The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Sixth Starts September 4, 2014

Going from fifth grade to sixth is a thing. It’s more than just another grade level, it signifies a whole new era in a child’s life. No matter whether you call it Junior High or Middle School – we all can agree that some big changes are about to happen now. Neither small children anymore, nor yet the older, more adult-like children of high school, but playfully somewhere in between; now they’re better able to learn more challenging lessons in class, to grasp more nuanced concepts and techniques for doing things like making music or playing sports. They’re a bit bigger than they were before, and yes, they’re a bit smellier too.

And on top of that, soon they’ll be wrestling with much more: all those agonizingly embarrassing moments as mistakes are made and as jokes find their targets, the ongoing awareness of social strata, cliques and what it is to be popular (or not so popular), and, of course, the real beginnings of romantic expression. How this thing works in such a small and static group of kids, I don’t know. I’ve been told that Waldorf kids will often ‘date’ (!) up or down a grade to relieve the tension of ‘dating’ within their own small class. (Please folks, understand how very loosely I use this D word.) As a sixth grade girl, I myself remember ‘going’ with a young man, but that simply consisted of being made to feel sick in the stomach from a mixture of horror and intrigue as my girlfriends made me walk next to my ‘boyfriend’ on the way home from school.

Here at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, the middle school years are also marked by a physical separation from the younger grades; their classrooms are now on the ground floor. It’s a metaphor none can miss. And I, as a parent, find a certain, stinging nostalgia to this time; no longer do I watch the class eagerly bound up the stairs, listening to their many feet rumble on the creaking wooden staircase. Now, they slip to the back of the building and are gone… Gone to those new places, gone to meet all that new learning, all that life… Now my child is just that much less my child – and more a child of the world. But that’s ok, I know that’s what’s supposed to happen. And hey, my son even turned to kiss me – on his own – after getting out of the car this morning. So I have it good, I know. And so does he.

Everything in life is constantly moving and changing, but one doesn’t always see the change in distinct, clearly-defined ways. This year, however, there’s no doubt about it. The change is easy to spot. Yes, this is different. Because this is sixth grade.

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He’s up super-early, but still moving swiftly to get stuff done before it’s time to go. Loading a couple final Pokemon cards into his binder (which, btw, is not going to school. It was just on his mind).

IMG_2589Gettin that backpack zipped up quick.

IMG_2595Elihu appears a bit thoughtful in the backseat en route to his first day of school, but we’re listening to polkas, his very favorite kind of music. Hm. Can one be pensive and listen to polkas at the same time?

IMG_2596On the move..

IMG_2597And being greeted by Mrs. Maguire, once again, at the door. She knows every last student and has the lovliest, warmest way of making everyone feel truly special.

IMG_2599He’s on a mission; there’s no looking back now.

IMG_2604I’m not the only one watching with bittersweet emotions on this first day of school.

IMG_2602Such bright and gentle weather this morning.

IMG_2610This is the Rose Ceremony, in which the 1st graders ceremonially cross over the rainbow bridge and are welcomed to the Lower School. Here the faculty sings to them as they enter the space.

IMG_2613Here they come – the new 1st grade, led by their teacher (who will be the group’s teacher all the way through 8th grade). She was the school’s well-loved handwork teacher in years past, and it’ll take some getting used to her ‘belonging’ to one grade and not the whole school.

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A dad and a grad. Adam is a baker par excellence and West-African-schooled drummer, and Kai just spent his freshman year of college in Norway, studying violin. (Adam has two younger boys at Waldorf.)

IMG_2629Here the new 6th grade teacher (in blue, with tie on the right) expresses his wishes for his class through the coming year. Elihu’s previous teacher left her post at the end of last year, as she’d done the 1st through 8th cycle twice before and felt a shift in career focus was what she needed at this time. The transition from 5th to 6th is a good one for such changes. Btw – while we dearly loved Abigail, my son is beyond thrilled with his new teacher. And I’m happy for him to have a male presence in his life on a daily basis now.

IMG_2631The boys in blue… of course, mine’s the one with the dark glasses.

IMG_2663As with years past, we celebrate the first day of school with a visit to the Congress Park ducks. Soon they’ll take flight and migrate.

IMG_2665With a half a loaf of bread to work with, Elihu easily snatches up several ducks in our short visit.

IMG_2666He’s getting a better grip on this one.

IMG_2677And now he’s savoring having her in his arms. This never gets old.

IMG_2649I suppose this doesn’t get old either… Some boys come home to a dog, Elihu comes home to a hen.

IMG_2651Sometimes even two. Yup, things are off to a fine start this new school year.

