The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Dragons and Crumbs September 28, 2014

Yesterday the Waldorf School held its annual Michaelmus celebration at the local state park. The day was warm and sunny, and the children all had a wonderful time. (See last year’s post for more on the story behind the seasonal celebration.) With a large-scale enactment of Saint Michael (pronounced Mike ay El) slaying a dragon put on by the twelfth grade, a morning-long quest in the woods for the children in the Lower School led by the eighth grade, hearty autumnal stew for lunch followed by a round of games in the field, the day was full and satisfying for all. In the morning, while the kids were hiking about in the surrounding forest completing their challenges, the eleventh graders helped prepare vegetables while a few members of the faculty worked in the shelter at portable stoves to cook the soup. Elihu was in such high spirits afterward, that he and three of his happy classmates talked me into an impromptu after-school gathering at our house, where in spite of the incredibly beautiful weather, they preferred to spend the better part of their time playing rounds of Pokemon. They’d had such a good day of outdoor activity, I easily acquiesced. It made my heart so happy to see them having such fun together. My son went to bed that night a very contented boy.

Earlier in the week we’d had a few small adventures; catching a beautifully colored turtle by the local pond, relocating a few of our frogs to a safer wintering spot, getting some trees to plant in front of the new construction house at the end of the driveway plus other various and sundry pleasantries that come with an unscheduled life in the country. Like finding odd-looking, misshapen eggs in the nesting boxes, or dining on squash that emerged from our compost pile, or taking a walk in the woods to discover a trash pile from well over a half century ago languishing in the leaves, filled with the bulbous forms of antique car parts and other, more mysterious unidentified objects rusting away… And still more surprises – finding a praying mantis, getting to rumble down the road in a neighbor’s borrowed truck, learning how to play a chromatic pattern on the piano complete with a left hand part and visiting with two grandmas in one day.

When Elihu was five, we stumbled upon the Rosh Hashanah celebration taking place in Saratoga’s city park, and since then we’ve made it an annual part of our own family tradition. We’re not Jewish, but we love the idea of tashlich. It’s the act of casting the crumbs from one’s pockets into living, moving water, that the sins and transgressions they represent be washed away, giving one a chance to start the new year with a fresh, clean slate. This is personal business, as those casting the crumbs are mindful of what those pieces represent, and they do so with somber introspection. (And after the casting they then read from the book of the prophet Micha about repentance. Micha? Michaeal? Hmm…) In the Jewish tradition, it is G-d who sits in judgement of these sins, and who at week’s end – Yom Kippur – will offer forgiveness as He sees fit. Elihu and I like to believe that all people are always forgiven, as we would always endeavor to forgive others (successful or not, at least it’s our goal!). Furthermore, I do not believe in a Creator that condemns or forgives; a parent loves her children no matter what they do, good, bad – or even very bad. (I realize some of you may well feel differently.)

It’s a lovely practice to cast away ones sins and recommit to living in the world with a renewed sense of love and respect. And Fall feels a perfect time for this sort of inventorying of the self. After having shed the things that no longer serve us, be they leaves or sins, we can now turn inward and give our full attention to the big changes ahead.

The slaying of dragons, the falling of leaves and the casting of crumbs tells us that fall is now fully underway.

IMG_4313The colors are here.

IMG_4259Early in the morning the teams assemble for their treks in the woods.

IMG_4284Preparations are being made…

IMG_4281Lots of soup…

IMG_4303…for lots of kids.

IMG_4290It takes a lot of help…

IMG_4326…and a little decoration, too.

IMG_3937The dragon has rehearsed its part…

IMG_4271…which is now acted out on the enormous playing field.

IMG_4337My foley station – sound effects for a rural village (cows, sheep, cowbells and birds) plus the battle and slaying of a mighty dragon (timpani and cymbals) and finally a happy recessional (tambourine with voices). Lots of fun to do this little bit.

IMG_4386Soup’s on! The tenth graders help serve the younger kids.

IMG_4347Elihu and pal Roger.

IMG_4353The teams added a colored band to their staff for each challenge they met.

