The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

First Friday November 28, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:12 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

In all of my life I have never participated in this Black Friday stuff. And to be honest, I don’t recall there even being such a phenomenon for the first half of my life. Maybe it existed, but not the way it does today. Seems it’s picked up speed over the past decade, too. It would never have interested me anyway; the sorts of gifts I like to give are books signed by the author (usually after having sent them my own personal copy first, months before, with a brief letter of enquiry along with means for postage paid return) or a cherished print returned to its owner matted and framed (who can justify such a costly project for themself?), a rare kitchen tool, or maybe a case of a favorite wine. Useful things, beautiful things – things that certainly cannot be gleaned from a mad rush to Kmart at five in the morning just after the tryptophan has worn off. I don’t mean to sound like a snob here, but I probably do. If that’s how I appear, so be it.

I do realize there are deals to be had on this celebrated day, yet I still can’t help but feel that even so, why wait til the most crowded, stressed-out day of the shopping year to acquire things one needs? With a little forethought and some careful planning – not too much, mind you, as one means to decrease the stress associated with purchasing, not increase it – one can find good prices on coveted items throughout the year. Me, I waited a good year before buying a tv, and even then it took me weeks to find the best deal, once I’d found the model I wanted. I don’t often exercise such prudent self-restraint, but it was a big purchase, and goddam it, I meant to do it right. And I did.

So are we creating needs we don’t have in order to justify buying stuff at outrageously ‘good’ prices? Or do folks enter those double doors before daybreak with lists in hand, on the search for only the things they came for? Or is it mostly a free-for-all, a mad dash to random endcaps and display bins, hands grabbing frantically to see what lady luck has in store…? My former mother-in-law would both fascinate and frustrate me with her own method of shopping for ‘stuff’ (I think we can all agree that this whole exploration is about shopping for things and not food… That’s another topic altogether). She would return from the store, usually Target or Kmart (that alone drove me nuts as she easily had the means to visit much higher quality establishments), and proceed to show us all that she’d bought – and tell us about all the money she’d saved in doing so. “See?” she’d say, bright with sincerity, “These were half off, so I got two for the price of one!”. Only thing was, she hadn’t bought a single thing anyone in the family needed – or even wanted. She hadn’t gone to the store for anything in particular, just a deal. And what she came back with was always crap. Pressed to recall what that crap was exactly, I cannot remember. But trust me, the shit she came back with had me wanting to drop my jaw and shake my head in amazement, but back then I was a polite thing, and for the most part I withheld editorial comment. (For the most part.)

I myself am a dedicated, purposeful shopper. I always know what I’m looking for. And when I find it, I’ll often buy several of the sought item, because shopping is not for me a stress reliever (I admit that if I had more money, it might be) and I like to make sure I’m set for a while. So today, my son and I will embark on our first ever Black Friday experience, in search of several very specific items, all of which we are fully prepared to learn are sold out. The purchases are not the biggest reason for our trip, however. Today we’re going out on something of an anthropological excursion to see how it is that our fellow citizens live. I don’t get out much, so I think it might even be fun. We’ll have a modest lunch while we’re out, and perhaps make a few impulsive stops along the way. It’s a lot of gas and driving, but we’ll enjoy the ride – we’ve got our music to keep things lively, including the requisite polka collections and of course, a little Steely Dan classic named in honor of the day.

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Post Script: Our outing was a great disappointment; my son realized that the very items he’d wanted (along with every other sixth grade boy in the area) and had hoped would be marked down in price were, in fact, not selling for a penny less, nor would they be anytime soon. He’s currently studying economics in school, and if ever there were a real-life lesson on the subject, here it was. He was able to get something for his little brothers, but all in all, the experience was a letdown. And even by mid-afternoon the lines, both in the stores and out on the street, were long and slow-moving. Happily, I’d brought some new polkas along, and sure enough, that was the only consolation to the day.

Our feeling is that it’s probably best to acquire gifts online (and only after reading the product reviews!). At the end of the day we are true homebodies, happiest when our chickens are safely tucked inside their coop, and we ourselves back at home, snug and warm. Malls and masses of humanity just don’t do it for us. No matter, it wasn’t a day wasted, it was a lesson learned. After all, you never know until you go…

 

 

 

Thinking Thanks November 27, 2014

It’s often my son who turns me around. Sometimes I self-police, but usually it’s him. I’ll moan over my arthritic, misshapen fingers, or worry about running out of heating oil, or I’ll make some grumblings about the plight of the divorced, single mother, and there he is, to turn it all around. “But just think, you can play music with those fingers”, and “Isn’t our house nice and toasty right now?: or “If it weren’t for you and daddy splitting up, we’d never have known this life!” Sure, I’ve said all those very same things to myself, but it always helps to hear them again from an outside source. Yes, all of this is true. And while it’s become something of a trite, Facebooky sort of platitude by now, it really does make things so much nicer when we’re deeply appreciative of all that we do have, right now. It’s always easier to condemn than to praise, likewise it’s often easier to feel disappointment than gratitude. But putting that extra oomph of energy into turning it around, and seeing things ‘half full’ is worth the effort. Contentment becomes the prize.

