The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Sparrow, Fish March 1, 2011

Filed under: Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 10:47 pm
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How to console the young artist who has just told me not to speak, not to say a thing, because he is about to draw a tree sparrow, and may ‘end up crying’? It begins well enough, as he copies from a new book, but as he predicted, he begins to weep a little, saying ‘being an artist is hard’ over and over again. Momentarily distracted by the real thing at the window feeder, his lamentation is suspended. He goes back to his drawing and tries to apply what he’s just seen. It doesn’t work. In fact, it is a great disappointment, and an even louder, wetter episode begins.

I try to stay my heart, for no matter whether fake, real or somewhere in between, the sound of one’s child crying pulls at you to fix, to heal, to comfort. But I am steadfast. I know that my son can turn on a dime, from tears to laughter. And so I wait it out. ‘My boobs woulda been making milk if you had sounded like this a handful of years ago’ I say from my work at the table, back still turned to the young artist. True, they would’ve been. That primal aching to soothe would’ve burned up from within and erupted in a spot or two on my shirt. But those days are long gone, and I have been instructed not to interfere with his process, so I try to turn off the mother switch.

Finally, truly despondent, he comes over to me and buries his face in my neck. I hold him, and I just tell him that it’s ok. I remembered that once, years ago, when our beloved cat Kukla had died, Fareed had begun to weep, to sob. I had put my arms around him and told him that he didn’t need to worry; she had died in our arms, knowing we loved her, and besides, she’d had a good, long life with us. He pushed me away through tears and yelled at me (not characteristic of him at all) and said something I will always remember, and something I needed to employ in this current situation. My husband had told me back then not to offer ideas or solutions, but rather just to offer comfort. (Our roles often seems the very opposite of that Mars and Venus stuff; I’d always been the one who’d wanted to fix things.) And so here, with my son, I offered no solutions, only comfort. And it worked. Replenished, he went back to his drawing.

It was quiet for a while. The only sounds in the kitchen were the peeps from the hairy woodpecker at the suet feeder and the hum of the electric heater. I let a moment pass. ‘Watcha got?’ I asked. He came over to show me his new work. He had given up on the sparrow and had instead drawn a fish. And that’s ok, cuz it’s his prerogative. After all, being an artist is hard.


Chickens by Name

Filed under: Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 2:56 pm
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The first family consisted of several absolutely adorable fuzzy chicks my son (and I) simply could not resist buying at our local Tractor Supply. I’m guessing there are leagues of families who began their foray into backyard chickening in this way. Suckers.

Mr. Roosevelt:
We thought he was a she in the beginning. I would muse aloud to the bird “Why Mrs. Roosevelt, you’re looking rather masculine today” as she grew larger and more impressive. Indeed, she was a he. A robust, handsome and large dark red rooster with a lovely iridescent blue-green tail, he was a rooster to be reckoned with. A living example of how testosterone supersedes good judgement. He mounted the hapless hens incessantly, and chased humans just as mercilessly. We came to hang spray bottles full of water all about the property, so one might have some defense against the aggressive and random attacks. Yet we loved him. Elihu would pick him up and hold him in his tiny arms, whisper to him, sing to him… Elihu’s manifestation of forgiveness was touching. Mr. Roosevelt would back the boy into a corner and attack with beak and claw – my poor son would often come away with some blood on his face and arms, and always tears and a pounding heart. I once took up an axe and swung its blunt side at the rooster’s head to defend my son. Horrified at what I’d done, as the poor beast was simply following his internal program and meant nothing personal, I rushed to him to see if he was ok. He waggled his head side to side for a moment – with an almost comic effect – and strutted away, unaffected.

One hot summer day I found Mr. Roosevelt, headless, in the field. How on earth was this possible? This was the beginning of a long line of lessons to follow on life in the country. Many voted it was an ambush from above, but I’ve come to think it was a raccoon. They killed several of our chickens since then. Whomever the assailant, it was a most unexpected death, and we mourned. For a little while. That night, Elihu bounced back with a jolly song about the rooster’s demise. I was rather surprised. He is a farm boy, no doubt. No extra sentiment for such an end. Everyone has to die, and at least Mr. Roosevelt left us with a good story. And some beautiful tail feathers, which now reside in Elihu’s bird collection.

