“So what is Memorial Day really about?” Elihu asked me yesterday. Hmm. I gave him the simple answer for the time being, and told him it was a day on which we remembered the people from our country who served, fought and sometimes died in the wars. A churning of conflicting thoughts on the subject began inside me. I needed to get to this one. I needed to express my feelings to him, as mixed as they are, on war and the culture around it. For now it would wait, but this conversation would happen soon.

The Fourth of July, Memorial Day and such patriotic occasions always bring forth a swirling mix of ‘yes, buts’ in my mind. Yes, we should remember, bless and thank the people who served, but weren’t these wars for the most part just crazy, vain and wasted efforts created by a few insane leaders? When my son was born, we’d just stepped into the mire of a fresh new war. I remember being on bed rest in the final days of my pregnancy, lying on the couch and watching in disbelief as bombs were dropped in the far-away Middle East on cities and towns that no doubt contained women just like me, in the last stretch of their own pregnancies. I was stunned and heartsick. My baby would be born as a new war began. Shock and awe indeed.

Shortly after Elihu was born I had a what folks these days like to refer to as ‘a light bulb moment’. It was more of a paradigm shift, really. Now holding in my arms a tiny babe, a creature that manifested pure vulnerability and love, I could no longer remotely even begin to justify – or understand – war.  I watched George W. on the screen and searched for the father in his eyes. How must he have felt the moment he first beheld his two tiny daughters? Did his heart truly stir with that certain, specific and intense love that only one’s own child can inspire? And if he did understand that love, as I’m sure he must have, did his own feelings about the children everywhere in the world not profoundly change as well? I mean, just how can he possibly sanction the bombing of a community that will no doubt result in the absolute terror and physical pain of young children, and the loss of their beloved parents?? As a parent it was sealed for me now. I could no longer accept the need for war. I could no longer justify the injury or death of innocent people – of any people. I could no longer keep their tender humanity vague, fuzzy and cloaked by geographical distance. Everyone, every last person, is someone’s baby.

When I lived in Dekalb, Illinois I would attend the town’s Fourth of July celebration in their beautiful municipal park, on the sweeping lawn under the canopy of ancient elms and oaks. The beloved and white-haired band leader of the town would lead the orchestra under the large, clam shelled roof of the bandstand. Fireworks would accompany the final number, the classic 1812 Overture. Before that flashy conclusion the orchestra would perform a medley of armed forces themes. The conductor asked that those who’d served should stand and be recognized when the theme of their branch of the armed services was played. As soon as the new familiar melody sounded, men all over the audience would stand. I was amazed at my own feelings in witnessing this. It was touching, it was tearful, it was good. I wondered at all the personal stories behind these figures. At the conclusion of the theme, the audience would clap for these heroes, and then they would sit, to be followed by the next group of soldiers. What really stuck with me was one man in particular. I’d passed three Fourths of July there in that park, each time in my own little spot by a certain tree from which I could easily see the stage, yet could avoid the thick of the crowd. Beside me, about twenty feet away, I would see the same man, sitting in his lawn chair, bedecked with pins and emblems on his casual summer outfit. He sat alone. He registered nothing on his face. Yet each year, when the Navy theme played, he slowly rose from his seat and placed his hand on his heart. I saw in his face, read in his entire body, a story of intensity. What his story was I will never know, but the meaning was hard and real. I watched nothing but him, as carefully and tactfully as I could so as not to make him aware of my attention. But nothing could have distracted him from the world he was reliving in that moment. The first year I saw him I was intrigued. My second year there I was happy to see him, the third year I was fascinated. Talking to people is usually quite easy for me, but as I pondered how to approach him, what to say, how to even begin, I just gave up. It just didn’t feel right. My witness was enough. Enough to honor him, enough to open me up to a world I’m usually quick to disdain.

I think of that man now each Memorial Day, each Fourth of July. Through the ether I send him my love and my gratitude for the actions he took, but mostly I thank him for the conviction of his beliefs – the sense of real purpose that inspired him to serve in spite of the fear and danger he faced. I myself believe that not one war since the Revolutionary War has been about the protection of our country’s freedom. In my mind, this man served a false cause, a reality contrived by very few, but bought, sold and believed by the multitudes. The need to protect was real for him, and so it was real on some level. But for me, war can never be real. It is a game played with living chess pieces, flesh and blood pawns that serve not their own interest, but those of the men choosing the strategies, making the rules. The only rules on our tiny planet should be to live, love, encourage the same in other creatures, and look for understanding when there is none. If everyone had the same shared goals of helping their neighbors to live as well as possible and if no one could find it remotely tolerable to see fellow earth-citizens living in lack, war would not be an option. If these truly were core, unshakable beliefs in each person, if we treated the welfare of others exactly as our own, then we wouldn’t need a Memorial Day. Many may say I’m naive, that it’s not that simple. But I believe it is. When one is tuned in to one’s connection, one’s similarity to all others, one knows that war is simply not a choice. Sadly, the folks we look to for rule-making and value-setting have a lot of airtime and money. These influential people have lost their sense of connection to fellow humans and found instead a malignant yet seductive substitute for it in the realm of power and self-protection, which in their minds fully justifies such violence. It looks like it’ll be awhile yet before we can experience a world-wide paradigm shift together. But it’s coming. This internet world will reach further and further, connecting more people than we can imagine today. When we are all finally able to see each other, to connect, to witness each other’s sameness, each other’s humanity, then we will all realize the illusion for what it’s been all these insane years.

