The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Inventory December 31, 2011

This has been an amazing year for me. Didn’t really hit me until I printed out all my 115 blog posts and created a dated table of contents. I was able to see in one fell swoop the passage of my year. It was actually rather stunning. One year ago this very night I had no blog. No stories had been told. The only voice I had was the damnable monkey mind which swung along from tangent to tangent, me following maddeningly behind it. Writing calmed the chatter somewhat; it gave it a destination, a goal, a form. And so I found my true voice, and with it I discovered a sense of connection, of peace.

So I got that goin for me. Which is nice. (Yes, reference intended. And btw – how cool is it that my kid shares a name with Ted Knight’s character in Caddyshack? ‘Elihu, will you loofah my stretch marks?... sorry, monkey mind). But today I feel especially hopeful for my future as I step back and admire the fruits of my vision and labor (as well as the labor of an old friend) as made manifest in my new, not-so-sketchy basement. Elihu has long been afraid to venture there, yet it’s where his drums are, it’s where my office is. It’s also been where EVERYTHING else was. You know, the crap that just kind of finds you. So this week I set out to tame the crap. I won! The result – sore arms and back, tired body – but the beginnings of a basement in which Elihu and I will make many hours of joyful noise along with students and friends. I’ve already spent a good bit of time downstairs just looking at it. Cuz it’s so beautiful. And it’s just the beginning.

While my life is improving, I do have friends going through some truly difficult things. Some far worse than what I’ve endured. So I’m hesitant to simply say that this new year will be brilliant. For me, I believe it will be. And for our planet, I do think things will begin to get better. But this is indeed a world of duality – where darkness and light coexist. All I can do for those still facing personal challenges is give them my love. And that I’ll do so freely. For I now remember what it is to feel good, to feel hopeful –  something that’s taken a lot of time and work to achieve – and I mean to share it when I can. My heart truly goes out to those who have difficult personal journeys yet before them.

Whatever the future may bring, we have finally arrived at the last day of 2011.  So much talk about the changes to come. So much importance given to the year 2012. Regardless of the high profile Mayan calendar predictions, regardless of people’s varying interpretations of what this year represents, I believe it will indeed be yet another year of speedy change, upheaval and great transformation of we humans here on Earth.

In keeping with the frankness I’ve written with on this blog, I feel I must admit I’ve gone through a great deal of study over the past few years on the immediate future and how it might unfold. I’ve read hundreds of articles, visited countless websites and begun to pay better attention to the small voice of discernment inside of me in order to filter out what simply didn’t ring true for me. At first, when the messages of impending doom began to reach me, I admit I followed their leads, and often found myself investing a lot of time and energy into thinking all manner of horrific scenarios through to their gruesome conclusions. As time passed and my heart slowly began to heal, I began to pay less attention to the prophets of doom and gloom. For me it seemed that the healthier I got, the more attention I gave to the brighter promises for our shared future. In the wake of the huge change in my life and the depression that followed, I’d become familiar with the more metaphysical and spiritual approaches to mental and emotional health. Having spent a year working with a holistic counselor here in my new town, I found myself putting into practice ideas that had intrigued me for years. I learned the experience of timelessness through meditation, the toxic power of ignorance, guilt and regret, the ultimate power of love and forgiveness. The work I’d begun in order to heal myself became a foundation upon which I then began my search for answers and ideas about the upcoming earth changes that so many talk about. My new attitude brought me the possibility of a bright and beautiful future for us all.

It’s hard for us humans to understand whether we are victims of our environment or if we indeed create our realities as many insist. I do know that where we put our attention and energy helps pull in more of the same. It’s a crazy double-bind; you’re poor, so you worry about being poor, and more of that reality comes to you. I’ve wrestled with it for the past three years. (Whenever I say that I wish I had money – Elihu corrects me and says ‘mommy, you have that money now, and doesn’t it feel good? Little Buddha…). I find it’s not entirely accurate to say that we simply ‘choose’ how we feel about things, that we can simply ‘choose’ our realities. Ultimately, it’s true, but it’s not done in a minute. It’s much, much easier said than done. But I do believe that we can slowly turn the boat around, our intention going out before us, slowly pulling us closer to our goals, even while we’re throwing temper tantrums and crying in pain and just plain not feeling good. Thankfully, I do believe I’ve finally managed to turn my little boat around in spite of some pretty big waves.

