It was to have been Elihu’s last day at Greenfield Elementary School today, but he awoke feeling sick. At first I’d wondered if this was real or exaggerated. But it turned out he really was sick. At least in the beginning of the day. Thankfully, he was feeling good by the time afternoon came, and he was fine when I drove him to the train this evening to meet his dad.
I had some errands to do in the early afternoon, and he came along with me, sitting in the back seat, quiet, patient, eager to be done. I ran in to his school to pick up the entries from the kids who want to be in the talent show, and on my way out was greeted by a couple of girls whom I’ve given piano lessons. They ran up to me and wrapped their arms around my waist – eager as much to hug me as to have their friends see them doing so. As I said goodbye to the kids (more of whom had now learned I was there and called out to me to be recognized), the principal caught me. “Is it true?” she said, eyes wide in search of the story. She spoke in a tone more like a fellow mother than an administrator. She didn’t need to finish her question, as her face told me she’d heard about Waldorf. “I’d wanted to talk to you – I didn’t mean to seem like we were just skipping out on you!” I answered. I went on to explain that it just happened so fast – it had gone from a dream to a possibility to a certain thing in what seemed to be a flash. I sputtered my best explanation as to why Elihu had chosen to attend Waldorf – the best I could do in the situation; kids were lining up to leave the noisy cafeteria, while other classes lined up to enter. Too much going on. I assured her I’d be there for the talent show – and that I hadn’t forgotten her ‘bit’, that I would coach her through it all. She laughed, and expressed her relief. (I’m planning on creating a rhythm line in which she, the school principal, plays the cowbell – the cornerstone of the ensemble – as others then add their part on top. A slight comic nod to Christopher Walken’s ‘fever for the cowbell’ bit on SNL). It was all I could do for now. Suffice to say we haven’t completely closed this chapter of our lives quite yet.
Elihu wasn’t that sentimental about missing the day either. He said he might easily have been, but he didn’t want to feel sad, so he was choosing not to dwell on it. That kid. Always so much more grown-up about things than I would be in his shoes. Or than I am in mine. ! I was kinda nostalgic all day. Glad I’d written a quick note of thanks and given it to his bus driver the day before. I’d really wanted to thank him for taking care of my son. He had a kind demeanor – evident from his simple wave good-bye as the bus departed each day, and I was grateful my child was in his charge. Glad I’d done that. Glad also that I’d be able to go back and make more thank yous and goodbyes over the next few weeks, because I truly do appreciate that place for giving Elihu his start in the world. From his kindergarten teacher we learned “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset”. Almost seems to me that it might have been the most important lesson of all that he learned there! I look back on the past four years, and realize that’s the length of a high school career, or college. Seems a good time to move on.
We two enjoyed a relaxed afternoon doing laundry, packing, setting up the incubator (which I must fill with eggs this week so that they’ll hatch in time for his upcoming 9th birthday party) and just enjoying each other in our last bit of time together before he leaves for Spring break. Elihu and I were tired today; it made both of us weak and silly. We sat in my bedroom’s cozy chair, he in my lap, making jokes and laughing over nothing at all. Finally I needed to lie down, so I did, and he got on the bed next to me with his little diji game. It’s like a Nintendo DS, only it requires math problems be solved in order to make progress (in addition to shooting little alien guys and gobbling up point-scoring icons along the way). As I lay there watching him, I noticed the shape of his face and something rang familiar. Then immediately I flashed on an image of him as a mere babe of only a few months, and how his mouth had that same profile, that very same look – it was strange, but I could just picture him as a baby, yet at the same time I could still see him as he was. It was as if two moments in time had come together in some rare window of perception. Don’t know how to explain it better than that. It was a strangely poignant moment, one in which I felt how fleeting each moment is, and how quickly childhood becomes a memory. I lay there just looking at my beautiful child, just watching him, loving him, wishing all the most wonderful things for him in the life that lay yet ahead.
They sun was sinking, casting that warm, orange-tinged light on the neighboring fields and reminding us that we needed to get going. Elihu asked if he had time for just five minutes with his flock. I nodded, and he ran off through the trees towards them. He came back chasing the big rooster, Bald Mountain. It was comic as the boy ran after the bird, who dodged Elihu’s every lunge, leading the kid around in a fruitless chase. As I was pulling the car down the driveway, I saw the final, stop-frame moment: Elihu dove for the bird, grabbing just the very last of his tail feathers, and held on. Like a water skier pulling on a tow rope, he pulled himself along the tail, closer and closer to the prize. Finally he wrapped his arms around the bird. He had hoped I’d seen the catch, and eagerly brought the rooster to my open car window. “Awesome grab!” I said as he laughed with triumph. (That bird has attacked both of us so many times that it’s kinda nice to see the tables turned.) We smooch him, apologize for the rough treatment, then set him down. He shakes himself out, regains his composure and runs back to join his ladies. Finally we’re off to say goodbye to grandma and grandpa before we go to meet his father at the train.
The drive to Schenectady always seems so goddam long. I don’t know why it is, but the drives one has to make around this part of the world – to get anywhere other than where you currently are – all seem to take forever. When I think of the commutes I made in Chicago, I guess they were pretty similar in length, and Lord knows there are exponentially more traffic lights to deal with there, so I can’t really say why the commutes here feel so much more tedious. I don’t know why. Can’t explain it. But every single drive seems to take forever. And I never like the return trip after dropping Elihu off at the train. With Elihu suddenly gone, everything quiet, a kind of emptiness comes over me which makes the drive even more of a drag than it already is.
