The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Slaying the Dragon October 10, 2016

elihu-leads

Around this time of year my son’s school celebrates an event they call Michaelmas. During the course of the day the children, from first through eighth grade, (with the eighth graders acting as leaders) must go on quests throughout the nearby woods, gathering clues, assembling objects, traversing obstacles and learning to work together toward a shared goal. As they emerge from the woods, the leaders carry a staff from which flies a colored banner for each of the challenges they met. When all the students finally converge at the shelter there is a large, outdoor enactment of St. Michael (pronounced “my-ky-EL”) slaying a great dragon. The action carries the metaphor of courage, of surmounting obstacles and facing down fear. A large feast of vegetable soup and bread – made by the older high school students – awaits them at the end of their full day.

In the days of old, this autumnal season of gleaning and preparation for the long, cold months ahead required courage, planning, and a supportive community. All of those elements are represented once a year in this magical and transformative day. This year, my son Elihu was a leader. This year was also the very first Michaelmas for which I was not present: I no longer work at the Waldorf School, and so as a parent and not an employee of the school, I was not allowed to participate. Rather, I had to drop off my child, knowing that this day would be different from all those before. He was on his own now. So too was I. As I watched my coonskin-capped son disappear down the wooded path, I turned my car for home, my own dragons waiting there to meet me.

Those who’ve read this blog from time-to-time will be aware that I have endeavored to start a small business. It’s a community art center which still awaits its proper non-profit status from the IRS, however I have been advised by my attorney and my accountant that I should continue to operate as if I were already a true 501 (c)(3) corporation while I wait for the determination. And so that’s what I’m doing. There’s been a board meeting, there have been open houses, art classes, concerts, jam sessions, workshops, seminars, yoga classes, meditation circles, community gatherings – bills have been paid and the electric hasn’t been cutoff yet. (Well, ok, once it was. But it was one of those ‘crossed in the mail’ deals. It was restored within hours.) It’s beginning to look like it might just work. I’ve known for years that it was my fate, but my stomach was queasy at the notion. I, after all, have spent my 53 years on this globe deftly avoiding anything that resembles a ‘day job’. And here I am, formally still unemployed, and yet with a great job before me.

And until a few hours ago, it looked as if the path might be getting a little clearer. A local historic folk music venue had planned on holding all of their concerts throughout the next two months at the Studio while their venue underwent a renovation, however I am deeply sad to report that today I learned it wasn’t going to happen. And so, after feeling the greatest relief I have felt in a very long time at the prospect of two months solidly booked, I am back in the thick of the woods, feeling the dread once again begin to creep in around me. This is a time in which I need to steel myself against my own dragons. I need to raise my own staff now and win some banners of my own. How this will happen I still don’t know. I feel very much as if I am off the path and merely guessing at my way. All I can tell myself at this point in my quest is to keep putting one foot in front of the other…

This past year I’ve spent a good deal of time in my office; at my desk, organizing, planning, filing, (and stalling) – and eating. The weight loss I enjoyed a year ago is history. I’ve accomplished a lot, yes, but in some ways I’ve taken some steps backward. My hands are much thicker with arthritis than they used to be, and my old broken neck injury is manifesting in some new tension and discomfort. Yeah, things are becoming more challenging than they used to be, and it takes more energy and resolve than I remember to tackle this crap. But this is the terrain I’ve been warned about by friends a decade or two ahead of me on the path. The aging thing in of itself is a quest that requires courage and tenacity. And then there’s the starting of a new business. For me, a musician and free spirit by nature, it’s not something that comes with ease. I’m willing to work at it, but it’s still a little more daunting in real life than I’d imagined.

Guess it’s time to slay a few dragons….

 

 

Breaking Away January 31, 2016

“Oh, your job is done” my friend said, very matter-of-factly. I waited a moment to see if she planned on elaborating. I’d never heard it put so directly before. I knew exactly what she meant, but I paused, hoping she might soften her comment a bit. “He’s what, twelve? Almost thirteen?” She paused, but not long enough to reassure me. “Yeah” she nodded, “You’re definitely done.”

