The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Shifting Time June 8, 2014

We’re two days away from the end of school. Tomorrow morning Elihu’s class will move to their new, sixth grade room, the symbolism unmistakable to us both as they move downstairs to join the middle school-aged children, leaving the younger grades upstairs. Elihu’s teacher is also leaving, and a new one (whom, btw, we are both incredibly excited about) is arriving. Lots of shifts going on in a small amount of time. Plus the seasons have changed now too; Spring feels to have formally concluded with a glorious and moving graduation ceremony for the Waldorf twelfth graders on Friday night. The days are finally clear and sunny, neighbors buzz over on four wheelers for impromptu visits, frogs can be seen each night hopping across the roads, and gone is the ever-present demand on us to fulfill academic commitments. And man, it feels friggin great.

IMG_5161Still in his pajamas at breakfast, Elihu enjoys wearing the comfy, cozy socks that he knit for himself in handwork class. I am so impressed. I can make a killer Halloween costume, but textiles, threads and such leave me confused and intimidated.

IMG_5269Elisabeth multi-tasks; talking on the office phone while ringing the school bell to start the day. It makes the most resonant and lovely sound (it does not induce stress as the mechanized ones in large schools do) and if my wishes could be so easily granted, all schools everywhere would have em.

IMG_4809The fifth grade visits Congress park to identify and draw some trees.

IMG_4815Turns out the eleventh grade is here too, studying cloud formations.

IMG_4818Elihu and a pal refer to their tree guide.

IMG_4829Elihu shows a giant seedpod and guesses it might be from a Catalpa.

IMG_4850At the end of the trip, fascination with ducks takes over.

IMG_4741Back at school in the morning light. By nine o’clock the kids here have already done a lot, and yet the other area schools aren’t quite started for the day. We start early, but we also end early. In the beginning I dreaded the new and earlier schedule, but as it turns out I really like it better.

IMG_4855Elihu gives his book report, his final large work for the year.

IMG_4946The second to last eurythmy class I’ll play with my son for a while. I don’t play for the sixth or seventh grades… Phooey. I’m getting sentimental.

IMG_4869Same room, new event. The twelfth grade will give a performance for all the other grades. Seating is tight – and creative, as every available spot, window sills included, are used.

IMG_4942Have never enjoyed playing another piano more. Smooth and rich like butter with just the perfect amount of high end.

IMG_5155And look what I found on the piano one morning this week – along with two chocolate kisses! It was so very touching – and no one is copping to it. Wish I knew who to thank…

IMG_4874A performance of a poem about a wizard and a lizard.

IMG_5240And again, another use of the room for the weekly school assembly in which all grades come together and sing.

IMG_5280At recess Cally draws horses and dragons while Fiona chats and Elihu dreams.

IMG_5210This is the other building where the high school meets. Complete with pond and ducks!

IMG_5205It’s time for the children’s final formal goodbyes to the graduating class.

IMG_5174The event takes place in the high school’s eurythmy room. On the left is the fifth grade, making their presentation gift to the seniors, seated on the right. Abigail was also their teacher – from first through eighth grade – so this is a particularly sentimental occasion.

IMG_5216Another bittersweet moment as Abigail says her final goodbye to Elihu in the fifth grade classroom as his teacher.

IMG_5027After school it’s back to the park for more duck action. See how easily he just picks up this baby.

IMG_5013Is there anything cuter than a duckling??

IMG_5038He can never get enough.

IMG_5054Of course he always shares his finds. He is ambassador to the bird world.

A sweet little snippet of the duckling’s release and the girls’ response.

IMG_5072My legally blind child spots the mama duck on her tidy nest under a tree, something I and every other person (and dog) in that park seemed to have missed. Hiding in plain sight, I guess.

IMG_4840Happy ending – we learned yesterday that her clutch hatched successfully!

IMG_5154The historic Canfield Casino, which stands in the center of Congress Park. The Waldorf graduation ceremony is held here. (The duck pond is just beyond on the right.)

IMG_5133A view from across the pond of Elihu catching ducks, and an audience stopping to watch. There’s a little-known song by Cole Porter called “Municipal Park”, the refrain of which extols the virtues of a pleasant, picturesque city park. I can never help but sing it over and over to myself when we linger here. This place really is kinda like something from a storybook. So perfect it’s almost comic.

IMG_5084The view Eastward of the Casino from the duck pond.  My father’s Festival of Baroque Music performed Bach’s B minor Mass in the great hall many summers ago.

IMG_5100This place is silly idyllic.

IMG_5124Elihu peeks into the almost completely hollow ancient willow tree. He tells me he sees something. I, of little faith, take a picture and confidently declare there is nothing inside but a few pieces of trash…


IMG_5128…but a closer look proves him right, and me wrong. I shoulda known. (Look more closely at the dark spot. It’s a duckling.)

IMG_5149Two of my favorite colors together. In fact, when I first learned that Elihu had not only low vision but was also completely colorblind, I sat in the lobby of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, sobbing because my son would never know what it was to see magenta and spring green next to each other. Kids without hair on their heads were walking past me, wheeling their IV poles alongside them, and there I was, crying about something so ridiculously petty by comparison; something which actually turned out to be entirely irrelevant to my child’s ability to thrive in the world. Without benefit of color, my son probably notices the beauty around him more keenly than most people. It may even be part of the reason he is so observant. Life if full of paradoxes and irony.