Yesterday we spend a snow-bound day inside and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The kitchen is currently a hot mess on account of my negligence, but it doesn’t bother me. Nor did it last night, as Elihu and I cozied up on the couch and looked over his favorite childhood books together. Nor did it distract me when we decided to actually use our fancy, modern tv in the basement and watch a whole movie together. ! Nor did I fret over the unkempt house when we went outside in the darkness to marvel over the still-falling, sparkly snow that lay in great mounds over everything.

We retired late. The two of us often rely on help to sleep – benadryl for him on bad nights, half an ambien for me – but last night we both gave it a go without assistance. He got into my bed, and we chatted a bit after I turned out the lights. “How is this going to end?” I asked him, “If we both love talking so much?” “Ok, Good night” he said, and not another word was spoken, although we both tossed and turned for a good forty-five minutes before we finally slept. But a good night’s sleep we had, and my dear child is still in bed as I write.

Later today we’ll go to grandma’s for a proper Thanksgiving dinner. There may yet be drama to follow, but for now I’m not worrying about it… I’m looking forward to all the annual food favorites – all around a proper table, on the good china, with good wine… After that we’ll pack up a meal and bring it to Martha at the farm. Our family traditions have morphed and diminished with time, but I’m grateful that things are winding down slowly, and not changing all in an instant. It was a year ago today that my family had its final meal together, and with dad being gone this year, it feels different. We’ve had time to adjust, thankfully, and all is as it should be. Throws a bit of a nostalgic, melancholic feeling on things, but still, there’s so much we do have – and so much that we have already had in our lives – that it’s ok. Sad some moments, but happy others. Such is life here on Earth – contrasts we struggle to reconcile, losses we must work to accept. The stressors in our lives may constantly vie for our attention, but today it’s best not to listen. Instead, let’s look around the room and sigh with satisfaction at those simple gifts we are so blessed to have in our lives right now.

IMG_1638We needed to fix our dove of peace that floats over the garage at this time of year…

IMG_1633Elihu is a great help.

IMG_1642Still needs a little tweaking, but isn’t she lovely?

IMG_1662The first thing I see outside this morning: the beautiful view from our living room window to the southeast.

IMG_1699The sun pokes through for a moment as powder falls from a branch.

IMG_1650The view from our kitchen window, in the same direction.

IMG_1654The birds need a little help this morning! Platform feeder’s under a good eight inches…

IMG_1657Stanley the Tree Sparrow on the kitchen’s dry erase board.

IMG_1678And my dearest bird boy, sleeping in on a snowy, Thanksgiving morning. Thankful am I.

 

November Pics November 22, 2014

Life’s been so full lately that I haven’t had time to archive my recent photos – plus my computer’s been in and out of the shop for weeks now, making a life sans-smart phone a tedious one indeed at times. I’ve had to visit the library a time or two to check my email. Makes me feel a bit like a vagrant, but I suppose it’s a good thing to be humbled every now and then. (Certainly helps me better appreciate the luxuries of a laptop and my favorite cozy chair.)

The changes all around us are imperceptible in the moment, but when I compare the images of this November with those from a year ago, my heart skips a beat to know how different things are now. For one, my father is gone. And now there’s a house at the end of our driveway, its windows staring straight into ours where there used to be nothing but a gentle field. We no longer have a goose guarding our home, and some favorite hens from our flock are gone. My son now plays string bass with some proficiency, and has finally experienced the freedom that tinted contacts offer. Plus, the kid is taller than last year for sure. (He’s still the shortest in his class, but hey, it’s all relative.)

Last night Elihu’s school had their fall assembly, in which each of the grades, from 1 through 12, performed. It lasted but an hour (that alone impresses me – the faculty has engineered the logistics beautifully) and it gave us all the things one expects in such a program. It had parents feeling proud, in love, in awe, and once again, in disbelief at how our children have grown so. Truly, it seems only yesterday that my dear Elihu sang in his first grade concert… And the other children, I watch them in amazement too, trying to understand this mysterious growing process that shows itself only in brief, acute moments. It’s a good thing that most of life’s big changes don’t happen all at once; myself, I like to have time in which to take things in, to figure out where things stand in the present, so I can move more mindfully into the future. But no matter how thoughtfully one approaches life, sometimes there is just no substitute for the perspective one gets in looking back.

And with that, I offer this rather lengthy pictorial retrospective on our month thus far…

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 Elihu brought his bass to the farm and played for Martha her favorite song, Simple Gifts.

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The farm’s kitchen, the epicenter of my life since I was tiny. That’s mom on the left.

