The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Pokemon Party June 13, 2014

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

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

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

IMG_6004Table’s clear and ready.

IMG_6009Elihu’s getting warmed up…

IMG_6027Phoenix, too!


IMG_6028Elihu and Sawyer get down to it right away.

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

IMG_6159The paraphanalia is serious.

IMG_6191I mean really serious.

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

IMG_6073A little break for some jamming…

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

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

IMG_6025Intrigue, too.

IMG_6131Bug break!

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6211Bye, stay dry!

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

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

 

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.

 

Surprise January 3, 2014

This week has felt surreal, and on top of the sorrow my family’s currently working through, other little mishaps have been taking place. My toilet has broken (plastic parts and hard water do not mix), my drains have plugged up, my windows have been stuck, the doors to the coop must be coaxed to close and lastly, we had to kill Lefty Lucy after the flock tore into her mercilessly one night and left her near dead. The poor hen had recovered fairly well in the kitchen over the past week. so I returned her to her roost one night to find her covered in blood and far worse only the next morning. When I realized how the flock had treated her as a compromised bird (she retained a limp after an injury last week) I knew what had to be done. She did not face a life of any quality, so it was time to put her down. When I told my mom that I was simply keeping her comfortable until she was able to die, she remarked ‘kinda like your dad’. Yeah, I guess. So our friend neighbor Zac came over with his axe, and obliged us by chopping off her head on a nearby stump. Elihu tossed her out to the edge of the woods, and by the next morning she was gone.

Plus there’s this strange new twitch in the middle finger of my right hand. I’ve been feeling some tension – for no reason I can even figure – in my right shoulder lately, and I surmise that it’s related. Some nerve thing. Just a few months ago I’d experienced some ongoing and very annoying electrical tingling feelings in my left hand, and also a few in my left foot – but that was an easy self-diagnosis. Years ago I broke my neck – C6 and C7 (which later fused, giving me a C13!) as well as my left shoulder. I just figured time and gravity had come to roost and were now compressing on my nerves. I’d figured that being structural, the only fix would be yoga and a general improvement of my overall fitness. I went to an acupuncturist with few hopes, but after four visits the annoying electrical feeling was completely gone. Completely. And so, while it’s yet another unforeseen expense of life, I must find a way to carve something out of my budget to have a few more sessions. I have never in my life had any bad experience – or major injury – to my right side, so I can’t imagine what in hell is ultimately responsible for it. But a moment’s reflection and I needn’t look much further for reasons, because I realize that it is true: I am getting old. Well, at least older. And now a physical body of evidence is beginning to show itself. Crap. I still can’t believe I’m here. That I now know what it is to have a parent die. That I now know what it is to have aches and pains for no good reason. Crap.

Santa was good to Elihu this year, bringing him an Ergo electric bass and amp (hours logged on it already) and a couple of battling robotic spiders, but more surprisingly, Santa was good to me too, and brought me a Wii fit board (love the used game place – next-to-nothing prices for year-old products) and a Wii fit game. He musta known my health needed a little rescuing. Hopefully, in spite of a heavier work load and mom duties ongoing, I’ll be able to spend a little time with my cyber coach. I have plans to join Weight Watchers with mom, too. While it might be frustrating that I’m here again, this year I mean to do more than the Band-Aid approach to weight loss (and fitness). I’ve done the Atkins thing a few times now, and while it always works, it never feels right. I can’t help but feel it’s counter-intuitive to see an apple as an enemy. I will, however, take with me the conservative approach to eating carbohydrates. That is the beneficial ‘take-away’ from those experiences. I’m not a carb craver, so that’s not so hard for me. What I do find exceptionally challenging is simply eating less. Ich. More honestly speaking, what I find challenging is the challenge.

Now yet another challenge… I just received an email that had my body flushed with cold. I thought that I’d just been through all the extremes I could handle in losing my father this past week, but this was horrible in a new way. I hated this feeling, and what’s more, I hated that there was no good outcome from it that I could see. No relief, no ultimate fix, no happy ending. Elihu’s beloved teacher at the Waldorf School was leaving after the end of fifth grade. How many times had we thanked God to have found her? How many times had we exclaimed that she was the best thing ever to have happened to Elihu? How many times had Elihu himself told us how much he loved her, how he loved her way of teaching, of being? So many times we’ve thought how lucky we were, how amazingly lucky… This news has me wanting to cry, but I feel cried out. I feel the dull throbbing in my right shoulder and begin to feel like things are all pressing in on me. I’m almost scared, but more than that, I feel defeated. My son has been a joyful child due much in part to his teacher. How will my son remain joyful now? I know that whomever replaces her will be a gift too, I know that. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Waldorf teacher that’s not pretty spectacular. But still. I sit with this new information for a bit. How will I tell my son? I know he’ll cry. His heart will break at this news, I just know it. I look outside at the mounds of new, white snow. It’s a gray, snow-covered morning. Beautiful, serene, unaware that all this human drama continues on…