IMG_5293Later that evening, we head back to town for the graduation ceremony. It appears Saratoga is seeing some of its summertime residents return again for the season.

IMG_5296We run into a large rabbit en route. Strange.

IMG_5306Little Cooper lost a tooth during the ceremony and shows off the new hole.

IMG_5298The class of 2014.

Richard leads everyone in a verse of the school song (which he wrote and arranged).

IMG_5319Julia and Alex play and sing a piece for their contribution.

IMG_5326Eryn sings. Of course. !!

IMG_5329And so does the whole class, most of whom have been together since first grade. Not a dry eye in the house.

IMG_5331Eryn receives her diploma from Abigail.

IMG_5333So Eryn. Yay!

IMG_5343The reception.

IMG_5344The Casino is possibly the most elegant venue I’ve ever seen.

IMG_5358Elihu and Eryn, both children of teacher Abigail.

IMG_5363Elihu hangs with the big boys – these eighth graders will be in high school next fall. Wow.

IMG_5366Ahmed surprises Elihu with this maneuver. He is a charming, spirited young man.

IMG_5370Before we joined grandma for supper, Elihu and I stopped to hear this awesome duo rocking the hell out of their portable truck bed setup. My batteries died right after, but I was able to get a couple of seconds of their sound… pretty cool, I think…

Short, but kickin, right?

IMG_5451We wrap up the night with some busking. Rule of the street is if you sit in with someone you don’t put out your jar – you do it for the joy of a jam. After some scouting around for his new spot for the year we were given a good suggestion by a magician we met who was packing up for the night. After sitting in with these folks, Elihu ended his night in the new spot and made a good take. Thanks, Aaron, kind of you to suggest it!

I can never seem to judge just when to end these short vids. Ended just as the guy was getting Elihu’s name… that can sometimes be a train wreck, so I stopped it there. As it turned out, he got the pronunciation right and thanked him for joining them.

So, how do you pronounce this crazy name? El ih hyoo. Not as intuitive a pronunciation as you’d think. Even to me it kinda looks like it might well be ‘El I hoo’.  And that dipthong – the ‘hyoo’ part – that has many folks whose first languages aren’t English rather confounded. His Pakistani grandfather still calls him ‘El ee hoo’. I kinda thought I’d simply avoid the whole thing and he’d just be an Eli in ‘real life’, but he himself told me at the age of four that Eli was not his name. His name was Elihu. And he meant it.

It seems my son knew himself pretty well for a four year old, and he still has a good sense of self for an eleven year old kid too. Good thing, because it will serve him well as he continues to navigate through the many shifts yet ahead in his full and wonderful life.

 

Prime April 13, 2014

Being the mother of a young child – and especially so as a single mother – means living life in an almost constant state of ‘game-on’. Daily your child is learning and doing things for the very first time ever, so your main task is one of great finesse; you want to teach your child in such a way that they get it – plus you want to make sure they feel inspired and encouraged and can build on what they’ve learned without your help. Sometimes this task requires great restraint (especially with an admitted control freak like me). Parents on a schedule will agree it’s often easier just to do something yourself than to wait around for your kid to get it and then do it himself. Thankfully, most times when I feel the urge to step in, I hold myself back and allow Elihu to figure it out himself. These days especially. He’s reaching this new age now – and together we’re discovering some unknown territory that has us both in an active, ongoing conversation about how best to strike a balance. He desperately wants to do more, and I really want to empower him to do so. There are also emerging issues of modesty and sexual awareness. I have learned to give him privacy, yet step in when I’m needed. We’re in a strange in-between sort of place these days; one minute he wants to be alone and needs no help, soon after I hear him calling “Mommy!”… I admit that I probably step into his world more than I ought to because of his vision issues. I still don’t quite know what he sees well and what he doesn’t, so I admit that I might be more in his face sometimes than I should be. It’s also a challenge for me sometimes to keep my dramatic, passive-aggressive, oh-I’ll-just-do-it-myself expulsions of air and eye-rolling to an absolute minimum; my kid is doing his best and I need to support him. I remind myself often that I’m giving him all the tools I so wish I myself had had when I was young. I want to empower him to be independent and capable. To be the best he can be.

The new surge of capability and independence I’m seeing now in my son has me thinking about myself a bit differently. I’m seeing him grow, and can now begin to envision him as an older kid – I can see him as a high schooler, maybe even a young man leaving home. A short time ago I couldn’t have begun to see it, but now I can. And that, somehow, has changed how I project my own image into the future. I guess you could say my son’s helping remind me of my mortality. It’s easy to forget such things when you’ve got a tiny child and you spend your life nose to the ground, making sure you never leave the house without a bag of goldfish, a matchbox car and a sippy cup… But as life moves on and your child gets older, your vision lifts again, and you make your first scan of the horizon in quite a while. And in the time you’ve been gone, you discover some things have changed. I realize my son hasn’t been truly tiny for a few years, but it only seems that now I’m beginning to lift my gaze to the world beyond and the future yet ahead of me…

