The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Storm of the Eye June 12, 2021

Today my son is a high school graduate, and I am free.

One year ago today I injured my eye, and I have found myself a prisoner of that event ever since. Today, standing in the bright morning sunshine of a fine spring day (floaters still clouding my vision and an ever-present feeling of a foreign object still being in my eye), I find myself wavering between elation and terror at the future ahead. What will describe this new chapter? My opportunity or my injury?

I cannot convey the depth and breadth of our experiences over the past year, for they have been many and mighty. And today, as I sit in a house filled to the brim with the mess of one final week of tumult and year’s end chaos, I panic slightly at the idea that nothing will right itself on its own. All of it rests on me. I realize that my son and I have just concluded, and very successfully so, this era in our lives, so I should take heart. I just need to do this one final time. In the future there will be no such messes, no such disorder. All I have to do is muster the fortitude to do this once more. Somehow, however, this doesn’t seem to make it any easier. This time I don’t know where or how to begin. And so I nibble on the leftovers from last night’s graduation dinner, I pick at the frosting from the cake, I take a sip of the last dregs of a can of Mike’s hard lemonade I found in the door of the fridge. I feed the chickens, refill the suet, make the coffee. I begin a new post. I look over my Facebook feed. I stall.

Inside, the house is a riot of unwashed dishes, half-cut onions, piles of unopened mail, schoolwork and artwork and piles of musical charts to be filed, dirty clothes in heaps in nearly every room, and pair upon pair of muddy shoes, too (how do two people amass such a mess?). Clean laundry that languished too long before I could dry it (and now smells slightly funky) confuses the system in my mudroom and will force me to start the whole shebang all over again. The lawn is knee-high and rife with land mines of fallen branches and rocks that must first be found and marked before the grass can be cut. (And this is five open acres, no small task) The coop looks like a right proper hillbilly homestead with traps set, both humane and lethal, retired kiddie pools, garden tools, a few pumps and pond paraphernalia, a wheel barrow full of plastic junk and two metal grain bins, knocked on their side by the white whale of raccoons (who evades me still), their contents now fermenting and turning rank in the wake of recent rains. All a girl can say is oy.

This day is further loaded, as I think on it. Funny how June 12th used to mean different things in different chapters in my life. In my married years, it was my parents-in-laws’ wedding anniversary. Many years later it became known as the birthday of my former husband’s out of wedlock child, the day that changed everything for Elihu and me. The day that launched us on our voyage here at the Hillhouse. For years I was conflicted about the day: should I curse it or thank it? I certainly cannot curse any child, for his birth is not his own choice. But you can understand that it was a shocking time for me, all those years ago, and were it not for the miraculous way in which our lives turned out, I might still be nursing my wounds over it. I can’t say that June 12th doesn’t bring a bit of reflection. I have never before felt such acute emotional pain as I did on this day, thirteen years ago.

And now, the date has yet another meaning. Another change of plans that I must somehow accept. An injury that I must see as a catalyst to a yet unseen future that awaits, one that otherwise would not have been possible. Thinking back over the past year, I realize that I sought out new experiences as a means of distraction from my discomfort, and I can clearly see what the injury has offered thus far: my first forays into relationships with men since my divorce, a new awareness of physical health and fitness, a bad outcome with a relationship which offered an opportunity for me to step into a better sense of self-worth (the caveat here is that this is, sadly, still a work in progress), and lastly, a host of music performance videos and the small victories that I achieved as I learned how to organize and present myself in a new format. Overall, it’s been a good year. Every time I started to sink into self-pity, I used a new goal to pull myself up and out. Yeah, for the most part it’s worked. Mostly.

As friends and regular readers will know, I tend to indulge in excessive amounts food and alcohol to take the edge off when the shit just feels relentless. But somehow I managed to pull up and out of the habit last summer. I began to see an opening, a time when life would be mine again, and so I wanted to prepare myself, to lean in… I wanted to forget this troublesome eye injury and set my sights on the future… While I did get leaner and became increasingly dedicated to my physical improvement (and really came to look forward to my workouts), I suffered a bad muscle injury, and within weeks of a diminished routine, I fell off the fitness wagon entirely. This in turn had me newly depressed and brought along with it a resurgence of daily episodes with panic attacks. I kept up with the challenges as they arrived, but it was a struggle.

Added to the frenetic pace of Elihu’s final year and all that went on with me personally, stress began to mount… I lost a good portion of my hair inside of a few weeks in late winter (whether due to stress or changing hormones, it’s an alarming experience to say the least), the arthritis in my hands became significantly more advanced in a short amount of time (my doc said it was one of the worst cases of OA he’d ever seen in the hands of someone my age), and I saw a dear friend through a year of health problems which ended in her death two weeks ago. It’s definitely been a trying chapter. So naturally I fell back on the self-soothing mechanisms that I always have. The pendulum began to swing back, and I just let it. Knowing that I was creating a situation that would have consequences down the road, I continued on anyway, savoring the hell out of those carbs which I’d fastidiously ignored since last summer. Watching as one glass of wine with dinner easily turned into a whole bottle. I jumped into the pool, right into the deep end. And so here I am today, treading water, wondering how I’m gonna make it out again. I know I will, but the side of the pool still looks to be a long way off.

