The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Angels and Helis December 9, 2014

Over this past weekend the sixth graders held an event they call ‘The Angel Room’, a day in which they shepherd the Waldorf wee ones on a quest to purchase handmade gifts for their family members. The classroom is transformed into a magical winterscape, with the merchandise all laid out in the most enticing way… It tied in wonderfully with the sixth grade curriculum; Elihu’s class is currently studying economics, and this became a real-life exercise in learning how to conduct transactions, deduct expenses and realize a profit. (The proceeds from the sale go into the class fund for trips and special expenses.)

While the tiny children waited to be greeted and escorted by a sixth grade angel through the transformed classroom, they and their families spent some time in the large eurythmy room, enjoying music, puppet shows and home-baked treats. The two hours went by fast, and after so much setting up and tearing down, it’s hard to imagine it ever happened at all, because by Sunday afternoon the classroom looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had gone on. (The Waldorf school sets a great example of living life with a certain Zen-like attitude; routinely events like this are thoughtfully and lovingly prepared for – and then promptly packed away and cleaned up. The process becomes as much a reward as the goal activity itself.) The Angel Room is a relatively new tradition at the school, but I’m sure it will last for years. It brought out the very best in Elihu and his classmates and it was incredibly moving to watch their tenderness as they guided the little ones.

The day before the Angel Room was a wet and wintry day, and since Elihu was caught up with homework, and there was little to do inside, we decided to pack up his rc helicopters and head out to the mall to do a little flying. In the past we’ve used the generously sized open area outside the mall gym. With a good thirty foot ceiling and off to the side of the mall’s main corridor, the space is perfect for flying. Until one gets shut down by the mall cops, that is. I can’t help but wonder if the bored sales clerks in the neighboring jewelry store narked on us. It was quite a let down – Elihu had been waiting to practice flying his Blade heli for a while now with no luck (it requires some serious space). He took it well, and as a small consolation I arranged for him to fly some helis at one of the free-standing kiosks. Until another mall manager found him and asked him to stop. I racked my brain, where could we go now? Indoor ice rinks, nope. The Y? No. The auditorium at Skidmore College? No, probably not. And then it hit me – Lowe’s! With ginormously (that’s a sixth grade-sanctioned adjective) high ceilings and lots of airspace, it was certainly worth trying.

In minutes we were enjoying the lumber section of the home improvement store all to ourselves. Thankfully the inclement weather had kept builders away. The employees weren’t busy either, and they enjoyed watching Elihu fly and then chatting with him afterwards. One by one, Elihu exhausted the charge in each machine. We’ve never had such a golden opportunity before. It’s a great new resource and we’re thrilled to have discovered it. Maybe a little angel gave us the inspiration. One never knows.

IMG_2463Ready to fly.

IMG_2468Organization is key.

Elihu enjoys a long rc flight and tells us a little about the particulars of the craft.

IMG_2447He had a pretty good run before the mall cops shut him down.

IMG_2487Elihu got to demo the quadcopter at the kiosk. Again, until the cops caught up with him.

IMG_2623The sixth grade classroom before its transformation.

IMG_2277The short hallway into the room, before…

IMG_2499… and after.

IMG_2381

Mr. Esty gives the display some final consideration.

IMG_2374Everything looks so inviting.

IMG_2370Elihu enjoys a laugh with his classmate’s little sister Cara.

IMG_2365Beautiful! We’re ready for tomorrow…

IMG_2494Mr. Esty goes over the duties of the sixth grade angels.

IMG_2496The room awaits its first little customers.

IMG_2542Elihu takes his first charge through the room.

Elihu, showing a young one around the room of gifts.

IMG_2554Adam and Sawyer are the right guys for this job!

IMG_2578There’s a lot going on in the eurythmy room as folks wait for their turn.

IMG_2531There’s a puppet show…

IMG_2565…and music

IMG_2506Angel Norah helps the little ones color their gift bags.

IMG_2592Elihu was excited to play a couple of solo pieces.

IMG_2605A couple of the sixth grade girls did a reading of their work – it was very funny!

IMG_2520The angels take a little break and watch the show.

IMG_2645Before long, all was quiet and things were made ready for school to begin again the next morning. Everyone pitched in and made the job go much faster than I would have expected. Can you believe this is what the main hallway of the school looks like? We both feel so lucky to be a part of this oasis in such a chaotic, fast-paced, over-stimulated world. We thank our angels we found this place.

 

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.

 

Pentathalon May 25, 2014

Each year in our Waldorf School, as part of their Ancient Greece study block, fifth graders participate in a Pentathalon attended by several of the Waldorf Schools in the Northeast. The children learn the five events (running, long jump, javelin, discus and wrestling) and train for months beforehand in their Games class (the Waldorf version of Phys Ed). The kids’ performances in each event are judged by speed, strength and distance as one might expect, but furthermore form and beauty are also noted. (Thank goodness for that, because my child is the product of two less-than-physically gifted parents!) Although the night he returned home he finally expressed a deep disappointment in his performance (and is bound and determined to do ‘better’ at next year’s Medieval Games in sixth grade), I do think that the overall experience – of staying overnight with new kids, learning to follow a new routine and just giving it his very best – all of this made an important contribution to his growing and maturing process, and I’m extremely grateful that my son has been lucky enough to share in such an experience.