A nice light red hen who lived her name. She is the bird of unending patience who sits on the railing and just listens as Elihu sings a two-minute version of “Fire Burning On The Dance Floor”. She was the only hen to approach humans unafraid. The only one to accept tidbits from your hand. She lived with us for a year, including a few stints inside the house, in the cellar, during the coldest days of the winter.

Her death is on my hands; one night I left the garage door open a mere four inches. I was tired and chose not to wrestle the door tight to the ground. Anyhow, what sort of predator could enter through such a small opening? (Answer: muskrats, mink, fishers…) I soon learned it was big enough to allow a raccoon to slip inside and kill the innocent and sleeping residents. Months later, I found a wing of hers as I was cleaning up. “Too bad they wasted this bit” Elihu mused. Very practical boy.


I Love A Crow

Filed under: Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 2:25 pm

I love a Crow, I love them all,

In spring, in summer, and in fall

I love the black against the snow

In wintertime, I love a Crow.

The ones I do and do not know,

I love them all, I love a Crow.


Elihu’s Journal Number One

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Elihu's Room,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:50 pm
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I’m on the playground. I look out, cars bustle and the streets look busy. I wonder what the people in those cars are thinking. Then I go. Well, I don’t know what I go to do then. After that I look around and well, there’s not much to do. I just sorta sit. And sit. Jack passes. I know he doesn’t want to play with me. He hasn’t been playing with me for the past two months. What if I were one of those kids, one of those kids that always seems to be having fun? Would I be having fun? Or would I just realize that it’s not any better to have friends? Snowflakes fall and it’s still winter. Nothing’s going to change that. And I’m still me and nobody’s going to change that. Nobody’s going to change anything. Snowflakes fall and nobody’s going to change that either. Maybe that’s the best thing about winter.

Sometimes winter can be the worst season, but yet the best. I look at the tall fences and I look back at myself, down at my legs. There wasn’t much to do except keep doing what I was doing, whatever that thing was. Soon the whistle is blown, and I slowly walk back. I get in line and now things seem to be a little better, well at least now that recess is over. There are worse times in the day, like science. You know I don’t mean to mean they’re bad, I just mean that I’d rather do different things. I’d rather be on the playground than in science. Yeah, of course I hate the playground, but the playground could have a better side if I had someone to play with. Right now it’s just sort of the place I always…. I don’t know, whatever I do.

And now it’s science time. I get out my science book and I get out my science packet and my pencil. I look at the numbers. Number one through ten. We’re starting at five. At least this packet didn’t have twenty questions, the last one did. After science it’s pack and snack time. I feel great. At least the day is over. I mean come on, this is my favorite time of the day. Who doesn’t like the time of day when you can do anything you want, you can read, you can eat your snack, you can do whatever you want.

After that the bell rings. That was the first bell. It should be the second bell. Mr. Hewitt’s probably just a little late. It doesn’t matter. Sheesh, this day has been a long day. Well, now I’m listening to the second bell and time’s going by pretty fast it seems. Soon the buses will be called. The first buses are Raccoon and Octopus. “Raccoon and Octopus” repeated Mr. Hewitt. Oh man, I can’t believe the buses are in a different order. Well, Dog bus is usually the second bus, but when they’re out of order it could be the sixth or seventh bus. I didn’t have to wait long.

I got my backpack, and I’m ready. Put my backpack on, put my chair up on my desk, and I was out of there. I walked down the long hallway. They’re filled with kids, some I know and say hi, some I don’t know. They just look at me and pass. I keep walking. I don’t mind those kids. Even the ones who say hi. I say hi back sometimes, but I’m more eager to get to my bus than to say hi. The day has been long and of course I’m eager to get onto my bus. I say hi to Mr. Taylor standing in the middle of the ramp watching the kids.