I suppose a sort of shift took place recently when my father died; if my age itself hadn’t convinced me I was middle-aged, his death did. And while I’ve certainly wrestled with issues of vanity over the past couple of years more than I’d thought I ever would, I thought I’d been handling it alright. Until lately, as in the past week in particular, during which things have been hitting me harder than usual. I readily cop to having spent several valuable hours of my life over the past few years agonizing over ‘then and now’ pics of friends and celebrities, yet through it all I’d felt some queer sort of distance from the process of aging. But now that false sense of immunity is beginning to crumble, and it’s got me wondering how I’ll make it all work. Yesterday, while plucking my eyebrows (in the car’s rear view mirror as that’s the only place with enough light to do a proper job of it with my middle-aged eyes), I saw my image in the mirror as if I were a stranger. I no longer looked with the familiar, forgiving awareness that this was me, that this was normal, that this image was the same one I’d seen looking back at me for decades… In one instant, I saw a complete stranger. I saw an older woman. It was a mere flash of insight, but it jarred me. It passed almost instantly too; perhaps an on board self-preservation instinct or something, I don’t know, but a second later my image seemed to return to a more normal state. Nothing had changed. And yet… everything had changed.

My mom’s been going to Weight Watchers for months now, she started even before dad died. She’s succeeded in losing some thirty-plus pounds and is for the first time in many years, skinnier than me. By a lot. At first I thought she’d been losing the weight in order to have her knee replaced, but it appears it’s not a current goal. I can understand her wanting to maintain her new weight (unlike her daughter who promptly blew her successful weight loss with one season of home-baked pies and bread), but she seems so vigilant, and I can’t help but wonder – why? What is the end goal of all this dieting? I suppose that’s not really a fair question. Who enjoys carrying around an extra thirty pounds? I know it’s got me puffing and cussing under my breath… But sometimes I think that maybe I still have a shot at dating, meeting someone, maybe again one day. And for me, vanity is the driving force for diets and weight loss (call me shallow, I accept; I just don’t feel good enough in my current state to even consider anything resembling a romantic relationship). Could some form of vanity also be a motivator for my mother, a woman who we can probably assume won’t be dating again in her lifetime? This has me pondering the power and makeup of self-image, of what makes a person feel they are looking the very best that they can, and how important (or not) it is in the overall scheme of things. It seems that the concern never really ends.

Vain though I may be, I find mobility and flexibility are probably most important things to maintain as one grows older. What has me scared is that I see these things already eroding in my own body lately. In chatting with folks about when they began to feel a marked difference in their bodies, I’ve heard a few cite the window of 46 – 50, while others (my mother in this group) felt a noticeable decline in their abilities towards their late 50s. Some folks just experience a barely perceptible decline which never quite slows em down all that much. Hell, either way, it’s coming. I wish I felt more empowered to do something. Instead I feel like a deer standing in the middle of the goddam road. I feel so zapped by life’s commitments that I have no oomph left to shape up. And I remember when I worked out six days a week… I remember a 10K in Bermuda that had me going up and down the steepest grades in tropical humidity… I remember when riding my bike to downtown Chicago was nothin but a thing, when I loaded and unloaded hundreds of pounds of gear in and out of my trunk all day, from rehearsal to show and home again… No one helped me, nothing hurt, and I didn’t think twice about my abilities. But now… Seriously, isn’t this shit the stuff that’s supposed to happen to everyone else but you? Well, me, I’ve always been vain enough to think so.

Because of her months-long deprivation, recently my mom’s been craving a good, rare piece of red meat. Planned for weeks now, Elihu, mom and I finally went to Cliff’s on Saturday – the local joint known for its steak. I myself hadn’t had beef in a long time and I enjoyed every last bite of my gorgeous (and rare) filet mignon. (Mom was so jonesin for rare/raw meat she first asked if they had steak tartare. This is a hometown steak joint in the US of A. Mom’s disappointing but predictable answer was ‘no’.) When we first walked in I saw two enormous chunks of meat on a table and had to stop to inquire as to the type of cut they were. “Prime rib” they answered, “the twelve-inch”. I’d never before seen such a thick cut of prime rib, and there were two thicker cuts yet available. The slices were nearly the diameter of the plates and stood an inch and a half tall. Prime for sure. It had me considering the true meaning of the word. Just a few days ago I was discussing the definition with my son, and even more recently one of his classmates and I had used the word… Yeah, the word ‘prime’ was kinda loaded for me right now.

Elihu and his fifth grade class had gone this past week to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Thanks to some schedule-shuffling and calling in of small favors, I was able to go along too. Can’t begin to express how needed such a trip was; it was soul-restoring. The first faint image of the distant skyline, the great chunks of graffiti-covered rock that grow up on either side of the expressway, the first blocks of relentlessly unending brick apartment buildings – all of it finally giving way to the glorious and elegant upper East Side, with its mature elm trees and bustling streets… It’s been a while since I’d seen humanity like that. Not even Chicago comes close. Nay, there is not a city in the world like it. I imagined my parents, some sixty years ago, the beginning of their courtship here, their first jobs as young adults, here. I remembered too my ex-husband and our many cherished moments in the city, I remembered performing here, eating here, exploring here… To think of it all makes me feel young, invigorated. For just a brief moment, I feel anything is possible. For the electric kind of hope I’m feeling inside my chest, it’s just as if it were thirty years ago, and everything is yet before me…