So where is my little boat going? Where is this great ship Earth headed? I believe that it’s headed for a logarithmic explosion of connectedness and love. I do. I am stunned at the speed of inventions, the change of attitudes, the genuine collective desire for transparency and the good of all. When I moved here to New York three years ago, I didn’t know about Facebook yet. In spite of its frustrations and hiccups, it’s expanded my personal world in ways I am ever grateful for. In many ways my own life has grown exponentially because of my ability to connect with virtually (and virtually connect!) any bit of information I might be curious to investigate. I get so excited when I think of all the possibilities… I almost get panicked wondering if there’s enough time to learn it all…

Thank you, all you hundreds of people I do and do not know, all of you who’ve said hello and offered your support. I haven’t responded to many of you, and I feel pretty crappy about it. I want you to know that I’ve read everything you’ve written to me. I often feel conflicted when I hear from you; do I deserve this support, this attention? I’m moved to tears by so many of you, and I want to apologize for not responding with my most heartfelt thanks and love; it’s in great part because of you that I’ve been able to transform and grow. In this new year I promise to write everyone back. Because that’s the one thing missing from my inventory of this past year.

My heart is full. Thank you, dearest friends.

 

Wannabe December 30, 2011

‘To be or to wannabe’, I think that’s my question today. Am I writer or do I just think I’m a writer? Over the past few weeks I’ve had more ideas for posts than I can deal with. I find I’m getting out of bed every night to jot down ideas. I have more material than time to write it. And I feel it must come out – if I’m to live healthily, that is. I can’t really justify it any more than that. I am followed by a guilty voice that tells me this is pointless and selfish. Every now and again I peruse my old posts and wonder if it doesn’t seem an extended pity-party for the poor, almost divorced (yeah, yeah, get over your drama) newly-impoverished (it’s been three years – not so new) middle aged woman who (boo hoo) is now a single mother in spite of her wishes (join the fucking club) to a simply amazing child (isn’t everybody’s?) and must somehow start over in life, now that her boobs can no longer hold their own without a bra and… well. You know.

Years ago after reading a letter I’d written, a dear friend remarked ‘you’re a good writer. You should be a writer’. That got me angry. ‘I am a writer!’ I screamed at him. ‘What do you mean I should be?!’ I referred to of course, as this poor guy could hardly have known, my collection of hundreds (ok, maybe dozens) of journals in which I’d written nearly every day of my life for the past decade. For years friends would see me writing in a tiny notebook that I carried with me wherever I went. I’d assumed he, having seen them himself, knew of the notebooks’ importance. But importance to whom?

The conversation we had on that day began a now decade-old debate inside my head. Just what makes a writer a writer? Is it getting paid to write? Is it simply the quantity of material? The quality or uniqueness of the writing? Getting published perhaps? It seemed, as the anger of my reaction to his one simple statement revealed, that I myself felt being a ‘real’ writer meant being a published one. I think I got angry because I myself felt guilty. I knew I wasn’t a writer. Silly to declare that I was. I’d always wanted to express things; I’d dearly wished to connect with people who might be happy to recognize themselves and their own experiences in my observations, and so I wrote. While I had material, no one had ever read any of it as of that point. To connect with people, this was the germ of my hope, but I hadn’t come close. So my own private sense of failure had bubbled to the surface in anger. I wrote, yes. But was I a writer – yet? I knew I wasn’t. My writing existed for me alone.

So now I have this growing repertoire of posts, and in some way, they are published. Kind of. I’ve had thousands of readers visit, I have hundreds of regular readers. I know I’ve connected with people. Does this now finally make me a writer? I’m still not convinced. I don’t want this post take on a ‘poor-me, won’t you please help me with my lack of self esteem issues and validate me’ sort of tone, I really don’t. I’m just sort of wrangling with this in a public way, as I’ve been doing with all of the mundane events in my life. So on I go…

I’d always thought that being a real writer meant in part that you were paid to write. That was somewhere in the equation. But first, a writer had to be published. No money in this critical step. You know, send your stuff out to underground zines and obscure quarterly literary issues – the kind that I remember looking hand-typed way back in the day. (And honestly, the kind of publication I might pick up casually at a cafe but would find little interest in.) But before the days of the internet I wouldn’t have had a clue how to find, much less court, these publications. Then of course people will want to know how to market you. Who do you read? What authors do you like? What is your writing similar to?…  Shall I mention another guilty issue for me? I read a lot, but I have nothing to show for it. I can never remember the titles or authors once a book is finished. So if someone asks me ‘what have you read lately’, while I can recall all the places I’ve been and all the thinking I’ve done as a result of all the volumes I have indeed read lately, I can’t for the life of me remember who wrote them or what their titles were. And that is inherently disrespectful of the author, to say nothing of what a huge oversight it is in general (plus it just makes me look stupid). While it’s not an excuse, I know I’m not the only one guilty of this. It’s kinda like meeting someone at a party: you have a really interesting conversation with them, maybe even beginning to feel a real kinship with them, but you’ve forgotten their name. Now what do you do? You feel silly; you like them, but you don’t know their stupid name. If you know you’ll never see them again, you don’t really need to know their name. You now know their essence; they’ve shared their story with you – and isn’t that the part you truly take away? And if you do think you might want to see them again, you ask their name. Maybe write it down. Then you can find them again if you like. Kinda like me and a book. If I really like it, I’ll write it down. Or I’ll scribble the author’s name on a post-it (and well, there goes that). So while I read a lot, I don’t have much on paper to show for it. So that might not go over so well in an interview situation. Maybe that’s what an agent is for – to run interference. But an agent? Geez. That’s a whole nother ball of wax.