Yesterday we removed the ornaments from the tree. It had begun to dry so terribly that many were now falling off. One ornament, the one that we’d gotten just after I learned I was pregnant (the ornament was made in Italy, and so was Elihu) had fallen to the floor, but interestingly had not broken. I heard it fall, and was rather amazed to see the delicate glass globe in the middle of the floor, intact. I had been given a second chance, now it was time to remove them before they all fell and broke. Good thing I had no time to anticipate the taking down of the tree, what with all this nostalgia and sentiment flying around these days it woulda been hard on my heart. Even so, it was a poignant afternoon yesterday as ancient and sad Christmas music played and years of memories, in the form of ornaments, were each recounted and packed away. I kept torturing myself by thinking that I’d put the tree up while dad was here, and now I was taking it down after he had died. He was here, now he’s not. This gorgeous tree was here and beautiful one day, simply gone the next. After about an hour of recorders, lutes and lots of D minor Elihu called from his room and asked if we couldn’t have something ‘less sad’. That kid always keeps me level, I swear. Time and place for everything. Yeah, I suppose you’re right kid, enough of the sad.

But now this. I was ready for the empty living room, I knew dad was going. And even the bird, I knew we’d have to do her in. But Elihu’s teacher? I had no preparation for this. I gotta keep it together, I’ve got to expect that surprise, wonderful, yet-unseen outcome. Life is full of surprises for which we can never fully prepare. I hear that Elihu’s up now. When to tell him? Fist we’ll have breakfast, tend to the chickens and fill the table feeder outside our window. Even there we have our little surprises – just a few days ago we were visited by a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker for the very first time in our five years here. So there are some good surprises to be had too. I know that. I’m ready for just about anything to happen next, I guess.

So go ahead, life, bring it on. Surprise me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post Script: Careful what you ask for… Moments after I wrote this post, when I went out to the coop I found Lefty’s ‘twin’ sister, Righty, lying dead (identical and petite white leghorns, each had a comb that hung over on a different side, hcnce the names Righty Tighty and Lefty Loosey). Looked like she’d died recently. A victim, like her sister, of hen-pecking. She was featherless on one wing and covered in blood. When I picked her up by her legs and turned to check the boxes for eggs, goose Max started violently pecking at her. Many times I’d seen him take a bite at a bird’s back end, but it was never more than a territorial nip. This was strange and different behavior. I scolded him soundly then walked out with the dead hen. I walked her out to the edge of the woods where we’d left her sister. I kissed her cheek and told her how sorry I was. Then I left her. What a nice surprise that’ll be for a hungry fox.

When I got inside I found Elihu talking on his new IPad (left by Santa in Illinois) to his father and sister in England. Soon after he was playing his bass for her. And just now when I peeked in again, I saw Elihu explaining to her how he wove his silly bands into jewelry. Wow. Here in our little country home was an open window into another home halfway across the globe – and in real time, too. Call me old-fashioned, buy I still marvel at technology. My mind is still blown to think that my first cell phone was the size of a brick and got too hot to touch within minutes, and here my kid is chatting away without a second thought to the visual image of his dad and sister, thousands of miles away. (A bit mind-blowing too is the fact that my son has a sister his own age. Even though I’m at peace with it, and understand she’s an important part of Elihu’s family, I still can’t quite integrate that into my thinking.) Yup, surprises are everywhere.

A final Post Script: Surprise! My comments feature on this particular post has become disabled somehow, and in spite of my best efforts to reverse this, I cannot figure it out. Never happened before…

 

Michaelmus September 27, 2013

The name ‘Michael’ in this case rhymes with ‘nickel’, and the ‘mas’ sounds just like the one in ‘Christmas’. And there you have the name of a holiday known as the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. In heavenly terms, Michael is the angel who defeated Lucifer in the great battle of heaven, but in more earthly terms it represents the coming of the Fall equinox, and the shortening of days. In the context of the Waldorf school, the story told is that of Michael (here it’s pronounced ‘Mike-ay-EL’) and how he summons his courage to slay the dragon. During the course of their day, on this, the school-wide celebration of Michaelmas, the students find themselves faced with challenges they must overcome; faced with their own personal dragons to slay. A boots-on-the-ground adaptation of the metaphor provided by the legend.

