It’s funny how one’s body just seems to know when it’s had enough. When it’s safe to break down. To finally get sick. Cuz I’ve been pretty close the past few weeks – had that ‘pre’ cold feeling a couple of times, I’ve gotten sniffly, have had a mild sore throat and even had a day of vague all-over aches, but alone they’ve been manageable inconveniences. Just a couple mildly uncomfortable nights with a slight remission come morning, and most importantly – little-to-no symptoms for our blowout holiday party last Saturday. But today, as I sat down to play piano for my final official run as the Waldorf school’s accompanist, I felt things begin to shift: I was beset with a very bad earache. The kind which my mother will tell you plagued, and to some degree even defined my childhood. Haven’t had one in a good two decades, but this doozy came on mean and fast. But in spite of the pain I was still able to enjoy my last hurrah, laying fully into tempo and dynamic changes with a sort of drama I seldom indulge… maybe deciding in this final hour that camping it up couldn’t hurt now, and who knows, might even leave folks with a more lasting impression at my departure…
When my task was completed though, I was relieved. I was in a good deal of discomfort as the earache began to settle in on each side now, but still had a few remaining items on the day’s agenda: I had to pick up Elihu early from school, then get him to an appointment at the orthodontist to check the fit on his replacement retainer (a cool $175 I sure don’t have to part with at this time of year), as well as a couple more piano students to teach before the day was officially over. By the time my second student was wrapping up, I found my voice literally disappearing as I said my goodbyes. Finally, I was done. My commitments were over for now. My body was free to let go and give in.
Tonight I’m full-blown sick. In a few hours I’ll be driving Elihu to the airport for his Christmastime visit with his father. Spent the day wrapping and packing, and even though things are ready to go, I’m still feeling a bit uneasy. Last night Elihu asked to sleep in my bed, as he was beginning to make the emotional shift; he was getting his last fix of being close to me. I had set my alarm to 11:28 to catch Stephen Colbert’s final show, and God bless that lil man, when the alarm went off he sat straight up in bed and begged me to get up lest I miss it… That kid is on my side til the end. Or almost til the end.
Tonite is our last night together, and somehow, I’m not really sure how, things have blown up. He’s chosen some small slight to give him reason to retreat to his room and slam the door. But I think I know what’s really going on. Just a couple of hours ago his dad told him he’d be there for ‘seventeen days’ and not the original nine days as planned. For a good hour Elihu kept looking off into space, distracted, saying how he wanted some free time here, too, and that he felt, once again, that he had no say in how things happened. He resolved to call his father, until, that is, his recent blowup. At the moment, the door to his room is locked from the inside, and he’s fuming mad. I can’t reach him. Poor kid. He’s feeling torn in two directions. This is never an easy time for him. And this time, it’s a bit harder for me too.
This time of year feels different now. My son will be gone, and my father’s gone now too. Christmas isn’t the time of happiness and good cheer it once was. To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to the next couple of weeks. Last year at this time my father was dying, and that filled every single moment. But this year, there’s only empty space. Time without the distraction of sitting vigil. Andrew is essentially gone from the world too. And mom, while she keeps busy, she’s got to be dreading all those empty hours ahead. And I will have an empty house too. Lots of empty going around. The obvious solution might be to spend more time with mom – and I suppose I will, but we just don’t always groove so easily with each other as one might think. Our time together will only be spent watching tv, or eating supper, maybe sharing a drink. Small talk fills the awkward time in between. It will be talk of others and their affairs, or what I like to call ‘non news’ which will fill the space. Mom’s non-news topics will be what seem to me to be inconsequential, trivial things – things that get her all emotionally worked up – but for me conjure no more investment than another kitten video on Facebook.
