The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Halloweens Past October 31, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:43 pm

One of the many, trivial things that comes to mind as I lay in bed at night, unable to sleep, is the list of Halloweens Past. I fear that soon I will lose track. I go over them, checking my chronology, making yet another mental note to myself to write them down, lest they be gone forever. As I will never be a scrapbooking mom, nor am I great about actually sending and/or printing out photos, this is the single repository for my memories. Here they are…

Elihu’s 1st Halloween, 2003, 6 months.

Elihu’s very fist costume was that of Dom DeLuise as chef. Inspired by the big cheeks he inherited from his father, I donned the infant in a Chef’s costume, complete with black and white checkered pants, double-breasted white smock, painted-on beard and moustache, and wooden spoon. As I pushed his stroller down Main Street in Evanston we passed a Dachshund in a hotdog costume. I will never forgive myself for not stopping to get a picture of the two of them together. Some things live only in memory…

Elihu’s 2nd Halloween, 2004, at a year and a half.

I dressed him as a spider, in one of those pre-made costumes. I felt I was able to redeem it from its potentially average standing by the addition of my own costume which was that of ‘Little Miss Muffet’. I had a dress made years back for a medieval-themed Christmas party which featured a full skirt and tight, corseted bodice – just perfect for this fairy tail character. Elihu and I traveled to New York in order to visit my folks and go to a Halloween party that my family traditionally attended. I panicked when I realized I’d left my wood-tone plastic bowl back at home and had my assistant fed ex it to me at my parents’. I had to be eating my curds and whey, right? In the end, perhaps it was worth it. Little Miss Muffet and the Spider Who Sat Down Beside Her went over pretty well.

Elihu’s 3rd Halloween, 2005, 2 years old

This was the year of the train. So many young boys become Thomas converts, so many parents begin to learn the nuances of the Thomas culture. Ringo Starr or Alec Baldwin? No matter your narrator of choice, in the end one must fully embrace the experience. If one is really lucky, the child will catapult the parents into a world of steam-powered train trips and weekend excursions that truly widen one’s view of the world. Elihu wore real coveralls with a red bandana tucked in his hip pocket and an engineer’s hat. The epitome of innocence and pure childhood.

Elihu’s 4th Halloween, 2006, 3 years old

That year he went as a pile of leaves, and I chased him with a rake, playfully admonishing him to ‘get back here’ so I could rake him up. A red sweat suit with leaves hot glue gunned all over (complete with leaf covered shoes and hat) it was perhaps one of the most inventive costumes I have ever seen. I cannot take credit for it; I bought it for less than $10 on ebay from a woman whose name and info I still keep in hopes that one day I will thank her for all the joy she gave to us that season. !

Elihu’s 5th Halloween, 2007, 4 years

Ahh, this was the year of the cicada. I found my inspiration in the recent return of the Midwest’s 17 year version of the insect. What a costume. It was true to life in every way, down to the segmented abdomen and clear, veined wings. It was a masterpiece, and I’m still rather bummed I chose to give it away shortly before I moved to New York. Elihu carried with him a larger-than-life alarm clock which had been set to ‘summer’. The bit was that he’d slept late by a season. Cute.

Elihu’s 6th Halloween, 2008, 5 years old

Our first year on our own in our new home, here in upstate New York. At five, Elihu aspired to be like the impish six year old Calvin of the comic Calvin & Hobbes. In the strip the young hero creates an imaginary character; a space-exploring version of himself in wraparound shades and tubular shoulder pads called ‘Spaceman Spiff’. I was proud of my physical rendition, accurate down to the frap-ray blaster.

2009 Elihu’s 7th Halloween, 6 years old

Bald Eagle. The bird thing now in full swing, he decided to start at the top. What better choice than the patriotic emblem of his country? This year marked my first avian work, and a deeper exploration into the medium of paper mache. I feel I did a pretty good job of nailing the contours of the head; eyes eerily sunken and beak frighteningly hooked. The body and wings were still primitive, it was a form that would take another couple of seasons to get down. Elihu won ‘most original’ costume at the local firehouse although one of the grandma judges thought he was a chicken, which he found most insulting.

2010, Elihu’s 8th Halloween, 7 years old

This year our bird thing really took off. He decided to be a Turkey Vulture as we’d had a resident flock of them living on our property the year we’d moved here. It was a very appropriate choice for the holiday; Turkey Vultures eat dead bodies. I went to town on this headpiece, and the results were quite impressive. This was the year I discovered armature wire – a very bendy and sturdy frame on which to lay the paper mache. It enabled me to make a very long beak that jutted out about a foot in the front. I accompanied him as the grim reaper; what I killed, he ate.