Things ebb and flow, and today I’ll just have to take it easy on myself. This day has become a strange landmark in my life, and I should pause to take stock: what does June 12th mean this time around? Might I look at it perhaps as a day of hope? Today is the first day I’m not the full-time mother of a high school student. The first day in which I have nowhere to be, no one to answer to (let’s forget for the moment about the some two thousand emails and two full voicemail accounts which must be gone through on Monday). Today I’m not waiting for the other shoe to drop, it already has. It’s what happens after that which intrigues me, and keeps me from giving up and crying into my hands. How can I give up? My son is about to launch himself into the world – a prospect which is nearly as thrilling for me as it is for him. I have my book to look forward to (yes, friends, I am going to set about the task of editing and formatting content from this blog for a publish-on-demand book) and there is the business of getting healthy and fit again. Lots to do, lots to do.

Once I can get this house in order again, I’ll begin to figure out what this new game’s gonna look like. If I can just hold on to that feeling of hope again, if I can just remember that out of chaos comes order, that a catalyst is necessary for growth, that growth, change and evolution are what this whole silly planet is about…

If I can just get myself there again, it’ll be a perfect storm of possibility, and I’ll be right in the eye of it.

 

Minor/Major April 25, 2021

This morning I took my son to have his first covid vaccine. As he is still 17 and a minor, I was allowed to accompany him. But for his second vaccine in three weeks, I will be made to wait outside.

There really is no way to prepare a mother’s heart for this transition. Of course I’ve known it was coming and have tried as best I can to make peace with the new reality. Come this Wednesday, Elihu will no longer be a minor. No longer will I be the keeper of his medical records, no longer will I be responsible for his money, no longer will I be the recipient of his grades. How very strange indeed. I have been this person’s sole keeper in every way for the entirety of his life – and in just one moment the whole thing comes to a close. Thankfully he is an incredibly responsible person, and he is well-equipped to take the reigns. But me, I’m just not ready to hand them over.

When Elihu was two and a half years old he had a bad case of the flu, and I took him to the emergency room. There was a one-year-old in the waiting room, and Elihu doted on the tiny boy. The child had had an earache and was frantically crying in distress, to which Elihu responded with such tenderness. He cooed to the toddler, helped distract and soothe him. They spent a good fifteen minutes together, and by the time we were called in, Elihu had coaxed the child into a quiet and peaceful state. It was shortly after we got into the car and began to drive home that Elihu spoke his very first sentence. “When I grow up, I want to have a baby, Mama”. I looked in the rear view mirror, stunned at what I’d just heard. I saw him just sitting there, his pacifier returned to his mouth and looking out the window. My tiny boy, such a huge concept. My son had always been different, even at that age I’d known it. This sentence was just the first of many confirmations. He has always been wise beyond his years.

I first knew there was something distinctly different about my son when he was four months old. Aside from being colicky and hard-pressed to sleep without me next to him, I just knew something was not right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but clues were starting to add up. When I walked him outside in a stroller, he’d close his eyes and slump to the side, but when we’d enter a dark indoor space he’d sit up and open his eyes. He couldn’t open his eyes in the great room of our home, the south wall of which was entirely made of windows, but he came to life in the dark basement playroom. I knew he had an inability to see in bright light, but until he could speak to us, we’d be left to guess about how he experienced his world. One evening I remember nursing and then rocking him, trying unsuccessfully to get him to sleep. And so I held him tightly to me and twisted my torso from side to side, desperate to find the rhythm that would finally take. I remember pulling him away from my chest and looking into his eyes, to find that his pupils were rapidly bouncing up and down. I flushed with adrenaline; had I just done this to him? Had I shaken my baby? A careful inventory of my actions told me that I had not, and yet something had changed. I remember wishing so dearly that I could just know if he was afraid, if he was in discomfort. How, oh how could I make it better?

It was my friendship with the keyboard player in Steppenwolf that became the key to understanding what was ‘wrong’ with Elihu. Years earlier I’d met John Kay, the lead singer and fellow who penned the iconic song “Born to Be Wild”, and I’d known him to have some condition with his eyes that made him colorblind, light-sensitive and also unable to drive (ironic, isn’t it? His song is the anthem for bikers everywhere, and yet John’s never driven a day in his life). As I sat at my desk pondering my son’s situation, I flashed back on this memory and immediately fired off an email to Mike. He responded, confirming my suspicion. And there it was. Without an internet search, without a doctor’s diagnosis. I’d learned that my son had Achromatopsia. Now, finally, I knew.

I’d had some neighbor girls take Elihu to the park, and instantly I felt a deep panic, an intense need to find and hold my baby. Now that I knew, I had to make it better. I ran through the streets until I spied the small clump of kids – Elihu was riding on the shoulders of one of the taller girls, his eyes squinted shut. I grabbed him from her and held him to my chest, shielding his eyes from the daylight. I shall always remember how I felt in that moment; I become a fiercely protective mother, and in that instant I became wholly dedicated to my son’s comfort and ease. In the months that followed I found a low vision doctor in Chicago – who actually specialized in Achromats – and Elihu would soon get his first dark glasses. He would take his first steps outdoors, and our world would become a little less stressful. And even though his father loved him dearly, he did not share my concerns for our son. He wasn’t moved by Elihu’s first steps in daylight, he thought I made too much of Elihu’s light sensitivity, and he would often chastise me for coddling our boy. But I didn’t care. Like I said, my mother’s heart was fierce. Nothing would prevent me from being Elihu’s champion.

