might be due in part to his up close and personal witness to one single mother’s efforts to create good food for her son and all that it entails…?) He was particularly impressed by a visit to the cafeteria’s own herb garden that he once made with his first grade class (and to this day often confesses to me that he sneaks little samples from it at recess). The gals there told me they’d miss him; he was truly a good boy they said. Polite, quiet and kind. And appreciative. Don’t think too many lunch ladies know what it is to have the heartfelt respect and gratitude of an eight year old boy.
Onto the school nurse. While her over-zealous care has driven me and many other Greenfield moms a little crazy (insisting on pulling kids out of school and sending them to the doctor when a tick is found in their hair after recess) I do have her to thank for including us on the list of needy households, and doing so in such a way as to preserve our dignity and privacy. I can remember one Christmas, sitting in a kid’s sized chair in her office, crying, sobbing really, filling my kleenex as she and the school’s counselor stood by, listening, witnessing, just being there. It was she who’d asked me what we really needed – and it was she who saw to it that we received a set of queen sized sheets, so that I might have a second pair for Elihu’s bed. It was she who made sure we got a box of food delivered to us before school let out, so that we’d have food at home over the holiday break. She may have been a little too uptight in some ways, but I will always be grateful for her help in those first, difficult years here. She prints out a copy of Elihu’s immunization record, slips it into an envelope, and, since she’s not the hugging type, I thank her and say goodbye.
Then it’s to the attendance lady. Man, she’s a tough cookie. Everyone knows it. An attractive middle aged woman whose husband owns the local auto repair shop, she’s no-nonsense and to the point. No mercy for the “but we’re just one second late” lamentation. Yup, she’s the right woman for the job. We’ve chatted many times, and in the wake of more tardies and unexcused absences than she approves of, we’ve nonetheless struck a friendly relationship. She gives me the proper form to fill out, and of course, in her presence I miss a couple of items, so she has to complete it for me. Sheesh. But then, as if a quick karmic free pass for me, she discovers an error of her own, and I joke to her that I feel better now. She smiles to me and shakes her head, glasses in hand, “Elihu’s an icon!” she says. “It won’t be the same here without him.” I tell her I do agree, because it’s true. Everyone knows Elihu. The kid with the huge, dark glasses. The one who sits alone in the cafeteria because he needs some peace. The one who doesn’t hear the bell because he’s got his nose in a book, the one who comes trudging down the hall long after everyone else has gone on ahead. The kid who draws all those birds. That’s my boy. Yup, he will be missed. I assure her we’re gonna miss everyone here too. Cuz we will.
But it’s not quite over. I still have to run the talent show, and there’s a long road ahead of me. Lots to learn, lots to get done. I’m feeling a little conflicted as I root around in the Home School Association’s mail bin in the main office, looking for the talent show entries. I’m running the talent show, but I won’t have a kid in the school. Is that even legal? I wasn’t sure we’d even get this far in the Waldorf process way back when I volunteered. I know it’s all fine. The timing is just a bit off. Ever since I’d joined this world nearly four years ago, I’d always looked with wonder at the mystery of the ‘involved’ parent. Might I be qualified to join that club myself? I wasn’t so sure, but I wanted to try. Years ago, as a means of purging the emotional residue of my many years of athletic ineptitude, I’d joined a co-ed softball team in Chicago. I wasn’t any good at first, and I wasn’t great at the end of my tenure, but somewhere in the middle I actually got better, and I got the hang of it. And it no longer seemed like something ‘other’ people did. This is the spirit in which I volunteered to run the talent show. I wanted to learn how those parents did it. I wanted to get it. So here I was, about to become an official school mom. Just in time to see my kid leave the place. Oh well. Better late than never, I guess.
Shortly after I got home, the phone rang. It was the admissions director from Waldorf. In her rich, alto voice she told me – in beautiful, almost archaic-sounding language – that it gave her “great pleasure” to report that Elihu had been accepted into the school by the faculty today. Even though we knew it was nearly a done deal, it hadn’t truly been until now. I nearly cried. I thanked her, I thanked her, I thanked her. I could never have believed that such news could feel so good, so victorious, so hopeful, so uplifting. My son was going to a place where he would be understood. Where they would get him. Finally, my dear, different child would feel at home. Finally.