But my sincere thanks and gratitude go out, nonetheless, to all those who willingly accepted the duty of service in the armed forces. And my love goes out to all the families torn apart by the loss of those who chose to serve.

God Bless America. God Bless Afghanistan. God bless every last one of us. Even George W.

Success! A Multi-Staged Post….?

Chapter One:

We have a raccoon free garage! The next step comes shortly. After we have a little breakfast (the usual: french toast made with our hen’s fresh eggs, a staple of our menu) Elihu and I will plop the young chicks who currently reside in two large plastic bins in the basement into a large laundry basket, and we will carry them outside to their new home in the garage. Then, thoroughly doused in bug repellant (a clove-smelling, natural concoction made by a neighbor) we will watch and wait. I will pull up a chair, coffee cup in hand, and observe the side-by-side chickens, mature and immature, to see how they react to one another. I will be on the ready to break up any skirmishes and I will take notes on the location of any breaches in the fence that divides the two groups in the outside runs. As I’m still in morning mode, this will take a little mental psyching up. Ok. Here we go, the kids are moving out today.

Chapters 2, 3, 4 and more…

So much for installments throughout the day. Suffice to say, all that I envisioned us doing, as I wrote above, did happen very much as I’d thought it would. There were a few deviations as usual, but that’s where life keeps us amused, right? It’s late, it’s been a full and successful day. Let’s leave it at that as I haven’t the oomph left to write. I’ve just attempted to insert the link to our new videos on you tube with no luck. Lord knows how I did it before. I’ve tried every angle with no progress as my patient son waits for me, drawing to pass the time. Argh. If you’re so inclined, you may check out the three videos we took and posted today of our new coop on our channel ‘elihusmom’. And if anyone can get back to me with some advice as to how to insert the links I would be a very happy woman. As Elihu would say in closing of a short performance: thank you all very much and goodnight!

Day of Progress

Whew. This has been a day. After a shaky start for both of us (see Sick-Abed, Sigh) we arose shortly after noon and began our day. It was a windy, mild spring day with rainshowers in the middle of sunshine and fresh air all around. It was a day of unplanned visits with neighbors, bubble blowing, keyboard moving, coop building, planting, cooking of dinner, whipping of cream, bed making and more. I am plumb exhausted. But what a lovely day we had.

After a short drive through the countryside to call on some friends we settled in to our homesteading. Elihu corralled his chickens in a densely packed flock and spoke to them softly as I began to construct the new room for our chicks. As they cannot be mixed in with the adults yet we need to build a separate, outdoor living space for them. I divided the run with a wall of fence and netting last week, and today set out to build the small room within the garage where they will live for the next few months. Hoping that perhaps the extra labor might not be truly necessary, and that  the hens would accept the youngsters (their own children), we brought the chicks out last week and put one hen in with them. Within minutes she had attacked several rather violently, requiring our intervention. It was confirmed; I had another project yet before me.

Thanks to craigslist and some very kind people in my area I have collected some nice, free pieces of lumber. Assembling these pieces to make a makeshift coop became a bit more challenging than I would have thought. No two pieces are quite the same, some are warped, some have screws or nails still in them. They’ve all been used before. Plus, due to a mid-winter meltdown of our coop heat lamp all the outlets in the garage no longer work (no, it’s not a fuse) and so I must run a super long extension cord from the house to the garage in order to do any work. Not un-doable, it just required a bit more resolve from me to get the silly project underway. It took three long extension cords and a few minutes of setup, but not only did I get underway, but I finished the task. Thanks to some beautiful sheets of 4×8 plywood I was able to create walls in fairly short order. And thanks to the pheasant re-population program in Ithaca, New York I am stocked with a good amount of nylon netting (a kind man there gave me a bag of extra netting when I told him my plans on our visit last summer) which made a fine roof for the small room. I have no idea what Elihu said to his chickens for the hour and a half it took me to construct the room, but he was content to wait it out with their gentle company.

