The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Nostalgia August 19, 2012

My ex always used to say that I spent much of my energy in life looking back, while he spent much of his looking forward. I wouldn’t argue with that. I am, fundamentally, a sentimental person. And with the recent death of dear Von Freeman, something deep within my melancholic nature has been stirred. I’m made keenly aware of time’s passing. Elihu is no longer a very young boy, my father is now a very old man, and my hair is run through with silver. I’ve been here in New York now four years to this month. Time enough to have graduated from high school or from college. I’ve completed a four year term of life, and now, before I embark on the post-graduate study of life to come, I need to assess and file away what I’ve learned and accumulated thus far.

Over the past year I’ve been working at sorting through all of my household stuff, so that I might know the contents of my house – of my life – down to every last one of my mementos, recordings, art, writing and possessions (and the same of my son’s). Now I have reached the final – and most challenging – phase of the project: my office. Going through this archive of my life is an emotionally charged job. In some way it seems I’m bearing witness to all I’ve done and created thus far that I might now lay it to rest and begin the next chapter of my life’s work with renewed enthusiasm. When this room is finished, when the evidence has been considered and put away, it will create a good, clean emotional place from which to go forward into the adventure. But with all the retrospection going on today and all the poignant discoveries, for the moment I’m feeling a little sad, a little hesitant to say goodbye. A little stuck.

In this room is the fountainhead of all the things I’ve ever created and saved: work from grade school, papers from college, art, recordings, photos, writing, old programs from early in my dad’s career, ticket stubs, backstage passes, bits and pieces from every corner of my forty-nine years on the planet. What to do with it all? My goal, as I sit right now in the midst of a room full of paper, is to create systems. Binders will house the finest pieces of art, file boxes for the rest. Much has already been burned, much more is yet to be. Items – things – the stuff I really have no room for, it will be thinned to a manageable amount – put into a clear plastic box (for if it can’t be seen, it can easily be forgotten) and then onto a shelf. When will they lose their meaning? Will I end up tossing them or will that fall to Elihu after I’m dead? I am stopped by the quandary of stuff. What have my peers, my friends, my readers done with the sentimental things from their lives? I wish I knew. I’ve culled the best I can, I must simply store the rest that I can’t say goodbye to. I’m not good at taking my own advice. These things are not the person, not their love, not the memory, I know, I know… Yet I can’t throw out the postcards from my grandmother, nor the clay figure I made in second grade… I’m in a sentimental fog, and I’m trying to clear my head.

My load has lightened, it has, yet there’s still so much crap. Driving down the road today, I saw an open garage whose wall was covered in boxes. Likely the boxes that never got unpacked after that last move. I personally know plenty of folks with that story. So what then? And what, exactly, is actually in those boxes? Me, I’m finding mostly art in my boxes, some letters and lots of musical programs. I find a box of tax docs from our old Cafe and realize I can toss em now. That helps. Physically it gives me some room. Psychologically it frees me up. Ok. Progress is slow, but it’s there. One box down is one box down.

Then I come upon some photos of my last recording session. It was with Von. Wow. I look so much younger. And thinner. I remember – I was newly pregnant then. What a good time that was. It reminds me, and I’m happy to find these. I’d forgotten all about that session, I’m so grateful to have these pictures. I remember Von had said he thought he sounded like Ben Webster on the ballad… yeah, I remember that. I still have that recording. It gets me thinking. Maybe I should release it. Don’t know, but it’s something to think about. It’s a possibility.

Everything is a possibility right now. In a way it feels like I’m about to emerge – in earnest – from my old life. While reading my old letters to Fareed still brings tears, and while it’s still not easy to understand that Elihu has two brothers and a sister I don’t even know, things are better these days than they were in the beginning. Things are settling into their own new pattern. No longer is my story new and fresh. The hurt is there, but truly, it has dulled with time. I’ve come to realize that I love living alone, that Elihu and I have great adventures together, and that yes, two people can constitute a family. I’ve examined my life, and now I’m examining my possessions; taking a full-life inventory. I’ve moved through a phase of aging, of growing, of learning these past four years. I’m ready to move into my future.