The morning is spent by all twelve grades in the local state park. The home base of the site is located under the generous canopy of a common shelter which sits next to a wide open field, all of which is surrounded by forest. There’s a great deal of variety in elevation throughout the enormous property plus a river running through. All in all, nature is well represented in this place. In the first few hours of of their day, the children wind their way through the woods from station to station, solving riddles, creating solutions to problems and performing various physical challenges. Each team is lead by an eighth grader who carries a staff that represents the group. Upon completion of each challenge, they’re given a pennant to fly from the staff. A few hours later, when they emerge from the woods, their group’s staff is flying a colorful assortment of banners from the stations whose challenges they met successfully. The kids are in obvious good cheer by this time (and as I came to learn later on, my own son was enjoying a deep sense of pride in his accomplishments as they returned to the shelter).

The events of the day, as I understand, are created to help foster self-reliance in the children as well as encourage them to work together as teams. Both seem to have been done very well. Kudos to the amazing, talented and loving teachers and administrators of this Waldorf school, for they pull off feats in education and personal inspiration few can. That they make their teachings so alive, so real – and that their work is just so infused with love and genuine respect for all the kids involved – it all just blows my mind (and especially in this day and age – and in this country as well). Can’t say enough about this magical school. I know one kid whose life will never be the same on account of it. !

late Sept 2013 123Here’s the dragon that started it all!

late Sept 2013 125And the twelfth grade, post dragon-slaying skit, complete with St. Michael riding a real horse!

late Sept 2013 136The kids have just returned from their quests

late Sept 2013 031The high school kids remained behind to cook vegetable soup and set the tables

late Sept 2013 064the high schoolers serve the littler ones

late Sept 2013 086groups eat at tables marked by their staffs

late Sept 2013 074Hi Sadie!

late Sept 2013 156Hunter on Hyrum’s back

late Sept 2013 104Elihu visits Lucy in the ‘pit orchestra’. She and I made sound effects for the slaying of the dragon skit. Fun.

late Sept 2013 107A

Lucy’s been playing piano for this school for a long, long time. She’s finally leaving, and I’m taking her place. Phew – lots of new music to learn. And I hate to see her go! Such a sweetie.

late Sept 2013 115A peek at St. Michael on the horse.

late Sept 2013 110Gathering after lunch for songs and then games

late Sept 2013 101Fifth grader Fiona (and her cucumber named Bob) with her first grade buddy. This school uses a really wonderful system of pairing up an older kid with a younger one. Last year Elihu was the younger one, but now, in fifth grade, it’s his turn to be a mentor. This should be in place in every single school. Magical things happen when a little kid gets the attention of a big one, and I can tell you a big kid really makes a bolder step into him/herself when she’s all of a sudden the role model for someone small.

late Sept 2013 177I shoulda known I wouldn’t get a ‘nice’ picture out of these goofburgers. !

late Sept 2013 169Ah, but thanks to one of the fifth graders for taking this nice mom and son shot.

A wonderful Michaelmus was had by one and all.

 

Connected September 25, 2013

Elihu’d been asking me frequently over the past few days if I was unusually stressed. It was easy for me to think I lived in my own world, my thoughts entirely private and unnoticeable as I marched forward through my days… In the car, driving us here, there and all points in between, running out to tend to the chickens, standing at the counter making supper, and then not long after standing at the sink washing dishes, even later on in the evening sitting at the piano, concentrating on the page before me. True, we spent a lot of time together, but these days, I agreed with his observation that we’d gotten suddenly very busy – and we hadn’t been living together as much as we had been living side by side. My focus was seldom on him, but more on the task at hand. We were now at the end of our day and enjoying a quiet moment’s conversation before bedtime. We’d been so busy doing, doing, doing…. but yet we hadn’t checked in with each other in a while. We ‘needed to connect’, he’d said to me quietly. “Mommy, please tell me, are you stressed these days?” I stopped, turned to face him, looked straight into his eyes, and gave him my full attention as I answered his question.