There was so much I needed to impart to my son. Ever since he could walk it was my deepest desire to equip him to live as well as possible in this difficult world. My heart longed to give him ease, to give him insight and understanding. There was so much to teach him – where to begin? Folks who know me understand that I’m pretty frank and unedited in my speech. I say what I mean, and I believe for the most part that it’s better to express than to withhold. And that’s the tack I took with my son. If my four-year-old wanted to know how an engine worked, I was going to explain it to him. Seriously. He was going to get the real story, not some dumbed-down explanation meant just for kids. I always spoke to my tiny son as if he was an adult. That’s not to say I didn’t coo to him as a baby, or speak in tender, maternal tones to him – in fact I always spoke to him as gently and lovingly – and respectfully – as possible. I never scolded him as if he were an idiot. I always offered an explanation of actions and consequences, as if he understood. Because if he didn’t yet understand, he would at some point.

How could I teach him about the seasons, the holidays, the traditions of our world? How could I convey the context, the meanings of so many seemingly random cues? And if he saw no color at all, and if indeed the world was hazy and hard to see, how could I teach him to discern things? All of this nagged at me during my son’s childhood. And so I chose to read to him. A lot. (I wish now that I’d kept a list of the dozens upon dozens of books we read. I implore all new parents who might be reading this to keep a log of the tomes you read to your child. In revisiting them you will also revisit shared childhood memories.) Since my son’s vision was not great, and since reading for a good length of time fatigued him, I felt it was best that I take on the job. Every night of his life until he was around ten or eleven I lay next to him and read. Oh the places we went together. The adventures we had. What a huge and full life we had just from our nighttime books alone. This, I think, is in large part why my son turned out to be such a thinker. Having limited vision has also contributed; he has been left to live much of his life inside of his thoughts. While the other kids were watching movies or playing video games, Elihu was identifying birdsongs, inventing melodies of his own or creating lines of poetry.

My mother’s heart had always been heavy with the knowledge that my son would not always be able to join his classmates in so many experiences that most kids consider mundane. Swimming doesn’t work well on account of the bright light that usually accompanies the experience. Moving fast – as in running – is dicey in that Elihu can’t really see things until they’re upon him. When he was smaller the two of us had a system we used while out walking whereby he would minimize the many missteps, falls and scrapes that came of his limited vision. Elihu couldn’t always discern differences in grade, so as we walked together I’d quietly offer “step up” or “flat surface” as we went along. So imagine my surprise when one day at lunchtime my legally blind child whizzed by me on a bike in front of his school! His fifth grade teacher had taught him in just a few periods. I’d always wondered how – or even if – we would tackle this skill. I cried! Oh such gratitude I had for that dear woman! This step was huge. And it opened new doors for my son that I had previously thought would never be options. And can you imagine that my twelfth-grade son has been getting straight As in his phys ed classes? In fact he is even rather aggressive in some sports – but if you’d told me this a few years ago I would not have believed it possible.

Elihu’s father had decided to leave the marriage our son was five. I’d thought that Elihu was too young to grasp the situation, and so when we moved across the country to live in a house next door to his grandparents, I’d thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. He would have everything he needed, lots of nature around, and family too. I always welcomed his father into our home, and have always encouraged their relationship, so he saw his father quite a bit in the early years here at the Hillhouse. (My friends never understood this arrangement; they thought it was wrong to have my ex stay here with us. I thought it was the humane and right thing by way of both dad and son. My comfort could take a back seat for a few days here and there.) I did absolutely everything I could to ensure my son had the best possible childhood. I think I did the best I could with my situation.

However, it became apparent in the first few years post-move, that Elihu had been deeply saddened by the change. I’d thought that if I’d kept up appearances and continued to be of relatively good cheer that it would mitigate any possible negative outcomes. I hadn’t wanted my son to suffer the emotional challenges that other children of divorced parents do. Yet for a while my dear son really was troubled. If I’d expected him to be sensitive to the nuances of life, how was it that I thought he wouldn’t notice this huge life change? A year or so after we moved here I chose to speak to him candidly about the divorce, how it had troubled me too, but how both people needed to be in agreement for marriage to work, and how his father and I were not in agreement. I believe that the truth helped him to understand and make some peace with the situation. It was a really tough experience for both of us, but we got through it by addressing it honestly. Hard a time as it was, it helped us each to grow and become more emotionally resilient.