We’d been ruminating about the major life change that comes about when your kids don’t need you the way it seemed they always would. The time when mommy becomes mom, when the bedroom door shuts with a distinct click, when your kid tells you that you wouldn’t understand – and you can’t protest, cuz you know he’s right, you probably wouldn’t. I’d been emotionally preparing for this, so I can’t say it was unexpected. What was jarring was just how blunt my friend had been about it. She went on to explain, “When you’re pregnant, you could have the baby at six months. It would be premature, but it would survive. So the last three months are basically just incubating. And that’s kind of what’s going on now. He has everything on board, now it just has to integrate. So yeah, you’re done.” I knew she was right. But I still wanted to believe that Elihu would always need me. It wasn’t like I didn’t want him to learn how to live in the world without me – but I still couldn’t truly see it happening. His vision issues, his inherent clumsiness… How would he ever live on his own? Then on the other hand he was smart, savvy, full of good humor and common sense. And as we spoke, he was hundreds of miles away in another country.

In the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, each seventh grade class takes a trip to Quebec as part of their French studies. They take the train to the Canadian border, spend a night in Montreal and a day there sightseeing before heading further north the historic town of Quebec City. There they embark, in groups of three, on a day-long quest – a scavenger hunt of sorts – in which they must ask for directions only in French, in which they must budget their money, buy lunch and trinkets as the stash allows, and reconvene with the class when they’ve made it through the list of clues and directions – all given only in French. They sketch monuments during the day, they journal in French in the evening. They stay in hostels, schlep packs through the snowy streets, they take a bus into the country, they experience a dogsled ride, they visit an ice hotel. And all the while, the boys and girls flirt, make inside jokes, and test the waters with forbidden swear words and primitive sexual innuendos. Change has begun.

It’s not as if the change hasn’t been taking place up until now – but there is a new awareness that comes of this landmark trip – there’s a certain new confidence in my child, and a certain kind of vision for the future, too. He’s been given a glimpse of what life might be like surrounded by his peers – instead of his parents. And he’s thrilled with the way it feels. Don’t get me wrong – I am positively thrilled for him too. I can’t remember a time when my son has ever been so happy, so exuberant, so proud, so joyful. Truly, no experience in his life has left such an immediate and dramatic impression on him. Even today, two days after his return, his first words upon opening his eyes were about the trip. In his head swirls a great collage of images. For all of this I am deeply grateful, and I’m incredibly excited to see the ways in which my son will grow into a fully independent individual and break away on his own path. I know it’s not around the immediate corner, but it certainly feels much closer than ever before.

IMG_2096His French journal of the trip – and his new coonskin cap from the dog sledding adventure.

imageThe seventh grade got a train car to themselves.

IMG_2089Ever thinking of things aviation-related, Elihu drew a schematic of an RC helicopter en route.

IMG_2107The next day in Montreal, Elihu drew a detail of the interior of the Basilique de Notre Dame.

image (7)Off they go on their scavenger hunt.

image (5)Quebec City really has a European feel.

image (6)There’s topography which requires a funicular. Fun!

image (8)Ice skating at night. Elihu has never enjoyed this sport, but this time he stuck it out until he got his bearings. (Thanks to classmate and talented athlete Norah for encouraging him to try!)

image (4)The class went dog sledding on the last day.

image (2)An intimate, hands-on experience, with just two passengers; one drove, one sat. The dogs were raring to go and they sped over the narrow trail through the woods. Probably the highlight of the trip for Elihu.

imageThey got to smooch a puppy too!

imageLast event on the itinerary was the ice hotel.

image (2)The seventh grade Canadian adventure was a life-changing trip, and a memory which Elihu and his classmates will treasure always.

IMG_2064A new young man arrives home.