Ever onward, yet ever mindful of the past. Nostalgic yes, but eager to create new memories. I think I still have a little space for a few more boxes….


Vonski August 14, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Pics — wingmother @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

“Spress yo’self!” Those were the words of encouragement that tenor saxophonist Von Freeman would offer the young musicians on the bandstand. Words that pushed you forward, lifted you up, words that made you feel that yeah, you had it in you. You could do this. And you’d do it – in part, for him. Although you knew that these words came from a living legend of a man, you didn’t feel like you shared the space with a legend, but rather a coach, a tender supporter, even a loving parent. Of the many accomplishments of this man’s life, to me, I think his greatest was the nurturing support he gave to so many young musicians throughout the years.

In the past few months I’d been thinking about Von. Wondering how he was doing, how long he was going to live. I didn’t think he’d played in a while now, how did he live without music? Was he merely lingering? What did he do all day? Did he relive old memories in his mind, or were his thoughts quiet? Was he ok? I’d made up my mind to write him a letter. I’d wanted to thank him for the love he’d given me, for the way he’d helped so many of us. I’d wanted to give him a little light in his long days. I also guess I’d felt a little guilty perhaps that here, in my new life, I was using very little of my musical gifts, but in spite of that, Von’s support all those years ago had nonetheless been a very important part of my life, of my growing and learning. Selfishly, as a means of receiving either his forgiveness or permission – or even both, perhaps, I felt I needed to tell him this. I wanted to tell Von that I had chickens. I imagined him smiling to himself at the thought. I wanted to thank him, to cheer him, to give him my love before it was too late. Any thanks or love I’d ever expressed to him in the past would have been diluted by a noisy bar, or kept to myself in polite silence as he offered me his arm and like a gentleman, walked me back to my car at the end of the night.

My house well in hand, my guests all gone, this week I’d had on my to-do list to write to Von. But, last night, Fareed called to tell me that Von had died. We cried together for a moment, and then I admitted that I was actually happy for him. If anyone had earned death and relief from this earthly world, Von sure had. We laughed through our tears, and on this, we both agreed.

A year ago Elihu and I had visited Chicago, and we’d made a pilgrimage to the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago’s south side to attend one of Von’s famous Tuesday night jam sessions. I’d known the place had recently been closed, shut down for renovations, maybe even in part shut down because Von had had some minor health problems. I don’t remember exactly now. But I knew well that Von hadn’t missed a Tuesday night in decades running, and somehow, I felt he had to be there. I’d heard the place was due to be up and running by July, and it was late in the month. I was ready, excited, expectant. As we drove there, in my head I began running through the tunes I might sing that night (knowing full well that in the end I would choose a favorite of mine and Von’s, the ballad, ‘My Old Flame’, complete with its lovely verse.)

When Elihu and I arrived the club was dark. I even passed it once, although I’d been there dozens of times through the years. It was closed. I was in shock; a cold wave of reality washed over me: it was over. The era had ended. I dismissed this thought quickly, because I wasn’t ready to accept it. I parked (in a bus stop as it turned out, and I received a $125 ticket after telling the cops I’d ‘move in a second’) and Elihu and I got out. I cupped my hands over my eyes and looked in the window. It still looked the same. The goofy curved, light blue bar, the mirrors on the wall, the tiny stage and its rickety banister. But the neon lights of the sign were out, the place absolutely empty. My heart hurt. I asked a couple of people on the street what was up with the place, and they assured me it was opening again very soon. What could I do? I was there at least, and Elihu would at least see the place with his own eyes. I had him stand in front, and I snapped a picture (as the cops wrote me a ticket). We were there less than three minutes. We got back into our car, and I drove away, a deep sadness settling into my core.

