Frogs’ Legs and Helicopters

A week has nearly elapsed since Elihu’s ninth birthday and the whole week has been a veritable whirlwind. Right now we two are still straddling two worlds; Elihu attends Waldorf, yet tomorrow he will and I will be performing at his former school’s talent show. I have had my hands full running the production and haven’t had a moment to spare. After a too-late bedtime I sit, sleepy at my computer, wondering how possibly to catch up.

His proper birthday was last Saturday. The birthday angel had left some lovely gifts as he slept, and he awoke to a kitchen table filled with flying contraptions, plus a few bird-related items for good measure. (This month the bills will have to wait, our priorities were elsewhere.) What a lovely day it was, sunny and just warm enough to try a few outdoor flights. With so many new toys to become familiar with, the day was passed with me sleepily watching him from the couch as he learned the intricacies of each one. A couple of our chicks hatched that day too, which added to the delight of the day. The soundtrack of that afternoon was the constant peeping of the baby chicks and the whirring of helicopter blades.

That evening we went to dinner at the local favorite restaurant called “The Wishing Well”. It was where we’d eaten the past year on his birthday, and although mom sponsored our trip there, she did not join us as the place is quite pricey and the tab might have been a bit too severe for all five of us Conants. It was a night I will always remember. As we sat at the low tables in the bar area listening to the piano player, we had drinks and he opened just a few special gifts I’d reserved for the occasion. When the waitress came to take our drink order Elihu told me to ‘go ahead and get something special’ and so I did. I enjoyed my first martini in several years (gin, straight up with olives thank you). He had taken such pride in dressing and looked to me as handsome as ever. I too had dressed up, and the two of us felt very good indeed as we sat in comfy leather chairs beneath the giant head of a taxidermed moose above the fireplace.

Elihu’s first gift was a lovely field guide of the birds of Europe and England – accompanied by some tasty caramels – sent by his sister, Brigitta, who lives outside of London. He entertained me by testing my knowledge of the birds. He covered up the names and smiled ear-to-ear as he watched me struggling for the name. He knew nearly every bird in that book. He laughed when I asked how that was possible. “I’ve been reading about them since I was four!” he laughed. Then I presented my own gifts to him. I watched as he opened the first, amazed that by the shape alone he hadn’t been able to figure out what they were. When he saw his very first, professional pair of brushes, he lit up. I have never heard that tone of his voice before as he thanked me ‘so much’. He was thrilled that he could finally “play like the real jazz drummers”! Immediately he took them out, opened up the metal fans and began playing on the table. “Like this?” he asked, as he practiced a circular movement. There wasn’t much room for me to improve on his intuitive technique; as he played he got the idea very naturally. After a bit I had to ask him to hold back, as it might be distracting to the table next to us. Thankfully he is still young enough (and yes, cute enough) that he’s easily forgiven. Plus he was actually playing along with the pianist and sounded pretty good. Our table in the dining room was still occupied and so the manager began to bring us little complimentary treats to help pass the time. First it was some asparagus and corn soup. Elihu loved it. I was so pleased to see him taste it – often he’ll pass on soup – but as it was his birthday and he was quite earnest about being grown up, he did what was polite. Turned out he dug it. As he did the escargot that followed. In fact, he like them so well I gave him my share. A sampling of crab meat then arrived just before I offered him my second gift; a treasured CD of polkas we’d once enjoyed (but which now only frustratingly skipped over the first few tracks.) He was thrilled! What joy in this mother’s heart to see her son so fully happy. (And that martini made me happy too.)

We were shown to our table, which was in a far corner of the farmhouse-turned restaurant, and there was both a crackling fire and a wall of bookshelves behind us. He pulled out an ancient cloth-bound book on aviation and amused himself with that as we waited for his much-anticipated frogs’ legs. Dinner was not too long in arriving, and soon we were eating and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I had the soft shell crab, and treasured each bite. The meal was perfect. We bagged what was left of our mashed potatoes for our chickens back home, and after paying the bill as carelessly as if it were something I did every day, we gathered our things and headed out into the night.