Tonight we test it out. I caught raccoons red-handed in the garage last night, raiding the feed bins as I went to close the coop up for the night. A close call. If it weren’t for the food available to them I’m not sure if my chickens would have all been there waiting. A bin of grain is an easier meal than a feisty hen. (And I have seen bloody evidence of the good fight my hens can put up when challenged!) So tonight, I’ve closed the garage as best I can, and I’ve left the lid to the feed bin loose, so that if a raccoon should be snooping about, the lid will be moved when I go out in the morning. We’ll see. I’m feeling pretty good about my security, yet not good enough to be entirely smug. One can never be smug out here. There’s always a new story to be made at the expense of one’s naivete. So I am confident, yet cautious.

Now it’s bath time and I must drag my son away from his beloved birds.  Elihu has been doing nothing but talking to his chicks all the time that I’ve been here writing. I can hear him in the basement, the one sided conversation mixed with tweets and chirping sounds. Tiny, fuzzy things just four weeks ago, they are now gangly teenagers. They’re not exactly cute, nor do they look entirely like true chickens. They’re in an awkward, in-between sort of stage. They are, however, not chicks anymore. They are young chickens, and they are fast becoming very stinky. It’s amazing how much food they consume. Tomorrow, if we pass our raccoon test, those teenagers are getting their own apartment. I can’t wait.

To bath, to bed. To be continued…

Sick-Abed, Sigh

This may not be the best time to make a new post, but I’m caught in a netherworld right now in which I can find no comfort from any single position, nor food or drink, and I don’t have any ability to do much but sit and shift in my seat to find relief. I will write in order to pass some time and take my mind off of the discomfort. I have, I can only guess based on past experience, been bitten by some insect in the early morning which has begun the process of the now-familiar anaphylactic attack. This is the fourth time I’ve experienced this; now I know the signs and so wasted little time today finding the benadryl pills stashed in the refrigerator door for just such an occasion. The last time this happened I writhed in agony on my parents’ floor for several hours before at last an ambulance was called. I know that these events, while miserable affairs, die down after about six hours and so I had been rather bummed that my trip to the ER had resulted in little relief but landed me a huge bill for the expensive taxi service.

I’m not the only one feeling out of sorts; Elihu experienced an episode of asthma last night the likes of which he hasn’t had in months. Perhaps our visit to grandma and grandpa’s five-cat household last night triggered it. We’ve also been lax in his asthma prevention routine lately, and I’m feeling like a negligent mother today. It is a horrible feeling to watch a young child struggle for breath in his sleep. You want to wake them, to administer something that might help, yet you want them to experience the relief of sleep, and so all you can do is look over them as they labor to breathe, the little chest puffing in and out so rapidly it’s exhausting just to watch. And so this is how the night passed.

Finally, this morning he was able to sit up and use his nebulizer. Now his breathing is somewhat more relaxed, although still raspy and shallow. As he took a break from inhaling the medicine from that noisy machine, he looked at me and said “Your face is red”. I’d been noticing in the past half hour that my face was getting very hot, and now the palms of my hands were itching and tingling. I was surprised my face was that noticeable. As my heart began to race and my gut began to feel as if I had some intestinal bug, I realized that I was not merely feeling a little off; something had bitten me and my body was kicking into gear. That’s when I understood that if I was to remain a viable parent right now, I needed to find the magic pills quickly.

So now we’re both doped up. As Elihu finished his round of nebulizer, he weakly jabbed his finger towards the ceiling. “You’re feeling high?” I asked. He smiled and nodded groggily. It’s not a good high mind you – from what Elihu tells me it feels strange; his whole body tingles and he feels a little disconnected. He doesn’t like it, yet he doesn’t hate it as it signals relief – and perhaps sleep – to come. A few minutes have passed and now he’s out, and I too am feeling I’m on the way. Geez. And it is the first saturday of our long weekend. The weather had started out fine today. We’d so much planned; we were to move our fifteen large chicks from the basement to the coop today. It was to have been a big day. Now it will be a sleepy, bed-ridden day instead.

It’s starting to get cloudy and looks like rain. Maybe this isn’t such a bad day to be in bed. Off to nap. I hope when we wake we will find ourselves restored and ready for our homestead chores.