I wish that I could be there in Chicago this week, to share his remembrance with friends. I want to feel that love, that camaraderie of folks who knew Von, and who wish to be in his presence one last time. I feel a need to share in some ceremony of closure, but being so far away, I simply can’t be there. My closure will come instead through a sharing of my remembrances, through my writing of a post. I begin to think of so many of Von’s peers who have gone before, and I realize how this historic era in American music is coming to a close. I’m conflicted; should I feel supreme sorrow or should I feel supreme gratitude? We live now in a world that has been made richer by these people. They, and Von, gave us their love and their music. In the end, they’ve lived as few of us do. They’ve left a legacy, and they’ve departed this planet loved by many. I realize now that I feel a bittersweet mixture of both sorrow and gratitude.

Thank you so, our dearest Vonski, we’ll love you and miss you always.

Elihu, July of 2011, in front of the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago’s south side, home of Von Freeman’s long-running Tuesday night jam sessions.

Following is a post I’d made nearly a year ago and have never published; it was to be part of a longer retrospective on the many disparate and varied experiences I’d had in my ‘last life’. In this post I was recalling my first experience with Von Freeman on stage. Through the years to follow, I would come to sing and record with Von and marvel at his unending strength, good humor and belovedly familiar and unique sound.

I’m at the Bop Shop and it must be the late eighties sometime. Von Freeman, Chicago’s legendary tenor sax player is here tonight. He’s known for helping the young musicians. He’s known for hosting jam sessions in which he invites the newbies up to play or sing, and then supports them with shouts of ‘express yourself!’ throughout their solos. I’m rather new to singing this night, and very new to joining jam sessions. A singing gig, with its planned out, rehearsed songs and familiar arrangements is only just now within my comfort zone. Getting up on stage with real jazz musicians, calling tunes, keys and tempos, talking down the form – that’s all a little beyond me right now. But Von’s gonna help change that. Right now. He calls my name, and invites me to join the band onstage. “Miss Liz” he says, holding a hand in front of his eyes to see past the lights and out into the audience, “are you out there?”. There is no escaping this. I am nervous. I’ve played lots of gigs, but as a keyboard player in pop and rock bands. I feel like I’m just pretending to be an actual singer. I haven’t done it for that long. Oh shit. I wish I could just leave. But I can’t.

When I get to the stage I’m faced with a racing heart and an empty head. “What would you like to do?” Von asks. Good question. What would I like to do? I knew this might happen and so wasn’t entirely unprepared, yet I didn’t quite have it together. I probably called “There’s A Small Hotel”, because the old guys seemed to like it, or at least they usually expressed some kind of enthusiasm when I mentioned it. Von leaned in, helping me every step of the way. “What key?”. Yeah, what key? I think. It’s a flat key, that I know – but was it Eb or Bb? Man, they’re a fourth apart, I’d better know otherwise I’ll be screwed. At least the range isn’t so big in this tune, if I choose the wrong one, I can probably still make it through. “Bb” I said. He knew better than to expect me to count it off, so he swung his fist to give the tempo to the band. Off and running.

It went well, I guess. I remember feeling that the first tune felt good once we were underway. When he hit me for another tune, I had one ready to go; I was over the hump and I’d pulled it together. I’ve always felt good on a mic; talking to a crowd is something I enjoy. Although at that time in my life I was years away from hosting a radio show or MCing events, it was still a skill that thankfully, I had been comfortable with on that night. But knowing my tunes, the keys and tempos and being right there with em – that I definitely did not have down. I called an up tempo tune, because I had to (a medium tune and a ballad had gone before) and it started ok. But then it kinda waggled off track into a world I’ve never felt too at home in. Scatting. I’d finished the tune, but here was Vonski telling me to ‘espress myself’. Huh? I’m done, pal, it’s the piano player’s turn for a solo. But nope, it was my turn. That’s the down side of up tunes. If you’re a singer, and you’re playing with jazz musicians, they often expect that. Never mind that the model you have in your head is Doris Day and your main goals are just to have great intonation and sing a swingin, understated little ditty. Scatting has seldom felt ‘understated’ to me. But that was so long ago, so early on in my singing career that I didn’t yet know what my thing was exactly. And trying my hand at this stuff was part of the program, dig it or not. So scat I did, with Von standing there, in his dark glasses, sax resting in front of him, shouting an enthusiastic “Espress yoself! Espress yoself!” while I made it through. I got to the other side of the chorus and felt ok. Scatting might not turn out to be my thing, but it was kinda fun, actually. Kinda fun to express myself.