The next day was Sunday, the day of his birthday party. To sum up the day, I might simply say it was “off the hook” and I believe you’ll get the idea. It was a day in which his two worlds came together; there were children from his old elementary school there along with new classmates and friends from Waldorf. As usual, we invited and encouraged siblings and parents to come and stay, so before long our tiny house was filled to the rafters with bodies of all sizes. The eggs in the incubator began peeping and cracking open as planned, yet in spite of all the plans I’d had for keeping on top of the presents, they flew open at a rate I could not keep up with. Water guns (pre-loaded) were the party favors, and before the cake was out kids were running in and out of doors and everywhere outside in a great chase. The trampoline was well beyond my ‘rule of 3’ capacity, but the many adults sitting close by didn’t seem to mind. Chickens were being chased, eggs were being collected, and yes, the drums in the basement – plus an electric guitar and my wurlitzer too – were being played. And all at the same time. Our neighbor showed up with his two week old baby, wife and other young daughter; they’d ridden over in their 1925 model T. Soon he was giving party guests rides around the field in his ancient car. The day was spirited, joyful chaos. As soon as I turned my attention to someone, I was shortly pulled in another direction. I finally managed to take one moment at the top of the steps to pause. I stood there by the kitchen door just looking out at it all in wonder. Wow. Such a contrast to the way things started for us here. To see this, you’d never know the darkness in which we’d lived for those first few years. This new life was simply miraculous.

That day we met many new friends. This week Elihu’s discovered that along with friends and their generosity comes the task of letter-writing. Since he is not given homework at Waldorf these days, his homework this week has been to write thank-you notes. Not a small task, but one he sees the value of. He is well aware how blessed he is to have so many people in his life, and he himself feels compelled to let his friends know that he appreciates them. Yes, Elihu is growing up. He’s growing up to be a good young man. I am so proud of him, I am so in love with him. I am a mother with a full heart.

He’s a good kid, and he’s one tired kid, too. Tomorrow his school will hold a May day celebration in the park, and tomorrow night he will be the rim shot guy at the talent show, hitting his snare and crash cymbal after all the corny jokes. And I’ve been told there will be a lot of them. One more long day, one more long night. Then our transition is underway in earnest.

Welcome Spring! Welcome new life! Another year, another year’s adventures await…

Surprise Visit

My son will be visiting his father in Illinois for the Easter break. We know this, but we just don’t know the exact plans, as Fareed will likely do a fair amount of juggling and cancelling of things to make it happen. We’re never sure until about a week before what the exact plans will be. But we know that Elihu will see his father soon. Didn’t know just how soon til a couple of minutes ago…

I got an email from my almost-ex saying that he arrives at the train station tomorrow at 2 pm, can I please pick him up, then he departs from the Albany airport at around 6 am the next morning. Huh?? Why this crazy, last-minute, unexpected overnight visit that comes with no more than a 24 hour warning?? Well, mostly because Fareed is being Fareed. He is living fast, making up rules on the fly, changing plans and pissing people off along the way, and doing it all with the charm of a super slick salesman.

Ultimately, he is being a good dad. And honestly, I’m pretty happy for Elihu. He will friggin flip to see his father, unannounced, show up in time to attend his third grade concert “Of Mice and Mozart” in which he plays a mouse with a small speaking role – one he memorized the very first time he read it. Elihu sings his Mozart tunes constantly as he moves about the house, busying himself with airplane-related projects. (He’s taken a new and ultra-keen interest in all contraptions that fly; it’s as obsessive and all-encompassing as his love of birds.) So just imagine the moment when an unsuspecting kid gets off the bus to find his father waiting there – the father who lives a thousand miles away and isn’t due to be here for another week yet. Elihu will FLIP OUT. Really, I can’t wait. But first, I gotta process a little exasperation here.

You see, I do have a life. I have appointments, things to do, obligations and such.  Tomorrow I need to be at school at 3:30, as I have a meeting about the upcoming talent show. I’m running it this year along with two other friends who, like me, haven’t the foggiest what this whole project entails. So tomorrow we will be tutored by the women who ran it last year. But I cannot make the meeting on time if Fareed’s train is late – which it may well be. Plus I have to drive my mother to have cataract surgery – and drive her back.  And I’d planned on visiting my bankruptcy attorney somewhere in the mix too. I just don’t see how the hell I can do it all.

I called my mother to vent, but she wasn’t as fazed by it as I’d thought. It’s usually she who fans the flame and gets all worked up by Fareed’s craziness… But she was calm and collected and just suggested that maybe my brother Andrew could go get him. Or get her. Whatever. Not a big deal. ?? A little frustrated by my lack of a good audience, I said goodbye to Mom and then re-checked my email. Fareed had responded. Said he’d been talking to Elihu about these plans. But let’s remember, they’ve got a scheduled visit coming up next week – why should Elihu expect his dad to come out any sooner? Elihu probably thought his father was referencing the upcoming Easter visit. And, uh, ahem, how about telling me your plans ahead of time?  Maybe a quick email to the mother of the child being visited? Whatever. I guess I’ll have to take my mom’s uncharacteristically chill attitude. Fareed even says in his message that he doesn’t want me to miss anything. Hookay. Maybe I’m making too big a deal of this. As long as my mom can get to and from her cataract surgery comfortably, and as long as I get to my after school meeting, then I guess it’s all ok. But still, why couldn’t he have told me his plans just a couple days ago? Sheesh.