2011, Elihu’s 9th Halloween, 8 years old.

Inspired by his love of birds and the desire to be something spooky, he decided on an Anchiornis this year. What is an Anchiornis? It is an early, feathered dinosaur. Modeled on an illustration by a friend (who paints birds professionally) we created our own, slightly tweaked version as there is no one on the planet who can definitively say what the creatures really looked like. While not as true to life as my creations in years past, this costume was probably the best success. Not only did it garner a prize, but its wings were very sturdy and moved a lot of air, something of top priority for Elihu. I took a little extra time on the legs, sewing the embellishments rather than just gluing them, and the result was a costume that survived a 14 hour day of holiday appointments.

We have yet to go trick-or-treating, that’s tonite. We’ve found our little routine here, and we always enjoy it. Starting with the mansions on North Broadway, we wind our way into the interior of the tree-lined neighborhoods and on our way make a couple of social calls to old family friends. One fellow has a party each year with grown-up food and wine for the callers, a nice treat for me. We’ll explore the inner courtyards of the homes whose matching carriage houses are now gorgeous homes themselves, we’ll follow the route that most appeals to us, and we’ll allow ourselves to live fully in the moment, floating in time, dreamlike and untethered to any formal plan. How surreal it feels to meander like this through the darkened streets, to hear the hushed sounds of anonymous voices all around us, to see glowing pumpkin faces shining out at us from from porches and doorways…

Then we’ll get in our car and head into the blackness of the countryside. When we arrive home, the big dump will be made on the kitchen table. We’ll sort, compare, trade and bargain for favorites, eat some now, store the rest in the mouse-proof refrigerator. Then we’ll brush our teeth, climb into bed and recount our evening.

One scary story later, it’s lights off and goodnight to another wonderful memory.

 

Halloween: A Deadline Met October 30, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:18 pm

When I was five or six I had a dream which has stayed with me for all of my life.

I dreamt that my mother was fixing my Halloween costume just so, dabbing powder on my face, tugging at the waistline of my garment, making adjustments to the fabric, pinning things here and there and telling me to wait just one more minute… In the dream she fussed with my costume for so long that when I finally made it out the front door and onto the street, Halloween was over! The street was dark. There were no voices. I had missed it all. I missed Halloween getting ready for Halloween??!? The irony of it just killed me. No, it was too much – this was not possible! I never forgot the feeling of panic and heartbreak I awoke with after that dream. Never. If one believes the theory that dreams allow us to experience alternate outcomes as a warning for what not to do in one’s waking life, I can say that it’s served that purpose well through the years.

Many years ago I told my high school sweetheart about the dream, and as we are now still good friends, whenever I feel I’m close to missing some deadline he’ll say ‘oh no, it’s Halloween!’ and we’ll laugh. Life is a busy affair; everyone of us flirts with our own ‘missed Halloweens’ as we scurry to get it all done in time. When Halloween approaches each year I get a little nervous. I’ve always made a costume for Elihu which takes many, many hours (before he was around I spent those hours on my own costume). However daunting the goal, I always know I’ll pull it off – thanks in part to that dream – yet the week prior I’m never completely at peace. Although the real trick-or-treating is tomorrow, our big Saturday is now behind us. It was a jam-packed day and we both had a very good time. The costume made it too – no touch ups needed. My house looks like a bomb went off inside it, we’re out of milk and there are no clean dishes left, but I made it. It’s Halloween, and I’m happy.

Just what was Master Elihu for Halloween? An Anchiornis. An early, feathered dinosaur. He was bedecked in crispy, high-contrast black and white feathers with a large headpiece of red and black feathers rather like a Mohawk, two shining eyeballs with tiny dots of white to create depth, a foot-long beak with pointy white teeth, a six foot wingspan and bendy, curving black claws at his feet and wings, with large, scary-looking nails. All accurate, by the way. He wore his costume the week prior, to a neighboring community’s event. (It’s nice to get a ‘dress rehearsal’ before the big day; it’s an opportunity to fix the bugs and make last-minute adjustments.) Elihu entered the costume contest there and surprisingly he didn’t win or even place. I was kinda shocked at that, but even more shocked that he didn’t care a whit. ‘What a really good kid’ I thought, truly impressed. He had a lot of emotional investment in that costume. In the end though, only two things mattered: that people responded to it and that his wings could really move some air. Both of those requirements were enthusiastically met.