Yes, I admitted to being stressed these days. There was a lot of new music to learn for the fall, there were other classes to prepare for and students too, plus the never-ending list of farm and home-related work. There was a new string bass to move around now, and lessons to pay for. Doctors appointments and house repairs. Grandparents that continued to age and change. While there’d never been an absence of things to think about and plan for here at the Hillhouse, this recent spell was indeed a bit heavier than many. So yes, I was stressed. He too admitted to being a bit pooped with our non-stop life. There was a moment of quiet. It was not quite 7 pm, and we were attempting an early bedtime in order to catch up. I’d already read to him from the current favorite book about a pair of wild Golden Eagles. But tonite it hadn’t done the trick. Elihu was still just as wide awake as moments before.  And he felt needy as I put the book away and then moved in to kiss his cheek and leave. He pulled me back down with his still-small arms and asked me to stay for a bit. Oh well. Ok. Things – all those stupid things on my never-ending list – they can wait. They can. Elihu needed me, and I probably needed him too. So I stayed, and we talked by the hallway light that streamed in through his half-closed bedroom door.

Elihu asked me about the House Cafe, and for me to tell him what was going on with it now. He asked me why daddy doesn’t just sell it. I explained that he had too much invested to let it go. Kinda like us and our chickens. Kinda. I could tell that sleep wasn’t coming any time soon, and both of us had a head full of concerns and queries…. so I let him continue. “If you and daddy had never bought it, would I have been a city boy? Would I have been living in Evanston and playing video games and going to a regular school? I nodded. “Pretty good chance of that.” We sat in silence for a moment and took that in. I began to remind him – to remind us both, really – of all the things we’d have known nothing about had we not come here to this place…. “No homing pigeons. No geese. No garden. No chickens, eggs, butchering. No Jonah, no Phoenix, no Ms. Reid… no Waldorf. You wouldn’t be playing recorder, or knitting, or playing string bass… singing in rounds, bringing fresh baked bread in for lunch, playing your djembe on the street… everything would have been different. Maybe all of it would have been just fine, but certainly very different.” I looked into his face with a slight smile for emphasis. “So. Do you think you’re doin ok here?” I ask him gently. He smiles. He tells me yeah, he knows he is. I probably don’t need to go on, but I do. “I know it’s still not the same without having your daddy actually live with us, and you know I’m really sorry about that, but in the end, there’s just so much that factors into it. I dunno, it’s kinda like I just can’t even consider regretting it. Cuz it’s how it is.”

Without a second’s pause, he asks me “So are you happy?” He was sincere, and his face waited for my appraisal of things. He wanted to know. Heck, I wanted to know! Yeah, so, was I happy? I can’t deny I feel stress sometimes, but hmm… I did a little scan of my feelings. I was surprised to feel the confidence, the lack of hesitation in my answer. “Yes. Yes, I would definitely say that I am happy!”I answered him, smiling wide and true. But then I looked at my knobby fingers which are just this past month beginning to hurt in earnest. “But I’m also kinda bummed that just when I am feeling so good about things that these start popping up. And the sad thing is, they’ll probably never go back to the way they used to be even just a month ago”. Elihu takes my largest, most arthritic finger in his cool thin hands and gently kisses it. “Never say that, Mommy. Say ‘they will be better, and they are better now and I can feel how well they’re working…” he is not joking, not being ironic, sarcastic or clever. My son is coaching me to employ a little more loving and positive ‘self-talk’. Oh how I wish I could share his hope, but I fear that I must find a way to incorporate this new mild handicap into my life and hope that before long it just blends into the landscape. Least that’s what I tell myself for now. Ok, so it’s a stressor, to be sure. But it’s not the larger point here. What is rather remarkable, is that Elihu has had me realize something that I wasn’t quite sure I even believed myself! Don’t think I’d ever really committed to the feeling of being happy with my life.  I was happy with my life. Forgetting the fingers for the moment, my quick internal assessment confirmed it once again. Yup. I loved our life. Wow. We both waited in the darkness for a minute, each of us recounting past adventures and feeling proud of all we’d learned. Yeah, there was no point to worry about what we might have been if we’d never come here. Obviously, that was not the future that served us best. This was.

