The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Relic July 3, 2015

It’s not my home anymore, and today this sight is truly a relic of my long-gone past, but still the shores of Lake Michigan restore my soul as nothing else can.
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In the wake of Martha’s death, things have changed around here. For one, in the short time between the lovely farewell party we held for her at the farm and the day in which her relatives returned to organize her house, several of her belongings had been stolen. It had to have been an inside job, which leaves the few of us who know the place well to be suspects. I don’t truly think Martha’s niece thinks that we did it, but I can’t know this for sure, and that cloud of distrust has given this transitional chapter a very unsettled feeling. But it sure helps to wind things up there, and at the same time helps propel me back into my own life, something that’s been on hold for a while now.

It’s more than strange to see the farm no longer inhabited. Not a soul remains. Only stuff. Things upon things, more piles and objects than one can comprehend. It is a house that has been receiving its contents for half a century. And now, with their final caretaker gone, they sit, silent and enigmatic, most of their stories lost to those who are left to dispatch with it all. For me, I don’t find myself wondering so much at the items – if the stories are lost, at least their purposes speak for themselves – but more to the point are the unanswered questions – why was Martha saving all of this stuff? For what use was it all intended? Hoarding can just as easily be achieved with elegant, historical relics as it can with modern junk. In the end, things that aren’t of use are essentially just that. Junk. Stuff that sits inert, waiting for someone to give it a new life. So while this house may seem at first glance to be full of precious antiques, I see it a little differently. I see it as a repository for things that at present aren’t realizing their potential. (And in some ways, I also see the place as a mirror for my own life in this moment.)

When mom, Elihu and I visited Chicago a few weeks ago (for the memorial of another dear, old friend), we were given the rare opportunity to see the places where my parents raised my brother and me – and personally it was a way in which I could finally say a deep and meaningful goodbye to those chapters in my life. Our old home had been lovingly restored, the new owners more than happy to share with us every nook and corner of the place. We had the good fortune to eat familiar, much-missed food at places that were once regular destinations in our lives. We re-acquainted ourselves with the new city skyline, saw neighborhoods where some old places were razed and new ones erected, and we took it all in with enthusiasm and great interest. The lake, the unending stretch of beach that goes on for mile after mile, that boundless expanse of horizon which I still miss so very much… We saw it all, and we experienced it all together. And at the age of eighty, I’m not sure my mother will return in her lifetime. I know I will never return in the same way. (As for Elihu, he doesn’t remember his Chicago life, brief as it was, so for him it’s just an interesting anecdotal chapter that came before his time.) This trip was the perfect conclusion and farewell to our former lives. And this time it made coming home to Greenfield truly feel like coming home.

Shortly after we came home from our brief visit to Chicago, Martha died. And a week later, we had her memorial celebration. After that, the items went missing from her place. And now, the farm is no longer our space to enter freely. Ultimately that’s ok – there’s plenty I need to get to; the Studio, my teaching, my own home and property, my chickens, my health, my daily routines (which have been anything but routine over the past month or more) and, of course, my son. I’m resurrecting my quest to find piano solo jobs in this bustling tourist town, and last night made more than a dozen stops in my first attempt to sus out how things work these days. I learned plenty in just six hours of conversation and visits. I’m not up to speed in many ways. I’m out of practice, unfamiliar with my songs, my keys, even the silly lyrics. And technology? Forget about it. My lack of a smart phone and tablet all but cuts me off from the world around me. My songlist itself needs some serious updates (I’d thought I could hang my hat on the novel concept of being nostalgic and ironic, playing mostly a diet of guilty pleasure radio hits for the over 50 set, but the wisdom on the street is that I need a serious infusion of more current material, regardless of my cute little shtick.) I recall a time in my life when I had several hundred songs up and ready to go without a second thought; now I second guess it all. Did I really ever do this before? Was I really a musician in a former life? I certainly never jobbed with a vengeance, but I got work. More importantly – I almost always had work; and if I didn’t, it ended up finding me. Here, in Saratoga, a world in which I’ve never worked professionally, I don’t have the infrastructure of dozens of musician friends nor the good reputation I once took for granted to proceed me. And I certainly don’t have that ‘famous’ guitar-playing husband to help give me an added boost of credibility. All I have is me. (And a new rig, thank God. Wait, make that ‘thank mom’. !) Here, in this ‘new’ town, in this new life, it feels like I’m a relic.

Things can change, this I know. And thanks to a handful of magically timed recent meetups with some very wonderful women I know and a little outside perspective, I’ve been able to reinvigorate the vision. If it weren’t for my hairdresser – whom I merely visited yesterday for a quick hello – I wouldn’t even have set out to meet all the people I did. She urged me to go and close those deals which I’d proposed just a few months ago. And sitting in her chair, whom should I meet but an old friend of Martha’s. It seemed another push from the universe to let go of the past and move into my future.

My day started at six a.m. and didn’t end until lil man was back home and we two settled into bed around 2:30 (his flight from Chicago – where he’d been visiting with his father – got in after 1. A super late night.) My day started by learning, praise Allah, that I didn’t have colon cancer. Pre-cancerous polyps, but that was all (my grandparents died of colon cancer, and my cousin, two years my junior, is on her third round of chemo in her fight against the disease). My day filled quickly after the doctor’s appointment, and I only returned after dark to close the chickens in before I headed out to the airport to pickup Elihu. It was a day full of unplanned-for events, the enjoyable company of friends, and the gleaning of much important professional information. I felt a bit like an outsider though. Yes I’d left Chicago more than six years ago by now, but I’d been cloistered away ever since in the role of rural, impoverished, single mom. Yesterday it felt like I was starting all over again. But at least I was beginning on my own, not in the wake of a famous husband, not on the reputation of a varied career as keyboardist, not as a frontman for a well-loved band, not as any of those things. Just as me.