IMG_4391Somehow, there was enough for everyone. No one left hungry.

IMG_4398Sweet Sadie.

IMG_4407Our friend Cally, a talented young horsewoman and singer, too.

IMG_4441Time for games!

IMG_4452The girls, adjusting their pony tails in unison as they head back to the bus.

IMG_4474Driving back to school on the Spa State Park’s iconic Avenue of the Pines.

IMG_4504And after school, a pickup game of Pokemon. Perfect!

IMG_4520Sweet little eggs from our youngest hens.

IMG_4245I love my mod duvet cover. Got it a while ago, but happily just rediscovered it. It refreshes the spirit to have something new around, doesn’t it?

IMG_4228Something else that refreshes my spirit: trees to provide a natural barrier between us and the new house at the end of our driveway.

IMG_4106And this is how we got em there… thanks to Stephanie and Zac for lending us their truck. Ah, the feel of a diesel!

IMG_4068 The praying mantis we found on the new trees.

IMG_2937This guy’s lived in our plastic pond all summer, now we need to move him to the muddy creek bank where he can hunker down for winter.

IMG_4032And the beautiful Eastern Red Belly turtle I found trying to cross the road. Apparently they’re not terribly common, so we were really lucky to have seen her up close. Look at those striking markings! And the red was so very vibrant. Her eyes had lines that ran right through them – altogether a stunning creature.

IMG_4040Saying goodbye.

In an instant, the turtle slips away into the pond.

IMG_4165We like to visit this lovely pond in Congress Park on Rosh Hashanah.

IMG_4182I don’t know why, but I like to know there’s a local Orthodox Jewish community here in Saratoga. Maybe it’s nostalgia for my old home near West Rogers Park in Chicago.

IMG_4192While some cast crumbs for their sins, some cast em more for the ducks. !

IMG_4202This one is pretty young…

IMG_4207She’ll need to migrate soon – but how can she with these tiny pin feathers? Hurry up and grow!

IMG_4220Elihu meets Esther.

IMG_4216And shares his duck with her.

IMG_4243Now we’re enjoying an evening at home with the emerging colors of fall outside our window.

IMG_4061Some lovely hydrangeas I picked from the cemetery on the hill.

IMG_4126The maple’s beginning to glow… see how the ripples in the window tint look almost like rain…

I love the shifting moods that the changing colors create. There’s a melancholic feeling in the air, and yet there’s also a bright little spark of hope for what lies on the other side. For now we’ll savor the scented air and enjoy listening to the final evening choruses of crickets before the world slows down to its long, cold sleep.

 

Fine Day September 14, 2014

Today Elihu and I made our annual trip to the picturesque village of Lake George, in the Adirondacks. Each year, just as school’s beginning and the summer is coming to a close, we head up north to enjoy a lakeside meal and a little adventure. On the docket for the day was watching an attempt to break the Guiness record for the longest parade of Ford Mustangs; they needed 621 to be successful. We saw but one Mustang on the way up, and when in town saw maybe two or three more. It surely didn’t seem a world record was about to be set. Elihu had wanted to earn some cash, and we’d thought busking for the crowd here might work, but when the cars – and the crowds – didn’t show up, and when we heard the sound of music coming from the bandshell, we knew it wasn’t the time. So we headed to the place we always eat, and enjoyed a lovely meal of steamed mussels and calamari instead.

After lunch, although Elihu was jonsin to play, I asked him to humor me and go hear the band first – from what we could pick out over the relentless onslaught of Jimmy Buffet covers from the duo on the neighboring restaurant’s deck – I thought I’d heard some real music. It had been way too long since I’d heard any good stuff (Saratoga is a town mainly of cover bands – in the summers the music that floats through the air sounds kinda like montage of never-ending wedding bands). The busking could wait. And frankly, when we got to the stage and learned this was the weekend of the Lake George Jazz Festival plus saw there was a tuba player – both busking and record-breaking lines of cars were forgotten. I admit that I tried Elihu’s patience when I insisted he meet the guy after the set – but Elihu was glad we hung around. The tuba player showed Elihu how he could play melodies on his mouthpiece, and that stuck with him. It was just the right inspiration at the right time, and he was psyched to have met the guy. The two of them chatted for a while, we took some pictures and then parted ways. Elihu felt Saratoga would be a better opportunity to make some cash, so after a couple more enjoyable and impromptu chats with folks en route to the car, we headed back.