Drummer, Different

What is it, I wonder to myself, trying to pinpoint it exactly, in definite and concrete examples, that makes my son so different from his peers? The most obvious thing one might cite, the dark red glasses, are off the list from the start. That’s not it at all, it’s something else. I think back on my interactions with his peers. Once and a while one will stand out, one of many will have a similar ‘thing’ to my son; the only way I can articulate it at the moment is, they ‘get it’. Get what? And am I not sounding a bit of a snob here? Yeah, I admit that, I am sometimes a snob. But that’s not it right now either. Elihu is different; I think anyone would agree. Just what is at the essence of this difference? Might I make a list of some sort for myself? Would that help? I need to understand this better…

I sometimes feel a tinge of sorrow that Elihu is so thoughtful and aware of things in his world. There’s a hint of adult, of peer, in him that sets him apart. And because of this I sometimes miss his truly early years – the first three, I’d say – when he was really and truly a baby. Then I knew unquestionably what he was. Then at least there was no doubt, I knew where I stood. I knew where he stood. Lest I fret too much over this, I’m reminded by things he’ll say or do, ways he’ll act (see tantrums and laundry!) that do in fact tell me that he is still a young boy. Yet somehow, in some way that I’m struggling here to identify for myself, he is no longer a child. How can I say this? He is, yes, he is a kid, and yet, not…

And as for a tiny child’s adoration? Well, although my child is no longer small, I’m lucky to get that daily. In fact, it’s really one of the things that keeps me going. I can’t imagine being a mother to an autistic child who never hugged, kissed, told their mother they loved them. Truly, my heart goes out to these moms who must long for those moments with every cell in their body… I am grateful to the skies for what my son bestows upon me. When I come in to wake him each morning (or, well, nearly each morning!) he always insists I stay to snuggle. This means that we just lay together on the bed for a few moments, usually with arms or sides touching. Sometimes we hug, sometimes not. It’s just a comfortable moment in the covers, in which we simply take in being here, being together. Sometimes we talk, sometimes not. It’s just about connecting.

And regarding connection, here is another related perk of living with this aware child; he recognizes his own need for connection in the course of his day. If we’ve been doing our own things for a good bit of time and have been psychically apart in some way – after a day at school, at home, or temporarily isolated by life’s general busy-ness, Elihu will come up to me and say “We haven’t connected in a while. I need to connect.” At which time I drop what I’m doing. We find a place to just sit together. Since he’s still small enough to fit in my lap, he usually climbs up, and we just sit together, arms around each other. We’ll look into each other’s eyes and just stay there for a moment or two. And I do realize how this seems very much like a romantic exchange. I believe it is related, yet it is very different. And I can tell you that this is is one very peaceful and blessed way to recharge the batteries in a life of never-ending events. An oasis for us both. And it’s been at Elihu’s request alone (until recently, as I’ve begun to recognize when my own feelings of disconnection surface and have requested ‘connections’ of him). He alone came to know what it was to feel disconnected, and furthermore, to know the importance of turning that feeling around. He knew what he needed, how to get it, and how to ask. That, I think, is a skill that many adults don’t even have together, ya know?

In many ways I’ve created in my son the very things that now I sometimes lament having encouraged. I sometimes wonder if I’ve created a child too savvy, too adult-thinking for his own good. Yet I do not regret my teaching him. (I do regret not curbing some of my more unheatlhy actions, like muttering about people under my breath, being quick to anger, expressing opinions like they were accepted fact. I pray my ‘good’ teachings – you know, the old ‘do as I say and not as I do’ – can make up for some of my poor examples.) I’ve spoken to my son as if he were a peer for perhaps all of his life. I also know that I’ve spoken to him in a cutesy baby voice once upon a time – how can one not speak like that to an infant? I can remember playing ‘kissing factory’ – a mommy-invented, changing table game which most certainly involved baby talk. But beyond those tiny years, I’ve talked to my son with an inherent respect. I tried to impart information – and understanding – to him as I would have anyone give it to me. I’ve always wanted him to truly get things – to understand as much as he’s able. I personally believe that people rise to the expectations set for them; I expect that he can understand, so I give him the information to be able to understand. Make sense?