IMG_3957The fifth graders studied Ancient Cultures all year, culminating in a visit to Ancient Greece.

IMG_3959I can imagine what some of our new chickens’ names might be soon….

IMG_3949Ms. Reid gets class five ready to leave. (And speaking of leaving, she herself is leaving our class for a new direction in her career. We will miss her more than we can express.)

IMG_4228They’ve arrived at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School!

IMG_4244This is what most Waldorf Schools around the world look like. We’re one of the few to inhabit a building not designed in the Rudolph Steiner style. Elihu and I, however, absolutely adore our historic school building with its wooden walls, tall ceilings and incandescent lighting.

IMG_4245A typical Waldorf classroom. Note the profile of the windows and overall cozy, intimate feel to the room. (The children stayed overnight in the classrooms.)

IMG_4234No white boards here!

IMG_3979He was assigned to the city state of Athens, representative of beauty. That’s my boy!

IMG_4102And here’s the panel Elihu drew for his team’s banner. Living up to the qualification of beauty, I think.

IMG_4138Here are the teams’ gifts to Zeus.

IMG_4022The team judge goes over some rules before the final event of wrestling.

IMG_4005The judge sets up Elihu and his partner for wrestling.

IMG_4073Elihu gets some coaching on how to accept the baton in the relay race.

IMG_4076Following through.

IMG_4078He’s off!

IMG_4109Mr. Largie, Elihu’s Games instructor, speaks in French for the folks from Quebec.

IMG_4118Elihu is awarded his medal. The judge summed up his performance in one word: Integrity. I didn’t hear that word used for another child. Yeah, Elihu didn’t really do too well in any of the events, but nonetheless he toughed it out and kept his chin up. He certainly performed with grace, beauty and attention to form. I agree with the judges, my kid definitely has integrity goin for him.

IMG_4141In the city state of Corinth, one student translates into French for another the qualities of her performance at the Pentathalon as they’re being read by the judge. (That’s Elihu’s teacher on the left.)

IMG_4144Our friend, Cally, hearing from one of her team’s judges. That’s just the sweetest look on her face.

IMG_4168My little athlete.

IMG_4172And the beautiful team Athens!

IMG_4179Grandma, who came along for the second of two days, admires Elihu’s medal. They were ceramic pieces, each handmade by members of the local Waldorf community. He will cherish his for a long time.

IMG_4192A big crowd for the final closing song, which was sung, complete with harmony parts, by all children present.

IMG_4193Grandma, seated at left, Elihu in the foreground at left.

IMG_4188Ok, now it’s time for the real event in Elihu’s Pentathalon…

IMG_4189He is thrilled to be playing with these guys. In fact, I was so thrilled as well that I shelled out for the WordPress upgrade that allows me to embed videos. Here goes…

IMG_4229Post-games, it’s time to pack up and go home.

IMG_4258Mama planned this fun extra into the return trip – a ferry ride across Lake Chaplain!


IMG_4274But I wasn’t the only parent with this trick up her sleeve… We got out of the car to find half his class already onboard.

IMG_4276One tiny distant island.

IMG_4281Elihu and Ben with New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the background (we’re heading East; Vermont is now behind us.)

IMG_4297Happy kid!!

IMG_4294Happy mom. In fact I am happiest when on or near water. I may end up leaving Greenfield one day for a coast somewhere…

IMG_4318Good-bye Lake Champlain ferry!

IMG_4327The ride home is rainy…

IMG_4337…and misty, too.

IMG_4384Safe and sound at home, we admire Elihu’s Pentathalon medal. What a great experience in so many ways.

Once again, grateful are we.

 

Snowsick March 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sono Stanca March 12, 2014

Man, has it been a week. Tonight I am pooped. I’ve kept going and going, and now that I’ve plopped down in my chair to sit for a moment, it’s all just hit me.

And on top of it all, this afternoon it started snowing again. Not just the pretty fluffy white stuff – but rather the dense, wet, instant slush sort of stuff. By late afternoon all after school programs were cancelled (my piano class included, thank God) and we were off the hook for the evening. Pretty sure that tomorrow’d be a snow day, we may have gotten a bit too relaxed with our schedule this evening, as Elihu has only just gotten to bed, and as I write this he is reading still. That’s never easy to wrap up. I’ll spend a minute more here, then go play nighttime police duty.

We did a little stock-up shopping in anticipation of a snowed in couple of days (Friday there’s no school anyway) and by the time we got home we found all sorts of fun little diversions that each involved more time than we realized. Between errands, dinnertime and our play we’d passed hours before we’d noticed how late it was getting… We played our penny whistles, our recorders and kalimbas, home-made drums of mason jars half-filled with water, shakers, hand drums and more… and then there was the block tower building, the melodica playing, the learning of obscure polkas, the knocking down of previously made towers with remotely controlled spideresque robots… I suppose we carried on so because we’re both fairly convinced that tomorrow there’ll be no school, no orthodontist appointment, no piano students, no nothing. And I cannot wait. I can accept the snow once again without complaining, because I know that by Elihu’s eleventh birthday on April 28th there will be none of it left. This I know. So it allows me to accept the current situation with a cooler head. But the busyness of our lives, the non-stop to-do list, the chaos (albeit a joyful sort) of school, the ongoing domestic chores – all of it has me wanting to cry uncle at the moment. So I’m looking forward to an unscheduled morning.