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Snowsick March 23, 2014

A week has passed since my last post, but it kinda feels like two. We’ve been so busy, and on top of it all, Elihu ended up getting sick too. (I’m still not entirely well over a week later; haven’t known congestion like this in a few years.) Last Wednesday night he came down with a blistering hot fever, and unable to move, he stayed overnight on the couch in his clothes. I stayed up most of the night watching over him. I knew he was benefiting from the ibuprofen, and as he slept at least he felt nothing at all, but still there was a fearful quality to the night. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more serious such an illness might have been a couple hundred years ago. What could an unchecked fever do to a child? I shuddered to imagine how things might once have been. To distract myself from worrying, I searched my shelves for something to read. Glad I hadn’t given away every single David Sedaris book I’d ever owned, because Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim was just what I needed. (I have a habit of giving away books to anyone who expresses an interest in them.) In general I don’t have a great memory, so re-reading a book is often just as good as reading it for the first time (it’s like that with me and jokes too – they sound like new material the first few times I hear em). I stayed up til well past two, reading, watching, checking, reading… Until, not wanting to truly screw up my schedule for days to come, I decided I’d stay and sleep on the couch with him. Just lucky that I wasn’t on the school schedule the next morning, and luckier still that I was able to beg out of my remaining commitments without too much stress. There are occasions where I can leave Elihu for a short time, but there was no way I was leaving him alone like this. Yeah, being a single mom can throw a logistic monkey wrench into things sometimes. But this time, thankfully, it all worked out.

Still with a sore throat and boogers obscuring his ‘n’s and ‘m’s, my kid got back on the horse and was belting out his lines as King Midas in the fifth grade play rehearsals on Thursday (man, has he got pipes – charisma too. And you can see how much he enjoys throwing out those lines and living large into those gestures. I couldn’t help smiling ear-to-ear watching him). And then there was the gentleman from the Philadelphia Orchestra who came to play cello and speak to his class on Friday. That afternoon in the car ride home Elihu couldn’t stop telling me about it, and how moved he was to hear this man’s stories and to hear him play. After supper he went to the living room and spent a long time with his bass, mostly working on his bowing. After a time he called to me in the kitchen, “Mama! I got it! I got it! I got that sound!” Then I heard him laugh, and overheard him say quietly to himself “I just love playing this bass.” After I finished tidying up I joined him at the piano, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t come up with some of the grooviest little patterns. We had a very musical jam. I began to think that if he’s playing like this after just a few months at it – and at the age of ten – he’ll be a musical peer of mine in very little time. And likely he’ll surpass me. Yeah, I think that’s pretty much a done deal. But I can definitely live with that.

More’s been going on in the background of our life here too; an unsure relationship with the mother of a beloved classmate has had us both very depressed. Elihu and I have carefully scrutinized the past six months of our shared history with his family, and we have a couple of guesses as to why she’s avoiding our invitations, but none we’re absolutely sure of. I think it may well have been my careless use of the either ‘white trash’ or ‘redneck’ – something I used to describe the population up in their mountain neighborhood way back when I was a kid (the implication being that it was before moneyed folk – like them – had moved in. Oops? Crap. It was said with a sense of humor, no offense to anyone intended.) Hey, I’m the first to admit that my own joint takes on a rather white trash sort of look at times – chicken poop on the front steps, an overflowing recycling bin and a number of retired tube tvs poking out of the melting snow… But I think the terms ‘white trash’ and ‘redneck’ are more about an attitude than a reliance on food stamps or backyard junk piles. (The piles eventually go – but getting rid of them costs money, something we ‘white trash’ folk don’t always have to spend on gratuitous garbage removal. !)

I’d also taken Elihu and his friend to a Subway for a quick snack once. Not the kind of place we go to more than a time or two a year – but yet Elihu’s concerned it was a bad move, and one his friend’s mother can’t forgive. Me, I wonder if it isn’t the blog – she’d told me once in a very curt way to remove any mention of her child from it, all images too, and so I did. I had felt horrible about the whole thing, apologized and later asked her – in person – if we were good. “Yes, of course” she’d answered. But maybe not. You can imagine as a mother how sick I feel for my child, who himself has literally wept over this in frustration. And her child often avoids eye contact with me too when I mention the topic of a playdate. He’s a very open and cheerful child, and the contrast in body language when I bring it up is a bit startling. I feel sad for him as well, can you imagine the inner conflict he must feel at the subject? I watch the two of them playing together so joyfully in school, and my heart hurts for the situation. They’re going to be classmates for almost another decade, so we must figure this out. The not knowing how or why we got here is simply grinding away at me. So too is the realization that it’s going to take a confrontation of the issue to see some resolution. No matter, I gotta figure it out. It’s weighing on both of us pretty heavily, and it’s not a nice way to live. If email number five on the subject of a playdate is ignored as the previous one was, or if a terse, cryptic reply comes back  as in earlier communications, I promised Elihu I’d ask her about it directly. Can’t wait til this chapter is in our past. It’s adding a good deal of stress on both of us and it has to be fixed, but I fairly dread the process.