I’m not going to tell Elihu. I’m just going to savor that moment when I come to meet him after school and Fareed is magically there beside me. I think the poor kid’s head might explode. I can’t wait.

Waldorf and Wrenches

Today was simply magical. Elihu and I have received some news that has transformed our lives. It’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for months now. It’s been a concern of ours for several years, yet as with so many other aspects of life, even something so important eventually becomes just another item on the list and it passes easily without being mentioned. This subject? School.

While Elihu does indeed enjoy school for the most part and does well academically, it’s never been a terribly easy place for him to exist. It’s a tricky environment for an achromat for whom florescent lights are fatiguing and color coding means nothing. Kinda tricky for a nature boy who can’t even pretend to share an interest with his classmates in video games and pop culture. Public school, even a ‘blue ribbon award winning’ school as Greenfield Elementary is, is just plain kinda tricky for my son. Never been a natural fit. And so, since the beginning of first grade, I’ve had my eye on the local Waldorf School as an option. As it takes a lot of money to attend – as in my entire annual household income – I’d essentially put it out of my mind. Besides, the Waldorf moms seemed to me like ‘greener-than-thou’ types in their moisture-wicking, high-end yoga wear and fair trade alpaca ski hats who could actually afford the luxury of eating all organic food. Not my peers. Just a greener version of the new-moneyed residents of my rural hamlet. It had already taken me several years to feel remotely comfortable with that lot; I didn’t have the oomph to learn a new parent scene. So there it lay. But each year, I’d sense the stress that lay just beneath the surface of a happy school experience. Call it a mother’s intuition; I’ve just always known that something was amiss. I’d watch my son’s school bus disappear around the corner and say a quiet prayer of thanks to all those who’d watch over him through the day, adding my hopes that today he’d finally feel he belonged there.

This afternoon we learned that Waldorf will have him if he chooses. I’m over the moon today! There is no waiting list, the teacher herself is thumbs up, the admissions director is on board! Yay! There’s room at the inn! Some people wait years for a space in a Waldorf School. Few people actually even have a Waldorf School in their area. We do! And Elihu is welcome there! I don’t know how we’ll pay for it yet – I just plain don’t. But it will happen. I know this. I do. The school can offer some tuition assistance, but we’ll have to do our part too. Sadly, I don’t hope for any help at all from Elihu’s paternal grandparents; they’ve essentially disowned us. And my folks aren’t really able either. Nor am I. But still, In fact, if we were to find the money right now, he could start tomorrow. So now the hunt for tuition begins. Elihu and I have had the conversation about sponsors many times before (each time after a tearful, post-school episode in which he begs me to get him into Waldorf) and so today I’ve penned a few letters which I’m going to send out to a short list of candidates. I’ll make a plea or two on Facebook, and indeed, hope readers will consider this too a call for help. If anyone would like to help us reach our current goal of twenty-seven hundred dollars for this second semester, oh how grateful we’d be. There it is. Elihu is at the doorstep of a whole new life. He and I are thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. I will sleep with a new peace tonight.

There was also another addition to the day’s unexpected magic… As I pulled into the inner portion of our long driveway today, I saw several large boxes leaning against the old, broken gate. Maximus, our goose, has lately taken to pursuing our visitors rather aggressively, and while he hasn’t actually attacked anyone (violently, that is) he has become something of a deterrent to folks getting out of their cars. Such was the case with the UPS guy, apparently, for the gate is a good hundred yards from the house. My son and piano student got out and picked up the boxes to walk them in on foot. I drove behind, in absolute amazement. Huh? Seriously, what could these packages be? Who on earth were they from?