Then I go through the open door and I’m outside. It’s cold out, but I’ll only be out, well, speaking of only – it really takes me about five minutes to get to my bus.

I’m on the bus, and now starts the 45 or 50 minute drive to my house. I look out the window. What pretty forests, gardens and houses. They’re all pretty. Some of those houses aren’t really houses, they’re shacks. Serge used to say that some of those houses had ghosts in them. But I didn’t really believe that. When I was just a silly little first grader I believed it. I still sit with my backpack pressed hard against my back, making a shadow over my head. I felt sort of over my head. I sort of felt scared on the bus and that’s why I always put my backpack near me. With my personal belongings, it somehow made me feel safer from all those unknown kids and unknown star wars things, and legos and whatever they were. And so I got off. Off of the bus.

When I got home I realized that the bus was the good place. Aww. Oh. I was home. The most boring, but in a way, the most exciting time of the day.

Aah aah aah ahh. A rooster crows. I knew Bald Mountain felt happy that I was here, and I knew that Whitey felt happy that I was here, and I knew the rest of the flock was happy that I was here. But there’s one thing I didn’t know. If I was happy that I was here. We drove down the long driveway and we got in the house. Ah, felt good to be in the house. I layed down on the couch and looked at all my presents. Aahhh. I felt tired, and happy and I felt like it was time to relaxamate. The tree looked dry. It’s branches had curved in and fallen down and it had lost quite a few needles. But with still a few ornaments left on it, it looked pretty. Chickadee-dee Chicka-dee-dee. Chickadees rang out from the porch, and lots of them too. I looked around, lifted up the shade and sure enough there were two Chickadees trapped in the porch. Wait! That second one wasn’t a Chickadee, it was three times as big as a Chickadee, had a crest, and a black mask. It flew around in the porch and over time let our an ear piercing “jay jay jay”. I knew in an instant it must be a Blue Jay so I ran and got the net, but when I got in the porch he was out, sitting in the Butterfly bush and scolding. “Jay jay jay” he yelled at me and flew away. Now all that was left was the Chickadee. “Chicka dee dee” he said to me as he turned his head around to look at me. Then he jumped off the screen and a blurry figure flew away. It was now getting dark, the sky was getting gray. I checked out my presents, I had a lot of cool ones I realized, cooler than I thought.

After that, there’s not much to do except take all the ornaments off the tree, take the lights off and take the bins downstairs. And that we did. I looked at my bed. I looked back at Mommy. I didn’t want to go to bed. The snow sparkled and made the whole backyard look so beautiful. Looked out my bedroom window again, now I saw crows. They flew away. Now I knew for sure it was time to go to  bed. I looked at my pajamas, they were layed out. She must have layed them out while I was looking at birds on the computer (which I did not include in this paragraph).

And so, since it was time to go to bed I did, I brushed my teeth. Mommy read me the rest of the Saint Francis book and then within fifteen minutes (well I really couldn’t tell) I was asleep.


Bye Bye Baby Teeth

Filed under: Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:44 pm
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January 17th and 18th, 2011.

My son is seven and a half. Today he’s losing the first of his front two teeth. He lost his bottom two a few months ago. In the second half of second grade, he’s a little late to lose his teeth. The way he looks now – pretty much the way he’s looked the past 4 years – is how I picture him always looking. I realize these are the magic years. The years of baby teeth. The innocence of those itty bitty front teeth. There’s this shift that takes place when the baby teeth go. The open gap still says little boy, but the chunky chiclets that follow just look like pre-adolescent boy to me. The magic time is almost over. The time of santa, elves and birthday angels. Tonite, in the bathtub, Elihu mused how he would be more specific next year when he wrote to Santa. He would give him better instructions for the elves to make wind up bath toys. He was sincere, and he was speaking very matter of factly about it. It seemed like he might be joking – but he was still very much there. I was grateful that he still believed, and grateful for one more night with his baby teeth in front.