Singer/Songwriter = Writer/Thinker. That’s occurred to me.  But what good is a singer/songwriter singing alone in her basement? What good is a writer/thinker with a journal in her pocket? I need to make some forward movement here, but I’m feeling stalled. Ladies’ Home Journal is hosting a writing contest. I submitted a piece. Not sure it’s clever enough. One thing I’m realizing in this process is that my writing is done in pretty plain language. Not a lot of color or nuance. Out of the context of my blog – who I am and what I’ve gone through up til now – my writing might not hold its own. I don’t really hope to win; I just don’t feel my writing stands out in terms of craft. I’m more about getting the idea expressed and shared, and I’m not sure my voice would work in a stand-alone essay contest. We’ll see.

Btw – I am printing out my entire blog and having it spiral bound at Kinko’s (parts I and II, thank you very much) as a gift for my internet-challenged parents. So pretty soon, I’ll have something published. Sort of.

I guess I’m a writer. Maybe. I’ll keep working at it, cuz even if I’m not one yet, at least I know that I want to be.

 

Gifts Assorted December 24, 2011

I played piano for a holiday party in one of the historic mansions of Saratoga Springs last night. Can’t help but reflect on how things change. Not too long ago I myself was the hostess of a similar affair. Then too, I sat at the piano and played Christmas carols and led the guests in song. Only now, my back faced the singers as I sat at an old upright, out-of-tune piano in the foyer of someone else’s home. Back then, I looked out over my ancient baby grand at my friends as they sang, enjoying their faces, the look of pleasure and togetherness I recognized on them, savoring the moment and filing away the images in my mind to remember forever. Last night, although kindly treated and fully appreciated, I was an outsider. For a moment here and there, I missed the old days, and ever so briefly, my heart became sad. Even still, having been rather cloistered away in my tiny country cottage these past three years, I was happy at the opportunity to be playing again among people.

Elihu had spent the evening running up and down the four wooden staircases, dropping wine corks down the center to the hall below, just missing the heads of guests standing in line for the bathroom. He befriended a small boy – very much of the same spirit as he – and the two darted through the forest of grown ups, following on small adventures through the house’s many rooms. As I played just about the whole three hours I was there, he had lots of time to himself. The books and drawing materials I always bring along with us to keep him entertained sat untouched at my feet as he explored the huge house, befriending cats, a dog, discovering a large game fish mounted on the wall of the billiard room on the top floor. He announced when we got in the car – and reiterated several times later on – that it had been his very favorite party ever. And this kid’s been to his share. “Why?” I asked, sincerely curious. “Because I could be alone. No one was watching me, making sure I could see something, making sure I was ok… I was with everyone and I was still alone!” I assured him I understood completely. I did. I have lived most of my life as a lone person in a crowd. It can be a wonderful feeling. Sometimes it’s just the best of both worlds.

Today Elihu flew to Chicago to be with his father for Christmas. So far Elihu has not spent a Christmas here. Probably never will. How can I deprive him of being in a household of two small boys, a mommy and a daddy on Christmas morning? I can’t. Elihu knows that Santa is old-fashioned at heart; he honors all twelve days of Christmas and seems to prefer visiting the country homes after that first, too-busy night of the holiday. That means after Elihu comes back, on New Year’s day, he may indeed find presents under our humble tree well before the wise men reach Bethlehem. So I do have Christmas with him. Only it’s just not on the 25th. And he ends up getting ‘more Christmas’ than most kids do. All around, it’s ok.

It was twenty-five years ago tonight that Fareed and I went on our first date. “VIP” seats at the Nutcracker in Chicago. They turned out to be a couple of folding chairs behind the last row of seats, hastily set up for us as the lights dimmed. Fareed had forgotten where he parked the car, so after the show we waited in the cold of the underground parking lot until it thinned out a bit and the car, a retired suburban cop vehicle, could finally be spotted. Checking first to see if it was ok with him, I removed my stockings. As it was a first date, I’d been trying to impress. Clearly, after the folding chairs and lost car I didn’t have to suffer through pantyhose all night. Off they came, ending up in the bottom of my purse. Then we were off to a fine, downtown Indian restaurant. A world opened up for me in that dinner. Then we visited his Rogers Park apartment, which was not far from my own Rogers Park apartment, the one in which we would live together for the following twelve years. It was then and there that he played for me a recording of John Williams playing the Aranjuez concerto. What did I say when it was over? I asked him if he could please play it again. To him, this seemed to seal the deal. For me, I was just trying to understand this strange new music. I needed a second pass at it. As I drove down the dark highway tonight after dropping our son off at the airport, I remembered what day it was. And our story came back. Hadn’t thought of it in years. Can it really have been a quarter of a century ago? Truly, it was the night that changed my life. I wouldn’t have my son, my life, and all that I’ve learned from it, if it weren’t for that one night, so long ago.