Yesterday, in and among our many stops we attended a telling of scary stories by local heroes the Bruchac family, a clan that has chosen to celebrate the tiny bit of Abenaki Indian blood they share by dedicating their lives’ work to the promotion of the culture through the sharing of stories, music and artifacts. It was snowing fat, moist clumps when we arrived (having just left a party with a band that invited Elihu to sit in with his djembe on the next set, ah well, can’t do it all) and we were glad to see they, like us, were running just a little late and had yet to begin the really scary stories. We took our place in the small audience. What a lovely and unexpected surprise when one of our hosts announced there would be a prize for the best costume – and that they were awarding it to this fellow here – he motioned to Elihu, who with such a potentially appreciative audience as this had thankfully not yet removed his headdress. He won a book written by the speaker and afterward had it signed. Ha! That more than made up for the oversight by the frumpy matrons in the Wilton rec center the week before. That, and the post-performance discussion about birds with several like-minded as we stood in the lobby ready to leave. Just perfect.

We then joined Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Andrew at a party on the other side of town in an ancient brick home with wood stoves and crumbling plaster. We’ve joined this family at their party every year since Elihu was born. Behind the old house there’s a footpath illuminated by candles in old coffee cans that winds up the steep, wooded hill to the bonfire where most of the guests stand and talk. We pay a visit to the circle, and shortly thereafter a woman correctly identifies Elihu’s costume. His jaw drops open, then he recovers in a burst of laughter. He is absolutely thrilled. Plus, she’s actually seen the real fossil at Yale. Again, it’s just the very best news he could hear. Shortly we are making our way down the forest path through the falling snow to say goodnight to our hostess.

In the space of fourteen hours we did a lot. While the day included such mundane events as an hour of mobility work with his vision coach and home-bound, bird-related chores, it also included a pony ride, busking, being interviewed and filmed for the paper, attending several parties, being recognized as an Anchiornis by two people, jamming with some musicians, winning a prize for his costume, making s’mores around a campfire in the woods and coming home to a cozy house and a scary bedtime story. We both fell asleep as soon as I was finished reading.

And just now, as I begin to enjoy our do-nothing day, Elihu runs in my room to tell me that the Juncos are back. Ah, this is truly a wonderful weekend.

It’s Halloween and we haven’t missed a single thing.

 

Mouse Call October 28, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:20 am
Tags: , , , ,

The sounds begin around now. Just after Elihu has fallen asleep and the house is quiet. A tickering sort of sound begins from behind the wall. It’s a slightly muffled, rapid-fire, repetitive knocking sound. Are they chewing? Hammering? Creating a nest? Procreating in a nest??

At first it was cute. We didn’t see them much in the beginning. A couple of years ago we might see a couple of tiny poops laying about in the pantry one morning, perhaps a pile of chewed cardboard, but nothing much more. A year later they began to interrupt me as I read aloud to Elihu in bed. Our nightly routine involved banging on the wall as if to silence a noisy neighbor. It worked for a few minutes. Then, as we finish the chapter, turn out the light and get comfy…. there it is. Bih bih bih bih bih bih bih bih bih bih….

I have learned to use earplugs in a country home with absolutely no street noise. Aside from Bald Mountain, our resident rooster who begins to announce the morning around 5:30 am, there is no other sound inside this house. It’s not really even old enough to creak. On a rainy night the sump pumps in the cellar will kick on and off, and the furnace grumbles along intermittently throughout the night, but for the most part there’s no sound to interrupt one’s sleep. Kind of. Tonight one particularly industrious mouse is obviously knocking something off his to-do list.

I have found shoes stored in the basement filled with macaroni. I have found rice in my jewelry drawer. I have found a dead, desiccated mouse entrapped in the white hair of a Halloween mask, surrounded by the stores of his cache. I find several dead mice floating in the downstairs toilet bowl each week. One day I broke the crown on a tooth and set the two pieces on the window sill. The next morning one half was missing. I may yet find it in my underwear drawer. Strangely, these creatures have not destroyed anything of value (aside from food) except my very favorite, go-to slip on summer dress shoes. Why, oh why, of all the crappy ass, Salvation Army finds and assorted hand-me-down shoes did they choose the ONE pair I actually love and wear? That was a turning point. In fact there have been several turning points and tonight, once again, I am at another intersection.

I see these little guys daily. Sometimes I have half a dozen sightings in a day. And I do believe they’re getting brave – I swear they slow down now as they cross in front of the stove – I swear they even stop to make eye contact. They know I can’t catch em, and besides, perhaps they’re growing fond of me; I feed them, house them and provide them with so many interesting diversions! What a fun place this is to live! I must do something, right? But just what?