In the lobby our docent stopped in front of a large, Egyptian sculpture of a seated pharaoh. Shirtless and buff, she meant to use him as an example… “What age does this man appear to be?” she asked the group. There were varying answers – from seventeen to twenty-nine (a reflection of our modern, expanded idea of what constitutes youth and its vigorous appearance). While depicted as a young man, this king lived to be quite old. “Why did he have a statue made of him like this? Do you think he should have had one made of him as an old man?” she baited the kids. “NO!” they all screamed, and the adults all smiled knowingly at each other. “He’s in his prime” I leaned in and said to Ben. “Yeah, I know.” he answered. “And you’re past yours!” he added, perhaps a bit too loudly and while smiling with great enthusiasm. It didn’t hurt, it didn’t zap me, but I did feel something. That little tug that I keep trying to push away. Ben is a bright kid, and not insensitive, but I didn’t expect an apology, so I was surprised when he turned back to me and leaned in close, saying “No offense” with great sincerity. I assured him none was taken. Call it a defensive response if you like – but my mind drifted to all the ways in which I had become such a better person since those days of my heavy lifting. Really, I had so much more together. I pondered how I might relay this insight to my son’s classmate, but in the chaos of the echoey Great Hall there was really no point. He’d know it for himself one day.

The other morning, as Elihu and I lay in bed talking about everything from incubating eggs to making delta wings, we struck upon the idea of growing up, and growing old. I told him about my experience with Ben. He was quiet for a moment. “It’s just not fair”, he said. “What’s not?” I asked. “That you have one thing but not another. That you’re either young or you’re old. Why can’t you have it all at the same time?” “I guess that’s just God’s way of keeping it all even.” We lay there, looking up at the origami cranes hanging from his ceiling. “I guess.”

I get a kick out of asking kids what age they think they’d like to be. Which age seems to have it all. It’s fascinating to me the times that we choose to round our ages up or down. In the beginning it’s all about the weeks. Then the months. And then, something happens… Young children can’t wait to be one year older…. it’s always about the older kids, their freedoms, their abilities… and then… What the hell happens? It does seem that kids these days are pretty realistic at least when it comes to matters of age. What then is the ‘perfect’ age? My very casual observations is that elementary school kids seem to think it’ll be in their mid twenties. Yeah, I can get that. Certainly a more realistic answer than ‘seventeen’. But what of the behaviors and emotional maturity of a twenty-something? I read some of my writing from those days and I want to hide under a rock. How self-absorbed and ridiculous. Ok, so maybe I’m still fairly self-absorbed and only just a bit less ridiculous, but the blog doesn’t make me want to cringe the way my twenty-something journals do. So when I take in the whole mix of all the elements in my life, I guess I can feel ok about it. Not great, but better when I think of my personal progress. I’m definitely a more insightful human than I was a couple of decades ago.

It might sound like sour grapes here. Yeah, maybe in part it is. I would by lying if I said I was good with this aging thing. I’ll figure out how to adapt as we all must, but I’ll probably always think of myself as a thirty-five year old woman in my heart. And the next time I hear someone say that ‘age is nothing but a number’ I might just tell em that’s bullshit. But hey, what can I do? Gotta retain a little dignity here. I’ll go along with the program and consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to grow older. After all, we can agree that a truly outstanding cut of beef must be properly aged before it can reach its prime.

 

 

Free Day February 5, 2014

Just about everyone at school yesterday was hoping today would be a snow day. When one of the teachers at school passed me at recess I had only to ask her “what she thought” and she replied “Mr. R bets his life on it.” I knew what she meant; the eighth grade teacher had been known to refuse to take soup orders for lunch based on his inner conviction that the following day would be cancelled on account of the weather. His ability to predict snow days was the school’s ultimate barometer. While the kids outwardly hoped for a snow day, the teachers themselves didn’t necessarily editorialize on the subject… even so, I thought I could detect a subtle sense of hope in the air… Who among us couldn’t use a break from the daily grind? It might screw up some parent’s routines, it might throw a monkey wrench into things for some, but for me it looked like a rare opportunity… Piles of hand-me-downs, laundry, stacks of paper in my office, music that needed to be learned, all sorts of things awaited a few hours of my attention.

Some time around three this morning I awoke, feeling a horrible nausea. I’d thought it was Studio-related, because it was the first thing that entered my consciousness. The blending of my tragic mistake and the queasy stomach was unbearable. Then I realized (with some relief, as I was concerned that this might be my physical condition for the next few months) that I might be sick. I ran to the bathroom as my mouth began to create massive amounts of lemony-tasting saliva… Ok, here we go, I thought. I threw my hair back in a clip and positioned myself at the toilet. But just as my chest began to gather itself for a good first heave, I wondered if it might not be possible to stop things where they were. I didn’t care to go through all that labor to upchuck a mere handful of food eaten six hours ago – all that horrible, tooth-eroding crap in my mouth. No… I found the Pepto Bismal and chugged it. Maybe… A sharp headache suddenly appeared in my temples and my body broke out in a flash of sweat. I was aware of a stomach bug going through the schools, maybe this was it. Now I really hoped for a snow day. I sat there another ten minutes until the feeling passed, and grateful my body seemed to respond to the Pepto, I headed back to bed. Before I laid down I took a look outside – no snow was falling yet, and things didn’t seem much different than they had six hours ago. I checked the school website but there was no update yet. I got into bed, and was asleep in what felt like seconds.

