Skill U: 5.7

H. Walker, Von-Windenburg Estate

Week Five, Day Seven – Junior Year

Editor’s Note: Honey’s journal entries are numbered according to week and day of the week. As she does not keep daily entries, gaps appear in the numbering. Please see the Table of Contents for the full listing of entries.


Dr. Dean was right. Before the end of the semester, I completed all the requirements to be valedictorian. I didn’t really feel satisfaction or joy. I just felt sort of empty. It hadn’t exactly been my goal, but once I’d achieved it, I realized that I didn’t know what my goal was. Now, it seems like all I need to do is just mark time, and then I’ll graduate, and then what?

I also noticed that with all of my focus on my music and au pair duties, I’d been neglecting any other kinds of activities, and I’d gotten out of shape. I think I must have gained about twenty pounds. I don’t mind for appearance’s sake: my mom’s a little bit heavier, and I think she looks attractive. But I just don’t feel as healthy as I used to.

I started noticing that I’d get out of breath after long practice sessions, and I was worried I might not have the physical stamina for really demanding pieces, like Bach’s partita for solo violin.

If I wanted to be able to keep up with music, I was going to have to get fit.


I started with a sunrise jog–it felt incredible to run while the sun was coming up over the bay.


I want to take my physical fitness as seriously as I take everything else–I mean, I don’t want to over-train, and I want to be sure that my fitness supports my music.

At the gym, I talked with one of the trainers.

“So, my goal is to be a performer–on the violin,” I told her. “So I need to be in shape without getting too bulky or tight in the upper body.”

“Not a problem!” she said. “Focus on cardio. Add a little yoga for flexibility, and do weight training to build up strength. Don’t stress your muscles–just stay within the range of what feels good, and you’ll do fine!”


So, I’m feeling pretty good about my fitness routine right now, like I’m on track to be able to keep up with what the music will demand of me.

Things around the house were going really well, too. Jacques has been spending a lot more time with the kids now, helping them with their homework and talking to them.

I started thinking that maybe they didn’t need me, and I should start looking for my own place soon. I don’t want to get in the way of their being a family.


Then one morning, I overheard shouting coming from Luna’s room, where Hugo was doing his homework.

Jacques was yelling at his son, saying all sorts of strange things about how Hugo didn’t uphold the family values, how he was a disgrace–really hateful, untrue accusations.


The au pair placement company had told me about Jacques’ mental illness. So far, all I’d notice was behavior like walking around in his Speedos or boxers and talking to himself or acting like he was seeing things that weren’t there.

But they’d warned that his particular form of imbalance could lead him to sometimes lash out at others.

They stressed that this was one of the main reasons for having an au pair in the family, to help provide some stability for the kids during times when their dad was particularly unstable.

I could see that Hugo was upset. We’d never really talked about his dad’s behavior before, so I wasn’t sure how to start.

I decided to focus on helping Hugo feel better first.

“Remember how when I first came here, I thought the family business was a vineyard?” I said.

“You were so naive!” Hugo laughed.


We joked for a bit. I told Hugo that I was really proud of him–not because of his good grades, but because he worked so hard, and he was kind.

“You’re a really good person,” I told him, “and I’m proud to know you.”

“Do you think I could do whatever I want?” Hugo asked. “For example, could I open a restaurant someday?”


“Hugo, you can definitely do that! You’ve got such a knack for food. Everybody will want to eat at your restaurant!”


He seemed to feel renewed confidence. His dad came in. He didn’t apologize, but they sat together quietly. And Hugo didn’t seem upset anymore.


After breakfast, Jacques gave his son a hug.

“So proud of you, mon fils,” he said.

I wondered how Hugo would make sense of this inconsistent feedback. Does he know to trust what his dad says when he’s feeling good and to ignore the things he says when he’s off-balance?


That night, I overheard Jacques telling Hugo this strange story about corpses and brides and empty vats of wine. Hugo looked like he didn’t know what to make of it.


When Jacques finished the story, he was upset, and Hugo looked sad. They were both a little embarrassed.


“Do you think my dad will ever be OK?” Hugo asked me the next afternoon.


“I think your dad is the way he is,” I replied. “We can help by keeping things running smoothly, helping to make sure that he gets a healthy diet and plenty of sleep.”

“But what about the things he says?” Hugo asked.


“Well,” I replied, “maybe we can learn some discernment. Like we can tell when he’s upset or in one of his unbalanced moods, and we can not take what he says then so seriously. And then, when he’s feeling good and he’s saying kind things, we can realize that those are the words from the true Jacques. How does that sound?”

“OK, I guess,” said Hugo. “I just wish I didn’t have to always wonder who’s talking, my dad or the illness, when I’m talking with him.”

There are other ways that the family can still benefit from having me around.

I came home from a jog the other morning to find Max doing dishes in the sink. The dishwasher was broken, and the family was standing around feeling miserable, with a big puddle of water on the floor and sparks coming from the dishwasher.


“I’ll fix it,” I said.

“I knew you would, ma chère,” Jacques said.


When I was on my morning run today, I thought about how life always provides something.


Just when I was thinking that I’d met all my goals, and there was nothing for me to accomplish, life stepped up and showed me that there’s s much.

There’s my fitness.


There’s providing support and stability for the Villareal kids.

There’s keeping the home clean and in good repair and keeping the fridge stocked with healthy choices.


And there’s leaving room and space for growing.

After breakfast that morning, Luna was cleaning the counter.


“I can’t let you do everything,” she said. “One day, you’re going to leave, and then I’m going to need to take over. So I’d better start learning how to keep the house clean now, so I’m ready to step in when it’s my turn.”


I guess she’s right. Three more semesters, and I graduate, and Luna and Hugo will be graduating from high school at the same time. That gives us a little time to help everybody learn what they need to learn so that when I go, I won’t be missed.

Gosh. Becoming a grown up is hard.

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