I have tried it all. The humane trap was a bomb. They got in and out no matter how well I set it. The 5 gallon bucket thing has never worked as they don’t cross the bridge to even investigate… the snap traps are good, however they can still take a little time to die (oh dear, horrible to watch) and my now arthritic fingers are just no good at setting them. I can’t do the glue traps for that same reason of an unsure death, in fact they’re much worse as it takes them much longer to die.

I got mad once, broke down and bought the poison. It works, but there is fallout… Smells begin to emanate from the house – bad smells with no definitive source. Also, I have come upon mice that were dragging themselves spasmodically along the floor, obviously having ingested the chemicals. I could not tolerate that – and ended up running over a few of them in the car in order to bring their misery to a swifter end.

My mother keeps talking about calling their exterminator. But won’t they just use poison? And won’t my house just end up stinking like a big, redolent, decaying mess? This alone give me pause. Then I begin to think. I’m not sure why I want them gone. I know that the stove top is covered in their anise seed-shaped droppings every morning, that just today they gnawed the strap off of my camera in the space of a half hour (as I sat in the very room!) and that they certainly must be multiplying. But aside from my favorite mid-heel Aerosoles slip-on sandals, what have they taken from my life? In what way do they seriously diminish the quality of our lives? Why should I worry? I can imagine some folks might cite disease as a concern. Ich. I don’t know. We wash and clean ourselves and our work spaces pretty thoroughly as we have chickens and we’re used to it. Ok, I steel myself. I can do this, I’ll just call the pros. Yes. I’ll do it tomorrow.

Then I remember Winkle. And his friends.

One morning I actually caught one of these lil guys in the bathroom. He must have been a little groggy – I know I was, and I’m surprised how easily I entrapped him under a cup and transferred him to Elihu’s terrarium. Once in his new home he popped up vertically several times to test his environment for an out (that’s the only real disconcerting thing about them in my eyes – ya catch one and they’ll pop up in your face! Ack!). When Elihu first saw him, he said oh so naturally, and without missing a beat, ‘his name is Winkle’. Indeed! Yes, what a perfect, story-book name for a mouse! Yes, he is a Winkle, isn’t he? We kept Winkle for a couple of weeks until one night when I made a surprising discovery.

I had heard noise coming from the living room for several nights. I’d tried to ignore it, but one night it was simply too much. Somehow this sounded different than the other routine mouse sounds of the house. I had to investigate. In the dark of the room I shone a flashlight onto the glass tank and saw Winkle on the inside, his tiny paws stretched above him on the inside wall, and several of his mates on the outside making sounds and moving excitedly; they appeared to be rallying their imprisoned comrade to discover an escape. So this is what had been happening for those many nights! Oh how this stirred my heart, my humanity! Winkle had a family, he had friends, he had others who cared about him! First thing the next morning I took Winkle and let him go in the field across the creek. I had to give him his freedom if nothing else.

As I ponder what exactly it is that I plan on doing about this, one of Winkle’s extended family appears from under my bed and looks up. He sees me and thinks better of his planned excursion, turning around to return from whence he came. Hmm. Would this house seem lonely if all the mice were gone? What is a country house if not shared by at least one mouse? But then again, you can’t have just one mouse, can you? I think of Winkle, and his friends. No, you cannot.

Ok. I’ll say a heartfelt prayer for my dear little housemates, then tomorrow I’ll pick up the phone and make a call to the exterminator.     I think…

 

Like A Rhinestone October 25, 2011

I’ve had a long-term ear worm the past month. Through the ether this little gem reached me, inspired by what I cannot tell. That I even know the song is somewhat of a mystery; I was after all I was just about eleven or so when it came out. While I do have memories of sitting in the back seat of our Plymouth station wagon, hanging my chin over the front bench seat and begging my mother to please turn on the radio, I don’t think I encountered the song there. At school, perhaps? On the playground? Did my hip-looking fourth grade teacher play it for us in our progressive, 70s classroom? These were the days when music was an elusive treasure; a pre-walkman, pre-ipod culture, so the sources were few. Ah, perhaps I heard it first on my yellow, doughnut-shaped AM wrist radio… yes, that might be it. Imagine this simple little melody, absolutely fixed in my brain after all these years. Well, Glen, kudos to you; you chose to record one sticky little tune.