Once on our turf, he had his plan. He hit both of his usual spots, and in between played for a bit with a fellow we’d not seen before on the street. I did my dutiful mom thing as he played, sitting off to the side, all but ignoring the kid (he’s eleven; he needs to retain his dignity. Who wants a hovering mom?) and waited. Elihu was playing well, and trying some new things. It made me smile to hear him playing well, and playing with such joy. I had a pleasant chat with a gentleman with whom I shared a bench, and shortly Elihu declared he was through for the day.

These days, Elihu and his classmates are rather consumed with the culture of Pokemon. I’d thought it might have passed by now, but no. Elihu gives a lot of mental energy to assembling his deck. He gets lost in thoughts of how he’ll battle his opponents, what powers he’ll use, what special EX cards he’ll need to win… I try to share in his excitement, or at least I try to show interest, but really, it’s hard to keep it up. My son is lost to me in the world of Japanese anime characters, and I can’t possibly understand. But I can support him, and when he’s worked hard all week, done the chores I’ve asked of him, finished his homework and practiced his bass, I feel it’s altogether fitting that he be allowed to buy himself a little treat. And especially when it’s with money he’s earned himself. In about forty minutes he’d made around thirty dollars, and so I took him to the store to get the newest release of Pokemon cards. He was beaming all the way home.

Elihu talked with his father on the phone for a bit as I made supper, and then afterward we watched a little ‘Simon’s Cat’ on YouTube for a quick nightcap of laughter, and then he was off to bed. “This was such a good day” he said as I turned out the light. Yes, it was, sweetie. It was a fine day, indeed.


IMG_3154Beautiful Lake George in upstate New York.

IMG_3162I’ve waited all week for a glass of wine. !

IMG_3156Here’s a gratuitous selfie with the same view.

IMG_3169Glad we brought these this year. Elihu really can’t see much detail beyond the deck without em.

IMG_3160And this is a shot of me, in the reflection of Elihu’s large, dark glasses. When I talk to him, I can’t see his eyes – all I ever see is myself – so I snapped a pic to kinda show him what it looks like.

IMG_3183This is the crowd…

IMG_3194And this is the event.

IMG_3243The view from the lawn. I grew up being part of really huge events, so this seems quaint by those standards. But hey, it’s been so long since I’ve heard any music at all that I’m thrilled to be here. You can’t beat the scenery, and a smaller venue is so much more pleasant in many ways.

IMG_3179The group? Billy Martin’s Wicked Knee. That’s Billy on the drums.

IMG_3184And that’s Elihu’s new pal Marcus Rojas on the tuba.

IMG_3202Showing Elihu how much you can play on a mouthpiece alone.

IMG_3218Elihu shows his djembe to Marcus’ little boy.

IMG_3206

This is Will on the left, he plays accordion – and the yellow CD on the right is a brand-new project he and Marcus played on together (look for their group Musette Explosion). Will was going to be playing later on in the afternoon. It was a posse of NYC musicians there.

IMG_3196Peace out, Marcus! See you next time…

IMG_3247Back home in Saratoga Springs, Elihu stopped to leave a tip in this guy’s case, but instead, this man insisted that he tip Elihu, who he’d heard playing djembe across the street. How kind!

IMG_3253Then Warren invited Elihu to play with him for a bit.

Here’s what it sounded like.

IMG_3256In an alley on the way back to the car, we heard the most beautiful and plaintiff melodies from this harmonica player, and Elihu felt compelled to double-back and leave him a tip and a kind word.

IMG_3263Keepin it real. This is what all that cash was about! After pack upon pack of humdrum cards, Elihu lands a couple of good ones back-to-back. Love it.

IMG_3269A fine day – in so many ways.