Thanks, Von.


Clean House August 12, 2012

Almost there. Hoo boy – I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Spent a good ten hours yesterday in my office, filing and tossing reams of paper. The recycling boxes fill up and the inbox goes down. Finally. After months and months of piling up. The going isn’t so easy at first; I find it hard to stay focused, hard to work for more than fifteen minutes in a row. The piles, the boxes, it all looks like way too much. I reward myself with snacks, with little trips outside to check for eggs or other domestic details that could use attention. I file for ten minutes, then I fill the bird feeder. I file some more, then I go upstairs and wash the dishes. Finally, my house – the upstairs, that is – is as put together as a model home. There are no more distractions. I need to get down to it now. Sigh.

In the end, it was the Turner Classics channel that got me through; a James Mason marathon, from ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ to ‘Lolita’ kept me entertained as I slogged through the monotonous project . It’s a mind-numbing, exhausting job to file a year’s worth of life on paper. Divorce, bankruptcy, health issues, governmental assistance, the life of a low-vision advocate – it’s all represented here in papers I must keep somewhere. Papers I must be able to locate easily. Somehow I’ve managed to navigate through the past four years without much of a permanent filing system; my life exists in two boxes: one marked ‘current, to-do’ and one marked ‘archive, done’. Not the most efficient system, but in the eye of the storm, in the midst of a full and busy life, it’s easy to let it go. So far I’ve made it work, but every time I sit down at my desk there’s a knot in my stomach. Am I sure where my auto insurance policy is? My income and expense sheet from last semester? My masters for teaching handouts? Kind of, but not really. I admit it, I’ve had a problem with paper for years. It was even a source of stress between me and my husband. I always contended that I needed time to set up a system, and that I felt life moved too fast for me to catch up. In some ways I still agree with that – there’s always been so much going on that it always took a back seat. But no more. Finally, I have the time and space to deal with it. I’m catching up. Getting my system in place. And man, it feels great.

A big part of my current paper-related challenge is the volume of Elihu’s artwork. I know many moms probably share this struggle; what to keep and what to toss. I once asked friends of mine who have four children how they decided what to keep and what to get rid of. They told me that they saved much of it, and at some point had each child go through it and save what was meaningful to them. I liked that, and have used that technique myself, but in of itself it’s not enough. My son is an artist. Prolific, yes, but honestly, he is good. I mean really good. So I can’t just toss his work. I have to go through it. Elihu’s got a thing, and in going through the past fours year’s of his artwork, I find myself fascinated with his evolution. In the end, I managed to negotiate my way through the huge catalog by dividing his art by not only years but by the quality or the ‘importance’ of the work. I found dozens of incomplete drawings in which I can see him working on ideas, a wing or body shape, perspective and such, and so I keep a few of these in a file to be tucked away, but I reserve only the very best and final drawings to be inserted into a large book. I put all the art into plastic sleeves and in turn put them into three ring binders. Two large binders end up representing his work so far – along with a letter from David Attenborough and one from Senator Farley commending him on his art – and they are now tucked neatly into his bookshelves in an exceedingly tidy and organized bedroom.