I still have a hard time letting go of my past life because sometimes I worry that nothing can match its glamour; that instead of a fruitful future, I can expect a long, bleak road ahead. That kind of thinking has been easy to succumb to in the past, but I need to get rid of it now. It’s ok to hold on to a keepsake – there’s nothing wrong with being in possession of a relic or two – but there’s still a lot of junk in my house that no longer serves me which I need to clear out, so that a new life can have the space and freedom to move on in.


IMG_0085The most beautiful, perfect sendoff for our dearest Martha. Michael made a fine toast (we all raised a glass of Martha’s regular evening drink – gasp – Apricot Brandy) after which we all sang Martha’s favorite song, “Simple Gifts”. That big, beautiful farmhouse came alive again, and I’m sure wherever Martha was, she was pleased.





A real-life tableau, undisturbed for decades.

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Ever a practical woman, Martha wrote her own obituary, as well as her final wishes and disbursements here in this plain, spiral notebook. She called her matters ‘mundane’; simple though they might have been, mundane they were not.

IMG_0152A last image of what has been our ‘normal’ for the past five decades. Mom and Andrew sit in the kitchen at the farm as they have since he and I were tiny.

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IMG_0048Is my own collection of stuff any less of a mystery? How in hell did this crap all find me? Another garage sale of epic proportions in on the calendar for this summer. My house will not end up like Martha’s. (Besides, there’s no space; it’s a mere four rooms to her ten.)

IMG_0052I am of the opinion that if you do not see it, you will not use it. I’ve labeled all this stuff and use it all pretty regularly. I’m doing my best to keep my crap confined to this storage room and nowhere else.

IMG_0058I’d thought my new rig was so modern and ready-to-rock, but alas, the bulky 3 ring binders of charts (and my reliance on them too) instead of a handy tablet is a handicap in this day and age. No matter, for now it’ll have to do. Until I can store it all in my brain, that is.

IMG_0103I try to keep my world as simple as possible. Hopefully, a tidy home will provide a solid platform for a full and invigorating life to come. If some things are about to change in my life, I’ll need some things in place that never do. That’s just the kind of gal I am. I’m fine with some change, and I feel it’s important to routinely clean one’s house out of unused items, but I utterly depend upon some things remaining just as they are.

IMG_0025Here’s a pic of our first-born hen this year, whom we named Martha. Sadly, for no reason I can understand, she died one morning this week. We’d never before had a hen who was half red and half white. She was as unique as her namesake.

IMG_0014I don’t cry anymore when our animals leave us, but my heart still breaks. I’d hoped to have a living remembrance of Martha here on our tiny farm, but I’ll have to let go of the sentiment and attachment. Sorrow and regret can zap a person of their hope, and I need to keep mine strong and healthy. Goodbye and thank you, tiny, feathered friend.

IMG_0002It’s not exactly in my backyard, but Saratoga Lake’s not terribly far.

IMG_0011Our house on the hill lives in the middle ridge of this photo – in the darker blue section just above the treeline, with the Adirondacks beyond. For me this is a new body of water, a new horizon. This beautiful view gives me a new perspective on things, and that’s something I could really use right about now.


       Post Script: Martha suffered a stroke in the mid 80s which left her left side paralyzed. While she was able to drive for a while, and did far more than one would expect for a person in such a situation, she was clearly stopped in her tracks by this life-changing event. It has been posited that her stuff remained in disuse because she was never again able to resume her activities and projects as she’d planned after her stroke. Heartbreaking to think how everything can change in a minute. A good reminder for us all to use our lives as fully as we’re able, and while we’re able, too.

 

Out and Back April 12, 2015

This week I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to meet some old-time residents of Saratoga Springs. My heart is lifted to have met Rocky Groce, a DJ from back in the day, an 87-year-old fellow who knew every single song I could possibly think of…. He told me how he’d play hookie from school to go and hear the bands play… They’d hop on the subway and get to the Strand in midtown Manhattan just in time for the 1:00 show…. When I talk to cats like this, I can’t help but feel I missed my era. All those songs. And real live musicians. Everywhere. That culture is gone, and now the old-timers themselves are almost all gone now, and I’m starting to feel it. I’m feeling the importance of keeping the songs alive. But how? I myself don’t even know them in my fingers; for decades I was spoiled to live in Chicago and sing with some of the very best musicians on the planet. I never had to play. Just had to sing. I’ve always been a rather rudimentary piano player, but hearing all those old songs again as I reminisced with Rocky has got me thinking…. And playing, too. Been picking my way thru as many tunes as I can, stumbling through clumsy, simplistic voicings, rejoicing at just getting the harmony right. Right now I’m wishing I’d paid a little more attention to the music when I had the chance. But I can’t fret now, I’ve been a lucky gal. Just got to figure out how to go from here.

I met Rocky because, as it turns out, his wife Mia and our family friend Martha were classmates in the 1947 class of Skidmore College, here in Saratoga. Mia and Margie, another friend, went to visit Martha in the nursing home yesterday, and I met them there, my goal being to meet Rocky in person. Rocky didn’t know Martha, and had no interest in visiting, so he’d be waiting in the lobby. A perfect chance. I’d heard he had dementia, and that he was ‘really out of it these days’, but man, that was so not my experience. Maybe he doesn’t know what time it is, or what month, but who cares? (See, right there, two songs: “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “Who Cares?”) Yesterday, when I sat down with Rocky, I can tell you he was all there. It’s been ages and ages since I’ve enjoyed hanging with anyone like that. I felt so lucky as I drove home, and I sang the whole way.