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Just a friendly reminder that if you’ve enjoyed my posts and would like to buy me a cup of coffee (that’s a blogger’s euphemistic way of saying ‘give me a small tip’) you can click on the tip jar icon at the top right of this page and it will allow you to do so rather effortlessly through Paypal. Thanks for considering, and thanks even more for contributing to the coffers of this writer and mother.

 

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.

IMG_2583

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.

IMG_2622

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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Just a friendly reminder that if you’ve enjoyed my posts and would like to buy me a cup of coffee (that’s a blogger’s euphemistic way of saying ‘give me a small tip’) you can click on the tip jar icon at the top right of this page and it will allow you to do so rather effortlessly through Paypal. Thanks for considering, and thanks even more for contributing to the coffers of this writer and mother.

 

Pokemon Party June 13, 2014

School’s out, we’re still saddened by our recent loss of Madeline, and Elihu will be leaving home in a few days for the summer, so we needed something to lift our spirits. Given the drug-like hold this silly Pokemon culture currently has over the fifth grade boys, I thought it might be nice to give em a chance to really get it out of their system – trade and play and talk and strategize until they were sick and tired of it all and could finally give it a rest. (Yeah, right.) Plus the mother who’d banned us from her child’s life granted us a respite for this ‘special occasion’ and allowed her son to attend. I guess she felt safer in that her child would be in a group. I also think it made her feel safer because our intended activities were limited to Pokemon. So when Phoenix and Sawyer asked me if I’d fry up some bugs for them, you can imagine I was more than a little concerned that this might be construed as a ‘bad parenting choice’ by this woman. She’d already cited three violations of mine in the parenting department – this blog included – and I was on parole, as it were, so I didn’t want to blow it. But then again, heartbreaking as it has turned out to be for my son, her son will no longer be attending the Waldorf School, so this child won’t be part of our daily lives in the future; the bug thing probably won’t even matter in the end. Plus she’d made it clear to Elihu, when he asked her about it the other day, that this party would likely be the last such occasion on which the two boys would get together. (I do believe she softened just a bit this evening when she retrieved her child, but who knows. This is a person who went five months politely turning down our invitations to play dates, each time blaming very likely-sounding culprits. She only told me the real reason when finally pressed in an email from my ex. Who knows. She always acts just nice as you please, so it’s impossible to read her. This time she seemed to have gotten past our history, but again, I can’t know anything for sure. Ich.) Still, I do hope the bug thing won’t come back to haunt me. We did manage to keep this particular guest downstairs and busy with video games while three of us fried up some bugs in the kitchen, so I’m pretty sure he was none the wiser. I hope.

I hope also that all the boys felt today was a success, and that this same group of seven boys can do it again later this summer after Elihu returns. I really hope so. Elihu and I will both keep our hopes modest and our expectations low, because we both understand that life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it should. And as natural as the friendship between him and his one pal may be, it just may not be in the cards for them. (Pun not intended, but cute anyway.)

Here is a little window into our rainy afternoon with seven boys and some two thousand Pokemon cards…IMG_6003A drawing of Charizard on the door tells em – yup, this is the joint.

IMG_6004Table’s clear and ready.

IMG_6009Elihu’s getting warmed up…

IMG_6027Phoenix, too!


IMG_6028Elihu and Sawyer get down to it right away.

IMG_6038The pretzel rods were a hit. Very cigar-like, don’t you think?

IMG_6159The paraphanalia is serious.

IMG_6191I mean really serious.

IMG_6096Thomas presents a gnome card. Perhaps very Waldorf, but not very Pokemon.

IMG_6073A little break for some jamming…

IMG_6020…after all, Pokemon or not, they’re still Waldorf kids

IMG_6032Serious gaming, but still lots of fun and laughs going on.

IMG_6025Intrigue, too.

IMG_6131Bug break!

IMG_6169Just as delicious as Phoenix remembered them to be. And this time he has an easy convert in Sawyer, who also gave fried grasshoppers a resounding thumbs up.