As for the garage – the ultimate vortex of crap – I have managed to heap all the trash outside and have cleaned and set aside useful items for their new owners to come and pick up. The breadmaker and lamps left today, more toys will go tonight, and tomorrow I’ll deliver a few things on my round of errands. The rest will go to the Salvation Army, and the garbage will be picked up by Frank, my favorite junkman. (Not without cost to me; it always takes a good $75 to rid myself of the final dregs. I just hope this is the last time I’ll need to call him in for help.!) I stand so very close to completion of this project that I find myself in a constant state of low-grade anxiety about it. I look at the piles waiting in the driveway and tell myself ‘just a few more days…’

My office isn’t quite finished, however. I have piled boxes of all sizes on a wall of bookshelves which I have covered in a sheer film of deep orange curtains. Just sheer enough so that I don’t forget the task ahead of me, but just pretty enough to allow myself some peace when I sit down at my desk. CDs from old bands of mine, master DATs, probably now degraded beyond usefulness, unsorted photographs, schoolwork of Elihu’s kindergarten and first grade years, tax docs from my married years, paperwork from the Cafe I used to run back in Dekalb, pens, pencils, office supplies and every manner of long-forgotten but hard-to-let-go-of mementos from years of travel… all this and more await my attention. Yesterday tackling the wall seemed insurmountable, today it seems vaguely possible. I stare at it, taking it all in, and I wonder, how do other people deal with all of their life’s crap? Years ago I had a woman help me organize my files. She and her husband were able to keep their possessions to a mere couple of file drawers. They moved frequently, and were able to pick up and pack up in short order. How? I grilled her – where were the postcards from old friends, the letters, the key chains and tchotchkes? Apparently they had none. I still didn’t really come to understand how they came to live a life so free of physical stuff. Apparently she approached life in a far different way than I. So often I’ve encouraged friends to get rid of stuff by reminding them that the stuff is not the love they shared with a person, nor is it the person, nor does the loss of the stuff remove the memory or the experience from their lives. I tell myself the same things. In fact, I have to coach myself hard and heavy when it comes to letting things go. Throwing things away. Jesus warned us not to ‘store up treasures of the earth’… Good advice. I’ve already learned how much heartbreak comes of mice and moths.

So I power on. I steady myself for the final wall, for the last few weeks of vacation and a child-free life and the ability to get it all done without interruption. The final weeks of my intensive house cleaning and a very nice end to a wonderful summer. What a fine thing it will be to start the new school year with a clean slate – and a very clean house.


Better Boy, Goofy Goose August 9, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 11:24 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Happy to have spoken to my son today, if only briefly. I also received a surprisingly upbeat email from his father, detailing their recent visit to a family doc. Seems the doc had some insights about issues that Elihu is dealing with – including panic attacks, which have returned recently (some counseling a year ago or so seemed to quiet them for a while). Dr. Mark also does not recommend circumcision. Good. There’s an end to that.

I feel a bit bad that I was hitting an afternoon lull in my energy when Elihu and I were talking, and I left off with the promise I’d call him back soon. But I fell asleep, and by the time I called Elihu back he was no doubt at his dad’s gig (in Cleveland, as I had just learned in our conversation. Never a dull moment with Fareed) and he didn’t have access to a phone. So I missed him, but I’m content that he seemed to be in good spirits.

I myself have been busy, busy, busy as usual, all the while wondering how the hell it is that I still have not been able to get my house in order in the four years I’ve been here. I’m almost there – but I still have boxes of ancient papers and media in my office that I haven’t yet organized, and my garage – well that’s a mystery to me. It’s simply an unending job. It’s amazing how my garage just fills up with shit. Literally and figuratively. Housing our goose in the garage while we made our summer road trips certainly didn’t help. Did you know that geese behave rather like dogs? Well they do. They like to chew on things. I have doggie toys for him which he likes, but apparently the contents of the garage were much more interesting. Max got into things, moved them around, chewed on em, pooped on em. I had no idea what a goose was capable of. Kinda cute, yeah, but made for lots more work.