In an effort to exorcise the nugget from my head I awake early and pull out my tether to the world – my now rather ancient, yet essential G4 I Book – and I cast my line out into the ocean of information. What will I find? My friend Joan told me recently that he doesn’t look so good these days. I’m emotionally prepared. How old must he be? My mom’s age? Hmm… Then there it is. A page of head shots past and present. First, my eyes are drawn to the Glen Campbell I remember, the helmet of perfectly feathered hair, the cleft chin – the classic 70s handsome good guy look shared by the likes of Mac Davis and Bobby Sherman. This wasn’t the type I had gone for back then. I preferred the curling, long black hair of Donovan and Marc Bolan (so much so that decades later I crafted my own look to resemble Marc’s as closely as possible). Then there are the full body shots. The iconic belt buckle, long thin legs, cowboy boots, thumbs hooked onto belt loops with one hip cocked to the side. One groovy, sexy silhouette. I continue my quest. Just what is he up to these days? Soon I begin to collect a tidy list of tidbits on the man. I realize that I know very little of the guy.

My first impression upon seeing the first photo that comes up on his website is that he looks a little Sting-like, only with a wider nose. In the next shot he evokes a little Willy Nelson. All in all, not bad for a fellow who’s been around so long. I learn he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has recorded his latest record “Ghost on the Canvas” and plans to do a farewell tour. Sort of. He doesn’t commit to this, but for the time being it appears this is the plan. I look elsewhere and learn that he played rhythm guitar as a sideman on Frank Sinatra’s recording of “Strangers In The Night”. Apparently, he was starstruck and admitted to the producer that it was the reason he kept staring at the maestro. Irked at young Glen’s stares (also perhaps at the session itself as later Frank called the single ‘a piece of shit’) the crooner asked his producer ‘who is that fag guitar player?’ and told him he’d slap Glen if he did it again. Love it. I move on…

I am taken on a brief detour as I chase a link to Anne Murray – and discover that she is probably aging the very best of her generation. She looks gorgeous. After a quick foray into her history and current life I wander back to my man. I visit You Tube and find his song covered by school-age kids in Thailand, in a David Hasselhoff concert in Germany, by a homeless guy in the States and a marching flute band in Ireland. Nuff said. This is an earworm shared by a worldwide family. Lest I make the mistake that I disdain in so many and assume that he himself wrote it, I wonder: who really did write this song? I admit that I was quick to assume that Glen himself did, yet a quick check shows that is not the case. I must remember that the time in which this song was recorded was one in which performers themselves were not necessarily songwriters. This era was on the cusp of change; until that time singers had recorded and performed material created by folks whose sole job was that of songwriter. Even more specifically music and lyrics were two separate occupations. Although the music world was certainly changing by that time, the old architecture still existed; songwriters wrote, managers assisted the artists in choosing material and anonymous session musicians played on the tracks.

Larry Weiss of Newark, New Jersey wrote it. And poor guy, while he’s had a long and varied career since then, he has ultimately hung his hat on that one little song, and is even still actively wresting the life out of it in his current work on the theme for Broadway. Sheesh. But then again, if ‘Mama Mia’, why not ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’? Give the people what they want – redo your kitchen and buy a new car while the iron’s still hot. Why not? I would. I still love my old band The Aluminum Group’s ‘Chocolates’ and never minded playing it at every single show. I admit I was never sorely tested on that front; I really do wonder how folks are able to play their hits night after night after night and still bring it the life their audience deserves. Could I? Don’t know. That Larry and Glen continue to have an interested audience, and that they and thousands more can still make an income off that one two-minute song impresses me.

My tappy-tap tap sounds from the keyboard awaken my son. I greet him with the first line of the song. He finishes it. I guess I’ve been singing it around the house this past week more than I’d thought. He likes the song too. I’m surprised to learn he knows just about all of it. Elihu has a nice singing voice, I get a kick out of hearing him. It gives me an idea. I suggest he might want to sing it at this year’s Talent Show. He laughs and says he’d love to. I can play the piano for him… yes, and he can wear a big belt buckle… I’m getting excited now. Maybe this will be what clears my head of the hit. Hair of the dog, right?

We finish our breakfast and head to the school bus singing. The bus arrives, and my little cowboy rides off to his star-spangled rodeo.