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Mom helps fix Martha’s supper. This image has me pondering the plight of aging; my mother, whose own age is beginning to lessen her physical abilities, is the caretaker for Martha. Interesting the hazy lines between old and really old. Both of these women were superior take-charge gals ‘in their day’. Martha still, however, rules the roost, giving mom step-by-step instructions on how every last duty is to be carried out. Sheesh. Watching these two, dare I say, ‘control freaks’ in their late-in-life interactions is a good lesson for me: it is good to know how to delegate, but more important to let people help you on their own terms. Trust, I believe, is at the heart of the lesson. It’s hard to relinquish control, I get that. But aging kinda forces it on you. Best to be ready.

IMG_1383A quick smooch with Masie before we head out.

IMG_1465Our first dusting of snow. Beautiful, yes, but we’re not quite ready. Elihu hit his forehead and yelped ‘already?’ when he saw this. I swear he was close to crying. He’s not a cold weather kid. In fact, for some unknown reason, since he was very little he’s been telling me that he wants to live in Vietnam one day. ?? I love him more than anything in the world, but I don’t think I’ll be moving along with him. Naw. I’ll be in Italy.

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Good weather for indoor tower-building.

IMG_1498The tallest one yet.

IMG_1188The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs in the evening, such a cozy sight. Had a parent’s meeting, and thankfully, my son is now old enough that leaving him for an hour or so is possible. Hope when I get home he’s ready for bed…

IMG_1296When going in to say goodnight, I found a poem on Elihu’s desk. Turns out when he can’t sleep (which is every night, just like his ma), he writes poems in his head, then gets up to write them down before he sleeps. Has a bunch of them apparently. !

IMG_1327Downtown there’s a makeshift memorial on Broadway for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie. The day after he died I posted the photos and obit on the lamppost – within hours people had added balloons, flowers and candles as well as assorted trinkets, including cigarettes, banjo picks and a fireman’s hat.

IMG_1180The look of town has changed rapidly over the past decade, but local folks will recognize these three Saratoga homes, untouched by progress. Seriously, they looked the same in the late 1960s as they do in this 2014 photo. Feeling as I do about change, I relish this image.

IMG_1144We’re giving our young Buff Orpington rooster away to a new home soon, so he’s enjoying a final visit to the kitchen.

IMG_1137Goodbye, handsome fella! (The bird, that is.)

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Nice to see this Red Bellied Woodpecker again this year (a confusing name when it’s really its head that’s noticeably red). Took this from across the room as he’d spook if I got close.

IMG_1417Today we’re going to visit our old goose, Maximus at his new home across town (we’re also giving them the rooster seen above). This is a special morning, so it requires a special breakfast. I surprised Elihu with a pancake in the form of his signature cartoon character, Stanley the Tree Sparrow.

IMG_1436We’re at the gate – and can hardly wait!

IMG_1438I stood and watched in amazement. The flock was free to escape this bird-crazy boy, yet somehow, Maximus did not flee. In fact, he allowed Elihu to get close…IMG_1441!!!!

IMG_1448“Family” selfie. Miss this guy. It’s such a good feeling to smooch a goose. Elihu and I can smooch a chicken and eat a chicken too – the same one, in fact – but we both agree that goose is off the menu for us both now. It just feels different.

IMG_1454They go for one last run before we leave. Max is happy here; he has a pond, lots of open acres in which to roam (note the yak in the background!) and finally, Max has a girlfriend. He has a great life here, so that makes us happy too.

IMG_1459And a final smooch…. for now. See you again, Maximus!

IMG_1508Back at the Hillhouse, giving some love to the king of the roost – and our only resident rooster now – Bald Mountain.

IMG_1151Eyes wide open (indoors, with no lights on), showing me what ‘perfect hair’ looks like. Right on.

IMG_1533Okay, seeing Maximus was special. But this is in a whole new realm of special. These babies ($600 after all was said and done if you can f*ing believe it – they’re just goddam soft contacts!!) are about to change Elihu’s life…

IMG_1284An ordinary picture, right? Look again – this is Elihu, eyes wide open, outside, WITHOUT his dark red sunglasses!! This moment, humble and ordinary as it may appear, is no such thing.

IMG_1189Elihu, about to join his classmates at school for the very first time without dark glasses, is overcome with emotion. I thought I was taking a picture of a smiling child, when he began to sob. You can see the feeling beginning to dawn on him in this image…

IMG_1193He joins his friends on the foursquare court and waits for someone to notice…

IMG_1197Yes!!!

IMG_1216He’s still squinting a bit (he’ll need some supplemental dark glasses for outdoors), but finally Elihu can open his eyes outdoors. Whew!!

IMG_1224I take a quick peek into his classroom to make sure things with the contacts are still ok…

IMG_1242Elihu wants to visit the music store after school with his new contacts in…

IMG_1254We love the use of glockenspiel in some of our favorite polkas. I wouldn’t mind a set of these myself, even if I have no current use for them…

IMG_1263We love this place. I try to make sure he’s not the annoying kid… but he enjoys trying things out for a spin. It is a great opportunity to get an understanding about how different instruments – and different setups – can feel.