I have finally managed to collect and clean off every last unused item in our life and consolidate them in the garage. I listed them all on Freecycle and hope to have them all picked up by their new owners by Sunday. What doesn’t get taken will get packed into the car and driven the 20+ miles to the nearest Salvation Army. I wonder if they’ll take a goose…


Call Waiting August 8, 2012

I don’t want to run the risk of embarrassing my son later in his life; relaying the matter on my mind tonight may require some careful use of words, so I will simply say this: he is still ‘challenged’ when it comes to ‘making it through the night’. We continue to earmark a portion of our modest monthly income on disposable paper-based products in order to both lessen my workload (otherwise it would be laundry every single day) and to help maintain his dignity. It’s not something he nor I wish for, but apparently, since my brother also had a similar challenge when he was Elihu’s age, it seems there’s a genetic component in the mix. I do not think my son will enter sixth grade (nor fifth, I hope) with this problem. So I don’t really sweat it. It’s a project we will have to work on together. I’ll do what I can, waking him in the night, helping him to remember the task at hand, helping him to make it routine. That’s my take on it. Elihu’s too. But his father has other ideas.

After a rather cryptic email today from his father, the subject line reading simply “visit with Dr. Mark” he tells me that it was “intense” and that we three should talk soon. ?? I’ve called several times with no answer. So I wait. Wait for the call that will unveil the mystery behind the ‘intense meeting’ with Dr. Mark. I did encourage him to take Elihu to his own family doc if he felt he needed to. I don’t know this Dr. Mark, but that’s not what I’m worried about right now.

I also received another message of concern from my near-ex just last week. Fareed was troubled by Elihu’s continuing ‘problem’ and suggested – in a frighteningly cool tone – that perhaps “we should consider circumcision”, as that would have Elihu paying more attention to “that part of his body”. I was aghast. When I told my mother, she panicked, wondering if Fareed might actually have Elihu undergo such surgery while he was there in Illinois. I certainly don’t think he would even attempt it – and I do not believe it would be allowed to happen without my consent. But still, that shocker of a message followed by today’s email and no still word from him, it all has me a little uneasy.

It’s amazing that a man such as my near-ex, who is in so many ways can appear to be a thoughtful, intelligent and sometimes even loving person, can be such an idiot, and so insensitive. The bladder muscles have nothing to do with the skin of a penis. Causing his child undue, unnecessary pain will not help in this situation. And anyway, we both chose to leave our son the way he was designed. We both knew that the trend to circumcise all baby boys in America without question was a modern phenomenon. Without religious or cultural mandates guiding us, we had no obligation to do so. In fact, as the mother of a son, I felt very strongly that it was my job to advocate for his rights not to be circumcised. I realize that Fareed was born into an era when all baby boys were cut as a matter of routine – but come on! To even suggest this so far into the game – at the age of nine! – and to imply that it will stop bed wetting – all of that is in my eyes simply outrageous. But then again, my almost-ex is the rather spoiled only child of wealthy parents, and he is a musician of mini-star stature in some subcultures. Lots of people know him and think he’s quite a guy; he’s accustomed to having things his way. And apparently, having his son circumcised is the ‘way’ he thinks is best.

I know Elihu’s getting ready for bed right about now. I know that he’s fine, and that he’s probably busy doing something. Reading to himself, or maybe to his baby brothers, maybe taking a bath…. He may even be in bed by now. I hope so. Oh but how I’d like to talk to him once before the day ends. Just to know he’s ok. Poor kid. I hope his dad hasn’t added to the shame and embarrassment he already feels about all this.

All I can do is send him my love. And send quieting, peaceful energy to his dad, so that this might all fade away as just another routine challenge of growing up. Because that’s what it is. Even if tonight doesn’t feel very routine for me.