The first year we lived here we went back to Dekalb to visit over the holiday. I cannot imagine how I did that; I slept in my own house – along with my husband, his young girlfriend and their baby, waking up in that same house on Christmas morning to share the day with them – as if we were all some sort of a natural family. (I guess ultimately we are some type of family. Strained, not quite at peace yet, but in some way all related, like it or not.) I had been trying to show my young son that everything was ok; that I was ok, that I approved of this new family. Elihu had my permission to love them. I did not want my son to feel guilty for loving his new baby brother, however stunned I still was at the new baby even being here. (Today I realize that the antidepressants I was on back then probably enabled me to make such a brave visit, because I cannot imagine making such a visit today, ‘clean’ and fully alert as I am now.) On Christmas Eve I’d taken a prescription sleeping pill, and as it began to kick in, mercifully numbing me to the current surreality of my life, my then five-year old son told me he wanted to leave something for Santa. I was too groggy to deal with logistics this last-minute; we were in bed, for crying out loud. “Santa always gets cookies.” Elihu said. “But he’s fat; he doesn’t need cookies. I want to give him something he needs.” I struggled to stay awake for him as he thought about it for a minute. “I’ll bet he needs a screwdriver. A phillips screwdriver. He could really use that.” I told him to run downstairs and ask Jill and Daddy. So he did. A few minutes later he crawled into bed with me, happy to know that his gift for Santa – a small, phillips head screwdriver – was under the tree waiting for him. That Christmas may have been strange and painful, but I will never forget Elihu’s true love and concern for Santa as expressed in that one, tiny and meaningful gift. It more than made up for it.

I stopped in to see my parents after I dropped Elihu off at the airport. We had a nice visit. They were watching different ballet companies’ versions of the Nutcracker, a marathon of performances after which the viewers could call in and vote for their favorite. I told my folks that just that afternoon Elihu had recounted the Nutcracker for me – only he didn’t want to tell me how it ended and ruin the story for me. ! He’s a thoughtful kid. And I appreciate that. Not sure if I’m as thoughtful a kid; I often worry about my parents growing old and having all that house and life to take care of, yet I don’t stop in too often, despite my living next door. Life just seems to take over, and guilt follows. So I’m glad that I at least stopped in. Made going home to my first decadent night of house-tidying and free-form internet surfing feel better earned. Plus I knew that they were ok. And that’s something I don’t take for granted these days.

No sooner had I returned home than the phone rang. Elihu just wanted me to know that he had arrived safe and sound. “Love you so much” he said before he hung up. And then I was alone. For the first time in a long while my house was truly empty. I thought about the week before me, an expanse of time that belonged only to me and my private to-do lists. This week, I would to put my house in order. I would file every last paper, toss every last unused article, and donate every last item that needs a new home. For me, this week is truly the best gift ever.

Santa, dear man, you can forget about me this year. I’ve got pretty much everything I need.

 

Pics of Conants’ Night Out December 16, 2011

Robert and Nancy

The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys

Elihu with Grandpa's harpsichord

Elihu, at the restaurant, post-show

Elihu and Elizabeth

These were taken Tuesday evening at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. Dad let them use his harpsichord for their performance of Handel’s Messiah. While it no doubt added to the splendor of the concert, the consensus in the Conant camp was that it was hard to hear.  Seems the sound went up to the mile-high ceiling rather than out to the audience. Nonetheless, it was a great room for the music. After a long day of school, no supper and a long drive, Elihu began to get tired, so we left before the end. Ah well – a nice evening anyway. Just wish I had a better camera. My pics are never very sharp – but they’re enough to remember the evening, and that’s really what counts.

 

Harpsichords and Airplanes December 13, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:50 pm
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Recently, a local musician I know called and asked to borrow a harpsichord. Naturally, this is a very serious request, and he may have found it challenging to ask me at first. He knew, however, that he stood a chance. I personally like this fellow, and he has long been a part of my father’s Baroque Festival. Plus I really want to help people when I’m able to (especially because these days it seems most folks end up helping me). Apparently the instrument they’d planned on was no longer available do to logistic problems. At first I wasn’t entirely on board. It did take a little lobbying before I was able to agree. My father and mother also needed to be in agreement, and I myself only felt comfortable after having a chat with the concert’s director. In the end, my father’s gorgeous, double-manual Flemish harpsichord built by Allan Winkler, with lavishly painted soundboard, replete with flowers and one Eurasian Hoopoe (a metaphor used by Baroque instrument builders to symbolize how this ‘dead’ wood sings once again), will be part of Handel’s Messiah at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. The concert is tonight.