I needn’t worry about my son now. In fact, I’m tremendously eager for the life that awaits him. He is completely ready to take on absolutely anything. (Recently I apologized – again – for having brought him into this crappy world. I asked him if he might be a bit discouraged about the challenges ahead. “On the contrary,” he answered. “I’m excited. I’m gonna make life my bitch”. !!) Me, I’ve never been particularly good at anything – I don’t enjoy working hard (unless it involves music or writing, then I’m all in), I never did well in school, never had a real day job, never felt like I did things the right or ‘normal’ way. Whatever that may be. However there is one thing I know that I have done very well: I have raised a happy and successful human being. I have given my son love, respect, education, humor and a shit-ton of really good, home-cooked meals. I have spoken to him as a peer. I have held nothing back. There are plenty of books on child-rearing which will tell you I did a lot of things wrong. Most parents would probably frown on my parenting choices. So glad I didn’t listen to all that static.

Such a strange thing that along with my greatest success also comes my greatest challenge: letting it all go. How do I do that? Elihu has been my partner for seventeen long years. Seeing him off into the world is going to be the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. But it’s essential for my growth, for his too. It’s a mandatory part of the process. And once I’m past the fear, I know there’s going to be a lot of joy.

Because this next chapter of our lives is going to be huge. Major, in fact.

______________________________________________________________________

An update on the college journey:

With a GPA of 4.3, an extensive lists of personal achievements, fluency in four languages plus some pretty exceptional writing skills, Elihu and I had felt he had a fairly good chance of being accepted at the nation’s top schools, but it proved to be a surprise when he was rejected by all of the places where he applied (save Harvard, more on that shortly).

We both understand that this year is a unique one; with gap year students plus those forced to wait a year due to the pandemic, there are a whole lot more students vying for spots. At the end of the day Elihu has been accepted by RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York) with a generous scholarship, but in that he attended two summer programs there – and it’s a mere 35 minute drive from home – he’d rather go somewhere new, different and a bit further from home. Plus his interest in liberal arts has really ramped up over the past few years, so he’s been hesitant to commit to a technical school.

He has been put on the Harvard waitlist, and he’s done everything in his power to distinguish himself from the crowd. He’s personally written to every administrator who might have a part in the final decision. Truly, he’s been tenacious. But in an unexpected twist, Elihu has been strongly advised by several mentors not to choose Harvard, even if accepted. They make the point that he will more easily rise to the top in a less demanding school, and that he can attend an Ivy for graduate work if it still appeals. Interesting input, and it will remain under consideration.

How surprising to us that at this late date Elihu still does not know where his future lies. To his credit he’s completely calm about the whole thing. Not much he can do. He’s done his very best, and now it’s just time to let the universe do its thing… Feel free to visit my Facebook page for updates. (We have been told that Harvard will respond with their decision by mid May.)

 

Moving Up June 25, 2014

Yesterday, my son’s old elementary school had its moving up ceremony for the fifth graders who were leaving to attend the local middle school across town in the fall. Wish I’d known about it, cuz I’d have been there. Of course Elihu doesn’t go there anymore, but his class does, and I’ve known all those faces and many of those kids since kindergarten. A dad of a friend said that there’d been a presentation at the event, a video that followed the children from then til now. He’d said that Elihu was in some of the pictures, and that he had been missed. Yeah, and I myself missed those kids, too. I’d played piano for them every year, Elihu and I had performed at the talent shows, I’d organized the talent show one year too, and generally I’d always felt at home in the school, even though Elihu left towards the end of third grade. Those first years just seem to bond kids as no others do. I myself had just recently visited a woman I’d known from first through fifth grade, and you’d think we’d been in constant touch through the years (we hadn’t) for the sense of familiarity that was natural to us. But see, that’s what comes of knowing someone since earliest childhood. There’s just no substitute for the relationships you make at the start of your life. Yeah, I wish I’d been there to see the kids one last time. The middle school is huge, and I won’t  have the opportunity to see many of them again. So tonight I’m feeling a little wistful, just a little sad. Things are changing, and I have to adjust once again. The moving up ceremony reminds me that my son too will be in sixth grade next year. (Only he’s moving ‘down’- downstairs, that is.)

Like Elihu, I too went to a private school in my early years, but the difference was that I left after fifth grade to join the larger Jr. High in my town. It was a deeply sad move for me in a couple of ways; I was leaving my friends – the only ones I’d ever known – and I was reaching a new age. Even I was aware that in entering sixth grade, and soon turning twelve, that I was no longer a little kid. It was a poignant time for me. And my kid seems to have a bit of that sense, too. It’s a time of change for both of us. Funny, you spend all those hours giving baths and getting meals and coaxing and cajoling and wondering if it’ll ever stop already – you’re pooped by eight, you’re isolated in your house, your world is small and always moving… And then there it is, the day when your kid’s bedroom door is always closed, the day when he smells, when hair starts to grow, when he starts to grow. Or at least I’ve heard rumors saying something to that effect. I still choose to believe that my son will hover here in this netherworld of non-child, non-man for years…. he will always be shorter than me. Right? The order of the world surely depends on it. Right? ??