 

On the Love of Wings October 22, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Birding,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 10:00 am

There is a small drawing, done in black sharpie, on the marble hearth just above my fireplace. It is almost unnoticeable – almost – as shortly after the artist created it I worked hard with hair spray and a sponge to scrub it out. Besides, it is nestled inside the permanent brown of soot which still lingers on the wall, making it just a bit less obvious than it might otherwise be. Shortly after my horror at discovering it, the thought occurred to me that one day it might actually remind me, in some poignant, nostalgic way, of this new era in our lives just then beginning. The thought might have been part sour grapes, part truth, however it has indeed come to pass that I now look with very different eyes upon that little inky transgression.

The little image is almost a fish, almost a bird. It is a creature morphing, rather, from one to the next. Elihu drew this the week we moved here, when he was five. At that time he was just coming to the end of his fish phase. There was a time, back in Dekalb, when he would beg me to buy a whole frozen fish at the market just so he could see it up close for himself. He was fascinated. On a lonely weekend in November, when it was just the two of us (as it was nearly all of the time) I bought him his fish. He spent two days on the floor of the kitchen playing with one almost frozen lake trout. I remember the faint odor of fish that lingered in the room all weekend. I was both disgusted and intrigued. My child was obsessed; in his play he mimicked the fish’s movement in the water, pulled out the fins admiringly, posited how his mouth might have opened…. did a fish blink? he’d asked. He was immersed in the study of his fish. And this is how my son has always been. Whatever it is that fascinates him draws him into deep, contemplative study. That had been the year of the fish. I still have dozens of fish drawings in a tiny child’s hand. Fish of every kind and from every angle. When we moved here to New York he was still a child of fish, yet in that one image, things were beginning to change. Its pectoral fins are unusually large; the fish appears to be flying. In fact, the creature almost seems bird-like.

Elihu is very fond of flapping his arms. At the age of eight it’s only just becoming a little suspect. If one didn’t really know the context – his unquenchable love of birds, of all things flight-related – one might begin to wonder if the kid might be behaviorally-challenged in some way. In a moment of great joy, he will beat his hands mightily upon his chest and, well, crow. For no apparent reason he might lift one leg up and spread his arms wide, bending forward slightly. For those who don’t know, I can tell you that he is in that moment a crane, a heron or some sort of stilt-legged water bird. Most often though, he simply flaps his arms. He will pick things up and flap them, holding them close to his face to feel the resulting wind. If it’s an impressive result, he’ll have to show me. He’ll wave the object beside my cheek and look at me, his face tense with happy expectancy; did I feel that wind? Did I think it was a lot of wind? When I come to wake him in the morning, he’ll open his eyes and begin to tell me of his new idea for a way to make himself wings that will actually work this time. He knows the story of Icarus well, and da Vinci’s contraptions too, but he is undaunted. He must be able to fly. He must. It is almost heartbreaking to watch this boy succumb to gravity.

Last night we had the perfect night out. After making calls and knocking on doors, we finally found a kind neighbor who agreed to close in our birds after nightfall so that we could go out. (When one has domestic birds who live outside, one cannot leave them until the birds themselves have roosted and can then be closed safely in. An open coop door after sunset means dinner for local wildlife to be sure. This situation poses many frustrating logistical hitches throughout the year.) After a fine start to Elihu’s Anchiornis costume for Halloween (an ancient, feathered dinosaur) we were off to see The Big Year! Starring Steve Martin (beloved man in my eyes, plus of course, the banjo thing, not to mention the writing thing, oh and the being brilliant… and funny), Jack Black and Owen Wilson, it is about these three men on a year-long quest to acquire as many bird sightings as possible. The men set out across the country to discover these birds, each with his own personal back story of conflict and self-discovery. I flipped when I saw the movie was coming out and I made an effort to see it soon as I didn’t see any way this one was staying in the theaters very long. And although it’s not a terribly funny or memorable movie, (however there are moments – like the one my son first quoted to his father in his re-telling: Steve Martin has a deadpan bit about being funny) the topic alone, and the images of birds to be seen makes it something of a miracle must-see for us. Never in my wildest dreams could I have guessed that one day there would be a movie made for the big screen about birding. Glad we caught it, cuz I don’t think it’ll last the weekend. But heaven for us! Heaven for my beloved son! We were two of four people in the theater for the movie, and it was just we two who stayed til the very end. Seven hundred and fifty-five species of birds appeared on the screen as the credits rolled, and we read aloud every family of bird as they passed, every now and again one would elicit a ‘that’s my favorite kind of bird!’ from Elihu. Can you imagine, an eight year old boy who delights in the Tufted Titmouse for his beautifully modest plumage, who will enthusiastically extol the mind-bending abilities of the Wandering Albatross to anyone who’ll listen and who finds the Golden Plover one of his top favorite birds? Elihu was transported. So was I, just watching his face radiate joy as I have seldom seen.