My father has been out of the house fewer than a dozen times over the past year, and I made sure this would be one such occasion. Dad has also played harpsichord in this very cathedral years ago, and of course, he has performed the Messiah many times. (In fact, on Amazon one can still purchase a CD of his 1966 recording with Robert Shaw.) My young son sang in the local children’s choir last year, and he enjoys dropping in on the local men’s chorus rehearsals. I think both dad and Elihu will love the concert this evening. To hear his beautiful instrument in that space alone will be worth the trip. I’m so glad my father agreed to this – it will bring joy to so many. The very presence of a harpsichord in music – however delicate – adds a dimension and nuance like no other sound. Growing up, the sound of a harpsichord was easy to take for granted, it was always around me. Later, as I grew up and then apart from my parents, I can remember the feeling I got when I would hear a harpsichord… it comforted me, it sparkled there in the mix of other instruments, a tiny, beautiful voice that always reminded me of my father. I am so happy to be able to hear this music tonight with my father at my side. I pray he enjoys it too – in spite of the fact that he himself is not playing the instrument he has loved so well.

Before I can begin to think about the coming night, what to wear, how to get there, how tricky it will take to get dad up the stairs once we’re there… all those concerns must wait for a few minutes as I fulfill a promise made to my son early this morning. Yesterday, I had let him down. Today, I will not. Elihu, as a lover of all things that fly, has decided that he wants to give his pal Keith a radio controlled plane for his birthday, which comes just two days before Christmas. Elihu is concerned that once again both his folks and Santa will confuse Keith’s desire for an RC Plane for an RC Helicopter. It is my son’s greatest joy today to know that he, with his own money, is buying a plane for his friend, and that we will deliver it anonymously on the eve of his birthday. And so my very next task will be to place our order, paying an up charge if necessary to get it here in time.

How very good it feels to give someone just what they need, just what they want – be it a harpsichord or an airplane.

 

Saturday Starts December 10, 2011

The roosters are crowing, the goose is honking, the crows are cawing, the blue jays are scolding. Their voices are so loud, I almost feel like I’m in a tent. I hope the noise doesn’t wake Elihu, as this is my morning alone-time. It’s Saturday, and thankfully, there is no place we need to be. I let the birds out for the day a good hour ago, then quickly got back into bed to finish a book. I don’t get very far reading at night – I’m asleep before I can take much in. But the mornings are quite different. Rested and clear-minded – it’s a perfect time to read. I’ve just now finished my book, wasted some time on Facebook, and have begun to ponder a cup of tea on the couch before he calls to me.

I reflect on our early morning moments. They are a tender time, something I know will not last too much longer. As a preteen I don’t think he’ll care so much for his mommy crawling into bed with him and crooning in soft tones. But these days, it’s what he still wants. And truthfully, it’s what I still want. These are moments that sustain me. “I need some mommy love” he’ll say to me, putting his thin arms around my neck. And I’ll kiss his forehead, trace his hair with my fingers and listen as he tries to recall his dreams for me. We give ourselves a good five minutes like this each morning before the hustle of breakfast-making and backpack-assembling begins.

No matter how sweet the moments that may follow, all mothers know that sinking feeling inside when the tiny voice first cries “mommy….” interrupting a project, a chore, a moment of thought. It wasn’t until this past year that his call no longer bothered me in the same way it had for the past seven years. I think it’s because these days he doesn’t truly need me in the way he did when he was smaller. When he calls to me now, chances are he can wait a minute. Don’t get me wrong – I love my son above all else and always rise to the occasion – no matter what I’m doing or where my mental focus is, I always bring my attention to my child when he needs me. And I always respond when he calls to me. But thankfully, we’re over the hump. It’s not as it used to be. There’s a lot of need in those first years. It’s exhausting. I simply cannot fathom having more than one child – much less being a single mother with more than one charge. I have all I can manage with integrity, I believe.

Just as I’m beginning to listen for Elihu’s voice calling softly out to me, I am startled – to the point of leaping from my chair – at a sudden, loud noise. A piece of furniture has fallen over. “Elihu?” I shout – “are you ok??”. Nothing. I wait, I listen. Not a sound. I go to his door, open it and look to his bed. He’s not in it. Or is he – sometimes he hides under the covers – I bend in to look more closely…. “BOO!” he laughs, standing behind me in the hallway. It’s official, my kid does not need mommy time this morning. He cracks up at my surprise, then whizzes off through our small house on full-awake mode. Seeing that he is clearly doing just fine without me, I retire to my room and go back to the computer.

