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.

 

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.

 

May Daze May 9, 2014

Elihu asked me last night why I often say that ‘when we get past something’ we’ll be alright… He wanted to know why I’d say from time to time that we’d be ok once a certain event, a certain time or a certain holiday was over. “Like Christmas, you kept saying ‘We’ll be ok as soon as we get past Christmas.’ Why do you keep saying things like that? What exactly do you mean?” I hadn’t realized my offhand remarks had made such an impression on him. It gave me pause for sure. I wanted to learn from this, yes, but at the same time I wanted him to understand my point of view too. “It’s just that we hit these super-busy spots in the year, and I just can’t keep up. I can’t keep up with the food, the laundry, the work. And it gets harder when there’s more to do.” He understood, but warned that my comments didn’t sound as benign as I was making them out to be. Wow, I do really try to keep from getting too dark with him, but he’s a sharp kid. He gets my meaning. And again I wonder, is it just me complaining? It can’t be. I’m not that crazy-different from most folks. I like to flatter myself into thinking I might be, but I’m pretty sure I’m not experiencing anything that out of the ordinary. Or am I? After all, there is no partner to tag-team with, no one else to step in for a minute, no one else to make it happen. Ok, yeah, so there’s a lot to do. But I’m not the only single mom here in this world. I just express myself without much editing, I guess.

This past week Elihu has felt it too – it wasn’t just me feeling the overwhelm of a busy, end-of-the-school year rush. There has been a lot going on recently in a very short amount of time. And today, Elihu got it. After being patient and good for an hour long appointment at the eye doctor after school, he finally broke down in tears. “I’m SO tired” he moaned, and pushed his face into my shoulder. But he’d made it. Me too. Still have another couple weeks of recitals, performances and then the big pentathlon event for the fifth grade, but most of our landmark events were past now. And we enjoyed them all, every moment. But we’re kinda zapped now. As I write, he’s relaxing in his bedroom, organizing his collection of Pokemon cards, and I’m sitting here wondering what in hell I’ll make for supper. But this is a mere blip on the screen in view of the two huge, life-changing events that happened just today: Elihu learned how to ride a bike!!!! And what else? Get this – Elihu learned how to put contacts in his eyes!!!! We’re on the path to tinted contacts – something that will radically change his life forever. These two landmarks have us elated, proud, relieved – and ready to collapse. This is one May we will never, ever forget. We’re definitely in a daze tonight, but man, it’s a happy one.

IMG_2645Going back two days (feels like two months ago by now) to a window on my birthday morning. Guinea fowl Austin on the bridge, our beloved flock below and Ace’s sculpture “Mayfly” to the left.

IMG_2745

Hey, we had the garage cleaned and painted last year, why the splotches of mud??

IMG_2743A-ha! Our friends the Phoebes have returned and once again made their nest atop the garage light. Ah well, we can always wash up the mess after the babies are raised and gone. So very glad you came back! Nice to see and hear you again. Now I think this is a very sweet birthday present.

IMG_2777Here was another sweet birthday experience… I got to write and play music for the eighth grade play. Mr. Ruel introduces “Tuck Everlasting” to the Waldorf students in the charming theater space of the local Episcopal Church, Elihu is in the dark hair and shirt in the center.

IMG_2666Jessie explains the magical properties of the spring in the wood, and its awesome implications.

IMG_2687Angus Tuck tells young Winnie “I just got to make you understand” as he explains the dangers of living forever.

IMG_2704A climactic scene in which the tension rises and the play takes a turn.

IMG_2709Well done, eighth grade!

IMG_2728There’s been a delay with the carpenter… still hoping this job will be history soon.

IMG_2731What a perfect birthday present from mom! The name says it all too! Finished with washing dishes by hand soon!!

IMG_2735A quick, late-night trip to Stewart’s to grab a birthday cake for myself. Yes, I ate both of them. !

IMG_2791The next day starts with a double smooching of chickens.

IMG_2806Dinah and Thumbs Up share Elihu’s lap and really seem to like it there.