Lately I’ve been jonsin for some Taco Bell. For me, it’s the kind of place I visit like once a year (kinda like Subway – only I don’t exactly ever jones for that place), and then I’m good. Sated. Got my fix, don’t need to feel guilty either cuz it’ll be a while til I’m back. Elihu and I had some errands in the Taco Bell part of town so I suggested we try it. As soon as we walked in and Elihu asked if they had ‘tacos al pastor’ I knew we were in trouble. I explained that it was ‘stylized’ Mexican food. “Oh”, he said, “You mean it’s not Mexican food at all. It’s the Amercian version of Mexican food.” Kinda. I guess. So we made our choices and took our seats. Off to a bad start when the iced teas they offered were not only syrupy-sweet but carried with them a perfumey essence which clung to the plastic cup after poured out… He tried mixing in some water to dilute the tea but gave up after a few sips and stuck with plain water, albeit perfumed with the aftertaste of mango-flavored iced tea. “Why are there advertisements everywhere in here?” he asked me with growing agitation, waving his arms at all the posters encouraging the clientel to supersize a drink or grab a new food creation. “I don’t even want to know what they’re telling me, but I can’t help but read them. It’s annoying!” “Yup, they got ya” I answered with a small amount of genuine sympathy, but let’s remember that this was my jones, and I was totally digging every bite. Elihu wrestled with his taco supreme for a moment then set it down. “You know the way you rode the Vertigo at the county fair – for me?” “Yeah” I answered. “Well this is me doing the same for you.” I looked up at him. “Thanks baby, I appreciate it.” He went on, “I don’t want to ruin it for you, I want you to enjoy it. And I’ll try to enjoy it too, but I don’t think I can.” He paused and looked down at his food. “I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can.” He worked at a few more bites but then stopped again. “And this music! How can I eat peacefully with all this energy coming at me? It’s like the cafeteria at Greenfield. I’m beginning to feel like that…” (The cafeteria at his old elementary school was in fact one of the final straws for him. Loud, chaotic and bright, the place would bring on panic attacks and have him sitting alone at the far end of a long table, hands over his ears, head down and doing his slow breathing exercises to calm down. No one could have been more sympathetic than me, and the remembrance of that scene also helped me in deciding that school as we knew it had to change.)

I’d thought he was merely making an observation, but he really did seem to be growing more uneasy the longer we sat there. I hustled to get my annual fill of that Taco Bell thing over and done. I’d secretly hoped to have turned my kid onto a new guilty pleasure of pop culture, but I could tell that I hadn’t come close by a long shot. ‘Hm’, I though to myself hopefully as I slurped up the last of my Pepsi, ‘maybe he’ll get it when he reaches his drinking days…’ We wrapped up our mess, apologized to the universe for creating such waste, thanked the woman at the counter for our meal, and left the bright lights, loud music and super-sweet soda behind.

Snow began to fall yesterday morning, and while we it didn’t have us screaming in frustration the way it did even a week ago, I can’t say that it wasn’t a bit disappointing. The only good thing about it was that it served to temporarily cover up the awkward, pre-Spring phase of our property. Because this is an ugly time of year for our immediate surrounds; wind-strewn items from the recycling bin begin to poke up through the snow across the yard, great swaths of driveway gravel pushed by long-gone plow trucks top off the crusty snow banks, various cages and animal toters used throughout the winter to nurse house-bound birds remain half-embedded in the ice along the driveway, and fresh chicken poops litter the trampled snow pathways through the yard. Yeah, it’s a fairly depressing sight, but made tolerable by both a dusting of fresh snow – and also by knowing that before terribly long it will all be different. Soon we can rake the gravel back to the driveway and stash that bird paraphernalia in the garage where it belongs. And hopefully soon we’ll discover our shovel again, which fell over somewhere before the last big storm and lies ironically under a foot of snow.

While we yearn for Spring, Elihu also years for his father. For a break from me. Because it’s just the two of us, all the time. And while it’s a precious thing, it can reach its limits. I take my breaks here in my chair at my computer, I have my virtual community of friends on Facebook, but Elihu, he is isolated. He’s very good at being an only child, he can pass hours drawing, reading, practicing or even playing with blocks. But he’s kind of fed up lately. And I get it. And of course, my heart can sometimes break for it. He’s called his father several times recently, but there hasn’t been much time to connect. Dad’s either arriving or departing – or he’s at a restaurant and his food’s just come, or it’s too loud, or he has to sound check… I feel the disappointment in my son as he clicks the phone off. I ache for him. I wish that he could just see his daddy already. He’s been good about it all; many are the times he’s begun to cry and wish aloud that he had a mommy and a daddy at the same time. But these days he seems to be taking it more in stride, if there is such a thing. Maybe it’s all inward now, maybe it’s because he’s maturing, I don’t know. At least the countdown to his Easter visit with dad has begun. It’s given him some hope, something to look forward to (plus his sister’s visiting from England and that’s got him very happy indeed). So we limp through this long stretch, our eyes on the path ahead…

