In music, syncope is a break in the rhythm, discordant notes that interrupt the monotony and provide interest or surprise. These notes or phrases are musical non-sequiters. Syncopation creates the underpinnings of musical forms such as jazz or rock. In the right proportions, syncopation renders a musical composition more pleasing; it adds depth and emotion. In excess, syncopation creates cacophony. Ours has been a syncopated summer.
In the kids’ Waldorf schooling, we learn of the rhythms inherent to life: the rhythm of the day, of the seasons, of the year, of the growth of a child, animal, or plant. As I’ve written before, we come to miss the consciousness of this rhythm during the summer. At the beginning of summer, the break from structure is a rhythmic exhalation of its own – the release from schedule gives the sense of promise and possibility, the sense that anything can happen. This sense is exhilarating at first – watch the kids on the playground in the last week of school, the energy and excitement that bursts from them. However, like all freedoms, the freedom of summer soon overwhelms with unknowns. How soon do your children begin to ask, “What are we going to do this summer? Where are we going?”
This has been the summer of the great unknown. Our rhythm, while seemingly chaotic, has possessed for years a monotony all its own. Summer has been no exception: mom and dad work specific days; the kids attend camps, visit grandparents, watch too much TV, and complain about being bored. Somewhere in August, we eke out a family road trip.
No summer camps.
Our older children decided that they really didn’t want to attend camp, to face a routine different from school, to build relationships with strangers, this year. Perhaps sensing the oncoming storm, this May they were in hunker-down mode. Even Aidan the outgoing and Caitlin the adventurous sought comfort in the familiar, the known. Our bank account thanked them. Though, as we face a more extreme end-of-summer-TV-detox than usual (thanks, Grandma!), I can’t help wondering if I should have pushed.
In the last weeks of June, we received notice that the inevitable had come to pass. Our home was foreclosed upon, and we spent from June through July searching for a rental. Today is Monday, we move on Wednesday. As of right now, we are officially squatters in the only home our children have ever known.
The sensible question to ask here, and the one, oddly, that no one has asked (at least not to our faces) is, “If you knew that you were in danger of losing your home, why are your kids in private school?” Perhaps other people have simply been too kind, but rest assured, we have asked ourselves this question. I think the answer lies in the meaning of home. For many years, our home has been a house, a shelter, but despite our best efforts, not really a place of rest, solace, or community. It is an old house, isolated, and requiring more maintenance, improvement, and care than we have time, energy, or money. Every weed that springs through the gravel, every mouse that scurries across the counter reminds us of our failures. Pulling into the driveway has been like pulling up to a giant billboard painted with the words, “YOU CAN’T DO THIS.” On the other hand, Davis Waldorf School has provided our children, and by extension us, with the opportunity to say, “I can do this. I can climb a tree, plant a garden, knit a hat, play an instrument, carve a pumpkin, and tie my shoes. I can interact with other parents. I can arrange playdates. I can decorate for an auction. I can participate in the school board.” As the responses to my pathetic ‘can anyone help us move’ e-mail have flooded in, I see how bleak our lives would have been if we had made the practical choice of moving the kids to the local school and trying to save the house. The trauma for the children would have been greater, removing them from friends and a rhythm they call home to a vast unknown, and we may still have lost the house. Regardless, our melody would have shifted to a dirge. The comment made by almost all of our friends has been, “we’re so sorry for your situation, but we are so glad you are going to be close to us.” Physical distance is real; ask anyone who has ever tried to maintain a long-distance relationship. Proximity matters. By moving to Davis, we are moving closer to the core of our lives. We are gaining proximity to our friends and to ourselves. We are going home.
Pop goes the hand!
My personal rhythm cracked this summer along with my fifth metacarpal on my left hand. Lifting a horse’s hind leg in a maneuver performed thousands of times, I struggled with my reluctant patient, and my little finger was yanked sideways. As two working hands are something of a requirement for a large animal veterinarian, I have been off work since mid-July. I define my rhythm and myself through my work – the inevitable result of a life spent meeting goals and checking off boxes. This summer I have learned to re-define success. I miss my clients, my patients, and my co-workers, and I wonder what I have lost by being away. I also wonder, a bit, if my nerve will suffer at all from this event. Will I cringe the first time a horse moves suddenly? Will I be less willing to take the chances that are a daily part of my job? Working with horses is like flying a plane, doing surgery, or even driving a car – self-doubt is not an asset.
The greatest personal jolt this summer has been a positive one, and has come about through my writing. (Ha! You expected a cute little one-liner to break up the paragraphs there, didn’t you? Wouldn’t be syncope if it was too predictable.) I have spent the past year writing for this blog and for Blogcritics.org, and submitting pieces to web and print literary magazines. And, collecting rejection letters for these same pieces. When the final notices on the foreclosure were posted (yes, on our door), I told my husband, “I have to write about this. It’s the only way I can deal with it.” I wrote an essay and submitted it to a couple of publications. To my shock, it was accepted – by Salon.com. The publication of this essay in Salon led to a series for The Folsom Telegraph, and a couple of other writing opportunities have begun to poke their heads out of holes.
We move in two days. School begins in just over a week. Our lives will shift back into a breathing rhythm, but I hope, and I will work to ensure, that this rhythm is one of live, active breaths, not the snoring of a monotonous slumber. I have learned to appreciate the value of the gasp, the interest of syncope.