The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Life So Far October 29, 2012

Dictated to me tonight. Wish we’d done more of this over the past two years, but it just never happened. So glad we got this one down…

October 29th, 2012   by Elihu Scott Conant-Haque

You know, as I look back at all the years I was in Greenfield School, I realized that although I’ve had so many experiences at other schools, I really have had most of my life there. Even though I’d had five years at other places, I really became aware of where I was at age five, so that’s why I say my “whole life” was there.

Greenfield School had been a good school. I mean, I’d been famous at the place, not that I’d had many friends. And it was true, I didn’t have many friends, though it varied; sometimes I’d have a lot, maybe for a week or two, and then they’d remember that they played sports and that they were “cool” kids, so they couldn’t hang out with me. And then it would go back to just Keithie and me, and maybe Carter. Keith is a tall boy, a fast runner (unlike me) and he plays sports. He’s an outdoorsy type, he rides motorbikes – he even has his own – and can do huge bicycle jumps. Not that I’m not cool, I am, just in my own way. I guess Keith had been the only kid in my class to realize that maybe I was cool – in my own way – and that’s why he was friends with me. Cause usually, a kid is friends with you only if you’re cool – and you have to be cool in his way.

Anyway, the years at Greenfield seemed to pass quickly, as I look back at them now, a fourth-grader going to Waldorf, with many, many friends (not that I’m popular.) Greenfield was a good school, it’s just that, I guess my eyes sort of contributed to the way I acted, I don’t know. Because the school seemed really chaotic to me, but not to others; they could deal with it. Ha, they wouldn’t have even cared even if it was chaotic for them – they would have just kept on going. But that was then. Now is now.

I guess you probably want to know more about what I’m doing at the moment than what I did a couple of years ago – though all this seems interesting to me, because it’s funny to look back on my own life now, and see all the things I never would have realized then.

At Waldorf, things are going pretty good. I mean maybe it’s not true that I’m totally loaded with friends. A friend is sort of a different thing than a classmate that really cares about you. A friend is someone who’s willing to play with you at recess rather than doing their own silly sport that you can’t understand. Now friends are nice to have, and there are two real good friends I have at Waldorf. Cora and Sophia are their names. They’re twins. They have freckles and short, rusty-colored hair. They’re both a little taller than me; Sophia’s about an inch taller and Cora is about two and a half inches taller. Mostly everyone is my class is taller than me. I’m the second shortest, next to Phoenix.

It’s a good school, this new school, Waldorf. I mean, I’ve been here for about six months, it’s not like it’s really new. I’ve mostly set into the things I have to do. They’re different from Greenfield, though there is homework. I have to do spelling. But the thing I like most about Waldorf is that it’s not as chaotic as Greenfield, it really isn’t. It’s a gentle school. And singing is a big part of the day. Since I’m a very good singer, that was obviously a nice little surprise that I didn’t know of when I first came to the school. There are many beautiful songs we sing. One we’ve been practicing especially hard on is a song called “the Goose Song”. It’s a beautiful song, with a melody and harmony part. We have a class of 22, so when we sing both parts together it sounds amazing. But it might not sound quite so amazing, because sadly, Sophia and Cora are moving soon.

Well that’s about all I have to tell you about Waldorf and Greenfield. I’m really happy to have this written down. It makes me feel good to know that somewhere in all these files, in our little Mac computer, tucked away under a little stool, in a little bedroom, in a little country cottage, where live a little boy and his mother, is a whole story of that little boy, looking back. And to know, that somewhere in that little boy, he feels happy.

 

Falling Back October 24, 2012

Just too much to do. Although it seems as if I hurry about my errands, chores, jobs and sundry business with head bowed, eyes on my toes, the car door, the wheel, the road… I do in fact look up long enough to notice the trees about me gradually thinning out their leaves. The maples at my place have hardly a leaf left. Only the giant beech has held onto its orange-yellow leaves. And as for the rest of our property, it’s beginning to look barren. So in driving to school, I change my route; I go the longer way ’round so I might enjoy the massive spills of yellow covering the grand lawns of the North Broadway mansions, and I feel some relief that the bright colors of autumn are not entirely gone. But mostly. We’re reaching that time when the silhouette of our environment will be changed for good. Or at least for a good long time.

This is always a densely packed time of the year for us. Each year I make Elihu his own bird costume, and this year he desires to be an exotic and long-extinct flying creature (Quetzalcoatles) and this requires a hefty investment of time. It also takes a good bit of research, a lot of enthusiasm, a bit of cash (don’t ask) plus lots of love and good humor to pull it off. Halloween is next week, in fact there is a party coming up on Sunday, and I must have it all ready by then. Tomorrow is an early morning and a long day. So is Friday. Most nights I find the resolve to pull myself out of bed in the middle of the night and spend an hour or two working on his costume. But tonite I am pooped. I just can’t find it in me.

