December weather —gray and wet, damp more than cold —does not inspire festivities. Neither do the circumstances of our larger community — justice, kindness, compassion seem never-present. Pondering the absence of fair minded people to think fairly about issues that we’ve all talked about since before I was born has quieted my typing fingers. I have no unique perspective, I do not move in a large world, the issues that I am passionate about may touch peripherally on the challenges of the day, but I have so little to add. And yet the racial, ethnic, religious and neuro-diversity of our community is something that I cannot absent myself from. Do I do wrong to turn from the issues of the day in favor of my passions?
And yet, the small activities of life relentlessly march on.
I spent Monday talking about Julia’s goals for the coming year. First, a pre-iEP meeting at school and later a lead, therapist meeting at the clinic where Julia goes for social skills. For every goal she meets there are many, many more waiting in the queue. It feels insurmountable sometimes. It felt insurmountable on Monday. That most difficult feeling was and is lodged what doesn’t work well in her well-ordered life. That balance of therapy versus real world experience. Both are vital to her development and in a perfect world . . . . well, there might be another five hours in each day to experience and accomplish all that I see as necessary. And the other challenge — the middle school system which is not built to meet Julia’s needs. We have well meaning teachers and administrators and a system that cannot bend to meet needs. I am Julia’s ambassador and gladiator as I negotiate and do battle with the size of the middle school teaching team, the inevitable lack of collaboration — how does one get 21 people on the same page? 21 people who never sit in the same room and talk about getting on the same page— the weak links in our teaching team, the round robin of aides who see her once or twice a week and couldn’t possibly understand her. Julia would do better in an elementary model of education — one or two teachers with two or three aides. That does not exist in her middle school, and even if I could find it in Madison — and I don’t necessarily think that I can — moving her now might be more disruptive than constructive.
At the end of last week and the early days of this week, I baked. The sheer joy of physical work that I am sure can be accomplished! This is a blessing. Biscotti, cookies, poppyseed and nut rolls, a good deal of which have been distributed to our helping community and neighbors. Some of which is carefully packed away for gatherings over the next few weeks. I had to force myself to get the baking started and prime the pump with holiday music playing at full volume but once started the spirit emerged. Julia has insisted on a piece of poppyseed roll with her breakfast each morning since the baking. She is my daughter.
On Wednesday after school, Julia was in her first at-home solo cello concert. Her teacher gathered five students who had pieces to perform. We gathered in a lovely room off the kitchen and dining room, a room that had high blond, wooden beams in the ceiling and a European-styled oven on one wall. Julia was the first to play and she and her teacher played “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” the fourth piece in the first Suzuki cello book. Julia started and then stopped, asking to begin again. I didn’t hear the mistake but there was some perceived wrong. She had a not-at-all-odd poise in restarting. She began again with her eyes on her teacher and returned her eyes to her music. All so very appropriately. She played flawlessly, albeit with slightly uneven rhythm. And finished and stood for a bow. Beaming.
And I started breathing again. It is not easy to be such a fierce mother bear. I am not interested in perfect playing but in excellent experiences. And she had an excellent experience. Julia listened to the four other kids play their more advanced pieces. The two boys who are advanced in their skills compared to Julia but who have not, much like her, found how to play music instead of a large group of accurate notes in good time. Then two other girls who had both made that transition and who were quite the joy to listen to. On the way home, Julia told me that she wanted to practice so that she could play like those girls. I wondered if she could hear the difference in their playing, if she could hear the music.
After the concert, which lasted for all of a half hour, we were treated to champagne and cheese and sweets. Julia had no interest in staying with me and mingled with the kids and their parents. She was friendly. No one in the group knew her and I watched the kids and their parents react to Julia in now-predictable ways — a few who immediately understand her skill level, a few who are confused and taken aback, a few who cannot deal with her and turn away or ignore her. She took on all of them with what might one day be called her charm. She is not phased by those who turn away. She will even pursue them for a little bit.
And I need to remind myself over and over to let her go and be her social self. It is her practice time. It is only by doing it, much like playing her solo piece, that she will learn how to do what comes so naturally to so many of us. Her learning curve is so different from every other person’s in that room that night, but she does learn. And she wants it.
One last note on the concert: Look at the picture of Julia and her teacher. Look at the attention. Look at the eye contact. That, which most music student parents would take for granted after a year of lessons, has been so hard won. It is the product of a score of teachers and therapists and hours and hours of intentional work. I have much to be grateful for.
Last Saturday at church, there was a poster and a basket of small black ribbons to wear for Sunday’s day of memorial. Julia grabbed two ribbons, asked to have one put on her and told me to put on the other one. I asked her why she wanted to wear it and she snapped back, quite uncharacteristically for her, “because black lives matter.” And I know that most likely she read that on the poster behind the basket but I was struck by how, even my child whose awareness of the larger world is limited, cannot escape the challenges of our community. Of our survival.
This year, I’ve put up more lights inside and out, decorated with more shiny stuff in more rooms of the house and lit up the tree and lights every day that is grey and I am going to be home. Perhaps this is the lesson of the season, of the solstice — that the light is not going to come from some divine source or natural phenomenon but from deep inside myself. Perhaps that is the lesson of community that I search for. To call back the light, we need to locate it and grow it from our very souls.
May it be so. Namaste.