A few minutes pass. The house becomes quiet. I’m beginning to wrap up my post – I hadn’t intended it to be but a brief musing on the morning, and it seems I may have gotten a bit off track. “Mama?” he calls softly, as I continue to type, “can you please come see me?” I save my work, and go to join him in his bed. We enjoy our time again. Our window hasn’t closed yet. Thankfully he is still somewhere between little boy and young man. It’s a great combination. No longer does he need me to get him dressed. He can even get his own breakfast. He does pretty well without me for the most part.

Still, there’s no substitute for a warm embrace to start a Saturday.

 

Some December Pics December 6, 2011

Marching Band in front of Saratoga Springs Town Hall

Elihu, finally without glasses

Elihu loves the tuba. Has since he was 3. Just a couple more years...

The marching band's on break

Elihu follows the band on Broadway

Santa tells Elihu about the geese he sees from his sleigh

Santa, checking the children's holiday spirit

The field where we cut down our tree

We two, with our newly cut tree behind

Our Christmas tree.

 

Santa December 5, 2011

Santa visited us here in Greenfield the other night. There were very few kids in attendance, perhaps because so many had seen him at the Victorian street walk in nearby Saratoga just the night before. Santa gave each child, as he does each year when in our tiny town, an unrushed, generous turn, engaging each child in thoughtful conversation in a way I doubt many Santas do. I drove by the small community center to check the line before I zipped off to pick up Elihu, who was at the moment, making gingerbread houses at a friend’s place.

When we returned, Elihu was pleased to find his classmate Jack, the other book-loving kid in his class for whom Star Wars was also of no interest. The two boys giggled and ran around on the lawn outside til I called him in for his turn. As soon as he approached the chair Santa called out to him. “Elihu! It’s so good to see you!” Elihu has come to expect that Santa will not only remember him, he will also recount in lovely detail his observations of the birds he sees while flying in his sleigh. And so the conversation begins. The room is full of chatter, and it’s hard to pick out exactly what is being said. Hoping not to ruin the mood, I catch a little on video. I keep wondering if this is the last year. Jack’s mother and I share our concern and wonder if living in Greenfield might not help extend the magic. It’s hard to know; we are not so isolated from the world as we might hope. I myself have searched Elihu’s face, his physical language, his tone of voice for signs of doubt. I think this year Elihu is still truly on board. As usual, Santa shows no sign of needing to wrap thing up. They continue to talk, and I back away, letting the moment be.

Soon it is time to light the town tree. As he does each year, Santa leads all the children out the door and around the corner to the large tree in front of our tiny town hall. He sings as he walks, ho hos and such, chatting with the kids who run at his heels. When he gets to the tree, Santa tells us that with enough holiday spirit he can light the tree, but first we must show him how much we have. He bends to a child in front and asks if they have the holiday spirit. He then touches their nose and his index finger lights up. He touches the noses of several children before he turns to address the small crowd. He asks us all to shout in chorus “Merry Christmas!”, and when we do, the tip of his right index finger glows red. But it flickers out. “Ho ho! Come on now! I need all of your holiday spirit!” He leads us again, and this time we’ve done it. Santa sweeps his arm upward and points to the giant tree with his glowing finger and it bursts into life. The large, colored bulbs turn on and the crowd claps, every face smiling. But what’s this? Do we hear sirens? Could it be already? Yes, it’s time for Santa to get back to work. He must leave Greenfield now, and the fire truck is coming to whisk him away. The hook and ladder truck pulls up alongside the gathering, lights whirling and sirens blaring, and Santa picks up his pack. He turns to wave at us once more as a fireman, clad in his working gear, gives Santa some help getting up the stairs and into the front seat. His finger still glowing, Santa waves goodbye to us as the truck pulls off into the night.

When Elihu was six, and we’d just come home from lighting the tree with Santa, a tiny blossom had opened on our paper whites. We’d waited for weeks for that first flower. He was beside himself. “Look, mommy!” he said, stunned. “Look how much Christmas spirit we had! We even had enough to make the flower bloom!!” He was thrilled. He was pure belief, pure joy. That was year before last now. He may still believe in Santa, but he and Jack had just discovered that there was a giant electrical box under the tree, and they just knew someone inside the building had turned the tree on, not our Christmas spirit. That jig was up. Gone too, no doubt, was the idea that spirit had once opened a blossom. “Come on, tell me, what did you guys talk about??” I asked after we got home. “Well,” he started quietly, “he told me he sees the geese when he flies. He’s actually flying right next to them in the air. He says the setting sun looks beautiful shining off their bellies. Can you imagine that? That must be amazing.” I wait a bit, then ask – what else? “Did you tell him anything you wanted?” I ask Elihu. “No” he said. “He asked me, but I just told him that I already have everything that I want. I told him I had everything I needed. I just told him that I was happy.”

Me too. Thanks, Santa.