Mia has her own interesting story too; aside from the fact that she was the first ‘woman of color’ to graduate from Skidmore College, which is in and of itself a rather historically important fact to note, she also represents a very important family in the town of Saratoga. The house where she was born still stands, yet it is the only one that remains on that block, as aggressive urban renewal campaigns of the 70s and 80s wiped out all the historic homes in her neighborhood. When the original families left the homes (built in the late 1800s), many then became neglected, low-rent tenement housing, and there were no champions to fight off the wrecking ball, except for Mia’s mother, Ardelle Elois Mouzon. She stood her ground, an elderly woman living alone in a house which was desperately in need of repairs, she weathered the city’s cruel tactics of turning off the electricity, and then even the water… The house suffered broken pipes and flood damage, but still, Ardelle would not leave. It’s thanks to her tenacity – and some help from daughter Mia, too – that the house still stands today. Now it’s the home of a much-loved, high-end restaurant called Mouzan House. Another interesting note: Mia’s mother Ardelle was full blood Cherokee Indian, and her father of Creole descent. (I’ve heard that that’s why Mia doesn’t refer to herself a ‘black woman’, but rather a ‘woman of color.’ Indeed!)

You can imagine how invigorated I was to have met Mia and Rocky and to have heard them tell me their stories. It got me thinking again… It got me wondering, what is out there now, today… tonight? Just what is going on in the world – what stories might I be missing? And what kind of music could I find out there? With Elihu being gone, it was a perfect time to see for myself. It was Saturday. Couldn’t be a better night. So I set out.

Started at the local piano bar. The fellow playing actually took a few lessons from my father, and it made me happy to learn that dad had allowed Rob’s students to play their Bach recitals in the Studio, and on his double manual harpsichords. Warmed my heart to know that he’d known dad. I hadn’t sung in literally years, so I was a bit less together than I might have liked, but it didn’t matter. It was a slow night, and the gracious hostess and owner, Brenda Lee (also one of the old-timer set) was there at the bar, singing right along with me as I swung through Blackbird and The Nearness of You. When he finished for the night, he let me noodle around a bit, and I tried my hand at playing and singing – at the same time! – which I discovered, like anything in life, takes a bit of getting used to when you’re out of practice. Not accustomed to doing both at the same time these days – but it was fun. He showed me how he had all his sheet music on his Ipad – and how amazingly easy it was to turn pages, locate signs and endings. I can see that it would be the way to go if I had such a gig. One more thing on the never-ending list. I’ll consider it a huge personal victory if I can just acquire a new jobbing keyboard, much less find a place to actually do the playing and singing.!

I went home to close up the chickens (which required doubling back five miles and donning my muck boots for a minute) and then promptly turned around and headed downtown. I found the streets were pumping as if it were high racing season. Bands rung out from every bar, and clusters of sloshed twenty-somethings in sky-high heels tottered into taxis, phones all aglow… My goal was to meet musicians. To find out where they came from, how they got the jobs, and how I might do the same. Ideally I’d wanted to find a hotel where I could play – a place where I can do my thing while people do theirs. I had many such jobs ‘back home’ in Chicago, but I can’t compare that time or market to this. I found the jazz joint, and it was a joy to hear real music again. But still, I couldn’t ignore the inner snob… It wasn’t great music, they weren’t amazing players, and I realized, once again, that the caliber of music I heard in Chicago, and the experiences I had singing with those top-tier musicians cannot be compared to this. I was fucking lucky back then. And I had no idea. But somehow, even in my glory, rocking a perfect size 8 cocktail gown and calling tunes in front of a full house, I still felt as if the ‘real’ things were yet to come. That somehow, this was all a precursor to the real success, the ‘real’ career which was, somehow, to follow in the vague and distant future. Right.

When the guitar player declined to show much interest in trying a voice and guitar duo thing sometime, I lost interest in sticking around for any more of their original tunes. I’d had my fill. Time to move on. I had a few bands to choose from, and squeezed my way into a bar out of sheer curiosity – the band was all middle-aged guys my age or older, and they were just breaking. I said hello to the keyboard player, a stout, bearded fellow who drives a school bus by day.  I asked him about jobs – hotels, weddings, that sort of thing. He admitted he didn’t know – it didn’t much matter to him, as his band was booked two years out. That impressed me. Talk about working! I admired his stamina too – they played two-hour sets at one stretch, set up and broke down all their gear themselves (I can’t imagine dealing with 70 pound keyboards at this time in my life!). They didn’t get home til four in the morning, and yet by the same time on Monday morning he’d be rising to get to his day job as if it were business as usual.

They started to play, and I admit that I was ready to do my big-city snob thing; I was ready to split after the first song, but damned if I didn’t stay for the whole set. I guess I was a little embarrassed to stay at the start, but the whole thing was just so fascinating – the mix of tunes, of generations, how they pulled together the set list…. How they copped the tunes as well as any pro jobbing band. It was interesting. And…. fun. Drunken young professionals spun a beer bottle on the floor which kept stopping its spin to point at me, at which point I’d be dragged out to the middle of the circle to dance with the chosen partner… It was crazy, and in spite of not wanting to succumb to the barroom madness, I did. And I dug it. I laughed to myself later on when I thought of the rocker bus driver. He sang great, sounded great, kept the stuff moving… And never would I have guessed it if I’d seen this cat on the street. So what do his charges know of his other career? Do they know that they have the cool bus driver? I wondered. ‘Nother lesson learned. That book by a cover thing – it so does not work.

Intrigued with the crazy-high heels all around, I stopped to ask a crush of girls standing on the corner how they managed in their shoes – especially up and down hilly Caroline Street. “Oh, it isn’t easy” one girl replied, a bit slurred. I pressed for more – were they truly five-inch heels? Or was there a one inch platform to assist? One girl offered that hers were all heel, and then… they all just sort of turned away from me. And I felt it. The phenomenon of being too old to be relevant. If it hadn’t been for the level of intoxication, I’m not so sure the kids would’ve been so welcoming to me on the dance floor. I definitely felt old in this population. First time I’d really felt it – first time I realized that none of my peers were out on the streets. No, they were at home. Asleep. With their kids down the hall, and their Subarus in the garage. Yeah, I was ‘over fifty invisible’. Mighta bothered me once, but not now. I turned and left the clump of tottering girls and headed back to my car, and back to my country homestead.