I sometimes wonder how it is that I can accurately convey the nature and nuance of the relationship exists between Elihu and me. Adults caution parents – and especially single parents – not to treat their children as peers – as their buddies. But I’m not so sure I’m completely down with that approach. My son still knows I’m mom, and certain things are ok, certain things aren’t. There’s not a lot of protestation, because I feel I have a fairly intelligent, loving and well-reasoned kid. For the most part he accepts the few rules I lay down. To be truthful, a single child in a one parent household is going to have a different sort of relationship with the parent he or she lives with. It’s going to be unique. It’s going to be what it is. And in our case, our relationship, if I may borrow from the current vernacular of the fifth grade boys, is awesome. It’s all good. Even the bad. And thankfully, these days there’s not a whole lot of that. Thanks to my beautiful boy for checking in with me and reminding me of what’s important.

Staying connected like that helps remind us how good things are.

 

One Room September 12, 2013

My son is a very lucky boy in many ways, but perhaps in this moment of our lives, he is luckiest of all for having discovered the Waldorf School of Saratoga. I cannot imagine our lives without this school, this environment, this tiny universe of our own. I would even go so far as to say that most times it feels more like one very large family tending to the communal raising and teaching of our children than it really does a school. Every teacher knows the name of every last child there, and every child knows all of the others too – friendships exist across ages and grade levels without a second thought. And it’s something special to see the sorts of relationships that exist between children that have not only known each other for years, but who share a certain quality of trust among themselves. This school is a safe place for all; in my limited experience there I’ve never known bullying to exist. All I’ve ever seen were kids helping each other, playing with each other, singing, laughing and learning together. These children all support each other unquestionably. It wouldn’t really be a stretch to say that the place is beautiful in so many ways (not the least of which are the physical aesthetics of the school and its decor itself) that it almost seems too good to be true. It almost seems as if it were a school created by a team of writers somewhere in Hollywood, trying to conjure ‘the perfect’ storybook school.

We came in late to the game; Elihu joined the third grade just after Spring break. But by the end of the day it was more than clear that this was where he needed to be. Where he was supposed to be. And while it may seem a bold statement to some, I believe that he was meant to be here. I feel as if my husband’s leaving, our cross-country move, the divorce – all of it happened in order to support this incredibly important foundation of Elihu’s life. In short, it was all worth it.

The school is modest indeed by today’s standards. The building itself was a city school many years ago (our friend and matriarch, 87 year old Martha Carver taught there once upon a time) and these days its creaking staircases, high ceilings and dark wood interior are a quaint anachronism seen next to their modern, expansive and brightly-lit counterparts. Yes, the place is old fashioned. One staircase for the upward traffic, one for the down. One classroom for each grade. Same teacher for one class (the teacher travels along with that class from first grade all the way through eighth). No cafeteria. The school has but one common room, which is called “the Eurythmy room” – it’s used for movement, music, chorus, orchestra, plays, assemblies and more. The seating for this room can be found in three stacks of folding chairs on dollies which are wheeled in and out according to the next item on the agenda. There are virtually no closets, but the staff has made the most economic use of what is there, and it is nothing short of impressive. I marvel daily at the amount of industry that takes place in such limited space. Perhaps this helps to make it feel even homier. Things have their places, and if people are to live and work together successfully, things must be put away. And so they are. Everyone grabs a chair at the end of a function, folds it up and puts it away. Utensils, cups and plates, if left unattended in the tiny kitchen will be washed by the next person passing through who has a minute. Of course the goal is to clean up after oneself, but if it doesn’t happen, a courteous person will step up. I have never been part of a social group in which there were so many helpers and doers. And they’re always cheerful too. Crazy. !

Today I saw the room in which I work – the Eurythmy room, where I play the piano for the movement classes – go through such transformations that I can hardly believe it all took place in the same space. Seventh graders dancing, chorus sitting in rows and singing rounds, tables of pot luck dishes set up for the fifth grade parent’s night, and then when all was through and put away, a roomful of ten year old whirling dervishes dancing around and around as I played a bouncy, cartoony soundtrack. Did all of this happen in the same room? Just today? When I fully took in all that had occurred there in the space of one school day, it shocked me. Somehow, it had seemed to be a different place each time. This school was able to do more living in less space – and time – than any other school I’d ever known. Even after having been a part of it for over a year now, I was still learning how amazing a place this is.

