The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

The Bs Are Back In Town June 1, 2014

Birds, bees, budding flowers, busking and boys give us lots to do around here. Although I make an effort to be the least-scheduled family in town, there’s still so much to do (often too much to do) that our days are always full.

Let me make it clear that we also consider just laying about the house something that’s important to ‘do’. Personally I feel it’s a very healthy thing to have time in which to do nothing at all. Today, as we lay about doing  just that, Elihu lamented that he was one of the few kids he knew who didn’t have a trophy. I made it clear to him that those trophies represented many, many hours at lessons, practice and competitions too. And lots of time in the car. I hoped to make it clear to him that the variety of activities that he enjoys in his life – and the relatively relaxed manner in which they occur, ‘laying around’ time included in that – is something he’d miss if he jammed his hours of freedom full of commitments. As it is, today we played hookie from a 4H horse event, something I’m still trying not to feel guilty about. But in that this next week is his last week of school, and in that I still have lots of new music to get in my fingers today and hours yet of playing and practicing still ahead (you’d think it would be done by now, right? me too) I know I made the right choice. The resurgence of panic attacks over this past year are another reason to cut back on extra, outside activities. Yes, Elihu’s classmates likely have more densely-packed schedules, but for the most part, I’m not made of the stuff that it takes to live like that. My son may well have a full and fast-paced summer of activities with his father ahead of him, but here at the Hillhouse, we’re about keeping things as mellow as possible, as we kick back and chill with the Bs.

IMG_3797We love bumble bees.

IMG_3796Glad to see em back in town.

IMG_3750Birds are back and in business too. Our resident Phoebe mom is patiently sitting on her new clutch.

IMG_3761Wild strawberry blossoms promise a good crop, if only we can beat those other Bs (the bunnies!) to it!

IMG_3933This is my favorite week of the year – now already gone by – the peak time for Lily of the Valley. Our bird sculpture by Vietnam vet Ace stands guard over the patch of flowers.

IMG_3730The most heavenly scent you can imagine.

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Neighbor Stephanie kindly gave us half her flock of chicks (we only had two hatch out this year).

IMG_3859Birds and babies – both in a box. (Clever, huh? That’s the kind of invention-by-necessity that comes of having three little ones.)

IMG_3880The big B. Gotta keep practicing…

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The butterflies are back, too.

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We’re at the cemetery, gleaning a few lilac suckers and lily of the valley plants to add to our homestead.

IMG_4458Elihu admires the bird on the top of this ancient gravestone.

IMG_4463Back home planting our new additions. This is in front of the flowering quince, which has now lost almost all of its blooms.

IMG_4465These are the lilacs we hope to grow here for ourselves one day. I expect it’ll be a decade before we get results like this.

IMG_4703Last week Elihu and I dug up some wild Columbine from the roadside and transplanted them here too. This is the very last bloom left.

IMG_3703Male brown-headed cowbird, acting innocent.

IMG_3702But he’s got the ladies on his mind and he erupts into his mating display. Can’t help himself, it’s that time of year.

 Here’s a short vid of the boy doing his little dance. We’re lucky to have this platform feeder and the window tinting cling – it acts as a bird blind and allows us to witness some interesting stuff up close.

IMG_3692Here he is with his gal in the morning light.

IMG_4513Phoenix comes over for an afternoon, which starts in the music room. The boys kept switching instruments. Fun to see kids with such a natural feel for music just doing their thing – and with such joy, too.

This wasn’t the best of their performances, but it’s the only one with a distinct beginning and ending. Good enough for now.

IMG_4528Farm boys, yes, Waldorf too – but electronica is still key.

IMG_4536Phoenix tried Ramen noodles for the first time (in his memory, that is.) I told him about the old folkloric belief that if you try a new food that you like, you add 100 days to your life. He was stoked.

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Bikes and birds, a natural combination, right?

IMG_4578We meet up with Phoenix’s twin brother, Jonah, and it’s now all about Pokemon.