I turned on the radio and heard something that made my whole body feel good. It was a jazz guitarist. Man, I’d like to sing with someone like that, I thought. The shit was burnin. The subsequent tunes were good too, but when I pulled into the driveway I sat in the car and waited for the dj to back announce the tunes so I could learn who the guitar player was. It was Pat Martino. Yeah, mighta known it. I laughed, and got out of the car. Thankfully, the new neighbors had finally turned off their garage lights and the place was dark. All except for a deep red half moon, which was rising just above the horizon as I reached the front door. I would never have seen it if I hadn’t been out all night. Even if the night hadn’t lived up to my hopes, I’d had fun. And if nothing else, I’d gotten to see this perfect moonrise. And that alone made the whole night worth the money spent and the sleep lost.

IMG_6901That’s my new friend, Rocky Groce on the right. Do a little googling of the man and you’ll see he’s had a long and varied career as a disc jockey. That’s  JG on the left – turns out he was a big band singer. The two gentlemen are exactly the same age and both shared memories of cutting school in the 40s to hear the bands play at the Strand in NYC. They both heard Frank when he was young and in his prime.

Rocky recalls his youth… Wish I’d let the video go longer, but still nice to have.

IMG_6916Here’s Martha on the left, enjoying a visit from fellow Skidmore graduate, class of ’47, Mia Mouzan Groce. She is the hottest-looking octogenarian I have ever met. !!! Way to rock that leather jacket!

MiaAnd here’s Mia in 1947, just after graduating from Skidmore College. !!!

IMG_6928One more look at her…. not a whole lot different, ya think?

IMG_7063Things sure have changed since those tuxedo’d days of the thirties and forties! No pics from the Wishing Well’s piano bar or the tiny jazz joint, both which might have more closely resembled the nightlife of years gone by – but here’s a little look at the middle-aged men rocking a house packed full of tipsy twenty-somethings in modern-day America.

And here’s a little soundbite from “the Master Cylinders”…

IMG_7066And here’s the gorgeous, red moon I saw at night’s end, peering out through the trees on the hill. A nice welcome home.

 

Cool and New September 1, 2014

It’s a lovely, late summer morning. A cool, humid breeze blows gently in from the east, causing the still-green trees to gently nod and twist. The temperatures inside and outside match, at a comfortable 70 degrees. For the first time in a long while, one can detect the season that’s coming in a few weeks. Though still green, the leaves are not the bright, lit-from-within green of spring, nor are they the rich, full green of a tree deep in the middle of its growing. Now, they are what I call a tired green… Just the faintest hints of olive and yellow begin to emerge when the light is just so. As I sit here this morning, the light itself is gray, the skies heavy with a coming rain, the green still looks like summer. But the rays from a setting sun would betray what’s really going on. This is that time of year in which we must all make our internal goodbyes, our quiet inventories of all that we’ve managed to do during the brief time when we didn’t have to wear anything extra to go outdoors… This is when we sigh, we surrender ourselves to the inevitable change. We shrug our shoulders, declare to friends that whether we’re ready or not, fall is just about here. School, after-school programs, the tasks of making lunches and cooking planned, sit-down suppers… Routine is coming. And soon after, colder weather.

Although I’d given notice at the Waldorf School back in June, and was assured mid-summer that I did not need to concern myself at all with the possibility of being needed again at school in the fall – that there was already an interested prospect for my replacement in the works – plans changed, as I had suspected they might. Apparently the ‘new’ gal who’d been enthusiastic about the post came to realize that the time it actually represented (yeah, I know, how hard could it be to be a musician? Ya show up and just play, right?) wasn’t worth the lousy money they were offering. Coulda told her that. For me, however, it had been worth it, as I had wanted to be with my son, I had wanted to get my reading chops up again, I had wanted to make driving him into town every morning worth the gas money. But it wasn’t enough for her, and I’m back on the hook. Which is a lousy thing at this particular time. I have a lot going on with the Studio – much of which I must do with my own hands – and this job will interrupt my workdays in awkward ways, blacking out entire mornings or afternoons, causing more delays in my progress. I wasn’t able to work this summer because I had things backing up here at home, I had a few house guests, many large-scale outdoor projects, and at the end of the summer I had a child about. This fall I’d planned to hit the ground running… But now I’m stopped. I can’t see an entire movement program at the school hanging in the balance should I refuse to play. I can’t do that to the kids, or the school. I had promised I’d help if they absolutely needed me, and disappointingly, now it turns out they do. They assure me it’s only for the first quarter. Yeah, the quarter in which I begin to teach my class at the high school, start up again with piano students, begin a new diet – plus it’s the quarter in which I must get both the Studio and my home ready for winter. Pretty lousy timing to be sure.

This afternoon we dropped our house guest Ken off at the train. He is setting out for an unknown adventure of his own, going to live somewhere new and turn to the business of tending to his health and even more importantly, his painting, his peace and his sanity. I feel like Elihu and I are also embarking on a new life; middle school, playing in a full orchestra and wearing contacts for my son, restoring and building the Studio while still working part-time, keeping a supportive home life and a full teaching schedule for me. I’m a little afraid, to be honest. It’s a lot on its own, and on top of it I’m planning on beginning another weight loss campaign at Weight Watchers in a week’s time (sponsored by my mother) and that will be an enormous challenge, I’m sure. The Atkins diet, while allowing me great and relatively fast success, assured I was seldom hungry (yet it also assures one gains it all back when eating as one did before). I know well enough – from having lost 55 pounds after Elihu’s birth – that WW is not as easy-going as Atkins. And me, I’ve been finding my solace over the past few months in chips and wine – exactly as Elihu had predicted I would over the summer – and this will not be an easy habit for me to break. Yeah, I have no friggin clue how I’ll pull through. Some folks have suggested the ‘humiliation’ diet: admitting – to the pound – on my blog how much I weigh each week, how I’m failing or succeeding – in real-time. Naw. I don’t have the stomach for that. So I’ll continue to share my experience, and at the risk of seeming catty, will casually fail to mention any hard and fast numbers. As you may see, I’m trying to give myself a bit of cover, a bit of safety to withdraw into should I – in the words of sixth grade boys these days – experience an ‘epic fail’. As of this moment, I really don’t have the confidence that I’ll make it. Still hoping against hope that I’ll find it in me to pull the motivation out of thin air.