I hear Elihu’s turned off his light on his own. Good boy. I’ll go in and check on him now, tell him I love him so, and wish him sweet dreams. We’ll both be sound asleep before long. It’s been such a long day. Good night friends….

 

Free Day February 5, 2014

Just about everyone at school yesterday was hoping today would be a snow day. When one of the teachers at school passed me at recess I had only to ask her “what she thought” and she replied “Mr. R bets his life on it.” I knew what she meant; the eighth grade teacher had been known to refuse to take soup orders for lunch based on his inner conviction that the following day would be cancelled on account of the weather. His ability to predict snow days was the school’s ultimate barometer. While the kids outwardly hoped for a snow day, the teachers themselves didn’t necessarily editorialize on the subject… even so, I thought I could detect a subtle sense of hope in the air… Who among us couldn’t use a break from the daily grind? It might screw up some parent’s routines, it might throw a monkey wrench into things for some, but for me it looked like a rare opportunity… Piles of hand-me-downs, laundry, stacks of paper in my office, music that needed to be learned, all sorts of things awaited a few hours of my attention.

Some time around three this morning I awoke, feeling a horrible nausea. I’d thought it was Studio-related, because it was the first thing that entered my consciousness. The blending of my tragic mistake and the queasy stomach was unbearable. Then I realized (with some relief, as I was concerned that this might be my physical condition for the next few months) that I might be sick. I ran to the bathroom as my mouth began to create massive amounts of lemony-tasting saliva… Ok, here we go, I thought. I threw my hair back in a clip and positioned myself at the toilet. But just as my chest began to gather itself for a good first heave, I wondered if it might not be possible to stop things where they were. I didn’t care to go through all that labor to upchuck a mere handful of food eaten six hours ago – all that horrible, tooth-eroding crap in my mouth. No… I found the Pepto Bismal and chugged it. Maybe… A sharp headache suddenly appeared in my temples and my body broke out in a flash of sweat. I was aware of a stomach bug going through the schools, maybe this was it. Now I really hoped for a snow day. I sat there another ten minutes until the feeling passed, and grateful my body seemed to respond to the Pepto, I headed back to bed. Before I laid down I took a look outside – no snow was falling yet, and things didn’t seem much different than they had six hours ago. I checked the school website but there was no update yet. I got into bed, and was asleep in what felt like seconds.

I awoke a few hours later in the middle of a wonderful dream, and panicked to see it was almost 6:30… my body didn’t feel right yet, but it was time to get up. Ugh. I slumped to the computer, checked the site and to my relief saw that it had been updated with a little icon of falling snow and the words “Snow Day!”. Back to bed, and asleep in no time. Some time later I heard Elihu trudge into the room, and still feeling exhausted and not my right self, I umphed a response after which he got into bed next to me, his red stuffed parrot (Lenny Birdstein) in his arms. Good kid, he let me sleep an hour or so before he began talking. Soon we were comparing hands, fingers, talking about this and that, making jokes and cracking up. Somehow, I was feeling better. After a bit of silliness I got up to make us “cakes of pan”. We had a lovely little breakfast, and enjoyed watching the chaos of the bird feeder by the kitchen window. On snowy days, our place was always jammed with activity. We were even cheered to see the first Starlings we’d had visit here in a couple of years. Nice morning.

Love being home in the mornings as I get to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the to-do list before me, I was happy to watch the Colbert Report as I made the bed and began to tackle the laundry. Two of the women from Pussy Riot were on and I couldn’t help but be absolutely awed by them; they were beautiful, intelligent, funny and brave. I remember being heartbroken and angry – and feeling powerless too – at the news of their arrest and incarceration a couple of years ago, and it was inspiring to see them now free and carrying their message to the world. Made my to-do lists seem like nothing. Put my whining in perspective, and had me in a hopeful mood. Hope I can keep it going through the day. Elihu’s working on his Language Arts homework and I’m finishing up this post before getting back to it. Maybe today will be just what we need to do a little catch-up before we get back into the game. Thank you snow, for the free day.

Post Script: After a productive day indoors, we both suited up and went outside to enjoy the fresh snow (which never stopped falling the whole time). We shoveled narrow corridors through the snow to the coop and garage, fed and watered our flock, and after our chores were finished, we flattened paths for sledding down the hills in our yard. Elihu enjoyed a couple of good runs and some classic wipe out moments. We stayed out for quite a while, and our cheeks were rosy even an hour after we were inside and dry. A memorable and refreshing afternoon. (Note to self: add “rope tow” to ultimate dream wish-list for the property…)

 

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.