Today our day is less magical. On to the tedious but inspiring project of creating the costume. It’s to the table, the hot glue gun and the feathers. We study images of the Anchiornis, comparing many versions of it to the one we hold as our model. This past year Elihu has become long-distance friends with a world-class professional bird artist whose version of the feathered dinosaur we are using as our first reference. We agree, Michael’s bill is too cute looking; this is Halloween, after all, and as no one really knows what its size or shape was, we opt for a longer, more menacing profile. All of this flows rather easily. But when it comes time for the wings, emotions run high. In the end, I know that all Elihu wants from his costume are the few hours in which he can run through his world, flapping his wings. He wants a big wingspan. He wants to move some air. Thankfully, he leaves for a play date, giving me a few hours’ head start. When he comes home he is gleeful at the sharp contrast of black and white feathers. He straps on the wings and tests them. Air moves, feathers fly around the kitchen. He giggles and laughs. So beside himself with joy, he almost cries. He runs to the mirror and stares at himself, winged. No matter how the rest of the costume turns out, it is a private success for him already.

He is a boy in love. Finally, he is a boy with wings.

 

Rage at Chillon October 15, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary — wingmother @ 10:37 am

We had the worst fight ever of our twenty-two years together in front of the Castle at Chillon. We had come to the place in order that I might finally see the interior. I’d visited it as a child, but had not been inside the castle; it’s silhouette had lived in my mind for years as a place I simply had to return to one day. I’d heard tales of the dungeons, of the gruesome way they treated prisoners, and I’d wanted to stand in that place and offer my peace to the long-gone tenants as if I could somehow mitigate their long-gone pain. If only I’d been able to offer that kind of peace to myself, and to my partner, that day.

I cannot for the life of me remember what it was that we fought about so terribly that afternoon. We stood mere steps from that stunning building, mountains beyond, sun in the sky sparkling upon the lake, and yet we did not enter it… what could possibly have prevented us from visiting that place? How on earth did it start? As I lay in bed again tonight beginning to pass what will most likely be several sleepless hours, I come upon this island of time in my past and become fascinated. I cast my net wide behind me in time, over the wake of my memories in hopes of catching some evidence or emotional artifacts that can help explain the many fights we two had through our relationship. And it starts at Chillon.

There is a photo of me on the bus, after our fight. My head is tilted, face skeptical. One long, black braid hangs down over my arms, which are crossed in front of me, telling the picture-taker that this is not really over, and you still don’t understand. In fact, your taking this picture – trying to lighten things up – just proves you don’t respect my opinion. And now.. I get it. I wasn’t being heard. I  wasn’t being understood. And what’s worse – that’s all I wanted. Understanding. Respect for my voice. Yes, now I begin to recall the feeling…

It occurs to me far too late, that this was the crux of each and every fight Fareed and I ever had. For all my effort I cannot come up with any subject of our arguments, although I can certainly remember many, many fights. I do, however, remember the emotion behind them and the unresolved issue for me: You’re not acknowledging me. You don’t hear me. 

I recall another impediment to our understanding. I would crave engagement, he didn’t. I would want a reaction, a witness, a ‘I hear you’. He didn’t have time or energy for that. So I would proceed to try and wring it out of him. He reacted by shutting down. His face would disconnect. I called that his ‘stoneface’. It was one of the most frustrating things about him. Impenetrable as the walls of that old castle.
We worked on all of this through the years, and I can say that I put great effort into curbing my frustration and rage, and he too worked on communicating better with me. We learned a lot from each other and about ourselves. Strangely, although the fights diminished and calmed during our second decade together, that was probably the point at which we began to move away from each other. By then we each became so busy with life that we had little time for our relationship. With dozens of artistic irons in the fire at any one time it was easy to put our marriage to the side. We simply had very few hours together. Perhaps we were both avoiding the truth that our relationship had run its course. I used to think that only people with absolutely no ability to communicate got divorces. Now I think differently. I believe that when lessons are learned, issues are settled, for many that may be reason enough to say ‘thank you’ and walk away. But it’s a sad thing, no matter how right it might be. Not easy to call it quits.