Right now he is brushing those teeth. One is sticking out so much it can no longer lay flat next to the other. He looks like an ol’ hick. I told him that his nickname of “Eli” is a cliché hillbilly name, so it worked well right now. I can’t capture his new mouth in a picture, the shutter is too slow, he is too unwilling, and the lens always bows out his face so it never looks like him anyhow. I must just remember these days.

This morning, as he lay asleep in his bed, mouth open, I could see great black spaces between his front baby teeth. They were being pushed aside by progress. No longer did he even look like himself. He looked awkward. This was not my pretty boy. And most likely, today at school, while looking down at a math problem his tooth would succumb to the gentle movement of his absent minded wiggling, and just fall out. He would leave home this morning with his teeth, and come home later today with the wavy white ridges of his coming adulthood poking out of his gums.

It is a snow day. Elihu will not lose his tooth as he sits at his desk. He will not drop it accidentally in the snow. He is pushing it now, ‘salty blood, salty blood’ he cries and runs to the mirror. I join him.

It happened. Just now. We snapped a couple of pics of his goofy front tooth hanging out in front of his lip. I sat beside him in the hall, reviewing the photos we’d taken recently and Elihu fiddled with his tooth while looking in the closet mirror. Tink. We heard something land on the floor.  “It’s out!” he said. And there it was, the sight I was still not yet ready for. The black hole. There’s no stopping this growing thing I guess. I give in. I’ve enjoyed every moment so far, and I won’t stop enjoying them. When I cherish each day as I do, change may bring a pang of nostalgia, yet it brings no regrets. A loss of something old makes way for something new. Here we go….


Good To Know

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 12:00 pm
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I can remember a time when the heat in my house was something I thought about as much as I did the air in my lungs. It was there. It came from an unending source. Natural gas – was that the magic substance that gave us warmth and cooked our food? I’d heard somewhere it that was. Who supplied it? I don’t know, it was just there when I needed it. I didn’t order it, I didn’t choose my quantity. I didn’t pay up front. And whatever form this resource took, whether liquid or gas, smelly or pure, it was magically delivered by an invisible system. Was there a main pipe through which it entered our home? I surely didn’t know. There must have been, and truly as a homeowner I should have known that very pipe’s location. But I didn’t. I simply turned up the thermostat when the house got chilly. I turned a knob on my stove when it was time to make supper. This precious and invisible substance was as silently dependable as the air I breathed.

Now I know better. This is my third winter in the country’s northeast. While folks might like to romanticize the cold we experience here, in truth there are other parts of the country that also endure winters like ours. The difference for me is not so much the location, as the amenities with which I now live. I am in the country. There is no subterranean infrastructure delivering a constant stream of much-needed fuel for the home. No. Here, you’re on your own. You are responsible for you. You must know your needs, and prepare your household accordingly. As with any new situation, it took some time for me to fully understand how to negotiate the routines. Winter one: I paid someone with some money I had left over after my move to come by and ‘deliver some fuel’. I guess he filled up the tank. With exactly what, I wasn’t sure. Word was here it wasn’t gas, but oil. The delivery guy must have come while I was out, for I never saw how or where he deposited his load, nor did I experience any lapse in comfort. That was then. This is now.

The money I’d carefully nested away for my move here was quickly used up in not-so-glamorous tasks such as replacing the 1970s Angie Dickinsonesque carpet and linoleum with modest laminate flooring, and installing pipes and pumps in the cellar (yes, here it’s a cellar, not a basement) to expunge the stinky and stagnant seepage from the house. By the time those important tasks were done and the oil tank was filled, I was out of cash. Now it was onto the business of discovering just what sort of life I would have here in this tiny house in the country with my young son. It was all before us that winter; we did not yet know what it was to go without heat, to dig chickens out from under two feet of snow, to count the days until the food stamps account was refreshed and we could once again buy milk. Now we know about those things.