In part my sense of melancholy is heightened because today I too have made a change in my own life. And it’s probably bigger than I actually realize. In this moment, I don’t so much feel a sense of the change that might be around the corner; instead what I’m feeling is a sense of peace. I also feel possibility beginning to grow. And excitement. Yeah, I’m not dreading the fall as I’d been doing since I left my post at the piano just a couple of weeks ago. I’m no longer feeling a dull nagging inside that I’m not making wise use of my time. I made a change today, the kind of move that I wouldn’t have had the courage to do even a year ago, but as with many things in life, the stars all just kinda lined themselves up just so…

It started with a long conversation with my partner. I told her that I’d like to make the Studio my job, but I couldn’t if I still had this other job going at the same time. For a while now I’ve been fooling myself into thinking that I can work all day, be a mom, and somehow run a startup business on the side. Plus oversee the remodel of a building. Uh huh. See, as a single person who doesn’t run with a gang of friends, as one whose only sounding boards are mom and young child, I often feel alone, and often forget that my partner – while she currently doesn’t have a stake in the ownership of the building – has the perfect kind of energy and perspective I need, plus a deep personal desire to see this thing get moving. I don’t know why I keep feeling it’s all on me – and why I often forget to go to her. Hell, that’s how I met her a couple of years ago, in the very beginning. All I had was a venue and an idea, but no contacts, no friends, no money, no way to start… One afternoon I just ran out of hope and patience and through tears called the local arts council. The fellow there put me in touch with Ceres, and just as I was calling her, at my very wit’s end, tears rolling down my cheeks, she was at her wit’s end too and having her own sort of meltdown – but this lovely lady doesn’t cry, she laughs. ! So there we were, on the phone for the very first time; I was crying – and she was laughing. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Man am I lucky to have found her.

So today I got myself unstuck, as it were. I left my job as accompanist at the Waldorf School. I promised not to leave them high and dry – I’ll make every attempt I can to find someone to replace me. I’ll even play if it’s an emergency – if they have no one at all – but I also made it clear that I didn’t want that sort of situation dragging out, because I need to leave this post. It requires my only free time at home, it requires I be on site all day, it leaves me no time to tend to the Studio. Not unless you count the window between getting home and making supper… but then when does one go grocery shopping?? I hate disappointing people, and I am uncomfortable not helping out when I know I have what someone needs… But clearly, this past year hasn’t been the most pleasant for me. The rise of panic attacks seems to have been brought on (after a nearly two decade period of dormancy) because of a particular cocktail of stressors. I used to think it would be wimpy of me not to take it all on, but now I see the reality. A couple of days of waiting for appointments, pricing materials and meeting with tradesmen has already shown me that if I’m not there to move this along, it aint gonna move anywhere.

Having publicly declared my intentions like this, I’m beginning to wish I had somewhere to hide should things go wrong, some way to retract all of this in the future should things really tank. Cuz I’m doing this before an audience of friends and readers, and we all know, once it’s out into the internet ether, there’s no taking it back. And I truly am scared here. I do not know what the fuck I am doing. I am not a business person, I don’t have great organizational skills, and I have never supported myself without backup income (part time job, husband, mom, father-in-law, etc.). Just how the hell am I supposed to net income from a friggin arts center? I’ve written only one grant proposal in my life (I got it, btw, but hey, that was years ago, the world was a kinder, gentler place back then) and I do NOT enjoy the idea of having to keep books, follow rules and in general, behave like a friggin grown up. Cuz I do not know the rules, I’m not even sure how to learn the rules, and moreover, I’m not even sure that I’m a real grownup. ! However, I will not freak out. Because I do feel pretty good right now. Pretty hopeful. Let’s just hope the hopeful lasts.

The big move is upon us. Moving up, moving down, moving out, but mostly, moving on….

 

Tiny Trip June 22, 2014

I don’t get out much these days, but I did get out yesterday for what I’d thought would be a fairly straightforward overnight visit with an old friend from my elementary school days in Chicago, and who now lives in mid-state Vermont. It was a short trip, but densely packed with new and memorable experiences.

My childhood pal is moving across the country to the Seattle metro area. She’s lived here in the Northeast for three years and I haven’t yet been to see her (she and her family have, however, been to visit me). It’s hard to believe that it was only yesterday morning that I was throwing a toothbrush and a favorite pillow into a bag and hitting the road. It feels like I’ve been gone a week. My head is full of images, my heart is heavy with a final, impromtu stop I made on the way back, and I’m saddened to learn that shortly before I returned home this evening we lost Amity, our last pure white hen from the old flock. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, siting here in my cozy chair in something of a daze; post gin and tonic, post review of new photos, post whirlwind tour of historic Vermont, post the loss of one more hen. And although I may feel uncertain about many things in life, there is one thing I do know for certain: I love being home. And after having just seen a thousand different ways to live, having a head swirling with images, places and possibilities – and even loss – I know one thing for certain, that I need none of it right now, thank you. I’m relieved at the peace of being still and doing nothing at all. I’m more than happy to be back.

Once again, some time away has given me the experience of seeing my own corner of the world through brand new eyes. And I remember again how much this place means to me. I’d rather look out at the distant mountains of Vermont than live in between them. I like to assess it all from afar, nestled as I am here in my small, hillside niche in the woods. I have just the right amount of sky and trees, and just the right amount of house, both which give me more joy than they had just the day before yesterday. A day trip is a lovely experience in of itself, and it’s also a healthy way to help remind one just how blessed a thing is home.

