Full circle - FamilyEducation

Full circle

February 20,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I don't get much one-on-one time with my son anymore, despite often superhuman efforts to make this happen. Before T. was born he was my buddy; I took him everywhere, even to classes with me sometimes when he had a day off preschool, or wasn't feeling well enough to go to school. He always sat quietly in the back of the class, drawing on paper, or listening to me even  while students snuck amused glances at him and tried hard to win his attention. The last really special walk we had together was the day I went into labor with T., who arrived ten days early. We went for a walk together that afternoon, his hand in mine, and we talked about what we saw that unusually mild day—a couple of snowdrops by the neighbor’s fence, a fallen penny by the grass, a stick shaped like the letter “L”. He skipped along beside me and I felt a sudden overwhelming rush of bittersweet sadness at the thought of how his world was about to change—in good ways and bad ways and that the moment that was this walk, his small hand tightening and slackening in mine as he skipped forwards and back again, could never repeat itself again. 

I try and carve out as much one-on-one time with L. as I can, to look for interesting and different activities for the two of us to do together. So when a friend recently recommended taking him to a drum circle, I jumped at the chance to look into this. My friend's friend takes her own son to a drum circle in New York city, where they live, and had rave reviews about how therapeutic a drum circle is proving for her son, who like L. enjoys music tremendously. A drum circle, for those wondering, is exactly what the name implies: an informal gathering of people of all ages, sitting in a circle, banging on conga and djembe drums and creating spontaneous rhythms. I researched drum circles a little bit and found that even this smallish city we live in has a thriving one that meets every third Monday of the month in the boathouse of a nearby park. On Monday L. had his bath early and then the two of us headed out into the evening to find this place.

It was one of those perfect nights weather-wise, unusually balmy and clear. The wind was blowing in colder air for later that night and the clouds were light purple wisps racing across an almost-full moon. L. was thrilled to be out at night and brought along his pocket telescope, so he could snag some good views of the moon. On the drive there we talked about astronomy and what we thought a drum circle would be like. After a few wrong turns I found the park and the boathouse, perched on a wide, long deck overlooking the lake. We were running late, so we saved moon-watching and star-gazing for afterwards, paid our $3 into a decorated coffee can by the door, grabbed a massive loaner drum, and joined the circle.

The drums were fun and I think thrilled L. to his core. Even the floor vibrated with the sound and there was something primeval and exhilarating about the steady rhythm and the pounding of hands and even feet. But even better than the drumming, and the excitement on L.'s face as he drummed for all he was worth, was that brief sliver of time--maybe an hour and a half in all--we had, L. and I, that night. We left the drum circle early (45 minutes was about all he could take and it was getting late) and walked out to the deck behind the boathouse. I stood there with my son watching the moon, and listening as he pointed out one thing after the other:

Look Mama! There's the Sea of Tranquility! There's Venus!

until the wind blew the clouds in and they covered the moon again and the lake was a purple-black arc against the dark sky. On the way back to the car L. slipped his hand in mine, and we could hear the drumming from the boathouse fade into the distance, until it was just a part of the wind in the trees, and the cars from the approaching road.