IMG_6156Bugs, however, were not on the menu for supper. Wish I could say this was our chicken – but ours are all so skinny and measly – plus after reaching a certain age they’re also kinda tough and stringy and really only good for a pot of soup. Here we’ve got spicy, Cajun-esque chicken on the left, oregano covered and vinegar-marinated Greek style on the right. Both super tasty, and served in pocket pitas with lettuce, cukes and hot sauce. Thankfully, the crowd was pleased.

IMG_6174Wrangling up the gang and getting them to actually sit for supper was a feat. But we did enjoy a nice little moment together. Good eaters and happy boys. Pleasant dinner company.

IMG_6113  A little post-dinner media time before moms come to take the boys away. We hardly ever use this wonderful new tv – it made me happy to see it finally being enjoyed.

IMG_6206A heartfelt hug good-bye. Not sure when, or if there’ll be another visit.

IMG_6211Bye, stay dry!

Now to the three boys remaining. The twins will be spending the night. They’ve enjoyed this extra bit of time as I’ve put this post together. But it’s waaay late, and I know damned well that just getting them to get into their pajamas and then getting them to brush their teeth and then – whew – finally getting into bed, this itself will likely take another half an hour. Lest I piss off another set of parents with my less-than-optimum parenting choices, I’d better sign off and get those kids settled down for the night. This is my first time hosting a sleep over. It feels rather like a rite of passage. But it aint over yet…

IMG_6224Ok, so I got em in bed. But now how do I get them to actually sleep? Caught em in the act here being silly goofburgers. I’m not sure I quite know how to do this sleepover thing yet. Think I’ll be asleep before them…

 

Suddenly Sad May 20, 2014

We didn’t quite finish the Burgess Bird Book for Children tonight. Instead, we chose to save the final chapter for tomorrow. Both of us have a strange melancholy hanging about us tonight, contributed to in part perhaps by the knowledge that this will be the last time we read this book together as mother and young child. Sure, I may read it aloud to him again next year, but will it be the same? I don’t know, maybe it will be, but each of us has our doubts. Next year he will be twelve. It seems very likely this will be the last year of the truly young years. Ironic, isn’t it, that such a young child should even be aware of his own maturing, of how precious his current moments as a child may be? Ah, but then again I am his mother, and he no doubt gets some of it from me. It sometimes seems that I myself was born into a continuous state of intense introspection and mild melancholy; isn’t it natural that he might very well be wired in a similar way? Yeah, maybe it’s in his genes.

I also suspect he can read me pretty well, even though for the most part I can hide my moody predisposition from people. I kinda have to, in order to maintain appearances and keep at the everyday business of life. Yeah, for the most part I keep my mood under cover, and I can distract myself long enough to forget its persistent companionship for good stretches of time. Mostly. But apparently, not tonight. I can’t hide my mood, my unease, my sorrow; furthermore my mood seems equally natural and organic to my young son. Although we don’t say as much in so many words, we both know well: it won’t always be thus.

I set the book on the night table and then said to him “and now a kiss”, to which he cried out “No! Because ‘now a kiss’ means that you will leave. And I don’t want you to leave.” Most nights I’d have had half a prescription sleeping pill in me and would be almost out at this point, so joining him would be easy. But tonight I’m hoping to sleep without an aid – maybe even pick myself up and go do something useful while I have the window – and as I lay in bed beside Elihu, my wheels are turning to such an extent that I could swear my energy is keeping him up. He tosses, changes positions, holds Lenny his big stuffed parrot closer, he snuggles into my neck, he swings his boy arms over my shoulder. We both search for that perfect spot, but none is right. His mind is racing too, with endless, obsessive ruminations on various Pokemon characters, their powers, their abilities…. I give up and tell him I really need to go, but again he protests, and his soft cheek pressed to mine is enough to have me try again to relax, to sleep. But I cannot wind down, and I cannot soften this dull, unending sense of sorrow that hangs about me.