There’s a personal motivation for my wanting to present all pertinent information possible to my son. It comes of my own experience in part, and it also comes from the sense that Elihu and I both have of his being somehow ‘different’. Throughout my life I have often felt very, very lost in this world – often not understanding rules that seemed second nature for those around me. Kids always seemed to ‘know’ things that were an absolute mystery to me. How did they all just ‘know’ about the rules of the games at recess? Or know the icons of pop culture? Or all the types of cereal? Was it just because I didn’t care, no one taught me or that I was missing some sort of gene for this? I missed stuff growing up, and I still just can’t place what it was. It wasn’t even so cut-and-dried as not knowing the names of the teen idols or cereals. Cuz I knew of many, and my kid too knows the names to drop. There was just something else missing. I was aware of it. I just knew that I was missing things, information – something – that other kids were getting. Elihu’s dad had a similar ‘missing’ of things, cues, information and so on, however the difference with Fareed was that he didn’t know he was missing things! He was clueless, and in his case, ignorance was bliss. He was not plagued as a young child by a gnawing sense that he was missing something as Elihu and I have been. This sense of being in the dark, of living in a world parallel but apart from others is something Elihu feels very keenly. Oh how it hurts my heart to hear him express his anguish, his deep need to be like others, to see the world as they do. He’s been brought to tears wishing that he would love Star Wars and soccer like his classmates. Through his tears he condems his beloved bird guides and artists’ tools, his djembe, his drums, his difference. It doesn’t happen often, yet when it does, I let it. I don’t let my discomfort at witnessing his allow me to stifle him. Instead, I try to be a quiet audience, an emotional sponge, taking in all the sorrow, all the isolation, being a witness to it as if somehow I can bear it away from him, transform it, and leave him renewed and full of hope. My intention is for this, yet I doubt I can lessen his sorrow by much. So I do the best thing I can. I just listen. If nothing lessens the pain of these moments, at least I can feel better about them when I consider how healthy it is that he can identify that he’s feeling this way, and how lucky Elihu is to come into such an awareness at such a young age. My own feelings had no audience, had no witness, and so manifested in my high school years in the terror of panic attacks, and the near-miss of not graduating.

My talking to him like a peer – my giving him as much goddam information in as clear a way as I possibly can – talking to him with an inherent respect – I do ALL of this as a means to fill him up, to equip him with so much knowledge that if he don’t know it today, he can goddam well figure it out for himself one day. Ya know? I want him armed. I want him loved. I want him to know that I’m there for him, I’m not holding any secrets back. I’m in full transparency mode. I received an email from some mommy-related site the other day, whose topic was ‘when to have the sex talk with your kids’. Sheesh. My kid’s known how babies were made for years. He’s on the ready for those intoxicating, irrational and annoying feelings that his teenage years will bring on. I’m not saying that we’ll continue to have an open, easy dialogue about sex when those years hit, I’m just saying that we’ve been there, done that, and it wasn’t a big deal. Really.

All that and he loves flowers. I say this with unabashed pride. Yes, now I’m just bragging. Whenever Elihu comes grocery shopping with me, it’s understood that his repayment will come in the form of a long, lingering visit to the floral department. We’ll lament the high cost of the beautiful bunches, search for the most affordable items, an invariably settle on a single red rose. I’ve taken to pointing out to folks who we chat with there that Elihu sees no color. I’m not bragging in this case, but rather looking for someone with whom to share my continued amazement. The kid sees NO color at all, yet finds beauty in flowers that few people do. On a purely practical level, I do think he’s keyed into the shapes and lines and profiles in ways ‘we’ aren’t, much the same way as he’s attuned to the structural and linear differences between birds and can usually identify them much faster than color-sighted folks. Whatever, it really doesn’t matter, for his love of flowers is deep and real. He cannot be rushed when admiring flowers, whether in a shop or a garden. Man am I glad this kid found me.

Then, there’s the drumming. And I don’t mean the ‘look how cute my kid is on the drum set’ nor do I refer to the hippie-dippie sort of hand drumming that passes in a drum circle. He’s got something. I have something drum-related too, only it’s more the desire to play than the innate ability. I got myself some drums at seventeen, and spent hours on them, but never got much past some rudimentary rock skills. But my lack of ability wasn’t daunting to me; I just really needed to play. To keep that groove, that steady right foot… So, Elihu’s got this natural ability to play hand drums – he’s got this signature groove he plays on his djembe. His dad would call it a Punjabi sort of groove, and while I don’t know enough of the specifics to comment on it, I can say yes, that makes sense. It’s a swung thing, a distinct pattern that I myself cannot emulate. I haven’t tried very hard, for I admit that I’m not one to put lots of effort into something if there isn’t a flicker of natural aptitude for it. And clearly, this rhythm is something inorganic to me at the outset, which gives me a great deal of respect for Elihu’s ability to play it, and so effortlessly, so naturally. Not sure when Elihu ‘got his groove’, but he’s had it for at least a year. I think last summer it kind of just came. His dad got him a nice-sounding small djembe a couple of years ago, and last year it just made sense.

My kid also has a great sense of humor. I myself grew up with Monty Python and have exposed my son from the start to some of the more classic bits (and the naughty bits, sorry, couldn’t resist) since he was able to possibly understand them. I have perhaps desensitized him in some way to profanity in my sharing of some humor, but at the same time I have taught him the importance of using profanity in only the most carefully chosen, and appropriate places. It wouldn’t be a ‘bad’ word if we used it all the time, would it? He knows swearing is not something he’s allowed to do – at least in the proper and outside world. He also knows how funny just one little swear word can be, when inserted at the right place. Timing; that’s something he gets. He’s gotten that for as long as I can remember. Man, he’s got that thing. This kid was being sarcastic with me – and fooling me with the old straight face – since he was four! At five his greatest aspiration was to be like Calvin, of “Calvin and Hobbes”. (In fact, when he was five he went as Spaceman Spiff for Halloween.) He’s even concocted his own composite cartoon in which Calvin coaches the young and naive Caillou. Hee hee. Can you just see how loaded that one is? Maybe being outside the normal world helps him to see how funny things are. I think that’s part of it. We all know that phenomenon of the professional comedian; a loner, recluse, a person of few words who seems a whole different person altogether when on stage.