I’ve made a promise to my son that he will be in this school through the twelfth grade. That nothing will prevent that from happening. If I have to sell our place. If I have to take a job that takes me away from him (can’t quite leave him on his own yet… but I know it’ll be here sooner than I think), no matter if I have to make major changes in my life. Whatever. I wish I could get his paternal grandparents on board to regularly share the burden of tuition, because the weight of it – even after generous assistance – falls to my mom. Since she stopped working a few months back it’s become a bit more of a challenge. But like I said, even if I have to sell my piano or my harpsichord, I’ll make it work. Some folks commute an hour each way. Some folks can only afford to have one child in at a time, and so alternate years with their kids in order that they get at least some of their education here. I feel very lucky to have only one child to support. Couldn’t have done it otherwise. Lucky we, lucky we.

It was almost impossible to get the kids to leave tonight. They were laughing and having so much fun with each other. And these are kids who will see each other again in just a few hours! Kids who spend their days together in this small space, kids who run together for two recesses a day (I know, right?), kids who learn to knit, sing harmony parts and whittle while also learning their fractions and rules of grammar. Kids who are learning so much. Kids who are loved.

So much light in just one room.

 

First of Fifth September 4, 2013

Yes, it’s a cliche to ask ‘where has the time gone?’, but it is inevitable that each parent will say such a thing on their child’s first day back to school. Each year feels special and new, each brings with it new skills, challenges and rites of passage. No matter the year, there will be certain changes that are unique to that time and a parent needn’t look far to find something to get sentimental and misty-eyed about.

The Waldorf School had today what they call ‘The Rose Ceremony’. It is a gathering of all twelve grades in which each teacher gets up before the group and speaks a bit about what will take place during the year, perhaps the challenges ahead, and usually there’s a metaphor told in a story or image to help illustrate the ideas. Elihu recounted some of them to me tonight as we lay in bed and went over the day. (Although I try to be present for as many school functions as I can, this morning I was playing piano for a Eurythmy class at a retirement home.) I asked him to tell me about his teacher’s speech. He said “she likened our progress to that of a dandelion seed, taking flight, finding a home in the soil, and beginning to grow. But she said it just the right way.” He even said “it was so beautiful that it almost made me cry”. (If there was ever a child made just for Waldorf, it is mine.) The kindergartners walked over the rainbow bridge into first grade, and the ceremony was complete.

Elihu hardly expressed any of the tenderness and contemplative mood of the morning’s ceremony by the time his half day was up and I’d come to get him. Over the moon at seeing his classmate buddies again, he was in super-high gear and acting every bit a goofy kid. Following a short pow-wow with the Eurythmy folks about my new schedule this year, he and I headed out to one of Elihu’s most favorite places on the entire planet. The duck pond in Congress Park. And so began a three-hour long visit with our webbed-footed friends. And in the process of picking up nearly twenty ducks Elihu made some new friends too. A world a way from school perhaps, but his spirit was no doubt buoyed by his joyful first reunion with his teacher and classmates.

And this evening, we enjoyed the first sweet corn from our garden! We enjoyed our many kinds of lettuce and tomatoes too. We were very satisfied with ourselves and immensely grateful that we even had the opportunity to know what it was to have our own garden. And eggs. And chicken. We smiled to ourselves all through bath and bedtime. Smiling still as he lay down to sleep, knowing today was just the first of so many wonderful, exciting new days to come.

first day of school 2013 042Boy-band hair and Waldorf-friendly, salmon-pink shirt, he’s oh so ready and off to fifth grade.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 003His new classroom.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 002A greeting and plan for the day by Ms. Reid.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 020Happy to see Phoenix…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 016…and happy to see Jonah. Crazy boys.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 012There’s pure joy in this pic.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 025Joy here, too.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 032There’s only one white one among hundreds… and he caught it right away!

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 047Elihu and new friend try making the ducks jump. It’s kinda cute when the birds do.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 081Holding one, smooching another.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 085A baby up close. Hardly any wings! Seems a little late in the season for such a small one; they need to be off soon…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 110Our new pals, brothers Vinny and Tommy! Yay! Hope to see you here again sometime!

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 115Elihu in heaven.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 135He always wants a few moments ‘to connect’ with the bird.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 144He always admires the wing…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 150and other parts…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 182Such love.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 184He cannot help himself.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 215This gal took a picture too…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 224Then came to say hi. Elihu always tries to ‘share’ his ducks.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 239But enough about birds! The most important news in months…. fresh sweet corn from our garden is now ready!

Elihu topped off his already wonderful day with a favorite meal of chicken wings, salad from the garden and home-grown corn. He went to bed one happy young man. I’m feeling pretty good too. From Kindergarten to Fifth grade, from a seed to a full ear of corn. Lots of growing’s been goin on around here.