Tonight I’m missing my father. And I’m remembering once again that he’s not coming back. That I won’t be seeing him again. Not at least in this particular lifetime. And once again, it stings my heart to come to that same conclusion for the umpteenth time. I think about how fast my child is growing – how precious is this very night even. The contrast of my father being gone and my son yet to grow up is killing me. I feel pulled in two different emotional directions. I feel time pulling me forward, then tugging me back… I can’t count on my small child throwing his arms around my neck and begging me ‘never to leave him’ for much longer, can I? – hell, I certainly can’t count on my small child staying small. And one day, like my father, my own mother will also be gone. (Can you even imagine Grandma Nancy will ever die? I asked Elihu tonight. He answered most emphatically “No.”) One day I myself will be the ancient grandma and it will be my turn to be slow and misunderstood by my child and grandchildren. It’s all coming to me in one gut-heavy moment, and I am brimming with heartbreak. I have always been prone to such feelings, but these days they’re so much more of what they used to be.

Could be my age I guess. Or maybe our little spot back here in the woods. Living far from the road definitely does something to a person. If a person wasn’t already of a melancholic, poignant-leaning mind, they’d likely begin to form something of a more wistful, far-off attitude after living here for a while. The glow of the setting sun through the trees casts a sad, lost-to-the-world sort of feeling. The cars passing at night are altogether unaware that there’s a tiny house far down the lane with just two people dwelling within. For me in particular, the sounds of the cars on the far-off road, the scents of the seasonal blooms and the long shadows of evening send me back to my childhood. I feel the ending of another day; my mother, father and brother all just being… all just living, doing, being, all somewhere close by in the same small cottage. Doing nothing in particular that I can remember, but just existing, side by side in those tiny rooms. I remember too the quality of the light. The end of the day, a faint aftertaste of regret of a day not spent as well as it might have been; of another day gone, done, another sun now set… And the sorrowful feeling I got from it all even as a young one. It’s the same sorrowful feeling I get now. I recognize it so well. Only how did I know anything of such sadness way back then? Now I’ve earned it; now I get how it works. How did I come to feel that way as a child? I realize there’s likely still more of it to come in this life, but at the same time, I also realize all too well how little of it there is left. Hard to describe, natural to feel.

Finally, I kiss Elihu and get up to leave. He takes my hand – and kisses it. “Love you so very much” he says in a small, sleepy voice. I leave and close the door with a click, the way he always requests that I do.

It’s not just about my dad, or the setting sun, or aging, or my son’s growing up. It’s also the way things are all turning out in my family. I guess as a child I never could have guessed that one day we would be so off track, so broken and different from how we once were, years ago. I may never have paid much mental energy to envisioning the future at large, but I know I would never have guessed it to look a whole lot like it does today. Never mind my own divorce, a strange and unforseen thing unto itself, but the bizarre, dysfunctional way in which we hobble along is still hard for me understand. It’s a foreign place to find myself in, and a sad one too.

My brother is going to court tomorrow to contest our even, three-way split of the very (and I do mean very) modest sum that dad had left for we three remaining Conants. I mean, it’s virtually nothing in the bigger scheme of things. But each portion is, for Andrew and me, being of such little means, enough to help out quite a bit. It’s enough cash to get over a life hump, but not enough to sustain a person for even a year. In the recent reading of the will, Andrew learned that his equal share – of the ‘big’ estate of mom’s house and land – will come to him in monthly payments made by the executor to the Trust – that being our cousin (dad’s nephew) rather than in one lump sum. I can understand how this could piss Andrew off, but even in his illness he should be able to see that he doesn’t function in any way that demonstrates that he could handle it otherwise. Hasn’t had a job in over twenty years. Hasn’t had a girlfriend in just as long. Hasn’t made a new friend since high school. And he’s almost 50. Mom and dad knew ten years ago that he was not healthy, and they took a proactive approach to making sure he would be given his equal share by a stable, outside party. (We haven’t seen my dear cousin the executor in decades; that would show him to be a sound, objective agent for the job. Plus he manages a classical radio station in a major US market; he’s no slouch.) But Andrew is a victim of his illness, and he is unable to maintain his state assistance. He languishes in a house full of garbage and finds everyone else in the world (me at the top of the list) responsible for his inability to get a job or make  a change in his life of any kind. While it’s tempting to take it personally, I have to continually remind myself to pray for him rather than become angry with him for such crazy behavior. He feels hurt, betrayed, unsupported. It’s his illness feeling this way, not him. Never mind that all his bills are paid by mom, that I’ve made sure he has Food Stamps and heating assistance, never mind that – because illness removes all logic. I know this well from my experience with panic attacks. So I go easy on him. I get it. But still, it’s not always easy. Good Lord I’d like to pound some fucking sense into his paranoid, sick brain, but it would do more harm than good. And so we Conants wait it out. And again I remind myself: it won’t always be thus.