IMG_6785The road as I start out… Vermont has always seemed idyllic and just out of reach; now I mean to examine these once-distant hills more closely.

IMG_6835This shot is uncharacteristically ‘un-claustraphobic’ of the Vermont byways; the roads almost all run parallel to the many rivers that run in the valleys between impassable mountain ranges. Usually one is in the woods, under cover of endless pines, a stony river bed close to one side. This is what makes travel through the state either extremely tedious or a journey of great beauty and mystery, depending on how urgently you may want to get somewhere. I always start out intrigued, but after a couple of hours of meandering alongside a shallow river in the deep woods I can get a little short of patience.

IMG_6829There’s precious little flat land in between the hills, but farmers find and use what they can.

IMG_6853After driving two and a half hours on two lane roads, at last I’ve arrived at Dina’s house. The small town of Randolph is a mere stone’s throw down the road.

IMG_6892First things first; lunch at ‘Wright at Home’, an even closer stone’s throw from the center of town.

IMG_6891Chatting with the locals…

IMG_6890The kitchen is in full view of the dining room. Cute, sarcastic and vintage signage decorates the place.

IMG_6885Dina’s son Sam figures out how to use my fan (given to me by another classmate from our elementary school who spent the past year in Spain).

IMG_6873This cutie is Thomas, the younger of Dina’s two sons.

IMG_6869Small town action! The local hippie artist has a mild run-in with the town cops.

IMG_6894We walk back up the hill after lunch. Nice place, huh?

IMG_6851Sam stands in the doorway of the carriage house-turned apartment unit.

IMG_6854Earnest, the boy’s dad, made a catapult for them. When I left it was still on the front lawn for anyone to take. It could be yours…

IMG_6917Dina and her friends enjoy one last soccer game before she moves…

IMG_6906While the women play a game I go investigate a nearby river behind the athletic field. Spied several species of birds and enjoyed some time also doing nothing at all but enjoying the perfect breeze and the gentle sound of moving water.

IMG_6926I took a walk around the field and learned the name of the high school mascots.

IMG_6937The gals at game’s end.

IMG_6941The town’s high school class is graduating tonight under this tent in the same field, so we go to pay a visit. Dina and a friend wave to each other under a gloriously-clouded sky.

IMG_6947Ah, the good old U S of A.

IMG_6974The band gets ready. Love that sousaphone.

IMG_6980Dina knows a lot of people here in this small town. Turns out our visit is a perfect opportunity for her to say goodbye to many friends.

IMG_6994The graduating class and their teachers line up for the processional.

IMG_6997Families await the graduates.

IMG_7018Elihu will get a kick out of this kid’s cap.

A little window into the moment.

IMG_7039Dina says good-bye to Tom, a local cop.

IMG_7043Main Street, early evening.

IMG_7055Looking North, towards the ice cream shop, a favorite of locals. I myself don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but highly recommend both the ‘maple creamee’ soft serve and ‘coconut crunch’ hard ice cream.

IMG_7064A taxidermied white panther in the window of the local barber shop. When I was small, I’d heard stories about black panthers still living in areas not far from my current home, but never of white ones. Today, panthers are extremely rare, but thankfully their smaller cousins the bobcats can still be found in the woods around the Northeastern US.

IMG_7062A wonderful and successful addition to Randolph’s downtown, restaurant One Main offers an enticing menu and a casual yet upscale vibe for locals to enjoy. Send an energetic gift of good thoughts to owner Shane, as he faces some health challenges at the moment. Seldom met anyone so radiant and positive, I’m sure he has a successful future ahead of him.

IMG_7063But like in so many small towns, keeping it alive and vital is an ongoing challenge.

IMG_7059Every building in this town is picture-perfect, like something from a set. This is the train depot. You can catch a train here and be in New York City in five hours.

IMG_7067Plus there’s a movie theater – with first run films. Love that awning!

IMG_7070We visit a neighbor’s house for dinner – Earnest, Dina and hostess Phyllis seen here in what I think is probably the most inviting, homey kitchen I’ve ever been in.

IMG_7074At the dinner table in this landmark Victorian house. Hosts Phyllis and Richard are on either end, and we’re joined by Earnest and Dina’s two sons, two neighbor kids and one of the hosts’ twin daughters. I have not sat at a table with so many people in probably twenty years. One of the most enjoyable dinners in just as long, too.

IMG_7100Captain lives in this beautiful house too; she may be the world’s only one-eyed Bernese Mountain dog.

IMG_7083This house is known as “Mari Castle”, and it was built by a speech writer for Abraham Lincoln and named for his wife. And if you might be interested in living in this gorgeous gem of a house, it’s for sale! A beautiful coach house and small chapel-made-office building are also on the property.

IMG_7125Here’s a photo postcard of the place from years ago…

IMG_7128…and here’s a picture that Dina took of the place in winter.

IMG_7103The coach house and neighboring mid-century chapel.

IMG_7069Some readers may know my love of things mid-century. This was the first building to catch my eye as I drove into town. My heart skips a beat when I see such a roof line. I’m not kidding.

IMG_7121The main doorway.

IMG_7110The stunning original wood arches inside. It was difficult for me to see the interior so altered from its original beauty.