So I guess I’ve compiled a list of sorts. Self-realization, self-actualization, self-determination, self-expression. Not a bad list. Just maybe too heavy a portfolio for such a young child. Maybe that’s what that sense of humor is for.

Chicken Day

Well, really, what day isn’t a chicken day here at the Hillhouse? Today was a bit of a special chicken day however. Nothing poetic and long-winded tonight. Just a quick recount of our day: I brought a three-week old chick to Elihu’s classroom today and he was a rock star for a half hour. Questions directed to me were quickly answered by Elihu. I was merely the chauffeur.

Tonight we went way over budget with a dinner at the irresistible Hattie’s Chicken Shack (oops, I think they call themselves a ‘restaurant’ these days and not merely a ‘shack’). We lived a bit beyond our means tonight, but what a meal we had. Elihu proclaimed, as he finished off the last of his plate, “this is the best chicken I’ve had in my whole entire life”. I was in total agreement. We were full, we were happy.

We made a visit to a secret garden behind the back doors of the restaurants and picked lily of the valley, drinking in the perfume that comes but once a year. That heavenly scent to which nothing else on earth comes close. Aah.

Then we got in the car and began our short drive home. As we reached the winding country roads, a heavy spring rain began. Now cozy in our house, the rain beats loud and hard on the roof. We’ll make a quick trip downstairs to smooch our young chicks and refresh their food and water for the night, then it’s off to bed.

A good day, a chicken day.

Eggs of Hope

It seems I’ve not mentioned an endeavor which has become rather the foundation of our homestead here in Greenfield. Months ago, when Elihu and I and realized how little money our eggs sales actually generated after we’d met our expenses, we pondered what to do with that money to maximize it’s usefulness. We came upon a book entitled “One Hen” by Katie Smith Milway in which we learned that a little can do a lot. And so Eggs of Hope was born. With our small profits we’ve begun to ‘purchase’ starter chicken flocks through Heifer International.

While the accompanying video and newspaper article at the bottom may be over a month old – very old news indeed – the business is just beginning. Today we registered our domain name and will unveil a new site soon – if dear old mom can manage one more task on her plate.

Lest you think the talk of home-grown eggs being better is all hype – as I was apt to believe once upon a time – I can tell you that the eggs of home-raised chickens are much, much better than those of their poor factory cousins. I might not have been such a believer had I not used a carton of store-bought eggs recently, as our personal use eggs had been earmarked for the incubator. Yup, our eggs’ yolks are a superb orange color, are much plumper, and lastly, they taste very much like an egg should. (Recently we learned that guinea fowl eggs have the very best egg flavor of all, but a sad footnote to this story is that Clara, our only resident guinea hen and sole producer of these delicious, miniature eggs, was recently lost to a wild animal. We miss her. See our you tube channel ‘elihusmom’ for a little cameo of Clara in the video of our chickens on the first warm day.) But life on a farm is like that. It’s sad to lose a member of our flock, but we find peace in knowing the ones we’ve lost had lived happy, healthy lives and furthermore, died that other animals, equally deserving of a meal, should eat well. We just hope they went quickly. !

Chickens are the most miraculous recyclers. Once, in the beginning of our egg pursuits, I found the idea of eating our chickens’ eggs rather gross (and that was even before they began eating bugs!). I can admit this here, because I know many others have felt the same. Before, I’d thought it was just me. Intuitively it makes no sense that the eggs one buys at the store are somehow more edible, safer, cleaner – more whatever – than the ones that just popped out of your hens today. One knows that these eggs have got to be better. Right? Yet for me, eating that first egg was not exactly easy. That was then, this is now. Now I watch with great joy in my heart as our flock happily scratches away in the grass and leaves, gleaning little insects here and there all day long. I watch their progress as they cover the wide expanse of our property, in the woods, in the field, and sometimes, to my chagrin, in my garden. I am always astounded at how much less feed I buy each month – 50 pounds less – when they are allowed to roam free and forage. I am grateful to be an integral part of this process, grateful to know that in some way I am linked to them, and through them, to the land. Hopefully, with our growing little business, we’ll be able to extend that connectedness out into our great big world. Eggs are made to hatch…

A frustrating post-script:
After spending a good 15 minutes trying different methods of inserting the link to the Saratogian article into this post, I am giving up, and asking readers to simply search for “Elihu Conant-Haque” and you will easily find the link for yourself. Sigh.