IMG_2819Now it’s time to go to the gig. Elihu regularly donates the proceeds from his Eggs of Hope sales to Drilling for Hope, a non profit run by local woman Karen Flewelling. She asked Elihu if he’d play drums for the opening night of “Faces of Rwanda”, a collection of gorgeous black and white pictures taken of Karen’s last trip by photographer Emma Dodge Hanson. Twins (and classmates) Jonah and Phoenix join him here.

IMG_2850This is a photograph from her recent trip to Rwanda of villagers drilling a new well.

IMG_2827Pics of donors and the Rwandan children that they’re helping to send to school.

IMG_2826We looked and we looked and yay! We finally found our friend from so far away! Hopefully we will be sponsoring this very student in the years to come. Wow. I can’t believe we’ve been able to help someone else here on the planet. We, of so very limited resources are absolutely rich in the world-wide scheme of things. This helps to keep things in perspective for sure.

IMG_2838Classmate Ben helps Elihu find his picture on the big wall at the exhibit.

IMG_2845Karen says hi to Elihu; he just made another gift to Drilling for Hope to help Karen do her wonderful work in the world.

IMG_2902The view from my post most of the day: high school eurtythmy class. They’re in costumes now, getting ready for the big performance at Zankel Music Hall at Skidmore College next week.

IMG_2853After my high school classes are done for the morning, I rush over to the Lower School to see how Elihu fared. And just as I got out of my car and pulled out my camera – who should come riding up on his bike (a thing he could not have done only a couple of hours earlier) but my amazing boy!!! Talk about a surprise!!!

IMG_2854And just as effortlessly as he rode to me, he then promptly rode away. Sigh.


IMG_2862The sanctuary of an empty, fifth grade classroom, pre-lunch.

IMG_2873And the same room moments later. All are in a good mood.

IMG_2895After lunch I get to hang out with the kids for a bit as I’m on yard duty. Our equestrian friend Cally (who’s also an incredibly talented singer) smooches a home made horse doll and lil first grade buddy Tylor admires a beeswax figure Elihu’s working on.

IMG_2907Now we’re visiting a new eye doc in hopes she can be a little more proactive in getting Elihu red tinted contacts. It’ll be new territory for her. She was very kind and positive. We’re hopeful…

IMG_2925These have a crazy, futuristic Harry Potter-esque vibe – maybe even a little Brazil-esque feeling to them too (yeeks). Elihu’s trying out some mild prism glasses here to help him find the null point in his nystagmus (shaking of pupils).

IMG_2918The doc’s assessing Elihu’s ability to read – hard to know if his vision challenge is a product of light sensitivity, acuity or both.

IMG_2934Assistant Jen shows Elihu how to put contacts in his eyes.

IMG_2930Here he is – with contacts in! They’re not tinted, they’re just to give him an idea of how it all works.

IMG_2947One more spin around the park. (The bike was a gift from the local program “Bikeatoga”; thanks guys, we so appreciate it!) I told Elihu ages ago that riding a bike was the closest thing to flying that he’d ever know. Today he laughed and said I was right.

May we remember the feeling of this special day in May for years to come.

 

Bothering To April 1, 2014

“Ask yourself this,” Elihu suggested as he paused at his breakfast, “What wonderful thing or possible surprise am I excited about having happen today?” I let a moment go by as I took in his words, and then let him continue, “Just imagine for a minute, what things might happen today? Will there be surprises for you in your day? Things you couldn’t have expected?” He stopped talking for emphasis and let some silence pass. “I mean, if you don’t think so….” He shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands in the air,”Then why even bother?”