As soon as the train had slid north out of the station and our friend was safely off on his journey, we turned to go and in our path found a young boy with caramel-colored skin standing beside an enormous, broken duffel bag, a faint smile on his face, in the middle of the pavement and looking lost. Happy, but lost. Like he could use some help. I asked him where he was going, and he told me Skidmore. “A student?” I asked, feeling almost silly – he was clearly too young to be anything else. Man, he looked like a lost doe in the woods… “Yes” he answered – with a gentle voice, and some vague, hard-to-pinpoint sort of accent. I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to figure out what kind of accent it might have been – or even if he had an accent at all and maybe I wasn’t just confusing it for a relaxed conversational style. I asked him where he was from and he told me New York. “Well, Brooklyn, actually” he added. Hm. “We can give you a ride to campus, would you like that?” “Oh yes”. He was still all smiles, despite having to move his broken and uncooperative bag to the car. In a short ride through town I got a few answers from him and his profile began to flesh out a bit. Raised by a single mom, one of three kids, the last to leave home, and in possession of a flip phone almost out of minutes and just a handful of change to his name, he was undaunted and ready for his new start. “So how were you going to get to school? What were your plans?” I asked, mystified. “You were my plans, I guess.” he smiled his response. What an interesting person, I thought to myself. What an interesting adventure is this life…

We found his new dorm and there was a cheerful crowd of students there to not only meet him, but to carry his bag for him and welcome him with handshakes and pats on the back. Byron (who liked poetry and computer programming and answered with surprising enthusiasm for an eighteen year old when I asked if his first name was Byron, “as in Byron Keats”) had made it to the end of a long day’s travel, which had started very early that morning on the subway, where he and his mother had parted ways. All I could think of was: what if this were my boy? Left to find his way on his own, not enough juice left in his phone to let me know he’d arrived and not enough money left to eat? I felt maternal towards him and wouldn’t leave until I was satisfied that he was safe and sound and at his destination. Just as he was about to be swept away by the welcoming committee to his new room – room 222, another seemingly serendipitous nod from the universe that things were all as they should be – I opened my arms to hug him goodbye. I kissed his cheek and held him as his mother would have if she’d been there. It was the least I could do for her, so far away from her baby. I insisted he get in touch when he was able, and then, not entirely sure that he ever would, made a mental note of the dorm name. Then off went Byron, on his new adventure, leaving us in the same, cool-headed manner in which we’d found him. Off to his new world. It started to rain, and we turned to head back the few miles left to our place, where soon we would be starting off on a new life of our own.

It did indeed rain today. It rained so hard that I could hardly see to drive, so hard that when I pulled in the driveway I found its entire surface one large, moving sheet of water. All my new landscaping was a few inches under fast-moving water, and our creek bed was finally living up to its name. I called Elihu away from his video world and had him join me outside. We followed the stream of water down the yard and into the woods onto the steepest part of the hill. Down it tumbled, making wonderful gurgling and rushing sounds which excited us both and drew us farther along its path. We passed almost an hour making dams, pulling up leaves and roots, freeing up the water here, stopping its progress there… We both fantasized, as we have done for the past six years, about what it might be like if we could one day afford to free up our stream bed again. How exciting it would be to have a real pond, a real creek… But then again, would we necessarily enjoy it so much more than we were now? Our lives were so simple, yet it didn’t diminish our enjoyment of what we had. As I listened to my son’s still-high child-voice, I realized that perhaps next year things might be different. He might not enjoy passing an hour in the rain with his mother as he did today. That our life, just as it was right now, was delightful and precious. And that one day, in the not-too-distant future, I might well look back on this time with a sigh of longing. No matter if our water ran in nothing but a grassy ditch across the yard, no matter if our schedules were scattered and a little too full for our comfort, no matter if money and heating oil would be scarce again this year, I knew that we still had it good.

The year coming up looks more unfamiliar than any of those that have come before in our six years here at the Hillhouse, but somehow I know it’ll be ok. I’m not saying I’m not scared, cuz really, I am. In all honesty, I think I feel more frightened than ever before. Yeah, definitely. I am. Yet somehow, I’m not sure quite how, I’m managing to keep my cool as I face down this new life of ours and watch the old one disappear behind us in the rear view mirror. And like our new friend Byron, I guess it couldn’t hurt to keep a smile on my face along the way.

IMG_2522I can’t believe my artist pal’s been living in this kitchy, Americana barn for the past two years.  Cute, but enough already. Time to move on, indeed.

IMG_2533Engine’s here…

IMG_2526One final selfie…

IMG_2535Elihu spreads his wings as Ken departs.

IMG_2541Next thing we know, it’s “Welcome, Thoroughbreds!” Here we are at the lovely, wooded campus of Skidmore College.

IMG_2542A cheerful coed with a clipboard is here to meet us…

IMG_2545A whole team is here to meet us! I unload one of Ken’s paintings – done when he was about the same age as these kids – so that we can unload Byron’s bag.

IMG_2547I feel better when I see such a great reception.

IMG_2550After a hug, he’s on his way. All the best to you, happy freshman year!

IMG_2557We spy a hawk on the way home. Always a thrill.

IMG_2559This, however, is not such a thrill. My heart still sinks. I know we’ll adjust in time. Just one more new thing to accept.

IMG_2567After a vigorous rain shower, our place looks tidy and clean.

IMG_2564Spreading our wings now, ready to fly off into the new school year.