Men Behaving….

Although I have a huge pile of paper on my desk and a very long to-do list, it seems that this may be a good time to write about a topic which is today in the news.

Yesterday, when I first saw the Arnold Schwarzenegger story, I was tempted to fire off a post on the subject, given that it is one with which I am intimately acquainted. And yet, I held back, knowing that I had more to say on the event than the predictable and understandable rants that one might expect. And last night, as my still-husband juggled care taking duties of his two very young boys while trying to communicate with his eldest son by Skype, once again it hit me. The situation throws the family into painful turmoil, yes, but beyond the obvious, it causes the father of the unexpected children his own kind of pain and suffering.

Many times I’ve considered Fareed’s side of this equation. It’s got to hurt to be a father who loves his child, but can’t be with him. I feel Elihu’s sadness when his father says he has to go at the end of a phone call. I also sense Fareed’s feelings of sorrow and powerlessness. Only today he sent an email expressing his concern over things that Elihu and I had recently dealt with, and while these were now history in our fast-moving life, they were yet unaddressed in Fareed’s world. As I explained, we simply cannot catch him up on everything that we experience; we can’t communicate every trauma, dilemma, sickness or difficulty – or even the tiny triumphs and discoveries. There’s just so much life that goes on. If a parent is not physically there, it’s just a matter of simple logistics. Fareed loves his son, yet there he is. Caught in the fallout of his own creation. He simply cannot be a live-in dad to two young families at the same time.

For the father who doesn’t entirely want to be there – that may be another story. And while I find it hard to believe that a father wouldn’t want to know about his children’s lives, at least deep down in his heart, I do believe that for some fathers it’s not a priority. (My own feeling is that shame, dysfunction or economics might hold some dads back from being more involved with their estranged children.)

But Fareed is, and I defend him often on this point, a father who loves his children. In fact, I can’t quite understand how he feels so deeply for his daughter Brigitta, when she hardly knows him as a ‘real’ dad, but rather as simply her biological father. I can perhaps understand his need to know her when I examine how I myself might feel if a biological child of mine was removed from my world. I don’t know that I could bear it. He once broke into tears, saying to me that he hoped one day I could meet her and accept her. I’d told him I was working on it, and I was. This is all a very, very difficult process. It’s hard on the wife who finds her world absolutely smashed in an instant, yes. It’s also an enormous burden on the father of the surprise child. Really all one can do is take a breath, and wait for the passage of time to wash mercifully over the broken hearts.

Why should I feel any empathy for these careless men? Really? Yet I do. A moment after the news about Arnold’s love child sank in, I thought ‘how much pain he must have been in all these years’. He had to be apart from a child he created, plus he had to bear the burden of that secret and keep it from his own family. What a horrible situation to be in. Yes, he, my husband and SO many other men have behaved like short-sighted, selfish asses. But look, their hearts are now broken too.

And the children? I know that I have guided my own to find a place of compassion and understanding, as I myself have tried hard to learn those things too. One of my oldest, and dearest friends is the product of an extramarital affair. This person has managed to grow into an exceptional adult – a good friend, loving spouse, and wonderful parent – and has found a way to make it work. This friend chose to close all possibility of contact with the father, and this was what worked in this situation. I imagine there are many ways to make it work. Certainly many children have grown up in a fatherless household. Our own President Obama did.

I also imagine this is a much more common occurrence than we’d think, however, if you google the subject, there’s not a whole lot of support for the single moms that result from the man’s indiscretion (believe me, I’ve searched). I remember in one such search coming across a comedian going on about what an upstanding guy he was. He was married and had no ‘outside children’. That stopped me in my tracks. There was a contemporary term for this? ‘Outside children’? You mean that it’s so common that we might just assume a regular married guy may well have ‘outside children’?? Man, where had I been? I guess all you have to do is take in a couple of Jerry Springer episodes to know that it goes on routinely, and all over. But how does it all end? We all hear the titillating tales, but soon after they’re lost in the wash of incoming news. After some personal exploration into these stories, I’ve come to realize that in the end, if you can’t afford a really good, committed attorney, the resulting single mom ends up in a far worse economic situation, whether she was the wife or the extra marital partner. And the only payoff is…. you got it, the gift of raising her child. The man may be able to pay his bills, but he must always live with the pain of being an absentee dad. The mom may now live on food stamps – but she’s there when her son loses his first tooth…

My dear friend, the one who was raised by a single mom, was in this case a child of the ‘other woman’. It puts a strange spin on my perspective; for she – the ‘other woman ‘ – was an excellent mother, yet it was the ‘other woman’ who utterly changed my life and broke my heart. So how to view this ultimately? I can’t say I’ve found an answer. I struggle with it almost daily. My feeling is that whomever rises to the responsibility of providing for the child is doing the right thing, whether that be in form of providing money for living costs, physical custodial care, or simply encouraging the child to have a healthy relationship with the now-absent parent.