 

Change December 2, 2011

I wake up at exactly 4:40. For some reason, amidst the dreams which begin to dissolve into my conscious thoughts, I am remembering having seeing signs announcing ‘lots for sale’ and ‘will divide’ in the fields of one of the old farms on Locust Grove Road. I have taken the division of this countryside in stride, sucking it up each time a familiar parcel, untouched since our country was created, is hacked up into pieces and forever transformed. I’ve been good about it. But yesterday, when I saw that sign, my heart could bear it no more. It sighed with disbelief. Sorrow replaced the effort to understand. Not again… not again.

One of the large swaths of fields that the early settlers worked so hard to clear out of the endless woods, the property sweeps up the incline shared by the farms on either side. Stone walls neatly edge the field. Recently, sometime during this past year, a rather large and imposing house appeared just to the south of the property’s barn. It went up quickly, which was probably good, because it gave me little time to pine for how it was before. The new house is large, but quite attractive. Well-built. No doubt, what with the influx of moneyed folks seeking the solitude of the countryside, it is well-appointed throughout. Fine details, the very best materials. For some reason, I forgave it it’s trespass on the ancient farm. In some part I was able to allow it because of the great field that still rolled down to the south. There was buffer. So I adjusted. And in the months since it’s been there, I’ve even begun to integrate it into my visualizations of how the reformed lot will look. Now I realize that field will no longer remain thus. The signs told of another person’s visualization for the future of that field. As if falling into a dream, I began to see hazy apparitions of large, well-crafted homes taking shape throughout the field.

I tucked it away in my mind. I couldn’t begin to process it as we had other plans on our mind at the moment. My son and I were driving into town for the city’s 25th annual Victorian street walk. An occasion, I told my son, in which the citizens celebrated the era in which Saratoga was created; there would be carolers strolling in period costumes, lights twinkling in every store – all of which would be open. The street would appear like something from the tiny Christmas village we set up in our living room each year at this time. The small city was celebrating its beauty, its history, and would recreate the feeling we so often associate with the season. We drove through the darkened countryside with hearts full of expectancy. We were ready to be enchanted by this rare opportunity to step into a lost world when things were simpler.

Klieg lights swept the skies. Cars were everywhere. We created an impromtu parking spot for ourselves, along with many others, alongside the drive-through lanes of a bank. Although Elihu’s father had asked him to call from the party, he had told his father he didn’t think it was a good idea. There were no cell phones in the Victorian era, and he wanted to fully play the part. He was dressed in layers so that he might display his fancy clothes, our quick attempt at recreating the most authentic look possible. He had a black velvet scarf wound round his neck. With his just-so hair and tootsie roll eyes (sans dark glasses – oh the relief of a nighttime activity) he did indeed look the part of Oliver. We started out for Broadway.

I, in my favorite long faux fur coat, skipped along side him, both of our hearts beating fast in anticipation as we neared the mass of people that had taken over the wide main street of town. We paused to get our bearings. First, we wanted to find the reindeer that Santa had brought with him. But we heard drums. The feeling was strong and mutual – find the drums. Hand in hand we darted through the crowd and soon found ourselves striding along side a marching band. Elihu clapped in glee, his face smiling, his feet joining along in left, right left. We followed the band til they stopped in front of the grand town hall building. Just in time for opening ceremonies. We watched as the mayor cut the ribbon, then we turned to follow the progress of the band.

We decided to treat ourselves to a fancy dinner. As I’d finally gotten paid just today for my fall semester of teaching, it seemed a forgivable expense. We made our way into a crowded restaurant. A man dressed as a rather diluted version of Santa stepped in line behind us. Elihu’s eyes got wide. “Ho ho ho, young man” he said, and began his little spiel. “Is that really Santa?” Elihu asked under his breath. Knowing that he has now spent quite a bit of time in conversation with the Santa that visits Greenfield each year, and that they both share a love of birds and trains, I saw the look of doubt in his eyes. “No, honey” I leaned in. “I think that guy’s just been hired by one of the shops to play Santa”. Shortly after the man had given his name to the hostess, he broke character. After listening in for a bit, we both concluded that he was from Long Island, not the North Pole.

The restaurant was loud and chaotic. Elihu plugged his ears. He said he couldn’t take it. He said he wished he were outside listening to carolers. I was sorry I’d taken us here. They were so slammed with their rush of customers that they did serve us quickly. We ate quickly. Packed up our uneaten food and left. Hopefully, we could regain the magic that the evening had begun with. For a while, we did. After discovering that the reindeer were not here this year, and that the line to see Santa was two hours long, we were happy to see the marching band making another pass down the street. We followed, and I used the last final drops of energy from my near-dead batteries to catch a bit on video. Elihu strode alongside the band matching them step for step. When they got to an intersection at which they would make a turn and go down the hill towards their station in the park, one of the leaders in front broke formation and came over to Elihu. “Good job, little man!” he said, and shook Elihu’s hand. He was exhilarated. I continued to film. The band, and Elihu, turned and marched off down Phila Street. I stopped the camera, and ran to join them.