IMG_4571Heard of poker face? This is Pokemon face. !

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After we left the boys, Elihu busked downtown Saratoga on Broadway for a while. Netted a cool $40 in less than half an hour. Too bad the kid’ll be gone for much of the tourist season. I advise him to rake it in now while he’s still cute and little. He might not be quite as successful as a gangly teenager. We’ll see.

IMG_4538Dishwasher update? Well, it’s not magic. Helpful, definitely, a life upgrade, unquestionably. But yet there are still things for which a dishwasher is not suited. Plus I have only one of some things I use often. So I guess the dish rack will be back soon too.

IMG_4635Bonding with his birds.  This is about ten days after we got the new chicks and they’ve grown like crazy.

IMG_4662Elihu’s shot. He likes em up close and super-cute.

IMG_3837This is what we two call ‘Crow Field’. It’s one of the last wide-open fields left in Greenfield. We treasure this field if for no other reason than that ‘our’ woodcock returns to it year after year – plus we love the expanse, the air and light… the vast space with no interruption. Our little homestead is on the right, just beyond the dark line of trees. At the base of the trees is an old stone wall and barbed wire fence from the days when the whole area was open land for cattle grazing. Now enormous trees have grown up, making it nearly impossible to imagine what it looked like only fifty years ago – with a view of Albany to the South, Schuylerville to the North, and Vermont in between. Did I mention that the field is for sale? Had Elihu in tears last year to learn it, and me in a funk for months, but now we count each day that it remains as a huge gift and blessing in our lives.

IMG_3740Elihu drew this at age six, shortly after this we got our first chicks. Elihu always said he wanted ‘twenty chickens, a coop and a run’. We started with a few chicks in the basement, moved em to the garage, then finally outside and into a retired wooden shipping crate. That was then, this is now. Today, we have a coop, a run and (some one hundred birds and five years later) twenty resident chickens. That’s a happy ending, huh? We do so love birds of any kind, and there’s no doubt that they add a lot of enjoyment to our lives. We’re glad to be raising up a new flock again, and glad too to see our migratory friends return for another summer here at the Hillhouse.

 

Pentathalon May 25, 2014

Each year in our Waldorf School, as part of their Ancient Greece study block, fifth graders participate in a Pentathalon attended by several of the Waldorf Schools in the Northeast. The children learn the five events (running, long jump, javelin, discus and wrestling) and train for months beforehand in their Games class (the Waldorf version of Phys Ed). The kids’ performances in each event are judged by speed, strength and distance as one might expect, but furthermore form and beauty are also noted. (Thank goodness for that, because my child is the product of two less-than-physically gifted parents!) Although the night he returned home he finally expressed a deep disappointment in his performance (and is bound and determined to do ‘better’ at next year’s Medieval Games in sixth grade), I do think that the overall experience – of staying overnight with new kids, learning to follow a new routine and just giving it his very best – all of this made an important contribution to his growing and maturing process, and I’m extremely grateful that my son has been lucky enough to share in such an experience.

IMG_3957The fifth graders studied Ancient Cultures all year, culminating in a visit to Ancient Greece.

IMG_3959I can imagine what some of our new chickens’ names might be soon….

IMG_3949Ms. Reid gets class five ready to leave. (And speaking of leaving, she herself is leaving our class for a new direction in her career. We will miss her more than we can express.)

IMG_4228They’ve arrived at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School!

IMG_4244This is what most Waldorf Schools around the world look like. We’re one of the few to inhabit a building not designed in the Rudolph Steiner style. Elihu and I, however, absolutely adore our historic school building with its wooden walls, tall ceilings and incandescent lighting.

IMG_4245A typical Waldorf classroom. Note the profile of the windows and overall cozy, intimate feel to the room. (The children stayed overnight in the classrooms.)

IMG_4234No white boards here!

IMG_3979He was assigned to the city state of Athens, representative of beauty. That’s my boy!