IMG_7116The same arches as seen from the second floor. Even though it pained me to see the place so transformed (into a doctor’s office), I gotta say they did a tasteful job of it.

IMG_7085At three in the morning, Dina and family get loaded into the car to drive to Logan airport. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t taken any photo of me and my friend of 45 years, hence my last-minute selfie (and disheveled appearance). I’m amazed I’m old enough to have known someone this long. Wow.

IMG_7142Like me, this fellow stops to gas up on Main Street before heading out (note the barber shop in the background).

IMG_7145Virtually all Vermont towns are situated alongside a river.

IMG_7155Kayakers wave hello as I shout a greeting to them.

IMG_7189Even in the fairly populated city of Rutland the mountains beckon from beyond the utility poles and roofs… What a sky, huh? I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to travel.

IMG_7164This trip, I decide to visit the mountain settlement of Killington. When I was small it was a modest and barely developed ski area. Now it’s a ritzy destination. Kinda reminds me of an American version of Zermatt, Switzerland.

IMG_7181The view up…

IMG_7166…and the means by which one gets there.

IMG_7168It’s just not possible to convey the feeling of being atop such a mountain; this photo doesn’t come even close. Those who ski (a population of which I am regrettably not a member) will know exactly what that is. So will those who hike and climb mountains. It’s the most expansive, exhilarating feeling. Also, in my case, it can inspire sudden bouts of panic. This didn’t happen to me in my younger years; I hope to discover a way to mitigate such altitude-related episodes, as they really suck and I can see them eliminating future adventures.

IMG_7204I continue South, down historic route 7, past Manchester’s famous Equinox hotel.

IMG_7210Had to stop when I saw this place.

IMG_7212Chickens everywhere.

IMG_7213If only I could afford one of em. Played the ‘hey, I’m an artist too’ card, but no go. Wouldn’t even consider the slightest mark down. I was seriously interested, but he seriously didn’t care. Ah well.

IMG_7208Onward I go, still heading South. I pass another farmer, doing things old school. One just doesn’t see those huge machines the way one does in the Midwest, where fields go uninterrupted for miles. Life here in Vermont has a gentler, more organic feel.

IMG_7195I saw these two fellows dressed in such odd-looking garb that I just had to stop and ask them what they were about. Daniel, left, and spokesman Michele, right, tell me they are cave enthusiasts, here from Montreal for the wonderful underground cavities unique to this region. Lots of white marble comes from this area too. Here, Michele writes down some sites I can visit to learn more. Tonight they are celebrating the birthday of a fellow caver by descending 140 vertical feet into a cave and sharing a glass of champagne at the bottom. !!

IMG_7197Off they go…

IMG_7220My ultimate destination en route home has been in the back of my mind all afternoon. I’m headed for Bennington. It’s the burial-place of poet Robert Frost, and the town in which my father, harpsichordist Robert Conant, was cremated. I need to see the place in order to give myself some closure. This obelisk is a monument to Revolutionary War soldiers which sits at the far end of Main Street, up the hill. The funeral home where dad was cremated is off frame and to the left, at the other end of Main Street.

IMG_7221Within a short time I’m at the base of the monument.

IMG_7223Here’s the church behind which Mr. Frost is buried. He himself did not belong to a church, but said if he were to have, it would have been the Congregational Church. His gravestone is the only one in the cemetery to face East instead of West.

IMG_7224Some ancient headstones just next to the Congregational Church.

IMG_7237The view of mountains to the East.

IMG_7227The signs that show the way are many and the effect is comical.

IMG_7229Here’s the Frost family plot. The center marks the poet, his wife and five children, the far one his grandchildren (one of whom is still living) and the marker in the foreground is completely empty. ! That’s thinking ahead, huh?

IMG_7231Here’s his famous epitaph; “I Had A Lover’s Quarrel With The World”.  I placed the small, white stone in between that line and ‘his wife’ on the line below.  Like hers too: “Together Wing to Wing And Oar To Oar”

IMG_7240Leaving the cemetery, the light is especially magical.

IMG_7246This next step is kind of surreal for me. Might be for you too. Get ready to see a side of life – or death, rather – that none of us ever really thinks much about until the choices are directly in front of us and ours alone to make. Even then we tend to think of it as some far-off, unreal sort of process that somehow doesn’t ever really happen, especially not to our beloveds. Cremation happens, and it has to happen somewhere. In this case, it’s on Main Street behind a cheerful looking house.

IMG_7247I walk around to the back. I’m ready, I guess…

IMG_7267It’s strange to see this for myself. The doors on the right are the last ones my father passed through looking as I knew him. My heart stops for a second when I recognize the facility for what it really is.

IMG_7250How bizarre it seems… That after such a marvelous, accomplished life, a body becomes merely something that must be gotten rid of somehow. And here it is. No pomp or circumstance to it, really. It’s just a super-powerful oven.

IMG_7256How mundane it looks, I think to myself – and in a way, it’s almost funny. The final end of my father in the un-glamorous back-end of a building with a wheel barrow and garden tools stashed behind. It makes me smile even. I wonder if dad too is seeing how hard it is to grasp for the earth-bound soul.