I awoke a few hours later in the middle of a wonderful dream, and panicked to see it was almost 6:30… my body didn’t feel right yet, but it was time to get up. Ugh. I slumped to the computer, checked the site and to my relief saw that it had been updated with a little icon of falling snow and the words “Snow Day!”. Back to bed, and asleep in no time. Some time later I heard Elihu trudge into the room, and still feeling exhausted and not my right self, I umphed a response after which he got into bed next to me, his red stuffed parrot (Lenny Birdstein) in his arms. Good kid, he let me sleep an hour or so before he began talking. Soon we were comparing hands, fingers, talking about this and that, making jokes and cracking up. Somehow, I was feeling better. After a bit of silliness I got up to make us “cakes of pan”. We had a lovely little breakfast, and enjoyed watching the chaos of the bird feeder by the kitchen window. On snowy days, our place was always jammed with activity. We were even cheered to see the first Starlings we’d had visit here in a couple of years. Nice morning.

Love being home in the mornings as I get to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the to-do list before me, I was happy to watch the Colbert Report as I made the bed and began to tackle the laundry. Two of the women from Pussy Riot were on and I couldn’t help but be absolutely awed by them; they were beautiful, intelligent, funny and brave. I remember being heartbroken and angry – and feeling powerless too – at the news of their arrest and incarceration a couple of years ago, and it was inspiring to see them now free and carrying their message to the world. Made my to-do lists seem like nothing. Put my whining in perspective, and had me in a hopeful mood. Hope I can keep it going through the day. Elihu’s working on his Language Arts homework and I’m finishing up this post before getting back to it. Maybe today will be just what we need to do a little catch-up before we get back into the game. Thank you snow, for the free day.

Post Script: After a productive day indoors, we both suited up and went outside to enjoy the fresh snow (which never stopped falling the whole time). We shoveled narrow corridors through the snow to the coop and garage, fed and watered our flock, and after our chores were finished, we flattened paths for sledding down the hills in our yard. Elihu enjoyed a couple of good runs and some classic wipe out moments. We stayed out for quite a while, and our cheeks were rosy even an hour after we were inside and dry. A memorable and refreshing afternoon. (Note to self: add “rope tow” to ultimate dream wish-list for the property…)

 

Learning To Fly January 25, 2014

We’ve been a part of the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs for just about two years. Elihu joined the class just after Spring break of 3rd grade, in 2012. He’d come home from ‘regular’ school one day beyond fed up. He was in tears (not the first time he’d come home like this) when I picked him up from the bus at the end of our long driveway. I got into the back seat with him, and he rested his head in my lap. He was sobbing, and through his tears he told me he was done with that school. He told me I could either home school him or put him in Waldorf, those were the only two options. He was beyond adamant. He was not going back to that place. In that very moment, I understood fully that our lives would be different from here on in. I had absolutely no idea how we’d make it happen – the school is private, and expensive. But as a mother I had no options but to advocate for my child. As I sat there, stroking the head of my weeping child, I wondered at the unknowns before us. It would be an adventure, that much I knew. On paper, it wasn’t logical. But in my heart, I knew it was right.

His former school, I feel I must add, was by no means a bad place. He’d even be the first to tell you so. It had even won the ‘Blue Ribbon’ award for being a top-tier elementary school of New York state. And we absolutely loved the principal – a cheerful man who knew the name of every last kid there, who dressed in crisply tailored suits to greet the students every day of the year regardless of the weather, a man who outfitted the school in authentic, mid-century office furniture (I know, right?), and who, above all, played drums (did I mention he was good-looking and kind?) – plus his name rhymed with Elihu. (We sometimes referred to him as Mr. Elihewitt.) We liked the teachers too. The biggest problem for Elihu was primarily the size and population of the place – that plus the relentless, bright flourescent lighting. Everything was color-coded and there were visuals everywhere informing students in every sort of detail; directions of floor traffic, rules, winners of this or that contest, kids on time-out, science facts, sports of the season, artwork, reading lists – you name it, every manner of information was posted on every available surface – and all for the kids’ benefit, of course. But if you have a hard time seeing to begin with, if color doesn’t even exist for you, and if bright lights are murder on your system – the whole thing becomes a senseless onslaught of meaningless information. And you are clueless, while everyone else is informed. And then there was the cafeteria. The single loudest room on the planet save a nightclub on the last set of the night. I could barely take it when I visited. And my son, usually a very socially interactive person, he would sit by himself at the far end of a long table, hands over his ears and head down as he tried to eat. He, like me, is predisposed to feelings of panic and anxiety, and it took great effort and concentration on his part to keep himself somewhat grounded in the midst of the lunchroom madness. I’d seen it myself more than once, and it was a heartbreaking sight.

So I understood. He’d cried about it before, listed his complaints, made his case. I’d been a very present classroom mom, and I liked all the kids, the teachers – and the school – very much. But still, I got it. The visual chaos, the overlit rooms – it all made for one disoriented and exhausted child at the end of the day. When we’d moved here at the start of Kindergarten, Elihu and I had visited all the schools in the area. He’d attended a Montessori preschool in Illinois, and it had been such a good experience that I thought it couldn’t hurt just to see our options. But the instant poverty that came with being cutoff from my previous married situation didn’t really show any other viable options but public school. And in the beginning, our local public school was wonderful. He even learned some meditative techniques and basic yoga postures from his Kindergarten teacher. (Plus she gave us the iconic phrase – one which we still use today: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”. We will always love Miss Crooks.) But it had served its purpose in our lives, and now it was clearly time to spread our wings and leave the nest.