IMG_4102And here’s the panel Elihu drew for his team’s banner. Living up to the qualification of beauty, I think.

IMG_4138Here are the teams’ gifts to Zeus.

IMG_4022The team judge goes over some rules before the final event of wrestling.

IMG_4005The judge sets up Elihu and his partner for wrestling.

IMG_4073Elihu gets some coaching on how to accept the baton in the relay race.

IMG_4076Following through.

IMG_4078He’s off!

IMG_4109Mr. Largie, Elihu’s Games instructor, speaks in French for the folks from Quebec.

IMG_4118Elihu is awarded his medal. The judge summed up his performance in one word: Integrity. I didn’t hear that word used for another child. Yeah, Elihu didn’t really do too well in any of the events, but nonetheless he toughed it out and kept his chin up. He certainly performed with grace, beauty and attention to form. I agree with the judges, my kid definitely has integrity goin for him.

IMG_4141In the city state of Corinth, one student translates into French for another the qualities of her performance at the Pentathalon as they’re being read by the judge. (That’s Elihu’s teacher on the left.)

IMG_4144Our friend, Cally, hearing from one of her team’s judges. That’s just the sweetest look on her face.

IMG_4168My little athlete.

IMG_4172And the beautiful team Athens!

IMG_4179Grandma, who came along for the second of two days, admires Elihu’s medal. They were ceramic pieces, each handmade by members of the local Waldorf community. He will cherish his for a long time.

IMG_4192A big crowd for the final closing song, which was sung, complete with harmony parts, by all children present.

IMG_4193Grandma, seated at left, Elihu in the foreground at left.

IMG_4188Ok, now it’s time for the real event in Elihu’s Pentathalon…

IMG_4189He is thrilled to be playing with these guys. In fact, I was so thrilled as well that I shelled out for the WordPress upgrade that allows me to embed videos. Here goes…

IMG_4229Post-games, it’s time to pack up and go home.

IMG_4258Mama planned this fun extra into the return trip – a ferry ride across Lake Chaplain!


IMG_4274But I wasn’t the only parent with this trick up her sleeve… We got out of the car to find half his class already onboard.

IMG_4276One tiny distant island.

IMG_4281Elihu and Ben with New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the background (we’re heading East; Vermont is now behind us.)

IMG_4297Happy kid!!

IMG_4294Happy mom. In fact I am happiest when on or near water. I may end up leaving Greenfield one day for a coast somewhere…

IMG_4318Good-bye Lake Champlain ferry!

IMG_4327The ride home is rainy…

IMG_4337…and misty, too.

IMG_4384Safe and sound at home, we admire Elihu’s Pentathalon medal. What a great experience in so many ways.

Once again, grateful are we.

 

Turning Tween May 2, 2014

Maybe it’s because of the landmark birthday. Maybe it’s because he himself feels that something should be different by now. Maybe it’s the recent onslaught of the relentless Pokemon sub-culture that has created a divide between us. Maybe it’s because his very physiology is changing. It could be any one of those things or more that have us in a new place in our relationship. It’s pretty clear to me now, we’re entering into new territory; my son and I are entering into the world of the pre-teen.

Yeah, my heart sinks a bit to admit it, but I know for sure that something here is new. It still feels foreign – really wrong, in fact – when I think about such a change occurring between the two of us. We have always been a team, but it doesn’t quite feel like that right now. I’d have expected some sort of mysterious change in our relationship had he been a girl, but I guess I’d thought the mom-son thing might be immune. No matter, something present in our relationship is changing, and I need to adjust. And I need to help make this transition smooth. I need to treat him gently, and with love and understanding. I need to remember how I myself once felt to be on the verge of that kind of change. To be at the doorstep of sixth grade, with its first heavy heart breaks, the complex web of communication and misunderstanding between friends and classmates, and not lastly those strange physical changes that just add to the insecurities of the age. I need to honor what it is that he’s going through. And most of all, I need to give him more space.