We were having one of our existential conversations at sunrise which had come about as a result of my morning mood. I was unusually tired upon waking and so was a fair bit grouchier than usual. Most times when I’m feeling a bit like pouting I keep the darker stuff to myself – or at least under my breath. Today I was shuffling around the kitchen talking to myself at full volume and just radiating doom and gloom over a day hardly yet begun. I felt put-upon, I felt alone in my plight, without peer to share my load, misunderstood and underappreciated. I was singing the self-sorry single mom song, and God bless that young boy, he took a moment to turn things around and rope me in. He repeated his coaching, “Really, Mommy, I mean it. Ask yourself this: Might some amazing things happen today? Think this way. Otherwise, seriously, why bother?”

I know he’s right. I also know that some days I am just plain out of steam, out of inspiration, out of reasons – other than that GD to-do list that never stops – to do things, to keep on going. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a passive-aggressive cry for help, this is not code for planned suicide – nothing so dire as any of that. It’s just life-business as usual. Chef, cleanup crew, administrator, counselor, taxi driver, instrument mover, musician, worker bee… all of it. Sometimes it’s just too fucking much. So sometimes it’s a wise question to ask myself: might amazing, surprising, unexpected things happen to me today? I have to believe they will, otherwise….

So what does keep me keeping on? I wonder that myself, the introspection inspired by this morning’s ministry… I suppose, at the end of the day, I might say that I do things for my son. I do things that I might make his life less stressful, more joyful. I also live because if I didn’t, it would break my mother’s heart. And yeah, it would break Elihu’s heart too. And honestly, aside from just sticking around for the sake of my mother and my son – I can’t just check out. I’ve got work to do here. I’m pretty sure of it. (Not entirely convinced, but fairly sure.) I have my father’s legacy to continue, I have love and compassion to contribute to the world through this vehicle of the Studio, and through teaching and playing…  Yeah, I guess. It’s just that there’s so much crap to slog through first… “Ya think I’d be happier (read here ‘less bitchy’) if I knew I was going to work at the Studio all day – doing things I really loved?” I’d innocently asked my son. “Oh yes” he answered most emphatically without missing a beat. “You’re going to be doing the things you love the very best. So of course.” No sooner had I asked the question I was feeling some shame over having even said it out loud: because not only do I really love my current job and appreciate it daily, but I realize it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I see my son each day, I’m around all those wonderful children, I get to play a variety of music which I enjoy, I learn new things daily. The very school itself is like a large family. It’s a joy to have it as a destination every day. So why the mood? The questions? The doubting?

It’s just that this school has become such a committment of time – both there and at home learning new music – that I haven’t any time at all to build this new dream of the Studio. Makes me wonder what my plan is. Or if I’ll ever get to that next chapter. But when I pull back and relax a bit into the moment, I can understand that even this very day – the chapter I’m living here and now – that this in of itself is important in the evolution of the subsequent one. Each builds upon the other. My son will be in this school for three more years (and then four more in the high school). These are the Waldorf years. I may as well just hunker down, learn all I can and savor the moments, because all too soon I’ll be looking back at it in nostalgia the way I do to my younger years as a musician in Chicago. I have to remember that each era has had its own time and place and its own gifts; each era of my life has served its own unique purpose.

So for now my time and place is here. It’ll shift again one day too, as everything shifts. And as I sit and watch my son’s fifth grade class rehearse their class play, I can feel the supreme loveliness of this window in time. The children still seem small to me; the boys still with voices to match the girls. Their limbs are all long and thin, and all of them are still shorter than me. But one look into the sixth grade class (which, as an added metaphor for leaving their youth, move into a downstairs classroom for the first time) will tell you how much will soon be changing. The sixth graders seem so different, so much older, bigger… Such a different sort of tension too between the boys and the girls. The qualities that these fifth graders yet possess become exquisite, precious; something to be savored, and remembered for always. While the truly tiny years – those of the tooth fairy and Santa – may be behind us now, somehow these children are still our babies. So there’s no doubt, I am savoring this precious time for sure.