Making our load just a little lighter (scratch that, make that a lot lighter!) was the news we received just yesterday that the house at the end of our driveway will not be built this Spring, in fact the whole deal fell through. Hooray! As our neighbor casually said, it’s merely ‘a respite’, but hell, we’ll take it. Elihu and I high-fived each other and shrieked in delight. He later followed up by expressing a thought aloud: “Thank you universe for keeping the field as it is. We are so grateful that it is a field and is continuing as a field.” He’s big on stating the ‘isness’ of things; not that we are hopeful that something might be, but grateful that it already is. He will often correct me when I use finite terms, as he insists that I need to see the desired outcome as already existing – or continuing to exist. While I can admit first introducing these ideas to him, I’ve long gone out of the habit of living them – it’s he who’s taken up the charge of visualizing things as he’d like them and remaining grateful in advance of receiving them. Lucky to have my own personal life coach in the house. !

And I just may need a little life-coaching to get through this last, snowy stretch. It’s been an exceptionally long haul. May the memories of warm, scented breezes and the buzzing of bees keep our spirits aloft as we await the end of winter. Because we are as tired of the snow as we are of being sick. Oh please, come Spring, come soon and heal us….

 

Catching Up June 4, 2013

Elihu and I have been running, running, running the past few weeks. This is a busy time for everyone it seems. End of year recitals, plays, projects and papers… Field trips, parties, good weather at last. As I write this, Elihu is in bed deeply asleep. When I went to wake him this morning I made the offer I make only a handful of times a year – “do you want to miss main lesson?” I asked him. Usually, because he loves school so very much, this question will rouse him out of his slumber and he’ll find it in him to get up and out of bed. Today however, he paused, said nothing, but shook his head up and down. Within seconds it seemed he was back asleep. Thankfully, at Waldorf – and at this time of year in particular when things are wrapping up and there’s no real urgency to school now – sleeping in is something we can allow without guilt. Such a relief! His old school would never had permitted such an exception. Thank goodness we’re where we are. Such a supportive place is this Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs!

Here are some pics of a recent field trip to a classmate’s farm and a few assorted shots from here and there….

May June 2013 Alice 018Elihu and Nora admire the phlox. The Hudson River is just past the field in the middle of the scene, and we live somewhere in the hills you see in the distance

May June 2013 Alice 024This is Jonah’s place – so he knows his way around

May June 2013 Alice 044This is Phoenix, Jonah’s twin brother, their stepmom Jessalyn, and their goats

May June 2013 Alice 040Jessalyn is also the eighth grade teacher at Waldorf

May June 2013 Alice 055Lunchtime!

May June 2013 Alice 065Tobias and Andrew, always together. It would be an understatement to say they’re into sports. !

May June 2013 Alice 060The whole gang at lunch. Fourth grade teacher Abigail Reid is in the middle.

May June 2013 Alice 114The fourth grade!

May June 2013 Alice 120Back on our own little farm…

May June 2013 Alice 125Elihu just loves our old rooster, Bald Mountain

May June 2013 Alice 156He loves Maximus, too

May June 2013 Alice 159We love that gorgeous wingspan!

May June 2013 Alice 183At grandma’s retirement party

May June 2013 Alice 244with grandma…

May June 2013 Alice 245and just a little later that night, busking in Saratoga

May June 2013 Alice 247The contents of a boy’s pockets: a toy car from when his dad was little, and his lucky turkey. !

May June 2013 Alice 173

Zonked! We all need to catch up a little sometimes…

 

Spoons and Drums June 8, 2012

Yesterday Elihu’s Eurythmy teacher at Waldorf  brought the local trad music folks to school as an end-of-the-year treat for the 3rd graders. The trio played and called as 3rd graders, 7th graders, teachers and this mom joined in the dancing.

Local favorites Peter, Paul and Margot explain traditional music to the kids

Looks like Master Elihu has a question…

…he wants to see the spoons that Peter plays up close

Abigail Reid (standing) is the 3rd grade teacher

Susan Birkas Dent, Eurythmy teacher on left, Paul Rosenberg, caller, multi-instrumentalist and well-known founder of the Dance Flurry here in Saratoga on the right. We’re about to dance, so sorry – there aren’t any pictures of the dancing in progress!

Peter Davis shows Elihu how to play the spoons

During recess Elihu shares the djembes he brought to school with classmates

…then he and Phoenix play together (these two are the drummers in the class for sure!)

After school is out, Adam Witt, baker of the best bread you could ever hope to taste and west-African-schooled drummer leads the kids in a drum circle

A late spring rain has the drummers running to squeeze into the gazebo.

What a magical day. How much do we love this school??