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Singing his heart out. He’s been looking forward to this performance for weeks. And again, no dark glasses. A new world for him. Can’t help but think back on his first grade concert… He sang his heart out then, too.

IMG_1511The sixth grade does a eurythmy performance. Eurythmy is the art of sound made visible, and is an important part of Waldorf education. (That’s my little eurythmyst on the far left. He was so psyched to finally be doing his performance in costume.)

IMG_1513And this is Elihu, ending the number and leaving the stage with a flourish.

This act is over, and now a new one begins…

 

November’s News November 20, 2014

Today the sixth grade went on a field trip to see a production of The Secret Garden by Albany’s Capital Repertory Company. A quick, last-minute search informed me that it was a musical – not what I’d expected (Lucy Simon, Carly’s big sister wrote the music, Marsha Norman the lyrics). At first my heart sank at the discovery, but no matter, I figured it would be a good production. Happily, the show did not disappoint, and even though I, as a driver and chaperone, paid my own gas and parking, I feel it was worth the expense. These rare day trips are always worth whatever small sacrifice I need to make, because this era of ‘parents going along too’ won’t last forever. Plus I want very much to have these shared memories with my son, and with his classmates, too.

In Elihu’s first full year at Waldorf I was present for just about every single field trip the class took. The following year, in spite of a full schedule playing piano at the school, I somehow managed to attend most of the trips, and even though I had to beg out of a class again today, I managed to go along once again. I don’t take any of this for granted, I feel it’s a true gift. As a parent with the flexibility to be there, it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t go when I was able. Although on the car ride back Elihu played the perfect eleven-year-old boy, making crazy jokes with his buddies and laughing the whole ride, when it was just the two of us again driving home from school, he effused over the production. He told me that he ‘was in tears for much of it’. (I found it moving too, but not to the degree that he did.) And that each actor played an instrument – and sang as well – he found that more than impressive. When we got home he was excited to call both his father and grandma to tell them about his day at the theater.

Tomorrow is the fall school assembly, and although the orchestra’s too large to fit on the stage and so won’t be performing (much to Elihu and grandma’s great disappointment), Elihu will be singing with the middle school chorus as well as doing a spoken word piece with his class, and also a eurythmy performance in costume. (As a self-respecting sixth grade boy he cannot openly admit to enjoying his movement performance, but in private Elihu has several times told me how beautiful the costumes are and how much he’s looking forward to wearing them.) Tomorrow should be another good production. And for once I’m not accompanying anything, and I will be thoroughly enjoying my non-participatory role in the audience.

A couple of days ago I had my first hair cut and color in over seventh months. (I know.) I just love the place I go to; it’s homey, comfortable and casual and I almost always meet someone new and enjoy some pleasant conversation when I’m there. I have a great respect for those who can cut and style hair; they express such nuance with each creation. And that no two heads are the same just makes what Wendy does for me all the more impressive. She’s a talented woman, and I’m grateful that I found her. (She always makes Elihu feel like a rockstar, too.) It’s been so long since I’ve felt like spending the money on myself, but truth be told, there’s almost never a good time. Somehow, this month my bills were caught up and I’d even managed to tuck some Christmas gifts away early, so I was able to free myself from the guilt of the extra expense and enjoy being there. Freedom from worry is good, yes – but even better is that fresh haircut feeling. ! And I know I’m just kinda sneaking this in here – but I’ve lost 15 pounds since September on a renewed dieting campaign, and it hasn’t been til now that I’ve felt I deserved spending the money on my hair. Diet results or not, I’ve done a lot over the past seven months. I’ve covered some ground and made some improvements in my corner of the world. This was a nice reward.

Beyond today, I’m not sure what will fill our time when school lets out for break, as the Thanksgiving vacation week looms long and empty at the moment. It’s the first Thanksgiving that Elihu will have been here in years. Last year, while Elihu was in Illinois with his father, we four Conants had our last meal together while dad was alive. I remember the food was so good that we ate robustly, hardly checking in a moment with each other. It was only as dad wiped his beard and began to push away from the table that I realized…. this was probably was, no – it was – our very last meal together as a family. I’d felt both sad and grateful in that moment – sad that it had felt so natural that I’d let it pass without any special moment of savoring it, grateful that we, who hadn’t eaten as a group around the same table in a decade or more, had all been here together one final time. In a way it was perfect that Elihu was absent; it gave us our last real moment as a family. I’m grateful for it, grateful, grateful. Hard to believe it was a year ago. That the season of my dad’s death was a year ago. This year, thank God, we’ll have the energetic addition of young Elihu to help keep things happy and bright. Mom’s even inviting another couple to join us. Things feel much better than they had originally. One concern however, is Andrew. After several months of attending AA meetings every single night, he’s fallen off the wagon yet again. (An intervention was never done at the insistence of a friend in AA who ended up mentoring – and then giving up on – Andrew.) This is an emotionally charged time, and Andrew is a goddam time bomb. It’s one thing to call the sheriff in to prevent him from taking a knife to me with immediate family present, it’ll be a horror show if it happens in front of folks we don’t know all that well. (I suppose it would be even more horrific should he actually make good on his threats.) With his nephew being present, that might help mitigate things. Never can tell with Andrew. We shall see.