 

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Yearful May 19, 2014

It seems I should be feeling some enormous weight removed from my chest; a great lifting of spirit at the conclusion of a stressful Spring full of performances and commitments. And to some degree I do, I guess it’s just not quite the experience of bliss I’d thought it might end up being. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than relieved it’s all behind me now.) Last night the 8th through 12th grades of the Waldorf School did their end-of-year performances in Skidmore College’s ultra-modern and gorgeous Zankel Music Theatre. After having secretly dealt with the idea of panick attacks resurfacing at such an event – and meditating daily to mitigate their probability, and even in spite of having taken 3x the normal dosage of Xanax to stave off such attacks from hitting onstage, I was nonetheless side-swiped, mid-performance, by a couple of doozies. The difference between the recent attacks and those of some thirty years ago is mostly the medicine, I think, and also a good deal of high-intensity mental energy spent beforehand in preparation. Those two things seem to make the attacks the slightest bit more bearable. But no matter how prepared you’d like to be, if you suffer from em, there’s really no hiding to be done; they’ll find you eventually. And let me tell you – that shit is not fun to deal with. It definitely takes away from you being able to enjoy – and fully live into and perform into – the moment. I just kept reminding myself that my role was supportive, that my job was to make movement easier for the kids; to make the movement as intuitive as the sound itself. I just kept thinking my only job is to make a beautiful sound… It helped a bit, but not as much as I’d hoped. But in the end, as it is with any on-stage errors, those that I made were much larger in my head than in reality. (Although I’m not going to be checking the Skidmore live broadcast archive to prove that theory. !!)

It was a lovely night. The teachers have the routine of the end-of-year performance down. So do the kids. They struck and re-set that stage ten times that night and kept the program moving along. Yeah, it was long, but yeah, it was also impressive, diverse and heartfelt. How proud I was of every kid up there. Hell, this may well be what it feels like to be a part of any school I suppose. I have nothing to compare it to, so I can’t be sure. But I had such feelings for all the kids on that stage… How can one not have strong feelings of solidarity after having gone through so much together through the long school year? But there’s just something about knowing each kid – even if it’s just their name – there’s something wonderful about having some sort of relationship to them – however small (in my case I’m the accompanist for movement and chorus classes – not super-exciting perhaps, but the kids do know that Miss Elizabeth used to be a real musician once upon a time. Seems she used to tour… she just might be kinda cool. Not sure, but there’s a small chance that the thought exists among the populace…) I could look upon any one of those faces and feel something unique… And I consider it no small blessing that I’ll come to know most of these children as they grow up over the next few years. How lucky am I?

Well, I’m a pretty lucky lady if for no other reason that I finally know how it feels to play a truly in-tune piano. !! And a honking big one at that. Same fellow who tunes my piano tunes the 10 foot Steinway I played on this night. Must give that fellow a call soon. My piano quickly became a disappointment after playing this gorgeous, responsive creature. Only wish I’d felt freer to really enjoy myself on it. There’s always next year. But I’m on it- getting ready for it already…

As life tends to do, the landmark events quickly and unceremoniously move into the mundane, everyday landscape of regular life. Within hours of leaving the stage with an arm full of flowers, it was life as usual. A visit to the local animal shelter, a stop at the town cemetery, the taking care of domestic tasks forgotten all week in favor of prior committments. The big news this week was not so much the performance at Zankel as it was the installation of our new dishwasher. And yes, you naysayers, I have found it to be just as life-transforming as I’d hoped! At least three hours of time have become mine since I first began to use it late Friday night.  And my counters are CLEAN and EMPTY for the FIRST time in my nearly six years here. If folks don’t already know, I’m a BIG fan of right angles and empty surfaces. I like it when things are put where they belong. My life may be a mess, but God please grant me clean-looking counter tops. That way at least it looks like everything’s perfectly under control.  !

IMG_3269

Ok, so this is how the day starts. Josh will be installing my new dishwasher as I go about my very busy day.

IMG_3295

We started out early with Grandparent’s Day at school. Mom in back at left, Elihu in front at right with pal Ben. Note the drawings on their desks that they’ve made on Classical Greece (their recent study block.)

IMG_3300Class Five gives a performance of a classical Greek poem for an audience of grandparents in the Eurythmy room . It was done masterfully.

IMG_3203This is a regular eurythmy class. The idea is simply that sound is made visible through movement. Kinda like dance, but not exactly.

IMG_3197

Here the class is given direction for a new piece.

IMG_3236Same room, now it’s used for orchestra. This is the most utilized, multi-functional room I have ever, ever seen.

IMG_3237The bass section.

IMG_3307Later on the same day, here we are at Zankel. Fancy shmancy indeed.

IMG_3331We started with a little eurythmy rehearsal on stage in the late afternoon.

IMG_3318

Now the High School orchestra rehearses.

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Eurythmy in traditional costumes which show and enhance the movement so beautifully.

IMG_3415Alex has a solo in the Bach.

IMG_3418Recorder ensemble.

IMG_3422The Waldorf acapella  group. Sublime.

IMG_3424Yay!

IMG_3431A nice shot of the High School Chorus

IMG_3433They did some great pieces, including  a lively arrangement of  ‘Ain-a That Good News’ by William Dawson.

IMG_3414It’s growing next to impossible to take a candid of this 11 year old boy. Screws up his face as soon as he sees me lift the lens… Mom is in the striped shirt. She’s been with us since before 8 this morning, and it’s now well past 8 p.m. Long day…

IMG_3409Backstage the ninth grade girls dish…

IMG_3411And Miss Elizabeth tries to secretly listen in on what ‘the kids are talking about these days’….

IMG_3437

Hey look! They got me flowers!! Apparently, they’d planned on giving them to me onstage with some fanfare, but I’d quietly slunk off after my bit was done. This is a new world to me! I was so very touched. Plus I just LOVE fresh flowers. A wonderful night. And did I mention the Steinway was ten feet long? Almost looked like a mistake it was so honkin big. And those bass strings. UN real.  Woo hoo!

IMG_3686Ok, the night’s program was beautiful, the whole day in fact was a marvel, but this is the height of it all: a new dishwasher was at home just waiting for me!!