His timing was pretty good, because we had one more school day before Spring break. I wasted no time, and the very next day we found ourselves at the cozy Waldorf school, Elihu visiting the 3rd grade class upstairs, me sitting in a comfy wing chair in the director’s office just below. How kind, how warm, how – dare I even say this of strangers? – loving everyone was here. There was a sense of everyone being present that I had never experienced before in a formal school environment. And when my meeting was finished, and I went upstairs to collect my son, imagine my surprise when I saw the teacher receiving each one of the students in a handshake and a brief personal moment of connection before they were dismissed. I couldn’t help it, I cried. It was one of the most moving things I’d ever seen. (Later, when meeting a couple of parents for the first time and sharing our ‘how we got to Waldorf’ stories, the father admitted to having been moved to tears during a math lesson. For him, that was when he knew.) If I hadn’t been sure before that moment, I was then. This was going to be my son’s school.

A period of unknowing followed as we applied for tuition assistance, waited to see how Elihu’s teacher felt he fit with the existing group, as we made our way through the application process. The day after break we returned for one more visit. He went outside with the group, I went to the office. When I returned to pick him up, I saw that he had a band aid on his thumb, and was whittling away at a piece of wood with a long, sharp knife. ?? I asked that gal leading the small group what had happened, and she just looked up, smiling, and said that Elihu had cut himself. He’d been washed off and given a band aid. “He probably won’t do that again!” she added, going back to her own work. Ok, so some parents might have been freaked out. But accidents happen in real life. And real life involves sharp edges – and for once a real-life mistake hadn’t triggered a pile of paper work and incident reports, instead, it had taught a lesson. I can tell you my kid has a new respect for a knife. Plus he’s not bad at whittling. I was even more in love with this place. I fairly held my breath for the next week as we waited for the governing board to convene and make a decision about the new student. The day we received his letter of acceptance to the Waldorf school was one of the happiest days of my life. They say a parent is only as happy as her child – and my child was in bliss.

So here we are, not quite in our second complete year. From third grade to fifth, a lot has changed. The younger grades, one through five, have rooms upstairs in the quaint old building, the middle school kids are on the main floor. So for me, these final months of fifth grade are to be savored. In many ways it’s like the end of Elihu’s true childhood. I love that he and his classmates all make the trudge up that incredibly long, wooden staircase to their room. I love the sounds of the still-small kids. I compare them to the much-larger middle schoolers and shake my head in wonder that my own kid will ever be ‘one of them’. I take not one moment of this time for granted. I too am on a journey alongside my son. As I play piano for the eurythmy classes as well as do yard duty at recess, I’m present with my child almost all day long. And I count myself blessed. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful to the clouds for our fortune. I made a promise to my son a year back that I’d see him through to graduation. That he’d be a Waldorf kid until the end of twelfth grade, on my word. If I had to sell my piano, I’d make it happen. And I have wondered sometimes, if left without the assistance of my mother – and recently the participation of Elihu’s other grandparents – how would this work? But I know that it’ll be fine. It can’t be any scarier than it was in the very beginning – I took off with absolutely no safety net. Now that we’re aloft, staying in the air is much easier.

Last night was another marker in our life here at Waldorf. The high school hosted an open mic as a fund-raiser for the eleventh grade’s annual trip to Ethiopia. I have a soft spot for the country; for nearly a decade I sponsored a girl in Addis Ababa, and I’ve been an enormous fan of Ethiopian food since my college years (Chicagoans, consider yourselves lucky), so it made me happy to be a part of the project. I did my little bit by playing piano for the now eighth grade teacher (teachers and their classes move together up the line from first through eighth grades) as he took to the stage with the very ‘un’ Waldorf (as Elihu described them, and I agree) ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ (yes, the one you think I mean) and Tom Petty’s ‘Learning to Fly’. I had my doubts about the latter, and even sadly forgot to insert my quote of ‘Free Falling’ in all the last-minute, open-mic madness, but Brian’s beloved charisma and my son’s interjection of energy and pulse on his djembe made for a very lively mini set. And who knew that a roomful of today’s twelfth-graders would jump to their feet and start singing along with an ancient Bob Seger tune? Not me. But hey, I sang along with ‘What Does the Fox Say’, so ya never know. The night was such an impressive mix of things, from original poetry to call and response singing with the room, to a four hands version of a Scott Joplin rag, to an original, choreographed modern dance – one woman (the talented woman who does my acupuncture treatments) did a hilarious ‘impersonation’ of a piece of bacon frying in a pan. Elihu even got to sing a song on mic and sounded great. Such energy, such joy, and such good pitch! Proud mom. As folks began to strike the room the dj humored the remaining kids (me too) with some end-of-the-night standards. A very good night. My kid was dancing and singing, having the best time he’d had in ages. And I was too.

We’ve known that this is where we should be in our lives, and while I suffer the occasional existential hiccups and dark moods, I do realize that on the whole, things are going very well for both of us. Our life is a continuing adventure no matter what our moods may be, and day by day we’re always learning something new. These days, it seems, we’re learning to fly.