Martha was taken to the hospital day before yesterday – her sixth (or perhaps seventh?) such visit over the past year. I’m always prepared for it to be ‘the time’, but it never is. I was glad that Elihu’d brought his string bass to the farm the other night to play for her. He played her favorite song “Simple Gifts” and other things, all of which made her happy and brought up stories from when she was a music teacher at Skidmore College half a century ago. Then Elihu found a shofar from the farm’s music room and after a few minutes found he could play a couple of discernible notes on it. That again brought up another story. Mom too was there with us in the kitchen, and Martha’s hound dog Masie made the rounds sitting on our feet as we visited… “If this visit to the hospital is to be Martha’s last, at least we had a good time the other night” I had thought to myself. But within a day she was given the green light, and yesterday I found myself wheeling Martha back up the stairs and into her enormous farm house once again. Which is where she ought to be. It’s always best to be home.

And tonite I find myself actually enjoying my home in a free moment. To-do lists done for the day, laundry, dishes, tidying… All of it done. The kid is even asleep. Often it takes Elihu a very long time to fall out, but today was full and after reading a chapter or two he was ready to sleep. I so seldom find myself in this place – usually it’s not until late that I can sit in front of my computer. Usually I feel the dull panic of a night growing later, and the morning looming just around the corner… But right now I am fairly content in the middle of a peaceful night, in my cozy, candle-lit living room in the middle of a month that hasn’t turned out as badly as I’d expected it to. As far back as I can remember, this was the month I always hated most of all. It was bleaker than any other month. It was gray and cold and snowless. And aside from a recent dusting of snow (we’re six hours east of the snowbound region of New York), so far this is just about as I remember all Novembers to be. But somehow, what with all life’s tiny diversions, I haven’t been so disheartened by the month this time around. Yes, it’s been cold and bleak out, but thankfully there’s been enough going on inside to keep our lives warm and colorful. Ah, but let’s all hope that it doesn’t get too colorful around here in a week’s time… Because as much as we all like a good story, I think we can agree that sometimes no news really is good news.

 

Older Later November 16, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Growing Older,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 11:55 pm

You’d think I’d have gotten it by now, but no, I’m still working on it. There was a flash of inspiration once, at around age 42, when I got it in a way I had never gotten it before. In that moment, I first truly understood, deep down in my gut, that I wasn’t going to be alive forever. I can remember the moment still, my eyes landing on the giant limbs of the oak tree outside as the epiphany entered my consciousness. I sat there at the window seat, transfixed in the new understanding. I followed the idea further… This moment could plausibly be the halfway point; it was entirely possible that from now on, I was on the downward slope. I was now living the second half of my life – the part closer to death than to birth. And that was if things all went according to plan. Hell, things could even change tomorrow, there was no way of knowing. On the outside, things seems safe, measured, somewhat predictable. But from the inside, it just wasn’t so. This life thing was a veritable crap shoot.

Every one of us knows we’re going to go one day, but even so, the truth of it doesn’t always settle in. It’s too much, too real, too strange and other-worldly to contemplate one’s own death. It’s much easier to make a quick run to the mall, to keep the radio on the whole time, to occupy the space in between with to-do lists and tangential thinking. It’s all too easy to do anything but consider what your own end might feel like. How the whole thing will go down. There’s still so much unknown – where will you be living then? Will you be alone, will your kids be nearby? Will you have a partner with you? Will you be alone? Will you be in pain? Scared? For me, I’ve considered all of these questions more than a few times. Personally, I don’t think we talk enough about death in this culture. I might be wrong about this, maybe it’s just my own experience. But I have a feeling it aint. But then again, why should we concern ourselves with death? It only happens to us once, and honestly, it’s more trouble for those we’re leaving behind than it is for us. Plus it is, no matter how natural, still a little creepy. Here one minute, gone the next. So I can understand how it’s an easy topic to neglect.

As I find myself missing my father, now gone just less than a year, I realize that his peers are rapidly leaving us as well. So many contemporaries of my father’s have already gone, many are so very aged that it can’t be long until they’re gone, too. Cultural icons of his age are going as well. So many actors, artists and musicians who helped to create the world as I know it have died, and many time I’ve found myself making impulsive, late-night searches to see who’s still here with us, and who’s not. Yet even in the face of all these departures, somehow, until my own father died, it didn’t quite feel real. Still, it felt far-off and abstract. But these days it’s begun to feel very real to me, and I find myself needing to somehow figure it all out. I have to organize it all in some way that helps me get a handle on all the shit that’s coming up.