We two, like-souled and blessed with uncanny communication have become subtly divided over the past few months without my even realizing it. We have begun to become what our peers have already long been: parent and child. No longer are we somewhat parent and child, mostly peer and friend (I know, I know, folks will chide that this is unhealthy, unrealistic, impractical and more. Say what you will, so far it’s worked very well.) Now our relationship feels just a bit different. There’s nothing wrong here, and we still laugh and play together, but a definite shift of sorts is taking place. And it’s all ok – it’s to be expected. Elihu is growing into a healthy individual, I get that. It certainly helps to keep that in mind when bedroom doors are all of a sudden closed, bathroom doors too, when normal conversation is embarrassing, when my previous silly antics – while still entertaining to his classmates – have now become horrifying for him to witness… Keeping this big, pre-adolescent change in mind helps me to ignore my slightly injured ego when he recoils, tells me angrily to “please stop” or even worse, begins to tear up in embarrassed frustration. I have to remind myself that I too am shifting gears here; what’s worked for the past few years no longer does, so I’ll need to figure out the new boundaries. I’m just beginning to get a handle on it, and I hope that until I do my dear son can trust that I have his back, and that it is not my goal to embarrass or horrify him in front of his peers. I may not edit as much as he’d like, but I will do my best to demonstrate to him that I’m still on his side. (And I hope I can do so without making him into a spoiled brat. It’s tempting to want to acquiesce and buy him that coveted Pokemon card to show him what a pal I can be…)

This new place is not a bad place to be, really. As soon as I begin to lament the passing of my tender young child, I find myself enjoying a bit of relief as Elihu takes on new jobs around the house. In fact, he’s responded resolutely to my requests. I can sense (not just a hunch, we two have discussed it) that he needs more responsiblity around here. He sincerely wants to have more regular duties in our household. And I gotta say, after years of doing every blessed last thing myself, I am more than ready to delegate a couple of jobs.

It’s still a bittersweet place to be; from this day I can remember well what it was to hold my small child only a few years ago, and yet at the same time I can picture a young man preparing to leave home. So many nights I’ve nearly wept with exhaustion at the unending job of motherhood – the baths, the meals, the laundry, the cajoling – the usual stuff. Some days my dearest wish has been that my son not need so much of my goddam help anymore. When, I think, fed up and simply aching for a moment to myself, when will this kid grow up already?

I’d thought we were probably past it, and wondered if I hadn’t been doing it more for me than for him this time ’round, but tonight Elihu asked me to please read to him from our beloved Burgess Bird Book for Children. A rare, first edition copy nearing a hundred years old, we both love the quaint language and thorough accounting of birds that the main character, Peter Rabbit, encounters as they return to the Old Orchard with the coming of Spring. We first read it the Spring he turned six, and I’ve read it aloud to him each year since. Feeling a bit grouchy at the end of a long day and possibly on the verge of another self-sorry rant, I asked if we might want to skip the book tonight. In response, Elihu got kinda quiet, smiled up at me and shook his head ‘no’. My heart thusly softened, we cozied up together in bed to enjoy a couple of chapters.

This time when I reached for the ancient book my heart skipped a beat. A dim awareness had been growing lately, but I had been to afraid to name it. My hunch would no longer allow itself to be ignored, and my heart sank deeply when the question finally spoke itself to me: might this be the last year I’d ever read this book to my son? “Very possibly” was my answer. Oh-oh. All of a sudden I wasn’t so sure I really wanted to be over and done with my job. And when I located the bookmark and opened the book, I noticed that we were halfway through. And you might even say I panicked ever so slightly when another thought then occurred to me… We were halfway through our beloved children’s book, and we ourselves were halfway through Elihu’s childhood. The day that I’d prayed for on so many mother-worn nights was finally within sight. Oh dear friends, do be careful what you wish for…

I know how the remaining chapters of Mr. Burgess’ book will go, but I don’t have the same clear vision for our own story. I am, however, fairly sure that it too will end happily, while setting the stage for many more beautiful seasons yet to come.