 

Surprise January 3, 2014

This week has felt surreal, and on top of the sorrow my family’s currently working through, other little mishaps have been taking place. My toilet has broken (plastic parts and hard water do not mix), my drains have plugged up, my windows have been stuck, the doors to the coop must be coaxed to close and lastly, we had to kill Lefty Lucy after the flock tore into her mercilessly one night and left her near dead. The poor hen had recovered fairly well in the kitchen over the past week. so I returned her to her roost one night to find her covered in blood and far worse only the next morning. When I realized how the flock had treated her as a compromised bird (she retained a limp after an injury last week) I knew what had to be done. She did not face a life of any quality, so it was time to put her down. When I told my mom that I was simply keeping her comfortable until she was able to die, she remarked ‘kinda like your dad’. Yeah, I guess. So our friend neighbor Zac came over with his axe, and obliged us by chopping off her head on a nearby stump. Elihu tossed her out to the edge of the woods, and by the next morning she was gone.

Plus there’s this strange new twitch in the middle finger of my right hand. I’ve been feeling some tension – for no reason I can even figure – in my right shoulder lately, and I surmise that it’s related. Some nerve thing. Just a few months ago I’d experienced some ongoing and very annoying electrical tingling feelings in my left hand, and also a few in my left foot – but that was an easy self-diagnosis. Years ago I broke my neck – C6 and C7 (which later fused, giving me a C13!) as well as my left shoulder. I just figured time and gravity had come to roost and were now compressing on my nerves. I’d figured that being structural, the only fix would be yoga and a general improvement of my overall fitness. I went to an acupuncturist with few hopes, but after four visits the annoying electrical feeling was completely gone. Completely. And so, while it’s yet another unforeseen expense of life, I must find a way to carve something out of my budget to have a few more sessions. I have never in my life had any bad experience – or major injury – to my right side, so I can’t imagine what in hell is ultimately responsible for it. But a moment’s reflection and I needn’t look much further for reasons, because I realize that it is true: I am getting old. Well, at least older. And now a physical body of evidence is beginning to show itself. Crap. I still can’t believe I’m here. That I now know what it is to have a parent die. That I now know what it is to have aches and pains for no good reason. Crap.

Santa was good to Elihu this year, bringing him an Ergo electric bass and amp (hours logged on it already) and a couple of battling robotic spiders, but more surprisingly, Santa was good to me too, and brought me a Wii fit board (love the used game place – next-to-nothing prices for year-old products) and a Wii fit game. He musta known my health needed a little rescuing. Hopefully, in spite of a heavier work load and mom duties ongoing, I’ll be able to spend a little time with my cyber coach. I have plans to join Weight Watchers with mom, too. While it might be frustrating that I’m here again, this year I mean to do more than the Band-Aid approach to weight loss (and fitness). I’ve done the Atkins thing a few times now, and while it always works, it never feels right. I can’t help but feel it’s counter-intuitive to see an apple as an enemy. I will, however, take with me the conservative approach to eating carbohydrates. That is the beneficial ‘take-away’ from those experiences. I’m not a carb craver, so that’s not so hard for me. What I do find exceptionally challenging is simply eating less. Ich. More honestly speaking, what I find challenging is the challenge.

Now yet another challenge… I just received an email that had my body flushed with cold. I thought that I’d just been through all the extremes I could handle in losing my father this past week, but this was horrible in a new way. I hated this feeling, and what’s more, I hated that there was no good outcome from it that I could see. No relief, no ultimate fix, no happy ending. Elihu’s beloved teacher at the Waldorf School was leaving after the end of fifth grade. How many times had we thanked God to have found her? How many times had we exclaimed that she was the best thing ever to have happened to Elihu? How many times had Elihu himself told us how much he loved her, how he loved her way of teaching, of being? So many times we’ve thought how lucky we were, how amazingly lucky… This news has me wanting to cry, but I feel cried out. I feel the dull throbbing in my right shoulder and begin to feel like things are all pressing in on me. I’m almost scared, but more than that, I feel defeated. My son has been a joyful child due much in part to his teacher. How will my son remain joyful now? I know that whomever replaces her will be a gift too, I know that. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Waldorf teacher that’s not pretty spectacular. But still. I sit with this new information for a bit. How will I tell my son? I know he’ll cry. His heart will break at this news, I just know it. I look outside at the mounds of new, white snow. It’s a gray, snow-covered morning. Beautiful, serene, unaware that all this human drama continues on…

Yesterday we removed the ornaments from the tree. It had begun to dry so terribly that many were now falling off. One ornament, the one that we’d gotten just after I learned I was pregnant (the ornament was made in Italy, and so was Elihu) had fallen to the floor, but interestingly had not broken. I heard it fall, and was rather amazed to see the delicate glass globe in the middle of the floor, intact. I had been given a second chance, now it was time to remove them before they all fell and broke. Good thing I had no time to anticipate the taking down of the tree, what with all this nostalgia and sentiment flying around these days it woulda been hard on my heart. Even so, it was a poignant afternoon yesterday as ancient and sad Christmas music played and years of memories, in the form of ornaments, were each recounted and packed away. I kept torturing myself by thinking that I’d put the tree up while dad was here, and now I was taking it down after he had died. He was here, now he’s not. This gorgeous tree was here and beautiful one day, simply gone the next. After about an hour of recorders, lutes and lots of D minor Elihu called from his room and asked if we couldn’t have something ‘less sad’. That kid always keeps me level, I swear. Time and place for everything. Yeah, I suppose you’re right kid, enough of the sad.