IMG_3443A dishwasher and flowers. !!

IMG_3280The next day starts out cool and green…

IMG_3219Elihu’s taken my camera to document our life from his perspective for a little while…

IMG_3212This is what lil man sees from his world in the backseat…

IMG_3217…and this is what’s on his mind most of the time.

IMG_3491On our way to the 4H meeting, I was struck by fresh activity in our long-dormant village cemetery…

IMG_3473We stopped to see that a local woman who’d died in early January was just being buried now.

IMG_3489Having just begun to read a book on the current culture of death in our country, I was fascinated and had to stop.

IMG_3488Wherever dear Agnes is now, I hope she can share in the joy Elihu finds in making a lovely, resonant percussive sound on the structure designed to lower her casket down into the vault. (I learned the proper terms from the man who’d set it all up a bit earlier.)

IMG_3493As a child, I’d ride my bike to cemetery hill and pump myself a refreshing drink of water at this now dry hand pump.

IMG_3499And this is how I think of this place looking. Most graves are over a hundred years old on the hilltop.

IMG_3524We’re over the hill and on the other side of Greenfield now at the locally well-known Estherville Animal Shelter for our 4H meeting.

IMG_3532It’s a very casual place, a casual bunch.

IMG_3541Aged horse Stardust (yes, I sang him his song) and goat Blossom routinely stand in the newly paved road. All of my 51 years this was a bumpy, uninviting dirt road which posed no threat to these two residents. Now the cars zip thru here and I can’t help but worry…

IMG_3545Elihu doped up good on allergy meds for moments such as these.

IMG_3554…and for these too.

IMG_3560Elihu found his sweet spot it seems.

IMG_3587Jessie and Sam – in the 4H shirts – are daughters of a guy I’ve known since I was their age. It’s nice to have continuity like that in the kind of displaced world in which we live in these days.

IMG_3578See this is why I have a ‘no hooved animal’ policy at our home. Give em an inch… Blossom is joining the party without an invitation…

IMG_3597After the club kids go home, Elihu remains to brush Stardust a bit. He’s got a lot of wild, winter hair coming off him and could use a little help being groomed.

IMG_3601Apparently goat Blossom and horse Stardust are inseparable.

IMG_3607After a good grooming they’re in search of treats in one of the out buildings.

IMG_3679Coming home to a clean, open counter. Oooooohhhh

IMG_3684See how nicely my flowers fit in the open space? What a nice reminder of our lovely weekend.

I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to a load of magically washed dishes. Truly, it feels like the dawning of a sparkling, new age.

Grateful to all I am.

 

Fade Up February 27, 2014

Just as the very real images of my dream begin to fade, my body starts to register some incoming data from the physical world… although I can still very clearly see the environment of my dreaming mind, I can also sense that my nose is very cold. My face too, and also the shoulder that rests outside of the covers. While still tracking the scene that continues to play in my mind, another line of thinking superimposes itself on top: for a few seconds both my sleeping and my waking consciousness are co-existing. And even as that is happening, there’s a third witness present; I (whomever that may be) am watching the two operate simultaneously, and I am marveling over it. Underlying the whole thing, dreams, to-do lists and the emerging memory that yes, we are out of fuel oil again, a soundtrack of Stanley Clarke’s School Days plays, over and over. The music is a bit distracting, but I can’t seem to stop it. Over and over again the line plays as my waking mind picks up speed and the lists start coming at me fast and furious. So much for sleeping in this last precious hour.

I watch the mix of thoughts and sounds fly around in my head like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the witch morphs from riding a bicycle to flying on a broom…. Thoughts fly about me in a virtual storm, and it feels I have no control… Eventually my witnessing mind is pulled back in from the sidelines, the dream evaporates, and I am now in my body again. The visions and soundtracks are gone. At last, I manage to sit upright in bed. Yes, the house is cold. The nightscape has faded into another day of earthly realities. And this business of keeping the house from freezing in single-digit temps is now number one on the day’s to-do list. In the past I might have been thrown by this alone – I remember in the early days, running out of fuel was downright frightening. It felt lonely and vulnerable, and although it was nothing personal on anyone’s part, it felt somehow as if the world had chosen to turn us away. But this morning, I wasn’t stopped, or even slowed down. (I admit that without the Brady Bunch double ovens to warm the kitchen and our portable electric heaters I might feel otherwise.) These days, it was just another thing to deal with. And these days, I’m getting pretty good at dealing with things. !

I am, however, a bit dismayed that the five gallons of kerosene I’d dumped in the tank yesterday afternoon didn’t even last us twenty-four hours; we’d barely kept the house at 60 degrees – truly, I’d been frugal. How in hell had we blown through all that fuel? Maybe kerosene doesn’t burn as efficiently. Maybe single-digit temps really require a lot more fuel. I guess. Having some concrete ideas makes it easier to take. We’re on a wait list for emergency oil thru the state assistance program, so relief is coming at some point. (It’s been a week without proper heat now, and although it feels like the longest we’ve gone without oil at one stretch, Elihu remembers us going nearly two weeks without heat a couple of years ago. Funny how you repress some things.) Besides, I’m sure there are folks much worse off than us. Sometimes I worry more about my instruments than I do us, and it’s then that I realize I guess I shouldn’t be bitching. I’m lucky we get help at all – and luckier still to have a piano and a harpsichord in our living room. Just take it day by day, I tell myself, and I keep my sights set no further out – because it’s far less stressful. And it’s kinda funny how the things that used to be the really big stuff become the not-so-big stuff in light of the truly heavy shit. Like a concert hall whose floor and walls are being removed as I write this, like a business that needs to be created, programs developed, budgets mapped out… Never mind getting my taxes together, learning the score for the children’s theater production next week or the Bach Partita with the right-over-left hand crossing business that I need to have learned by Monday (I have lovely memories of my father playing this, so it’s truly a joy to finally learn it myself)…. Yeah, it’s all pressing in on me, but with the drama of the Studio continuing on all the while – sort of like the dream and waking realities living side-by-side – it doesn’t seem as daunting. Interesting how one’s perspective on things can change.