 

Shifting Time June 8, 2014

We’re two days away from the end of school. Tomorrow morning Elihu’s class will move to their new, sixth grade room, the symbolism unmistakable to us both as they move downstairs to join the middle school-aged children, leaving the younger grades upstairs. Elihu’s teacher is also leaving, and a new one (whom, btw, we are both incredibly excited about) is arriving. Lots of shifts going on in a small amount of time. Plus the seasons have changed now too; Spring feels to have formally concluded with a glorious and moving graduation ceremony for the Waldorf twelfth graders on Friday night. The days are finally clear and sunny, neighbors buzz over on four wheelers for impromptu visits, frogs can be seen each night hopping across the roads, and gone is the ever-present demand on us to fulfill academic commitments. And man, it feels friggin great.

IMG_5161Still in his pajamas at breakfast, Elihu enjoys wearing the comfy, cozy socks that he knit for himself in handwork class. I am so impressed. I can make a killer Halloween costume, but textiles, threads and such leave me confused and intimidated.

IMG_5269Elisabeth multi-tasks; talking on the office phone while ringing the school bell to start the day. It makes the most resonant and lovely sound (it does not induce stress as the mechanized ones in large schools do) and if my wishes could be so easily granted, all schools everywhere would have em.

IMG_4809The fifth grade visits Congress park to identify and draw some trees.

IMG_4815Turns out the eleventh grade is here too, studying cloud formations.

IMG_4818Elihu and a pal refer to their tree guide.

IMG_4829Elihu shows a giant seedpod and guesses it might be from a Catalpa.

IMG_4850At the end of the trip, fascination with ducks takes over.

IMG_4741Back at school in the morning light. By nine o’clock the kids here have already done a lot, and yet the other area schools aren’t quite started for the day. We start early, but we also end early. In the beginning I dreaded the new and earlier schedule, but as it turns out I really like it better.

IMG_4855Elihu gives his book report, his final large work for the year.

IMG_4946The second to last eurythmy class I’ll play with my son for a while. I don’t play for the sixth or seventh grades… Phooey. I’m getting sentimental.

IMG_4869Same room, new event. The twelfth grade will give a performance for all the other grades. Seating is tight – and creative, as every available spot, window sills included, are used.

IMG_4942Have never enjoyed playing another piano more. Smooth and rich like butter with just the perfect amount of high end.

IMG_5155And look what I found on the piano one morning this week – along with two chocolate kisses! It was so very touching – and no one is copping to it. Wish I knew who to thank…

IMG_4874A performance of a poem about a wizard and a lizard.

IMG_5240And again, another use of the room for the weekly school assembly in which all grades come together and sing.

IMG_5280At recess Cally draws horses and dragons while Fiona chats and Elihu dreams.

IMG_5210This is the other building where the high school meets. Complete with pond and ducks!

IMG_5205It’s time for the children’s final formal goodbyes to the graduating class.

IMG_5174The event takes place in the high school’s eurythmy room. On the left is the fifth grade, making their presentation gift to the seniors, seated on the right. Abigail was also their teacher – from first through eighth grade – so this is a particularly sentimental occasion.

IMG_5216Another bittersweet moment as Abigail says her final goodbye to Elihu in the fifth grade classroom as his teacher.

IMG_5027After school it’s back to the park for more duck action. See how easily he just picks up this baby.

IMG_5013Is there anything cuter than a duckling??

IMG_5038He can never get enough.

IMG_5054Of course he always shares his finds. He is ambassador to the bird world.

A sweet little snippet of the duckling’s release and the girls’ response.

IMG_5072My legally blind child spots the mama duck on her tidy nest under a tree, something I and every other person (and dog) in that park seemed to have missed. Hiding in plain sight, I guess.

IMG_4840Happy ending – we learned yesterday that her clutch hatched successfully!

IMG_5154The historic Canfield Casino, which stands in the center of Congress Park. The Waldorf graduation ceremony is held here. (The duck pond is just beyond on the right.)