What makes someone become truly old? Just what the hell does old look like? Where is that elusive corner around which things all suddenly change? I’ve found myself re-defining ‘old’ several times in the past decade… And now that my own mother will turn 80 this coming January, I’m having to expand things yet again, because, as you can understand, I have a hard time thinking of my mother as old. My dad didn’t really get ‘old-old’ til very close to the end. Up until a week or so before his death, he possessed his sense of self, his sense of humor and an ear that could correct me from the other room if I played a wrong note. And then, finally, in those last, agitated days spent in a hospice bed in his home, it was there that he began to wither into the character I could finally identify as a very old man. Glad it was a quick process, because seeing him so transformed was hard for me. It is a beautiful, fortunate and perfect thing that one should sign off as an ancient human, but no matter, for those left behind it’s a time heavy with poignancy and heartbreak. Seeing Daddy so thin, so vulnerable, so small, so goddam old…

These days my son is changing. He’s suppose to, after all, he’s in sixth grade, on his way to twelve years old. All is as it should be. For the most part I’m thrilled about it, I’m intrigued, impressed, amazed. But I can tell you that it gives me a sense of relief – as if a respite from aging has been temporarily granted to my son – when he climbs into bed with me on the weekends, just to be close and talk. This is still our time to be together, a time when the world falls away, and it is still just the two of us. But as I catch glimpses of his now hairier legs, ever-shortening pajama pants and somehow older-looking face, I know that this too can’t last forever. His voice is still high, but his attitude doesn’t often match his voice. During the week there’s plenty of closed bedroom door time and new-found modesty when dressing. All things I respect and do not make light of. And I take them as indicators of what’s ahead. Signs of the autonomy to come. Signs of his becoming a young adult. I even see these new behaviors – and do not think me dramatic so much as pragmatic – as signs of his moving away. One day my son will leave, and I will be alone. Somehow, I gotta get my head and heart prepared.

Mom and I have had our talks about the estate, and how best to handle things (in light of an un-well brother whom we both want the best for, but who cannot hope to make sound choices on his own behalf) and in those conversations I’ve noticed how we don’t ever bring up the subject of her death, which of course, is most likely the next one to occur. That may sound morbid and abrupt, but it’s what we just spent a few hours and more than a few hundred dollars at the attorney’s office sorting out. Why not talk about it? Recently I tried to open up the topic by asking if it felt strange to realize she was getting to be 80 very soon. I’d hoped it might be a stepping-off point for the more pointed conversation about death. I wondered to myself, is she scared? but I couldn’t ask her. It’s just not something I’m comfortable with. Wish I were. So instead, I opened up the same conversation about our friend, 88-year-old Martha (who years ago suffered a stroke and these days has very little mobility or strength). I posited that Martha’s afraid of dying because she thinks there’s nothing after this life. We aren’t a family that’s ever spoken of religion (except for my mother’s mocking of it) or talked about anything remotely existential, so even this is uncomfortable territory. I wanted her to be clear about my feelings on the subject, so I told her “Me, I know we go onto a new experience after this. But if you don’t, I can see how it could be really scary”. My mother stared ahead out of the window and said that she too thought that there must be something more. But that’s as far as it went. At least I know how she feels. Sort of.

The topic doesn’t have to go further between us for the time being. I know that I’ll be there for her when she’s ready to go, and in my heart, that’s all that really matters. Still, it seems like a long way off. After all, at the very least she needs to see her grandson graduate from high school. And hard as it is for me to understand, that destination is the same distance from this moment as was his first day of Kindergarten. Halfway there. Strange.

I’m halfway there too. While I can’t say that I have any regrets, I am getting a little worried about how to make the most meaningful use of this second half. Once my job as parent is done, what then? What will propel me? What will have me wanting to get out of bed in the morning? And how will I deal with these physical changes? I never thought it would be me, but now it is. My shoulder hurts for no apparent reason, my arthritis continues to worsen and the friggin skin on my face and neck shows signs of a jowly future for me. Somehow, I need to accept this with a bit more class than I am at the moment. I need to buck up, suck up and keep on going. It’s just that I feel so wimpy, so unequipped to do this growing older thing. Somehow, God and I must have gotten our wires crossed. See, this stuff was supposed to be a lot easier than it’s turning out to be, plus I’m still not even sure it was supposed to happen to me at all. Sigh.