Understanding. I believe that’s all any of us wants. “Mommy, look! Watch! Are you watching?” a child cries. She wants witness to her world, her experience. That’s all. I see the same frustration in my child when he breaks down into his own rage, furious at some main point I am missing. He is frustrated to breaking; he only wants me to know how he sees things. Once my son and I expressed to each other our dearest wish; that each could know fully what the others’ perspective was. We imagined being able to ‘plug in’ to each others’ thoughts. If only we could merely touch the other and receive all of that in one dose. If only we could skip all this tedious, human nonsense of explaining and just be understood already! Elihu and I joke about it when we’re in the midst of a struggle to understand each other. I place my hand on his cheek and say ‘oh, now I get it’, and he laughs. It’s our private thing. We get it. I know how important it is that I understand him. And so I try.

One problem I have with my method – and I’m working on it! – is that I often interrupt my partner, trying to interject what I believe to be the word he is searching for. It’s simply my over-zealous way of trying to show that I get it, but 99% of the time it’s achieving the opposite effect. Remembering my own desperate need to be understood (is that not the crux of this blog?) I must hold my tongue, hold my breath and just listen. Yeah, I’m working on it, but I’m not great at it. I wish to give others what I would have them give me. Witness. Respect and understanding for their side, even if I don’t agree. I just want to know how they feel, why they feel what they do. At the same time, I must also accept that for many people it is not important that they be understood by all. Good for them. It’s gotta be a freer place to live. Nevertheless, I myself wish to live in mutual understanding with the people in my life.

Many people have encouraged me to summon my rage when dealing with my near-ex in his unfair treatment of our son and me. There are moments when I do go there, but I would rather not. I just want acknowledgment, fair treatment. It’s hard to let go of something when it’s so fundamental to you. Maybe, like all the anger I’ve chosen to let go of, I should just finally let go of my greatest wish: that he himself feel remorse for his transgressions and as a result treat us better. But once again, it’s not important to him. Perhaps knowing what I want – and accepting that I may never get it – is the healthiest way to go. Perhaps. Again, working on it.

Last weekend Fareed came to visit. Somehow he seemed different. Disconnected – more than usual. He wore the stoneface more consistently. It wasn’t as a reaction to anything I was doing or saying, it was just there. Fareed seemed swallowed up by his own life. He seemed unhappy, or at least not content. I don’t mean to presume, but I just feel that something is amiss with him these days. Perhaps he too is realizing some things in his own inner life aren’t working. I don’t know. But I hope that he can find his way out. I don’t wish the partner I’ve shared half my life with to live the rest of his adrift, upset, imprisoned.

In fact, my wish tonight is that we may all be granted the vision to see what makes the bars of our own prisons that we may dissolve them and live freely in the worlds beyond…

 

Summons October 13, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary — wingmother @ 1:57 pm

Heard a loud knocking on the door a moment ago. A very well-groomed, cologne-scented man with a Bluetooth thingee wrapped around his ear stood there. I kinda knew why he was here even before he declared the purpose for his visit. He was here to serve me with a summons. His job can’t always be too pleasant. He’s gotta hear a lot of sob stories. I surely didn’t need to add myself to that pitiable list of sorry sods who feel they must inform the messenger, but I just couldn’t help adding my own tale of injury. As if my re-telling of the tale would help to bring justice to my side, I endeavored to give him the casual, quickie thumbnail: husband left, he shirked marital debts, left son and wife in poverty. I’d happily pay the tab of these ancient credit cards if I had the means, but as a self-employed piano teacher and single mom, it aint happenin. My husband made the money, paid the bills. He bailed, and I simply don’t have enough income to live, let alone tackle several thousand dollars worth of bills. He listened kindly, smiled and offered his condolences on my situation. It helped a little. I shrugged my shoulders and accepted my document. He instructed me to call the number on the bottom.

So I called.

The gal on the other end keeps telling me she can’t give me legal advice. I get that. I persist in my one question: what action do I take now? She repeats herself. Over this we go a time or two. I read through the whole document. I’m not great with this stuff, but I’m usually not an idiot either. I cannot make out what it is that I should do. They can take me to court, but what can they possibly glean from me?? I have no money! I see that I may be liable for court fees etc, etc, if ‘deemed by the court’. When do they do the deeming? Might I represent myself somehow? “Look,” I say, as exasperated as she now is, “I don’t have an attorney, nor money for one. What can I do?” She tells me to contact a local legal services agency. Hmm? “As in a public defender?” I ask. “I told you, contact a legal service agency in your area”. Sigh. I thank her, not without a note of sarcasm, and hang up, a little more bummed out than I’d expected to be.

I can’t worry about this now, I have to get to my son’s school and go over his 504 with the wonderful team that’s come together to help Elihu navigate his low-vision world. At least that’s kinda hopeful.

And I need to summon hope right now.