IMG_5133A view from across the pond of Elihu catching ducks, and an audience stopping to watch. There’s a little-known song by Cole Porter called “Municipal Park”, the refrain of which extols the virtues of a pleasant, picturesque city park. I can never help but sing it over and over to myself when we linger here. This place really is kinda like something from a storybook. So perfect it’s almost comic.

IMG_5084The view Eastward of the Casino from the duck pond.  My father’s Festival of Baroque Music performed Bach’s B minor Mass in the great hall many summers ago.

IMG_5100This place is silly idyllic.

IMG_5124Elihu peeks into the almost completely hollow ancient willow tree. He tells me he sees something. I, of little faith, take a picture and confidently declare there is nothing inside but a few pieces of trash…


IMG_5128…but a closer look proves him right, and me wrong. I shoulda known. (Look more closely at the dark spot. It’s a duckling.)

IMG_5149Two of my favorite colors together. In fact, when I first learned that Elihu had not only low vision but was also completely colorblind, I sat in the lobby of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, sobbing because my son would never know what it was to see magenta and spring green next to each other. Kids without hair on their heads were walking past me, wheeling their IV poles alongside them, and there I was, crying about something so ridiculously petty by comparison; something which actually turned out to be entirely irrelevant to my child’s ability to thrive in the world. Without benefit of color, my son probably notices the beauty around him more keenly than most people. It may even be part of the reason he is so observant. Life if full of paradoxes and irony.

IMG_5293Later that evening, we head back to town for the graduation ceremony. It appears Saratoga is seeing some of its summertime residents return again for the season.

IMG_5296We run into a large rabbit en route. Strange.

IMG_5306Little Cooper lost a tooth during the ceremony and shows off the new hole.

IMG_5298The class of 2014.

Richard leads everyone in a verse of the school song (which he wrote and arranged).

IMG_5319Julia and Alex play and sing a piece for their contribution.

IMG_5326Eryn sings. Of course. !!

IMG_5329And so does the whole class, most of whom have been together since first grade. Not a dry eye in the house.

IMG_5331Eryn receives her diploma from Abigail.

IMG_5333So Eryn. Yay!

IMG_5343The reception.

IMG_5344The Casino is possibly the most elegant venue I’ve ever seen.

IMG_5358Elihu and Eryn, both children of teacher Abigail.

IMG_5363Elihu hangs with the big boys – these eighth graders will be in high school next fall. Wow.

IMG_5366Ahmed surprises Elihu with this maneuver. He is a charming, spirited young man.

IMG_5370Before we joined grandma for supper, Elihu and I stopped to hear this awesome duo rocking the hell out of their portable truck bed setup. My batteries died right after, but I was able to get a couple of seconds of their sound… pretty cool, I think…

Short, but kickin, right?

IMG_5451We wrap up the night with some busking. Rule of the street is if you sit in with someone you don’t put out your jar – you do it for the joy of a jam. After some scouting around for his new spot for the year we were given a good suggestion by a magician we met who was packing up for the night. After sitting in with these folks, Elihu ended his night in the new spot and made a good take. Thanks, Aaron, kind of you to suggest it!

I can never seem to judge just when to end these short vids. Ended just as the guy was getting Elihu’s name… that can sometimes be a train wreck, so I stopped it there. As it turned out, he got the pronunciation right and thanked him for joining them.

So, how do you pronounce this crazy name? El ih hyoo. Not as intuitive a pronunciation as you’d think. Even to me it kinda looks like it might well be ‘El I hoo’.  And that dipthong – the ‘hyoo’ part – that has many folks whose first languages aren’t English rather confounded. His Pakistani grandfather still calls him ‘El ee hoo’. I kinda thought I’d simply avoid the whole thing and he’d just be an Eli in ‘real life’, but he himself told me at the age of four that Eli was not his name. His name was Elihu. And he meant it.

It seems my son knew himself pretty well for a four year old, and he still has a good sense of self for an eleven year old kid too. Good thing, because it will serve him well as he continues to navigate through the many shifts yet ahead in his full and wonderful life.

 

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.