But now this. I was ready for the empty living room, I knew dad was going. And even the bird, I knew we’d have to do her in. But Elihu’s teacher? I had no preparation for this. I gotta keep it together, I’ve got to expect that surprise, wonderful, yet-unseen outcome. Life is full of surprises for which we can never fully prepare. I hear that Elihu’s up now. When to tell him? Fist we’ll have breakfast, tend to the chickens and fill the table feeder outside our window. Even there we have our little surprises – just a few days ago we were visited by a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker for the very first time in our five years here. So there are some good surprises to be had too. I know that. I’m ready for just about anything to happen next, I guess.

So go ahead, life, bring it on. Surprise me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post Script: Careful what you ask for… Moments after I wrote this post, when I went out to the coop I found Lefty’s ‘twin’ sister, Righty, lying dead (identical and petite white leghorns, each had a comb that hung over on a different side, hcnce the names Righty Tighty and Lefty Loosey). Looked like she’d died recently. A victim, like her sister, of hen-pecking. She was featherless on one wing and covered in blood. When I picked her up by her legs and turned to check the boxes for eggs, goose Max started violently pecking at her. Many times I’d seen him take a bite at a bird’s back end, but it was never more than a territorial nip. This was strange and different behavior. I scolded him soundly then walked out with the dead hen. I walked her out to the edge of the woods where we’d left her sister. I kissed her cheek and told her how sorry I was. Then I left her. What a nice surprise that’ll be for a hungry fox.

When I got inside I found Elihu talking on his new IPad (left by Santa in Illinois) to his father and sister in England. Soon after he was playing his bass for her. And just now when I peeked in again, I saw Elihu explaining to her how he wove his silly bands into jewelry. Wow. Here in our little country home was an open window into another home halfway across the globe – and in real time, too. Call me old-fashioned, buy I still marvel at technology. My mind is still blown to think that my first cell phone was the size of a brick and got too hot to touch within minutes, and here my kid is chatting away without a second thought to the visual image of his dad and sister, thousands of miles away. (A bit mind-blowing too is the fact that my son has a sister his own age. Even though I’m at peace with it, and understand she’s an important part of Elihu’s family, I still can’t quite integrate that into my thinking.) Yup, surprises are everywhere.

A final Post Script: Surprise! My comments feature on this particular post has become disabled somehow, and in spite of my best efforts to reverse this, I cannot figure it out. Never happened before…

 

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.

 

Happy Boy May 29, 2013

Elihu: I just have a question.

Keith: Yeah?

Elihu: Are you happy?

Keith: Yeah, I am. Are you? Or are you bored?

Elihu: I’m not bored. I’m the opposite. Whatever that is.

Sitting on the computer, enjoying a moment of down time in between household chores, I listen in on Elihu and his buddy Keithie. They’re both playing with a remote controlled car on the kitchen floor. They’re sharing it, and there’s not much to their play. Yet they are having an absolute ball. When I heard that little tidbit just now, I had to open a new post and get it down before it was lost to a busy life. Too many moments are forgotten in spite of our best intentions, and I really wanted to remember this one. These two boys have less and less in common each passing year, yet they continue to enjoy themselves whenever they’re together. They enjoy a relationship that started in their kindergarten class – and for that alone I’m fairly certain that decades hence they will still be fast friends no matter what happens between now and then.

They’re taking their game all through the house, giggling and carrying on so much that I have to check and see if it’s really just a simple rc car that’s inspiring all this play. Yes, it is. That, and the imagination of two ten year old boys. Still in that place of illusion, of true play. I know it won’t be thus much longer. Last night, after we’d finished reading and had turned out the light, just as I was dozing off Elihu startled me awake. He hadn’t been getting sleepy, instead he’d been thinking. “Do you realize I’ll be in fifth grade next year?” I swear he almost sounded panicked. It seems he’s always been far too aware of himself to be a true peer of his classmates. We’ve spent hours discussing the way in which one’s thinking and priorities change as one ages. He’s keenly aware of how precious this time in his life is. Maybe because I’m his mother, and it’s on my mind too. But regardless of that, he has an innate sense of the deeper meanings behind things – all on his own. There’s some nurture for sure, but it’s more nature than anything else. Shortly after he turned five, he once turned to me and said in all seriousness “You do know that I’m more forty-five than five, don’t you?” His tone was firm, and his eye contact direct. “Yes, sweetie” I said, imparting all the sincerity I could, “I do know that.” And I did. I was taken aback at his statement, and yet on some level, I might have expected as much. There’s just always been something different about my child. And I admit that I’ve always been just the teensiest bit sad for him precisely because he is so aware, so thoughtful…

The giggling continues, and it lightens my heart. He might think of himself as ‘more fifty than ten’ on some days, but today there’s no question. He is still a little boy. And thankfully, a very happy one too.

end of may 2013 012

Keithie and Elihu share time on the coveted DS.  This was one lovely afternoon. Not an argument between the two all day; a good time was truly had by all. Me included. !