My spirits are also somewhat buoyed by last night’s conversation about the future of the Studio with my mother. I’m back to teaching my continuing ed course I call “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher” on Wednesday evenings, and mom stays with Elihu. (I wasn’t able to teach it last semester as mom couldn’t leave dad. Now, of course, she’s free to come over.) After I got back we sat and talked about life for a while. Naturally the Studio was the main concern; we discussed the different systems of heating, the floor materials, small upgrades that might benefit the place – and I was surprised at how positive she seemed at the ideas. I myself had been fighting daily not to succumb to tears over the whole thing. How was she so calm about it all? I learned that from her perspective, this is dad’s legacy we’re talking about here; we need to do what needs to be done. (When I falter, Elihu says the same thing. “You have to do this for grandpa!” he reminds me vehemently.) It it so beyond the scope of anything I’ve done, and it almost seems downright nuts to talk about spending all this money when Elihu and I are living in a house without heat. (There goes dad’s VA insurance, but then this is a much more fitting use for it than an elaborate funeral!) Really, it seems crazy. But then again, it’s kinda like apples and oranges. The Studio will be a source of income one day (that’s the hope, I’m still working hard on believing it) and it will be my sole occupation at some point. So it makes sense to invest in it. We can live in a chilly house for a bit, it won’t affect our future. At any rate, that’s how I justify it. I just see them as two separate entities. And thankfully, as my focus is on the Studio now, it gives me less time to stew over my own personal situation. In a week’s time this will be nothing but a memory…

From one reality to another, from one set of priorities to another, I gotta keep living in the moment, dealing only with what’s before me. I’m keeping my head down here, and my focus on the path in my immediate field of vision. I’ll look up every now and then to make sure I’m going in the right direction, but for now, my individual steps are the most important thing. Soon enough this reality will fade into the next, so for now I’ll just do my best, carefully putting one foot in front of the other until I get to the next rest stop on the trail.

 

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.

 

Solo February 16, 2013

Here it is again. My time. My time alone, without my son. My time to get things done, to enjoy some respite from always being needed. For the most part, it’s a good system. I enjoy having my son during the school year, and for breaks he stays with his father. Yeah, it’s worked out pretty well over the past few years. But the transition from mother to solo human is always a little poignant. I always feel a little lost in the world after Elihu leaves. Empty of destination, of purpose…

The train that he and his father take to Chicago leaves Schenectady at 7:30 p.m, and the drive home is dark and quiet. A contrast to the few hours that precede it; these are the handful of hours that we three get to spend together as a family. Elihu so looks forward to those visits, and me too. In spite of the history, we three always share laughs and end up enjoying ourselves. It’s just enough time together to make me wistful, to make me miss the life we didn’t end up sharing. Perhaps the drama of goodbyes shared on a train platform heighten my vague sense of sorrow, I don’t know. Why even think like this?  Everything is as it should be. Yet as I begin the long drive home I start to feel very alone. And I begin to think…

I begin to sink into the feeling of what it is to be alone on the planet. Of what it feels like just to be me – to be me on my own, undefined by my relationship to anyone else. It’s hard to conjure, to really get it. And it’s then that I realize how very much my life is tied to my son’s. My very identity seems to depend upon him. It frightens me to think of myself alone, without him. And honestly, I don’t know if it’s healthy to depend so keenly on my young son. I fret over the idea for a while. But after a time I relax; this is, after all, my role right now. Single mom. And it takes almost all of me to be that. One day, this chapter too will close and a new one will begin. Oh oh. I consider this new idea, and begin to sense a low grade panic growing. What the hell will I do then? Just what exactly is it that I do if I’m not a mother? Oh no – this worries me. I really don’t do anything. My life is all about being a mother! Back in the day I was a musician – but that was all about the look, the lifestyle… it was very much about the culture of youth and beauty. I can’t revisit that life, no, I’ll need a new one… But I can’t follow that line of thought too long, because I can feel the stress rising. Instead I do my best to quiet my mind and soon it’s just me again, the darkness and the road. Guess I’ll just have to figure it out when I get there. For now, the challenge at hand is the week that stretches out in front of me. For some reason, the space ahead seems much emptier than usual. And I think I know what might be contributing to it.

On Valentine’s day I learned that I’d lost my beloved new job as pianist at Elihu’s school. It was unexpected, and frankly, due to a situation out of my control. No hard feelings exist, yet I’m left rather dazed by the sudden change. The sudden emptiness in my life. Sure I’ve got projects that can use my attention, I’ve got parents that could use my attention, and I’ve got a brother that needs medical help and counseling, something that only I can help him achieve – but it’s not the same. I had a job I loved, my first real job in a decade; I did what I loved and got paid for it. For once things seemed to be falling into place. I played music every day. I saw my son every day, I saw those wonderful kids every day. I got to play sweet little classical pieces, I got to improvise, I got to play the most delicious piano I’d touched in years… and now, it’s gone. Poof. But I can hardly feel sorry for myself when the woman whose classes I accompanied has lost her job too. I haven’t lost what she has, but still… It makes my future feel a little emptier than before.

Tonight I have house guests, and although I don’t think I’m up to the socializing that goes with being a host, it might be for the best that they’re here. It might help to distract me from my dark mood. They’re not home yet, and likely they’ll be in late. I probably won’t see them tonight. Good. That’ll give me some time to switch gears. Tomorrow I may join them along with several thousand other folks at the Flurry – the local dance festival which brings together musicians and dancers of every age, color, size and shape from all over the East. Because I’m hosting musicians, I’ll enjoy a highly coveted pass. So I’ll go. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to hear all that wonderful live music and watch all those amazing dancers. Yeah, I’ll go. Just not sure if I’ll dance. I don’t know. Not sure I’m ready to swing a partner quite yet.