A long time ago – it must have been shortly after I’d met my husband and it became apparent that he was the one and that this was my life –  I wondered, if left on my own, could I make it? Without the financial support of my parents or my then boyfriend – could I actually pull off that incredibly ‘grown up’ achievement of actually paying for all of the bills by myself? It troubled me, I felt in some way I was not earning my keep in life. But as the years went by, and my partner began to make good money supplemented by my teaching and gig income, the question became unimportant. For the time being at any rate. Yet the question was always there, lingering in the back of my mind, dusky and vague, gently gnawing at me, quietly threatening my personal sense of worth.

It is nearly a quarter century later, and I am only just beginning to test the waters of this ‘making it on my own’ territory. While I may find it rather pointedly ironic that I’m now down to less than two week’s supply of heating oil while my almost ex husband is leaving tomorrow morning to play a concert in Dubai, I nonetheless carry on towards my goal. Once nameless, fear and guilt-inducing, it has now become something I have dared to utter aloud. I mean to create a new life, and a life above poverty, under my own steam. I still dare not declare how far above that stressful line I intend to lift myself, but for now I’ll aim just far enough above it to experience that first personal victory. From there I will go to the next rung. I must at least try. I’m not saying that I won’t hold my world-traveling partner of the past 23 years accountable to a little more support (such that his son doesn’t have to resort to drinking powdered milk at the end of each month) because his contribution is our current lifeline. But what I am saying is that I’m going to give it my all. I mean to provide for my son the things he should have, and I mean to do it with the skills and talents I have. Surviving is what we are doing now, but it won’t always be thus. I’ve begun my new life; teaching, creating an arts center, managing a summer concert series, writing, even selling eggs… In time I will find my way, my income, my own true value. While we are conserving our assistance money and going without haircuts and new clothes above ground, I am building the invisible conduits far beneath the surface that will one day deliver us the comfort and ease of a life we once knew.

I have a wooden stick, feet and inches marked in sharpie along its length. It’s attached to a long string. It sits beside the pipe that descends into my oil tank. When I need to check our fuel level, I must wade through knee deep snow drifts to the far end of the house, dust off the stick, uncap the pipe and insert the measuring device into the unseen contents of the buried tank. When I ascertain how many inches of oil I have in the tank, I then go inside and consult my chart. I can see how many gallons I have left. Then I begin to plan out our heat diet until the next time our lifeline comes in. Will we be able to keep the house at 55? Can we afford a window of 65 degree comfort for a few hours after school? Or shut down one half of the house and use the electric heaters when needed? If we choose the band aid assistance of electrically supplied heat, that means a much higher electric bill, and in this part of the world someone must know we need it, because electricity is a whole lot more expensive here.

I checked my tank yesterday. It was down to 6”.  That means we have roughly 40 gallons. That should last us about 13 days. That means 50 degree nights and 60 degree days. Ok. That wouldn’t have been acceptable in my ‘last’ life, but here and now it is. What to do in 13 days? I check my calendar. The lifeline should be here by then. It can be a little scary to live like this, yet I do derive from it the clarity of conscience that comes with addressing the unknown and making it known. At least I know what I have and what I haven’t got. I know I haven’t got money nor heating oil to spare. And I know the true value of the simple necessities. Years ago, as my husband and I went to the new restaurants, as he brought me gifts, and as we traveled the world, I ignored my secret concerns that I had no idea just how much it all cost. He was an only child of wealthy parents. We had no children. We were free and easy apartment dwellers. There were many things that helped to put it out of my mind. I buried my conscience. Now the only thing I’ve got buried below the surface is my oil tank. And even still, I know exactly what’s in it.

To know is to be empowered. And I can say from recent experience, being empowered feels good. I know things today that I didn’t know before. I know what chickens need to thrive. I know how to fix things in my house. I know systems – both physical and non physical – aren’t perfect, and rules are flexible. I know that life eventually gives you what you spend your time thinking about. I know that what lies unseen and goes unspoken is just as important as what lives in full view and can be heard. I also know where my heat comes from. I didn’t know that before. And it’s good to know.