Last night I watched an Italian movie called “The First Beautiful Thing”. In the film we see the characters jump back and forth in time by several decades. It was fascinating. Plus it helped me to better get the whole aging thing, to better process what it is to see things enter into a person’s life, then fall away… It’s still very much a struggle for me, wrapping my brain around the changes that happen as we grow older. I see images of old friends on Facebook and have to check their names to make sure I know them. I double-check the name, compare it to the image in my head, and I look again, searching for what I know to be familiar about them. That certain quality is still there, but somehow, it’s not. They’re themselves, and yet they’re not. They look older, but how can that be? I thought that ‘old’ came so much later… But then again, maybe later is finally here.

Watch this beautiful video of Tracy Newman’s song
I Just See You… It helps take away some of the sting….

 

 

Crossed Fingers November 11, 2014

The arthritis in my fingers has progressed quite a bit over the past year and a half. Just this past week my hands have undergone another big change. In fact, the change has been so rapid, it’s hard to fully comprehend. I so wish I had a baseline x-ray from before ‘the change’, or at least a photo of the way my poor fingers used to look, but practically speaking, I don’t need proof of how far things have gone. One look at my hands says it all.

In addition to watching the distal joints not only grow dramatically in girth, I’ve seen the tips of my fingers begin to bend forward, taking the shape of mini hunchbacks. When I hold my hands out, I no longer see the nails of my fingers. The disfigurement of my fingers was a little hard on my vanity at first (nearly everyone who sees my hands either makes an audible gasp or their eyes linger for a moment, and those who feel comfortable are quick to ask me if they hurt), and the occasional flare-ups were painful inconveniences, but now it’s become much more than a casual nuisance, and frankly, I’ve become worried about it. So far, it hasn’t hampered my ability to play the piano well, however it has changed how I play. Because the tips of my fingers essentially curve downward, I cannot tolerate any extra length of nail, as my nail hits the key before my fingertip (this is currently much more pronounced in my left hand). Again, that had become tolerable, and having become aware that I need to keep my left hand nails very short, I was ok with the change. But now, as of this past week, my hands are in an almost constant state of low-level discomfort. The index finger on my left hand has had a couple of distinct and alarming events, and it all has me wondering how in hell I’ll make it to my aged years if things keep up as they’re going.

Last night, the index finger on my left hand made a clicking sound, and from the middle knuckle, it visibly kinked to the left. I could see the difference from one moment to the next, because it leaned dramatically. I panicked, and quickly grasped it with my right hand and pulled. Somehow, it clicked again, and straightened back to its original position. Even so, it had been several years since my index finger had been straight, but thus far it had served me fine. But tonight it does not feel as it did even a few weeks ago; the tip of my index finger now makes continual contact with the tip of my middle finger. I suppose it would annoy and distract anyone, but somehow, being a pianist, I feel as if I’m hyper-aware of it. And to be entirely honest, it frightens me. If it continues like this, my two fingers will end up becoming crossed at some point. How can I live like that? It makes me scared, but also, it makes me angry. It really pisses me off. I know it’s not a healthy voice to indulge, but still, it rises up from within… Seriously, why me?

But of course I know the answer to that question: why not me? I have friends who are suffering far worse and more inconvenient health issues, and remembering that, I try to keep calm and concentrate on what I do still have, not what I don’t. Nonetheless, the idea that my fingers are continuing to get worse scares me, because as I understand it, once it happens, there’s no going back. This sucks, and my mind looks for solutions. I’ve been proactive in every way I can think; I’ve seen the conventional, Western doctors, I’ve done acupuncture, Chinese herbs, a small round of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, plus I’ve done my best to change my attitude and think hopefully and positively about my outcome. I’be begun exercising, drinking less alcohol, drinking more water, using less salt. At the end of the day, it really bothers me that it appears there’s not a thing I can do to stave this off, in spite of my willingness to do whatever I’m able.

I can’t help but wonder, if it’s simply extra material that’s forming on the ends of my bones, why can’t I just have it removed? Scraped off? And furthermore, if my body can’t be stopped in its self-destructive path of breaking down its own cartilage, why can’t I just have some sort of gel injected onto the problem sites to replace it? Seems intuitive, straight forward. Yet no doctor I’ve seen has told me this is a viable option. Of all the doctors I’ve seen, not a one of them has offered any solutions. Not preventive, nor curative, nor even restorative. And again – that pisses me off. Our technology is soaring by leaps and bounds, yet when it comes to one of the planet’s most pervasive health complaints, not one fucking thing can be done about it. Nada. Oh yeah, you can take glucosmine. Chondroitin sulfate. And supplements too. But the jury’s still out on all that. Regardless, I take the stuff, cuz I figure it can’t hurt. But so far, it sure hasn’t helped.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing all the ‘old folks’ – meaning anyone in their forties or beyond – griping about the mounting disappointments of aging; new ailments, gray hair and wrinkles, having to walk back into a room to remember what you’d come there for in the first place – the usual stuff. I also remember thinking that somehow these older people didn’t get it. That maybe they’d even done something wrong somewhere along the way – made a tiny misstep or bad choice once upon a time – that earned them their current set of problems. I felt certain, so very certain, that their fate would not be mine. Somehow, I’d age without incident. If I was to get wrinkled and gray, somehow I would not be diminished by it; I would enter that phase when the time was right, and somehow, if I did actually end up getting old, I’d be ready for it. In any case, it wasn’t worth thinking too much about, as it may as well have been a century or more off into the hazy future. The grown-ups would laugh and joke to my brother and me, telling us that one day we too would find ourselves saying the same things. My mother even told me how her own mother had said the same thing to her, and that as a child, my mother too would think secretly to herself that nothing could be further from the truth. She was not going down the same path as her mother, no way…