It’s just the logistics of life, I suppose, that have me in a bit of a funk. Just plain living takes so much work. But when I stop to realize that I have a child wise enough to be so contemplative about things, a child who daily expresses his love for me, who sees the beauty in nature, who lives as gratefully and thoughtfully as he does – then I remember. Then I get it. This is why I put up with all that other crap. Because joy and hope live in my son, and with the right sort of thinking, joy and hope can live in me too. Thank goodness the kid takes the time to remind me. ! Ok. So the dishes still won’t wash themselves, but somehow, things look a little bit brighter now. Because at the very least, now I think I know why I’m bothering.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

First of Fifth September 4, 2013

Yes, it’s a cliche to ask ‘where has the time gone?’, but it is inevitable that each parent will say such a thing on their child’s first day back to school. Each year feels special and new, each brings with it new skills, challenges and rites of passage. No matter the year, there will be certain changes that are unique to that time and a parent needn’t look far to find something to get sentimental and misty-eyed about.

The Waldorf School had today what they call ‘The Rose Ceremony’. It is a gathering of all twelve grades in which each teacher gets up before the group and speaks a bit about what will take place during the year, perhaps the challenges ahead, and usually there’s a metaphor told in a story or image to help illustrate the ideas. Elihu recounted some of them to me tonight as we lay in bed and went over the day. (Although I try to be present for as many school functions as I can, this morning I was playing piano for a Eurythmy class at a retirement home.) I asked him to tell me about his teacher’s speech. He said “she likened our progress to that of a dandelion seed, taking flight, finding a home in the soil, and beginning to grow. But she said it just the right way.” He even said “it was so beautiful that it almost made me cry”. (If there was ever a child made just for Waldorf, it is mine.) The kindergartners walked over the rainbow bridge into first grade, and the ceremony was complete.

Elihu hardly expressed any of the tenderness and contemplative mood of the morning’s ceremony by the time his half day was up and I’d come to get him. Over the moon at seeing his classmate buddies again, he was in super-high gear and acting every bit a goofy kid. Following a short pow-wow with the Eurythmy folks about my new schedule this year, he and I headed out to one of Elihu’s most favorite places on the entire planet. The duck pond in Congress Park. And so began a three-hour long visit with our webbed-footed friends. And in the process of picking up nearly twenty ducks Elihu made some new friends too. A world a way from school perhaps, but his spirit was no doubt buoyed by his joyful first reunion with his teacher and classmates.

And this evening, we enjoyed the first sweet corn from our garden! We enjoyed our many kinds of lettuce and tomatoes too. We were very satisfied with ourselves and immensely grateful that we even had the opportunity to know what it was to have our own garden. And eggs. And chicken. We smiled to ourselves all through bath and bedtime. Smiling still as he lay down to sleep, knowing today was just the first of so many wonderful, exciting new days to come.

first day of school 2013 042Boy-band hair and Waldorf-friendly, salmon-pink shirt, he’s oh so ready and off to fifth grade.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 003His new classroom.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 002A greeting and plan for the day by Ms. Reid.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 020Happy to see Phoenix…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 016…and happy to see Jonah. Crazy boys.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 012There’s pure joy in this pic.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 025Joy here, too.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 032There’s only one white one among hundreds… and he caught it right away!

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 047Elihu and new friend try making the ducks jump. It’s kinda cute when the birds do.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 081Holding one, smooching another.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 085A baby up close. Hardly any wings! Seems a little late in the season for such a small one; they need to be off soon…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 110Our new pals, brothers Vinny and Tommy! Yay! Hope to see you here again sometime!

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 115Elihu in heaven.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 135He always wants a few moments ‘to connect’ with the bird.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 144He always admires the wing…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 150and other parts…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 182Such love.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 184He cannot help himself.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 215This gal took a picture too…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 224Then came to say hi. Elihu always tries to ‘share’ his ducks.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 239But enough about birds! The most important news in months…. fresh sweet corn from our garden is now ready!

Elihu topped off his already wonderful day with a favorite meal of chicken wings, salad from the garden and home-grown corn. He went to bed one happy young man. I’m feeling pretty good too. From Kindergarten to Fifth grade, from a seed to a full ear of corn. Lots of growing’s been goin on around here.