Sometimes it’s hard to realize that this is the same woman from whom I get my potty mouth. These days she’s a woman who uses cottage-cute wooden cat figures with gingham bows and sparkly snowmen holding signs encouraging the weather to ‘Let it Snow!’ to decorate her home. She is a woman who can turn the latest run-of-the-mill weather report into a heated, ten minute monologue, the woman who talks of yesterday’s pop culture news with an urgency that suggests I too need to get worked up over it, because somehow, it’s important and relative stuff… And yet this is the same woman who once went back to college while parenting two small children, who once made fifty-two years of music festivals flow like they had a hired staff, who once drove a tractor and helped throw hay bales onto the wagon, who once created a fashion-forward home, who insisted on building a green (and stunning) home before it was hip…. It’s hard to reconcile that old profile of my mother, that progressive, modern-thinking woman (whom, to be fair, I didn’t know that well as I was busy dwelling in my own, all-important, misunderstood childhood and young adulthood) with the woman I know now. I suppose life changes, and we along with it. (Please come check on me should you find me decorating my own home with such sparkly snowmen figurines; it may be a sign of a larger issue beneath – a breakdown in earnest.)
Situations change, and we react accordingly, I suppose. My life’s work has come to a pause, and my own body sees a window of opportunity. Tonight I’m going to bed sick. And tonight my son’s going to bed distraught. An endless supply of cable channels seems to keep my mother distracted through the long, evening hours. My brother? Who knows what keeps him going. It’s a good thing Elihu’s going to join a house full of activity. Little brothers, a crazy little dog, and a pair of parents. His other grandparents will be around, too I suppose. It’s good that he’ll have all of that. But still… I wish there was something I could do for my son. I wish I could give him the gift of time. I wish I could give him a week here at home with nothing to do but coo to his chickens and play his bass. I wish I could assure him that somehow he’ll have the time he needs in between households to switch gears and make the energetic transition. But he lives in a world of two households, two parents apart, and so it is what it is. Poor kid’s been crying. I tried to call his father, but he hung up on me. Says he sent me an email with this new plan. I come up with nothing when I search for the email with the amended travel plans. All I know for sure is that I suggested, in an effort to show kindness, that he take Elihu for a ‘few extra days’. Suppose I should have defined ‘a few’ first. It’s not a done deal though; I know they’re coming back on the train, and that’s pretty flexible. So there’s still hope that Elihu’s voice will be heard, that his father will come down off his rage, and that things won’t end up as bad as they’re feeling right now. There’s still hope that Elihu will come home a couple of days earlier. I tell him not to breakdown yet. It’s ok, it’s ok….
One day my son will be old enough to lobby completely for himself. Right now, poor kid’s just mixed up. Wants to see his dad, but wants his own time at home, too. Scared of his dad’s wrath. He’s afraid to speak his mind to him. Yeah, I get that. His dad is good at sounding scary. I know. Elihu fears for the ‘just suck it up’ routine that might follow should he express his mind, and so gives up before he even starts. And I feel bad for Fareed too, I do. It can’t be fun living so far away from his children, and seeing some of them so infrequently. I can understand how out of control he feels – and I feel badly about it. He wouldn’t believe me though. There doesn’t seem to be much I can do now anyway, except sit back and watch how things play out. I’ve got plenty on my plate, I may as well surrender that which I can’t control.
What’s on my plate exactly? Folks ask me with a great light of interest in their eyes, what on earth I’ll do with all my time (I know, there’s just soooo much to fill, right?) while my son’s away? I never do a good job of answering. You’d think I’d have it down by now. But the unending list just spills out to the confusion of my audience: I’ve got a lot of filing in my office, got organizing to do around the homestead, fixes in the coop to make, gotta learn how to use Finale, get future lesson plans in order, got a neglected harpsichord that could use a little tlc, then there’s the attic that needs insulating, and I need to keep watch over a new parking lot that’s going in at the Studio any day now…. It’s usually too much of an answer, not focused enough to make sense to people. I really should work on a more engaging, concise pitch. (Note to self: add to list.) Bottom line is I’ve always got a lot to do, even if I don’t have an impressive title for it all.
Right now I gotta make sure my son’s sleeping, and that he’s packed and ready to go in a few hours. Elihu and I made up as I sat here writing, and at that point tried calling his father. Sent his dad about the least-provocative email I could, while still lobbying for a tad shorter visit. Ich. Hate this. But relieved to learn that now my son’s asleep at last and free from this earthly world of obligations and conflict for the time being… It helps to know that things won’t always be thus. The day is coming when my son will be old enough to choose for himself how he spends his breaks, and this will be a welcome change indeed.