I couldn’t find Elihu. I followed the band for blocks. No Elihu. I began to call his name. I ran back up the street, calling. No Elihu. This was Saratoga, I told myself, not Chicago. It would be ok. But as I retraced the same path for the third time – fifteen minutes had now passed – I was beginning to imagine some folks seeing this handsome young boy and wanting him for themselves. ‘He’s too smart for that’ I told myself. It occurred to me that we didn’t have a plan. Had I told him the things to do in a crowd should we become separated? Had I? My mind raced. Even if I hadn’t, he’s smart. He’ll know to stay put. But he wasn’t at the corner where I’d last seen him. Where the hell was my son? I shouted his name and my voice cracked in desperation. “What’s the problem, lady?” some young boy called to me from his group, laughing. “You crazy?” “I’ve lost my son” I shouted back. The boy said ‘oh’ and apologized, his face somber. That did it. His brief audience broke my composure. I was crying now. Police, I thought. Find the police. As I arrived at Broadway again I spotted a police car and headed toward it. But then I saw horses. Police on horses. If Elihu hadn’t followed the music, I thought, he would have followed the animals.

Sure enough, I saw his little form, scarf over his shoulder, patting the muzzle of a giant horse (whose name I later learned was King Tut). I shrieked his name, he saw me and we ran together. I lost it. I began to sob. And I wondered, even I as I wept, my arms now full of my only child, if that might not be a little too much – after all, he was right here, safe. I pulled Elihu away from me to meet his eyes, and although he had been smiling just seconds before, he too was now sobbing. We held each other and cried. I looked up and nodded my thanks to the man atop the horse. A tall, smiling officer came over to us. He needed my information anyhow, as he’d already started to file a report. He assured me that in Saratoga my child was safe. Even if that wasn’t entirely true, it was good to hear. As Elihu and I turned to go he began to bounce up and down. “That was awesome!” he laughed. “Everybody was talking to me!” “So this is a night you’ll never forget, huh?” I asked, my limbs still cold with adrenaline. “Oho yeah, I can tell my kids about this!”

Elihu’s review of our night, using a 1 to 10 scale: Victorian street walk: 2. Not authentic in any way. Very disappointing. Never need to go back. Dinner: 1. Too noisy. Meals should be peaceful times. Marching band: 6. (What? 6?!) His disappointment at the event itself prevented him from fully enjoying the band. Police: 8. Exciting. Horses: 10. Well then. Next time we’ll just go down the road and pat the horses.

I agree, on the whole the night was disappointing. It wasn’t quaint. It wasn’t gentle. The carolers were too soft to be heard over the din. And not all of them wore costumes. The town was swarming with people. I guess we learned you can’t go back. Which brings me back to the signs on Locust Grove Road. How do I integrate all of this? I know I wouldn’t really want to have lived 200 years ago, nor 100 years ago. I am grateful for pain-free root canals and all the other conveniences we live with. Yet I am sad; I’m yearning for something I think we all are: simplicity, truth and love expressed through the everyday. More and more I’ve come to believe that our ending up here, in the country, was what our souls cried for, even without our knowing it. Elihu and I do feel lucky to be here. We are both mindful of our good fortune. So somehow, we will learn to defer to the future, knowing that with it come unexpected perks and advances. One day the new houses will be old. All in its time and place. It all just keeps on movin forward…

I’ve said before that I’m not good with change, and I say it again. It seems my son has an anachronistic yearning, too. But tonight I saw how change is all around us; it’s inevitable. Heaven forbid that I should ever lose my child – or that anything horrible should ever happen to him. That is a change I cannot fathom. Tonight, if only for seconds of my life, I began to take that thought to a deeper level. I know that every parent hides guilty worst-case-scenarios in their minds of their children being dragged off, hurt, killed… For some, that does happen. I’m reading a book right now about a woman who lost her five year old daughter overnight to a freak case of strep. I don’t really know why I’m reading it – because it is incredibly hard to take. But somehow, I want to uncover the dark. Reveal it, perhaps in order to make some sort of peace with it. Maybe I think if I learn about it through someone else I won’t have to experience it myself. I don’t know. But I do feel I’m facing it head on. Suffice to say, Elihu and I now have a plan should we ever get separated.

I notice that I began this post at 4:40. That used to be the pitch to which all orchestras tuned their concert A. Not true now. Concert A has been inching up – albeit in tiny increments – over the past few decades. The orchestras play at a higher pitch, the world moves at a faster pace. I know it’s an exciting time to be alive, really, I do. I’m just a little reluctant. But I’m willing.

However I’m still going to set up our little Victorian Christmas village this year in the living room. Every house fits just so. Every tree, every bench, every caroler. Windows are lit and cozy. All is quiet and well.

And that little hamlet is not going to change.