In spite of the drive, and in spite of the fact that part of me still can’t believe the situation which has me driving there in the first place (when, oh when will this feel like my ‘real’ life?) – I do look forward to seeing Fareed – more specifically, to seeing Elihu see Fareed. Our routine has us meeting at a dark little restaurant and bar across the street from the Amtrak station called the Grog Shoppe. Fareed is always there before us, Guinness on the table, phone to his ear. We always try to surprise his father – Elihu loves to sneak up on him as he sits waiting, unawares – yet it doesn’t always work. But today it worked! It was fun to watch from around the corner as Elihu appeared from nowhere and Fareed jumped up at the sight. It was a joyful reunion. Elihu was one very happy boy.
In no time, we three are laughing, having fun and sharing our own private jokes. This poor kid can’t escape all the classic comic references Fareed and I have tossed back and forth for the past two decades, and we throw out first lines of bits, hoping our child will answer back with the following line. (Caddyshack gets a good amount of air play.) We’ve ordered our food, but have over an hour. Plenty of time to relax. I decide it’s time to discuss my desire to take Elihu on an east-coast trip this summer to meet some Conant relatives. I’m hoping that mom can help with the cost, because it won’t be cheap, but it feels like an important trip to make. My Uncle Paul is 84, and there’s some urgency that the trip happen soon. Fareed understands, and I relax when I see that he won’t be battling me on this. He says this is good that we’re discussing plans, because he wants to figure out when Elihu can make the trip to Chile with his folks. Huh?! “I thought I emailed you on this” Fareed said unconvincingly. Apparently not. He knew my feelings about this. I’d made my conditions about Elihu and international travel plain. NO trips out of the country without me along. I wasn’t going to let Elihu go to Pakistan or Chile without me. Period. “You’ll have to talk to my folks about that” Fareed says. I say I’ll call tonite when I get home. “You can’t.” he says. “They’re in Spain.” Again, huh?? “At their age? They’ve gone to Europe?!” I can’t believe it. Seems Elizabeth, my mother-in-law’s neice, has traveled from Chile to New York to accompany them. Wow. And I literally don’t have enough money to buy milk, let alone gas. I don’t dwell on it. It’s just part of the crazy world of Fareed. I know, I’ve lived in it for twenty five years now. You just gotta shake your head and roll with it.
If it’s that important to them, they’ll take me. They’ll take us both. As it looks from this very moment, it seems quite likely that Elihu and I will be going to South America this summer. Looks like it might be a year of travel. No one’s getting any younger, and there’s family to be met around the globe. At nine, Elihu is a good age to travel, as he’ll remember his experience and learn a lot from it. I myself remember a trip to Switzerland at the age of six. In fact, it is a bright, vivid memory full of color and details. I know this kind of an adventure will help shape Elihu’s life in a profound way. Deep down, I am glad for this sudden news. I sense the possibility of wonderful things to come.
We’ve had our meal and need to pay. Fareed has just realized that we’ve relaxed perhaps a little too much; we have under ten minutes to make the train. Thankfully, we’ve just gotten the bill. The restaurant is packed, and our poor waitress is alone on the floor. I remember those days well. I want to share her stress as if it might lighten her load somehow, but it won’t, so I cast it off. It’s her drama, I can’t share it, I don’t need it. I have my own. Fareed pays while Elihu and I gather up his guitar and bag and head out. The train is literally pulling into the station as we arrive.
On the platform we hug, and Elihu says to me what he now says to all his family upon departing or saying goodbye: “Love you so much”. It’s a sweet little phrase that he just started using one day. It conveys his intense and sincere feelings so well, and it’s always touching to hear him say it, no matter to whom. I say “Goodbye, love you” as he turns away, and then when Fareed hugs me and turns to leave, I have to edit my impulse to say the same to him. I shouldn’t say I love him, right? I mean, after the way he’s treated me, the absence of real concern for me – how can I still feel any tenderness for this man? Yet seeing him go still tugs a little. Ok. It tugs a little less. I guess that’s progress.
This time, I don’t linger on the platform, following them through the cars, waving as they glide off. I head back to the doors. One lone traveler is told by the conductor he must go back downstairs to the ticket booth and get a paper ticket before he can board. I hear the hissing of the train and see the panic in the man’s face as he runs back to the stairway. I’ve been there too. I feel his stress, and I want to share it, to lessen his load. But I can’t, so I let it go too. I have my own load.
I do end up using my cell phone as a high-end walkie talkie, calling them to see if they can see me standing on the corner, waving. No, this time they don’t. So without fanfare, we say goodbye. For the first time ever, I get in my car and leave before the train does. I guess this is progress too.
The drive is still a little empty, but the full moon helps distract me from dwelling on it. Soon I’m pulling alongside my house, the vast expanse of hills before me, stars and moon bright and crisp above me. I look up and out at the infinite. I sense the space, the possibility… Tonight I will put off til tomorrow the chores that I might otherwise set to right away. I won’t bother with the dishes, or the post-packing mess in Elihu’s bedroom. Maybe I’ll write a post, get this crazy ‘trip to Chile out of nowhere’ bomb off my chest. I don’t know. But the wonderful thing is – I am free to do that if I please. I am also free to do absolutely nothing if I please. Truly, I am free. How lucky am I? Very lucky. And very grateful too. I love being a mother, but it sure feels good to have a moment alone every now and then. Nothing like having the house all to yourself.
Just now there was a small interruption in my first night alone, but it’s a welcome one: the phone rang. Elihu said he was calling to say goodnight. That was it. Then he said “Love you so much” and hung up. Love you too, Elihu. Sweet dreams.
One story ends, another begins. Greenfield Elementary to Waldorf of Saratoga. Cape Cod to Chile. On with the adventure…