No easy answer. Maybe next time try a condom. Just sayin.

1000+ visits… yay!

Thanks so much for sharing our journey… Elihu and I are in a fantastic mood tonight as we’ve now had over 1000 visits to our young blog. I am so grateful to our friends and passersby for coming along with us on our journey. Who knows what lies ahead? Right now, who cares? We just feel so happy right now, and much less alone than we have in the past. Thanks everyone. And don’t forget to say hello sometime. (It will be easier to do that when I get this silly guest book figured out. Soon…)

“A” Boy

My son has Achromatopsia. It’s a congential disorder of the retina, which is to say he’s had it since birth, and will have it for the rest of his life. The best metaphor I can find to describe Achromatopsia is this: his eyes have the hardware to see, but he’s missing the software, or the app. Essentially, he is missing a protein in his retina which delivers the visual information from the cone cells to the brain. I do realize that my explanation may be rather simplistic, and those who’ve spent hours upon hours learning about this might find fault with my presentation or correct my understanding about it, yet for our intents and purposes the metaphor works well. All I know is that his experience of the world is much different from ours, and as his mother, his number one advocate, I am always mindful of it. Thankfully, when the technology to deliver the missing protein to his eye is perfected, there is hope that he will one day have the possibility of correcting it.

Elihu is considered legally blind, which is a strange, nether-world in which to live. Yes, he can see. No, he cannot see color – any color at all. Most people are amazed at this fact alone – and in order to demystify it, I usually tell kids to take the color out of there TVs in order to see the world as he does. For the over 30 set I just tell them to envision black and white films, or perhaps even and Ansel Adams photograph. Yet that’s not the end of it. Elihu sees very little detail beyond 20 feet. He also is virtually blinded by light and must wear dark red glasses in order to function. Why red? Because that is the spectrum that sops up most of the light for him. Since he can’t distinguish color, the fact that the lenses are red means nothing besides the comfort they afford him. Essentially, he sees using only rod cells – the ones that kick into gear for us at twilight. The glasses he wears must dim light down to that sort of level. And as those who’ve studied candle power can attest – the sun is not just a whole lot brighter than artificial light, but rather exponentially brighter, so finding ‘comfort’ in outside light is a tall order.

Elihu can’t recognize friends in the hall at school when they call to him. He can’t always follow kids running in the playground. Depth perception is tricky for him; he’s been tripping over curbs all his life. However, as with anything, he’s become adept at living with it, and the older he gets the fewer things he’s surprised by. He’s learned to be gracious when people approach him. He’s learned in part from mom and dad, who being performers are often greeted by people whom they can’t always recall meeting. Being polite is all that’s called for. “I’m sorry, I’m really bad with names, can you please tell me your name again?” or “I’m sorry, can you please tell me again how we know each other?” In his case, I’m encouraging him to tell folks he can’t quite make them out until they’re fairly close up, so they know he’s not being aloof. Elihu is now beginning to feel fairly self-conscious about being different (like he needed a retinal problem to set him apart!) and so he’s going to face some challenges in the next few years. I just keep telling him that a sense of humor helps. This he knows well.

There is an island in the middle of the Pacific – it’s in the Federated States of Micronesia to be more specific – called Pingelap, on which many of the current residents are Achromats. Apparently, hundreds of years ago several of Captain Cook’s crew, shipwrecked on the tiny island, carried the recessive gene for Achromatopsia. They stayed on the island to live, to raise families and ultimately created a gene pool heavily populated with the gene for A. Elihu and I have a dream to one day visit this place, and bring with us dark glasses for all the residents who need them. I cannot imagine having Achromatopsia and living on a sun-drenched island, and it makes my heart lift to think of the relief we might one day bring to them.

John Kay of Steppenwolf is an Acrhromat. (Check out some pictures of them and note John’s dark glasses. Not a costume choice, but a necessity.) I think it’s absolutely ironic that the man who penned the iconic “Born To Be Wild” doesn’t even have a driver’s license. It’s even more ironic that today he produces nature videos. I’ve heard his wife does the color correction for him. This always makes me smile. Go John! Go Elihu! Go As!

Even though Achromatopsia will not prevent my son from realizing his full potential, it is still my single greatest hope that one day Elihu will have the option to choose for himself whether or not to change his vision. Ultimately, it will something that only he can choose for himself. ‘Til that time, we have many adventures awaiting…