Angels Sing, Boys Cry

Filed under: Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 11:47 am
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Elihu is in the next room. It’s his first rehearsal with the Saratoga Children’s Choir. It might be his last too, we’ll see. We’re in the one of the classrooms in the Methodist Church – home to many cultural programs in this town. Elihu is nervous, and he’s not happy about being the ‘only second grader’. I don’t blame him, for being the youngest brings him some attention, the kind one doesn’t want as one begins a new pursuit. It’s not comfortable to negotiate a new skill with an audience. That’s how it feels to him, and as his possibly over-mothering mother, I’m sensitive to it. All I can do is send him my love from one room over, hoping it helps in some unseen way.

Just heard the first group ‘ooh’ and I smile inside. This sounds fun. This sounds good. It’s been years since I’ve heard a chorus. Kinda reminds me of the Peanuts Christmas special. Yet I can’t relax yet, my son has a hard time with his head voice as I always did. I didn’t even sing in a head voice til I was in my late 20s. Really. Strangely, the older I’ve gotten the higher my range has gotten. Maybe it’s because I’m not talking all day at school. Or partying all night and shouting over the noise of a bar. Elihu has a limited range, and like me, he favors his chest voice. I’m aware of his concern about this, and so I worry just a bit.

How is it that my sweet seven year old boy hasn’t got that pure angel voice? Does that voice not belong to all the young boys who can sing? I began to wonder this when we’d listened to the Vienna Boy’s Choir and I realized that he could not match their high pitches. As I hear the high “oohs” next door I cannot help myself, I must snoop as a mother. I will just peek in. I hope not to see my son tilt his head to the side as he strains to find the impossible note.

Well. It is neither possible for me to peek, as the doors have no windows and are shut tight, nor is it possible for me to understand what they are singing, for to my surprise – it is in German! I hear Sue coaching them on the pronunciation of the words that will take the place of the oohs they had just sung. Wow. So, that’s how you do it? Teaching a group of kids to sing parts, and in tune, much less in German, seems like magic to me. It did just occur to me, however, that maybe if you’re concentrating on the language instead, it might make the singing of pitches more natural. Often the less you think the better you perform. Just thinking. Man – what an interval! How high they are! I wish I could see him – how on earth is he doing in there?? When we are reunited – and when I take him for a special fried chicken dinner that I can’t afford at Price Chopper – he will recount everything for me. I am praying it will be an enthusiastic recounting. There are other ways it could go.

I feel lucky not to have had a daughter. I couldn’t take all that tension, the hormones, the moods, the levels of strategy. And yet, if you can believe it, my young son often reminds me of a pre-teen girl. He is so dramatic, so large and loud in his expression, particularly when he’s upset. While I understand that comes from a desire not to lose control over his life, I also wonder at why on earth his emotional riots are so violent, so unstoppable, so angry. It is this kind of riot I’m hoping doesn’t result from today’s choir rehearsal. While our dinner at Price Chopper might be one of our special mother-son moments, it also might not be. His reaction may come suddenly after rehearsal, just when he’s quite sure there’s no one left in earshot, or it might gestate a while and surface in the supermarket. I will simply have to wait and see. One never knows, do one?

Well, this chorus rehearsal is a lovely thing to hear… I so hope that he didn’t hate it. Just as we dropped his father off at the train station (just day before yesterday, and now he’s in Indonesia, what a strange world) he insisted that Elihu do two rehearsals before he made a decision about not doing it. I should mention here that I had just happily announced that the choir director was going to admit Elihu based on my vouching for him – as the youngest member – and rehearsals were to start in two days. This resulted in one of his signature pre-teen girl explosions. Ranting and crying, sobbing protests, cries of “I’m not going” and such. I believe he reacted this way because I had not prepared him for this by way of interjecting it into our phone conversations during the week. (He had been in Chicago with his father for the winter break.) He had known about this, and been excited too, but I’d let too much time go without reminding him about it. Had I gently re-introduced him to the chorus idea slowly he might not have reacted like that. But sometimes I just don’t have my mommy game on, and I just like to get on with things. To coddle, or not to coddle… Just when I think I’m doing too much of it, I’m not doing it right. Oh well.

