The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

One Room September 12, 2013

My son is a very lucky boy in many ways, but perhaps in this moment of our lives, he is luckiest of all for having discovered the Waldorf School of Saratoga. I cannot imagine our lives without this school, this environment, this tiny universe of our own. I would even go so far as to say that most times it feels more like one very large family tending to the communal raising and teaching of our children than it really does a school. Every teacher knows the name of every last child there, and every child knows all of the others too – friendships exist across ages and grade levels without a second thought. And it’s something special to see the sorts of relationships that exist between children that have not only known each other for years, but who share a certain quality of trust among themselves. This school is a safe place for all; in my limited experience there I’ve never known bullying to exist. All I’ve ever seen were kids helping each other, playing with each other, singing, laughing and learning together. These children all support each other unquestionably. It wouldn’t really be a stretch to say that the place is beautiful in so many ways (not the least of which are the physical aesthetics of the school and its decor itself) that it almost seems too good to be true. It almost seems as if it were a school created by a team of writers somewhere in Hollywood, trying to conjure ‘the perfect’ storybook school.

We came in late to the game; Elihu joined the third grade just after Spring break. But by the end of the day it was more than clear that this was where he needed to be. Where he was supposed to be. And while it may seem a bold statement to some, I believe that he was meant to be here. I feel as if my husband’s leaving, our cross-country move, the divorce – all of it happened in order to support this incredibly important foundation of Elihu’s life. In short, it was all worth it.

The school is modest indeed by today’s standards. The building itself was a city school many years ago (our friend and matriarch, 87 year old Martha Carver taught there once upon a time) and these days its creaking staircases, high ceilings and dark wood interior are a quaint anachronism seen next to their modern, expansive and brightly-lit counterparts. Yes, the place is old fashioned. One staircase for the upward traffic, one for the down. One classroom for each grade. Same teacher for one class (the teacher travels along with that class from first grade all the way through eighth). No cafeteria. The school has but one common room, which is called “the Eurythmy room” – it’s used for movement, music, chorus, orchestra, plays, assemblies and more. The seating for this room can be found in three stacks of folding chairs on dollies which are wheeled in and out according to the next item on the agenda. There are virtually no closets, but the staff has made the most economic use of what is there, and it is nothing short of impressive. I marvel daily at the amount of industry that takes place in such limited space. Perhaps this helps to make it feel even homier. Things have their places, and if people are to live and work together successfully, things must be put away. And so they are. Everyone grabs a chair at the end of a function, folds it up and puts it away. Utensils, cups and plates, if left unattended in the tiny kitchen will be washed by the next person passing through who has a minute. Of course the goal is to clean up after oneself, but if it doesn’t happen, a courteous person will step up. I have never been part of a social group in which there were so many helpers and doers. And they’re always cheerful too. Crazy. !

Today I saw the room in which I work – the Eurythmy room, where I play the piano for the movement classes – go through such transformations that I can hardly believe it all took place in the same space. Seventh graders dancing, chorus sitting in rows and singing rounds, tables of pot luck dishes set up for the fifth grade parent’s night, and then when all was through and put away, a roomful of ten year old whirling dervishes dancing around and around as I played a bouncy, cartoony soundtrack. Did all of this happen in the same room? Just today? When I fully took in all that had occurred there in the space of one school day, it shocked me. Somehow, it had seemed to be a different place each time. This school was able to do more living in less space – and time – than any other school I’d ever known. Even after having been a part of it for over a year now, I was still learning how amazing a place this is.

I’ve made a promise to my son that he will be in this school through the twelfth grade. That nothing will prevent that from happening. If I have to sell our place. If I have to take a job that takes me away from him (can’t quite leave him on his own yet… but I know it’ll be here sooner than I think), no matter if I have to make major changes in my life. Whatever. I wish I could get his paternal grandparents on board to regularly share the burden of tuition, because the weight of it – even after generous assistance – falls to my mom. Since she stopped working a few months back it’s become a bit more of a challenge. But like I said, even if I have to sell my piano or my harpsichord, I’ll make it work. Some folks commute an hour each way. Some folks can only afford to have one child in at a time, and so alternate years with their kids in order that they get at least some of their education here. I feel very lucky to have only one child to support. Couldn’t have done it otherwise. Lucky we, lucky we.

It was almost impossible to get the kids to leave tonight. They were laughing and having so much fun with each other. And these are kids who will see each other again in just a few hours! Kids who spend their days together in this small space, kids who run together for two recesses a day (I know, right?), kids who learn to knit, sing harmony parts and whittle while also learning their fractions and rules of grammar. Kids who are learning so much. Kids who are loved.

So much light in just one room.