I hope my beloved Elihu sleeps well tonight. I myself could go to bed much with a much lighter heart if only his dad would pick up the phone…


Young Man August 7, 2012

Just got off the phone with my son. He’s spending five consecutive weeks at his father’s home in Illinois. It’s the longest we’ve been apart from each other during his nine years on the planet. He can do it, I know, but it’s still kinda hard for him (me too.) Kid’s been feeling a bit voiceless in all this shuffling back and forth from household to household. I listen, and I tell him that I hear him. That I understand what he’s saying, that I respect his feelings about it all. I ask if he’s told his father what he’s just told me. He tells me no, because if he did, he knows his dad would just ‘yell and smack him’. Now I know that’s probably not exactly what Fareed would do, but I do know that he’s been known to smack Elihu a time or two, and that he’s done so in some pretty public places. I know what Elihu means. And I understand the impression his dad has created of his own fatherly might. I tell Elihu to let his dad know that he just wants to express his feelings – that he’s not asking for anything but his dad to simply listen and hear him. He answers “I just know he’d say ‘suck it up'”. And I agree. He would. When I explain to Elihu that both he and his father need time together, Elihu easily agrees, it’s just that he wonders if there isn’t another solution.

Then my son, who has been upset over missing his summer vacations ‘at home’ for the past several years, offers his idea: if he agrees to spend every last holiday and break with his father, he hopes he might earn a whole summer vacation here. Well, only problem is – he already has nearly every holiday – and every break – there in Illinois. Hmm. There must be an equitable solution here. I think for a minute. This is really important to Elihu, and our presentation of our case to his father is critical here. “How about,” I start, “we invite Daddy here for as long as he can visit – and any time he’d like, during the summer?” It feels possible. His father can come out for a week each month if he wants. Elihu notes that his dad will likely have gigs that interfere. “So tell him to block out those weeks and not take any gigs then” I add.  “Have him plan his visit into his calendar just like it was a gig.” There’s quiet on the other end for a couple seconds. “Yes” he finally says. “Yeah, that might work…”

And so we worked out our goal, our strategy. I realize it might not fly with Fareed – especially if it stands to eclipse a paying gig, but who knows. There’s also Fareed’s ‘other’ family to consider. I know he likes to have them all together there in Illinois – that way it doesn’t take him away from his other two sons, plus it gives him time with Elihu. It’s kind of a convenience for him. I understand. But still, it’s an option worth presenting. I’ll leave it to Elihu to pose it to his father. I’ve told him that I’m behind him on this, but he needs to get his father to listen. That’s not something I can do with much success, as Fareed might think I’m trying to interfere with their relationship, to strip away his time with his son. I’m certainly not – in fact I’m always encouraging it – yet I’m not sure Fareed sees it that way. (This really makes me sad. You’d think there’d be a bit of inherent trust of some sort after a quarter century of shared history… but it ain’t necessarily so.)

Elihu feels a bit more at ease after we navigate through that issue, something which I guess has contributed to his headache tonight. (Seriously, what nine year old should have a stress headache? Sometimes a tiny voice in the background worries if it might not be something more serious… I cannot be alone in my maternal worryings, can I?) Elihu seems to be a little lighter now, a little happier. He goes on to telling me about his two younger half-siblings, and how they’re kinda rowdy and will soon be going to Montessori School. Elihu talks about how Montessori will bring out the best in them “in spite of themselves” and uses phrases like “such that” and “in so doing” as he speaks, and oh how eloquently he speaks, this nine year old boy of mine. It seems he has turned a corner. Not simply for the mature use of language or the complexity of his thinking. There’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but something about him is changed. He himself asked me tonight if he might not attribute his recent sentimentality about things to his growing older. He noticed that he’d grown so tall that his head now brushed a bird ornament he had hanging in his room, when in the past he’d walked well underneath it. Noticing that had made him wistful. I told him I wasn’t sure, but it made sense to me that his emotions should be registering this change too. I also told him that I’d been sensing in these past two months that something about him was changing. (I’d recently had a moment of real panic in which I fully understood – maybe finally believed might be a better choice of words – that my son was no longer a cute little boy, a child I could lift up and carry on my hip, but rather he was now a young, capable boy very close to becoming a young man.) The chubby wrists were gone long ago, yes,  but even after that he had remained a ‘cute little boy’ for a good long while. But now, he wasn’t that boy anymore. I too, was wistful.