I’ll wait it out under cover of sleep for now. In fact I await unconsciousness with such happy anticipation. I cannot wait to fall asleep, to arrive at the fanciful and disparate situations that await me on that other side… My only respite from the relentless pace of the single mom, the planner, the feeder, the organizer, the learner of music, the transporter…. In sleep I experience things in which I can no longer take part of here in this world. I see my ex-husband fairly regularly in my dreams, my father too, as well as many friends from my previous life. Happily, in dreams I seem to live in a world that is altogether different from this one; it is an amalgamation of all of my previous, beloved or successful mini-worlds…. I play music in bands, wear beautiful costumes, engage in deep friendships and travel to so many places… In one night I may experience three or four different scenarios. Each dream becomes a new place I remember having been once upon a time; in a way, it truly becomes a new memory… At the very least, the memories of past dreams and the promise of dreams yet to come give me the motivation to get out of bed each day. This earthly life is just too heartbreaking sometimes, and so I thank God for my dream life – it’s sometimes the very thing that makes my waking life possible. Because really, doesn’t a lot of this life seem rather a waste, a bore, a drudgery to be endured? Hey, I’m always on the lookout for a good, restorative laugh, but I still can’t help but feel that this life is just one big pain in the ass, however many good laughs there may be in a day. This life is hard, unfair, complicated by the death of loved ones, and way too full of mosquitoes. Enough, already. !

Ok. Maybe not quite yet. But some days, I swear….

That wistful, sad and distant feeling hit me hard once again as I made my way through our lily of the valley patch today, picking a bouquet of my most cherished flower. (One which blooms for less than one week of the year. Talk about a setup for sorrow. !!) The scent overtook me, and I was twelve again, in love with the world, with the promise of a boy’s affection, with the promise of the world’s affection and my power to reciprocate…. Everything, absolutely everything is possible with that first, magical inhalation of the lilies of the valley… Nothing can come close to that magical May moment. Not one thing in this world. And yet, for all its promise, it carries deep within itself the very essence of melancholy. The threat of its own passing. The flowers only carry their fresh scent for a few days, and then they, like us, begin to decline. From the intoxicating promise of a magical future to come – to a rotting, mildewed scent that wonders what the hell just happened, and did that promising future ever end up really happening? Did we miss it? Was it that short, that fleeting, that we never even realized that it was on its way out?

All I know is that I need to look in on my son several times through the night as he sleeps to find the reassurance I need to be here. And during the day, if I should chance to pass him in the hall, it is my greatest treasure that he should lean over close and whisper “I love you” as he walks by. I am trying as best I can to live hard into these tiny moments. I am trying hard to soften the grip of sorrow, to let it know that I know it’s there. I know. I just don’t always need to pay attention to it. Yeah, I know that things won’t always be thus. They might be worse. Or better. Never know. Gotta hang in there until the end, and just find a way to accept the shifts as they happen. Yeah, no matter how much you know, you don’t ever know what’s coming next. What’s become suddenly sad may just as easily become suddenly serendipitous; just the right thing at the right moment. One just never knows.

Guess that’s partly what has me so sad tonite. Ya just never know what you’re about to get – or sometimes even what you’ve already got. Not at least not until it’s gone and you’ve begun to miss it. So seize it, friends. Seize it. Tell sorrow you’re sorry. This isn’t a good time… Come back later, if you must, because right now, you’ve got plans…

 

 

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.  !

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

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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.

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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.

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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’….

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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.

 

Turning Tween May 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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