Guess what the boxes contained? Tools! Really – I mean whole sets of tools. Screwdriver bits, drill bits, ratchet wrenches, socket wrenches, adjustable wrenches, friggin pipe wrenches – screwdrivers, pliers, allen wrenches – both standard and metric yet! An insanely complete set of tools – many of which I honestly cannot see a future use for – but many of which I can. I had only just this past weekend given Elihu his first proper lesson in drilling. I’d brought some scrap in from the garage and assembled screws, drill bits and such on the kitchen floor for him to begin experimenting. The dollar store screwdriver bits were chewed up and didn’t grab too well for drilling, making the lesson a bit less inspiring. (After a time it didn’t really matter; he bored of the exercise and ended up fashioning a rotor blade of cardstock and turning the drill into a propeller. Ultimately, he is ever about things that fly.) It was the most astonishing thing. My student thought it was funny – and told me I had to mention on my blog how I’d said “OMFG” over and over again… (I’d hoped the “F” would cloak my explative. Yeah, right.) At last, I can fix that blasted kitchen chair that takes a crazy, six-sided allen wrench which is actually included in the set! I know, a hexagon wrench isn’t that exotic, but it’s evaded me for the two decades I’ve had these ratty, loose chairs. So there! Tomorrow you shall all be tightened!

I so enjoyed that suspended state of not knowing who sent it, of believing some supernatural character like Santa Claus to be responsible, so I put off looking for the packaging slip for a good while. But we eventually found it, and I did learn the kind sender. I hope that he is smiling as he reads this. I hope it makes him happy to know that this day his gift created a moment of pure delight and surprise for three people in a tiny country house far from the road. These tools will be a useful part of our homestead for many, many years. Thank you. Really. Thanks, you sweetie, you.

And with that, I am off to sleep happily.

Saturday Starts

The roosters are crowing, the goose is honking, the crows are cawing, the blue jays are scolding. Their voices are so loud, I almost feel like I’m in a tent. I hope the noise doesn’t wake Elihu, as this is my morning alone-time. It’s Saturday, and thankfully, there is no place we need to be. I let the birds out for the day a good hour ago, then quickly got back into bed to finish a book. I don’t get very far reading at night – I’m asleep before I can take much in. But the mornings are quite different. Rested and clear-minded – it’s a perfect time to read. I’ve just now finished my book, wasted some time on Facebook, and have begun to ponder a cup of tea on the couch before he calls to me.

I reflect on our early morning moments. They are a tender time, something I know will not last too much longer. As a preteen I don’t think he’ll care so much for his mommy crawling into bed with him and crooning in soft tones. But these days, it’s what he still wants. And truthfully, it’s what I still want. These are moments that sustain me. “I need some mommy love” he’ll say to me, putting his thin arms around my neck. And I’ll kiss his forehead, trace his hair with my fingers and listen as he tries to recall his dreams for me. We give ourselves a good five minutes like this each morning before the hustle of breakfast-making and backpack-assembling begins.

No matter how sweet the moments that may follow, all mothers know that sinking feeling inside when the tiny voice first cries “mommy….” interrupting a project, a chore, a moment of thought. It wasn’t until this past year that his call no longer bothered me in the same way it had for the past seven years. I think it’s because these days he doesn’t truly need me in the way he did when he was smaller. When he calls to me now, chances are he can wait a minute. Don’t get me wrong – I love my son above all else and always rise to the occasion – no matter what I’m doing or where my mental focus is, I always bring my attention to my child when he needs me. And I always respond when he calls to me. But thankfully, we’re over the hump. It’s not as it used to be. There’s a lot of need in those first years. It’s exhausting. I simply cannot fathom having more than one child – much less being a single mother with more than one charge. I have all I can manage with integrity, I believe.

Just as I’m beginning to listen for Elihu’s voice calling softly out to me, I am startled – to the point of leaping from my chair – at a sudden, loud noise. A piece of furniture has fallen over. “Elihu?” I shout – “are you ok??”. Nothing. I wait, I listen. Not a sound. I go to his door, open it and look to his bed. He’s not in it. Or is he – sometimes he hides under the covers – I bend in to look more closely…. “BOO!” he laughs, standing behind me in the hallway. It’s official, my kid does not need mommy time this morning. He cracks up at my surprise, then whizzes off through our small house on full-awake mode. Seeing that he is clearly doing just fine without me, I retire to my room and go back to the computer.

A few minutes pass. The house becomes quiet. I’m beginning to wrap up my post – I hadn’t intended it to be but a brief musing on the morning, and it seems I may have gotten a bit off track. “Mama?” he calls softly, as I continue to type, “can you please come see me?” I save my work, and go to join him in his bed. We enjoy our time again. Our window hasn’t closed yet. Thankfully he is still somewhere between little boy and young man. It’s a great combination. No longer does he need me to get him dressed. He can even get his own breakfast. He does pretty well without me for the most part.

Still, there’s no substitute for a warm embrace to start a Saturday.