After nearly an hour on the phone, we agreed it was time to say good-bye. He parted as he does with family he loves (grandparents, parents, Martha): by saying “love you so much”. He emphasizes the “so much” in such a way that it sinks deep down; anyone listening gets it. His love comes through, his intention is strong. And yet there’s also a hint of sorrow present in his parting declaration of love. A sorrow that comes naturally of a family divided, a family that can no longer live under one roof. Sad though he may be, he sure is loved, that kid. From both sides. And he knows that, which is, as we all can agree, the most important thing.

Before we hang up, he asks me to come to him tonight in his dreams, and I ask him to do the same. So tonight I’ll be on the lookout for that familiar, fine, young man. Only he’ll probably be just a bit taller than the Elihu I remember.


Zen Limbo August 4, 2012

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

Sort of on hold. Sort of. I realize no one’s stopping me from ‘doing my thing’, yet as host to two guests in my home it’s just not the same as truly being alone alone. And while I realize that in short order I will be enjoying an empty house, I am finding this final stretch of their visit something of a personal challenge. I have so much work to do, and it won’t get done until their visit is over. So for now, I wait.

We’ve finished our supper, and now I read to little Lilas on the couch as her mother visits in the kitchen with a friend. I realize I’m feeling some anxiety. There’s tension in my body. I do a check to see where it’s hiding; it’s something I’ve begun doing the past couple of years. It’s surprising how often we’ll walk around with a part of our body tenser than it needs to be. And you often don’t even know it unless you look for it. Throughout the day I’ll do a little inventory of my body. Check to see that I’m not tight through the shoulders for no good reason. Check to see if my brow might be unintentionally furrowed. When I find the tension I let it go, relaxing my body to its natural resting state. I do my check, and find my shoulders pulled together a bit. I let them out. Better. But still. Not quite at peace. I tell myself to get on with it. I love reading to children, and I enjoy doing it now, once I’ve scolded myself to get back to the business at hand. For the duration of the book I’m content, the child beside me is too, and all is well. But we finish the book, and a vague nagging feeling sets in. I want to be alone.

I really do enjoy having the energy of others present in the house. It’s nice to have a little one here too. And it’s nice to know there’s other business going on while I’m quietly reading on the couch by myself. It feels different from being the only human in the place. There really is something different between knowing there are people present – even if I can’t see them behind a closed door – and knowing that I’m alone in the house. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and as I sit comfortable on my couch, book on my lap, looking out my big picture window at the full moon outside, I ponder why this is so. Now mom and child are in their room. I look at the closed bedroom door. I can’t even hear anything. So how is it different? I don’t know. It just is. I imagine to myself that there’s no one in Elihu’s room, and immediately it feels emptier. Interesting. But for now, there are two people there, and somehow, even if it may only be in my imaginings, I can feel their presence. While it gives the place a homey sort of energy, and while right now we are all cozy here in our little house on this fine summer night, I have a hard time staying in the perfection of the moment. I crave an empty house.

I pull myself back. I tell myself to enjoy it for what it is. Enjoy having people here because in all likelihood I’ll be feeling quite alone one week from today. I know all this, so I’m able to relax. I find a bit more tension hiding in my shoulders and then let it ease out. Ok. This is a good moment. And it’s nice to have a full house. Ok. I’m present. I’m here, now, and it feels good. There, that’s better.

Or is it? I wonder… does my experience of the ‘now’ lose its zen-like integrity if it’s motivated by my desire for future ‘nows’?? Ironically, it’s those far-off nows that keep me motivated to stay present. I realize I’m a sofa-sitting Buddhist at best. My present nows do their best to sustain me, while my future nows beckon me forward…