IMG_7251This is where my father’s physical matter met again with the world of its creation… And this is where I begin to cry. Please forgive me the next image; I realize for some it may be too much, but for me it’s the very reason I’ve driven so far today. I need to understand more completely what this process was. I remind myself the whole time that this happens thousands of time every day, in every single corner of the world. Most of us will never care to see it for ourselves, but some of us, whether we dare to express it aloud or not, may find ourselves unsettled until we see it with our own eyes…

IMG_7260The last place where hundreds of people’s loved ones – mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – have entered in bodily form. I look in the window in something of a trance. How can this be? I wonder over and over to myself. What an illusion we create and sustain for ourselves all life long that we shall ever be as we are now. We aren’t even as we were last year, or even yesterday for that matter. We weren’t even around one hundred years ago, and we won’t be here one hundred years hence. We know all this. So why is this idea of burning the bodies of our loved ones – and seeing the very sentence itself in print and the photo of the place in which it happens – so unthinkable? Why? If my father were here, he’d put his arms around me and tell me not to be sad, not to concern myself with the loss of his body. I know it. And I also feel very strongly that he still exists very close by, like a person on the other side of a one-way mirror, and he smiles at me and lovingly wishes I wouldn’t trouble myself so. But then again, I can’t help myself. I’m still on this side of the mirror, and no matter how hard I try to expand my consciousness on the matter, I just can’t. This feels creepy. It feels sad. But somehow, it does help.

IMG_7277I return to my car and see a tattooed dad and his family pass by the funeral home on a summer night’s stroll. Life keeps on goin.

IMG_7278Ok, for some this will undoubtedly be too far… I wanted something local to bring home from my trip, and this mom and pop store was across the street. It was here that I picked up some cheese and smoked meat; it was impossible for me to overlook the Monty Python-esque humor in it. I can promise you dad would have laughed too.

IMG_7304I’m headed home now. I pass the marble-enfused rocks of Vermont on highway 7 as I head North.

IMG_7287I’m a bit emotionally spent by now. Got lost a few times (in a region divided by vertical, North-South mountain ranges it’s not a simple thing to get from East to West) and by now had had it with winding, two lane roads and picturesque New England villages.

IMG_7294One more Vermont vista…

IMG_7301… and then New York again, at last. I love a trip, but truly, there’s no place like home.

 

 

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.

 

Waldorf Unwound June 21, 2013

This is practically ancient history by now, as all of these end-of-year celebrations happened last week – however there were so many great moments I thought it still worth a post…

Alice June 2013 009The children of the Lower School assemble for a Eurythmy performance by this year’s soon-to-graduate 12th grade

Alice June 2013 016They begin their story with a spoken narrative…

Alice June 2013 045Classic Eurythmy movement, with colored, flowing fabrics enhancing the flow of the gestures

Alice June 2013 049Now Kai does his piece

Alice June 2013 062A beautiful finish

June 2013 end of school 317Elihu’s class shows the third grade the new instrument they’ll be learning next year in fourth grade

June 2013 end of school 354Now we’re assembling in the High School Eurythmy room for the Rose Ceremony, marking the eighth graders graduation

June 2013 end of school 363The room looks lovely for the occaision

June 2013 end of school 353Jessalyn’s awesome eighth grade

June 2013 end of school 369The fourth graders get ready to sing for the assembly – someone’s pretty tired. !

June 2013 end of school 395But a little bit later he’s got his second wind…

June 2013 end of school 411at the big ol’ end of year picnic!

June 2013 end of school 407

Such bounty! Everyone shared and there was a great assortment of tasty dishes

June 2013 end of school 404

See how fancy these gals are!

June 2013 end of school 416

The kids played for a long time in the woods

June 2013 end of school 431

We will miss Dierdre so very much!!

June 2013 end of school 459

This is the huge field with shelter beyond

June 2013 end of school 448Me and Ava, my wonderful piano student! She is a delightful girl…

June 2013 end of school 466

Kai approaches me at top speed, completely covered in mud. I’d heard about this tradition… Oh-oh,  here it comes!

June 2013 end of school 472

The little kids follow the mudmen around, hoping to get some of that magic, 12th grade mud on them too

June 2013 end of school 486

Fiona’s got Kai’s back. !

June 2013 end of school 487

Off they go…

June 2013 end of school 446

Sean and Trek are also inspired to get dirty. Note: they were both having fun. I know, cuz I asked.

June 2013 end of school 465

Abby got some special mud…

June 2013 end of school 463

And Sadie, well, there are no words. Well, maybe one. Adorable? Yeah, think that’s the one.

June 2013 end of school 525

These cutie pies are so in the spirit

June 2013 end of school 540

See?

June 2013 end of school 541

Me too!

June 2013 end of school 523

Serious jamming here

June 2013 end of school 550

Jackson on banjo (above Elihu)

June 2013 end of school 528

Jackson made that rope braid for my hat band

June 2013 end of school 513

A nice group!

June 2013 end of school 498

But these guys are in it for the long haul…

June 2013 end of school 558

Until something cooler comes along, that is…

June 2013 end of school 570

Finally it was time to go home. The clouds pointed the way for us quite nicely.