Fifteen minutes to go. No wi-fi with which to distract me. Ah, they are embarking on a new song. A pop-ish sounding song. What is this? Mmm. I am now imagining my son, the earnest look on his face, hand on his chest, singing for me what he can recall of the song he just learned. This too might well be the outcome. Oh how I wish the door had a window, or a crack. Is this the beginning of something new? Is this a day Elihu will always remember? Will it be a fond memory? Or not? My mother once left me at a skating rink all by myself. I was good at meeting kids, I knew how to skate, she wouldn’t be gone long. How old was I? Maybe 7. It was cold, my feet hurt. I didn’t know anyone, and I was sure everyone knew I was alone and self-conscious. I went to the little warming hut and waited alone for a long time. I was alone, sad, forgotten. The feelings distilled into a memory I can recall keenly even now. I don’t want to create that kind of memory for Elihu. They are singing about ‘flying away’… oh, but how can his spirit not soar to sing those words? We saw a hawk on the way here, and he dropped his head down for the rest of the ride, imagining what it is to fly. I just know. He does this a lot, he flies. I never want to clip his wings, nor confine him to a cage.

The director is wrapping things up. Rehearsal is over. She’s saying something about an arts fest. Does she know that my kid played his djembe on the street at the last town festival and made $80? He’s a natural on his own, this group thing is so different. Can he learn how to work in a group? Can he switch gears now, learn this new skill and assimilate? Just a few minutes more…

The Result? Tears within minutes. In the hall he collapsed and began to cry. “I don’t want to do this! How long was I in there?” he cries, dramatically sprawling on the hallway floor as children walk around him. “Three hours?!” The reality is sinking in for me. It was a bit intimidating. This group, save two others who are also new, has been singing together for a semester already. I look at his book, the print is small, it is written in three staves – even as an adult I’m still not good at picking out my part from music written like this. “Mmm”. I answer him as I peruse the charts. I offer that we can make the print larger – that it’s an easy thing to do. But I know his pride is bubbling to the surface and wants to prevent me from making any special modifications. He needs it, but won’t accept it. “No, I can read it easily” he sniffs. Tears well again in his eyes. “Honey, how bout I just make a sample page with larger text and we just check it out to see?” I ask. He stops crying, and considers it. “Ok” he says. That’s better. That also confirms for me the vision thing is part of the mix. Sue sits down with us in the hall and she kindly speaks to him in a bright, hopeful way. She has authority in her voice and I think that helps him. I explain a bit more about his vision – that he can’t see any color. She’s a bit surprised, but it really isn’t the main issue, so we move on. The head voice. “I just can’t sing that high” Elihu says. “I just can’t!” I know so well his frustration. She offers a little help. We all ooh and ahh together for a bit, practicing a technique for relaxing and letting the pitch come. He’s calmed down. He lays heavy against my arm (that feels so good – the older he gets the less he rests on me, the less we snuggle as part of our day) because he is so tired. Still on Daddy time, having gotten to bed at 11:30 the night before, and after his first full day of school in a week, he is wiped. “I’m so tired, I want to go right to bed” he says, angrily. I know. He feels he has no control. We wrap up and head out to the night. We have no food at home, once again I’ve run out of food a week shy of our food stamps. “All I have is chicken soup, sweetie” I remind him. But he wants to go home. No over-budget fried chicken tonight. We go home. And we have chicken soup for the third time in a row. But we made it. Finally in bed, after some drawing time and a little reading, and we’re lying in the dark talking. I finally get him to smile, even to giggle. Ok. A new chapter. Rocky start, but a start, nonetheless.