My mother’s hands do not look good. For the past twenty years her fingers have been grossly enlarged. Her wedding band looks as if it’s choking off the finger above it, and her middle knuckles are so large that it’s become difficult for her to grasp some things. I too have noticed things slipping through the spaces at the bottom of my fingers recently, and it’s just one more goddam thing I thought was strictly for old folks. I’m not taking to all these changes very well, I realize that. And until just a couple of years ago, I’d look at my mother’s hands with pity; imagine suffering that fate. Good thing it won’t be mine, I’d think. I shoulda known I’d be wrong – physically, I take after my mother more than my dad. And while I may have gotten my musical gift from him, sadly, I did not get his hands. I’m grateful that my son Elihu clearly has his father’s gorgeous, guitar-playing hands. Slender fingers with deft, double-jointed thumbs, he’s set for a life of great dexterity and finger health. For that I’m relieved and happy. Almost makes up for my own personal disappointment. Almost.

I suppose I’ve had a good run; I’ve gotten a good deal of use and music out of these fingers. Can’t have regrets. But still… I won’t stop searching for a solution to my arthritis. And I’ll do my very best not to pout and complain about things. I’ll continue to play piano, to make music and even attempt to learn new instruments. (But I won’t be doing any hand modeling jobs, that’s for sure.) So far, it seems that all I can do is deal with things as they are. But I’m still holding out hope that one day a cure will arrive. Some sort of meaningful relief of symptoms, or at the very least a way to halt the disease’s progress. A girl can hope, right? Fingers crossed…

 

 

Hallow’s Eve October 31, 2014

What a night. It’s close to midnight and Elihu and I are just getting to bed after a very full and happy Halloween. Our day included a play by the ninth graders, a school costume parade, and a fine night of trick-or-treating topped with a moment of magic and mystery as Elihu won a $100 bill from Mrs. Riggi (the unofficial ‘queen’ of Saratoga).

IMG_0767A room full of joy as the ninth graders get ready to perform Brer Rabbit for the Lower School, an annual tradition.

IMG_0770The girls.

IMG_0804The play…

IMG_0811…and the audience.

IMG_0786With a nod of his head, Mr. Fron leads the students in a four-part round of ‘The Ghost of John’ as he plays along on the recorder. Elihu can be seen on the right behind his Roman shield.

IMG_0855The pumpkin relay – you can only use your arms to hold it as you run.

IMG_0876Ethan shows some seriously clever costume-making, bringing the sub-culture of ‘steam punk’ alive.

IMG_0943Now we’re out, doing famous Caroline Street. Every kid in town is here!

IMG_1005This was the spookiest house on the block. Over the top and perfect in every way.

IMG_0957Look! It’s our friends from Greenfield – and they’re piano students of mine, too!

IMG_0960Waldorf kids.

IMG_0966A gorgeously spooky house.

IMG_0979Abe Lincoln sits down to have some spaghetti and meatballs.

IMG_0989Elihu ran into some old classmates he’d known from back in Kindergarten – some had even left Greenfield. That we saw all four of these guys was a fun and completely unexpected surprise.

IMG_0994I must taste this before I can serve it…

IMG_0995Oh dear, is that a head in my linguini?

Everywhere we went people were crazy for Elihu’s getup. At first it kinda suprised us, because in years past his costume has been far more elaborate and structurally sophisticated, but at the end of the day, an obscure comic book character just doesn’t have the same kind of crowd appeal as a good old-fashioned plate of spaghetti.

Elihu was really getting into his character, and if you listen carefully you might be able to hear him saying ‘that’s-a one-a spicy meat-a ball’ as well as other little improvised ditties about spaghetti…

IMG_1014Now we’ve moved across town to North Broadway; the Riggi Mansion

IMG_1023In spite of an hours-long line, we somehow found ourselves quite close to the front – and no one objected, so off we went… Before ten minutes had passed we were presented to the King and Queen… Kinda looks like they might even take a break for some pasta!

IMG_1026Whew! Thank goodness this selfie worked! Ya got one chance, then the line just keeps movin on… But hey, this shot will be nice for the memoir, huh?

IMG_1027This too.

IMG_1043Cinderella Riggi and the golden ticket. Wow. A magical ending to a magical day.

And now – to bed!

 

 
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