For that matter, I hardly feel I have it in me to sit and write a quick post. But here I am, checking in, saying hello and hopefully, falling back to my bed again.

 

October’s Bright Blue Weather October 12, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 7:51 am
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Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

October’s Bright Blue Weather

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

________________________________________

Each year there is one crisp, blue and yellow day that expands almost til it bursts; the day on which I instantly recall this poem. I first learned about it from a friend, Les Brownlee, who, when in his eighties and nearing the end of his incredibly full life as a pioneering black journalist in Chicago (he coined the phrase “eyewitness news”), robustly recited aloud the first lines of the poem on just such an October day many years ago. I knew instantly that I would make it part of the landscape of my years, a personal tradition to keep for my own. While I would never commit the poem to memory in it’s entirety as Les and those of his generation did so often and so well, I would work to learn the first few lines and to have them on the ready as a surprise autumnal gift to give at just the perfect moment.

Surrounded by the red and white of Les’ beloved alma mater UW Madison (and the occasional fighting badger adorning a wall clock or hand towel) my husband and I would join a generous-sized gathering at his home on many Sundays throughout our life in Evanston, Illinois. He and his wife Priscilla were the family and hearth we were missing in our contemporary, parent-less lives. That era has long since come to a close, but how lucky I am to take with me those memories of friendship and inclusion – as well as a few choice poems and stories.

One or two days a year, when the weather turns just so, I think of you, dear Les, and I send you my gratitude for helping to write a lovely stanza in my own life’s poem.

 

Upkeep October 1, 2012

It’s not without some guilt that I watch my beloved cable show “What Not To Wear”, because I’m often watching the show while wearing my high-rise mommy jeans and an ancient, cap sleeve t shirt with the slogan “Women who behave rarely make history” on it (ironically showcasing a slutty wild west sorta gal striking a less-than-liberated come-hither pose). I top the t with a unisex sweatshirt that I bought at a Walgreens in Evanston over a decade ago. I wear these two tops to bed just about every night. After I get out of bed, I’ll swap my nighttime sweatpants for the mommy jeans, but leave the tops on as I go outside to tend to the chickens. Then, what the heck, I’ll probably end up staying in the same outfit for the duration of the morning while I wash the dishes, tidy up and get the laundry done. I’m most likely still in this jeans/pajamas combo by lunchtime, which is when I pause to watch the show. Feeling guilty, I eat my sandwich and wonder if they’d at least let me keep my beloved barn jacket. I mean, I am a chicken farmer after all. This I need. But the high-waisted 80s jeans I am just plain ashamed of. They’d go in the can for sure, and I’d be glad of it. The only reason I even still have em is cuz nobody’s come around with $5,000 and a card ‘with my name on it’ for me to go and replace em with something nicer. And besides, they fit. Honestly, they’re all I have left from my old ‘fat’ clothes. (Feeling the euphoria of having lost 55 post-baby pounds, I stupidly tossed all my ‘good’ fat clothes. It kills me to think of the items I’d tossed which I could so use today.) The way I see it, every day I spend wearing these embarrassing togs brings me one day closer to the day when I’ll absolutely need to replace them with something better. Til then, I’ll pull my pants way up, my coat way down, and I’ll slink around town emitting my best possible ‘I’m invisible’ vibe… (btw – I do have a couple other pairs of jeans. Only problem is – over the last two years I’ve grown too big for em. Still can’t face it. I guess you could say I’m at a self-inflicted stalemate of sorts.)

Aside from the calamity of my high-waisted mommy jeans, there are some other elements of grooming and style which are becoming more of a challenge than ever before. New styles I can study; attractive clothing I can possess to some mildly satisfying degree. But the matters of skin and hair are a much more nebulous territory and the ‘solutions’ aren’t obvious. Nor am I even convinced that there are any solutions to be had at all. Dr. Sebogh can kiss my Midwestern ass. His rare melon extract is not responsible for Dekalb sister Cindy Crawford’s amazing skin. I’m pretty sure good skin is in her genes. And you can stop trying to convince me too, Miss Bertinelli… I don’t doubt that a topical treatment here and there might help, but the process presses on, no matter the speed. I’m up early enough today to have caught the beginnings of an infomercial designed especially for me. I’d like to think I’m too cynical for this crap, but apparently not. They have me in their sights, and I’m greatly disappointed in myself for leaving the program on as I go through my morning routine of coffee-making and egg-packing…

My skin has begun to change only in the tiniest ways, yet it’s enough to have me thinking. Until very recently I hadn’t given too much thought to my skin betraying my age; as I’ve said before, I feel like I’m doing ok in that department. As a result, I have strongly and egocentrically believed that my skin would always remain lovely, that my hair would continue to be as it has been for the past three decades. I have never, ever – til just about now – truly believed that things would change too terribly much. (Other people turn into ‘old’ people… other people...) Things – that is to say, my skin, my hair, my body, have been fine for the past thirty years. No huge changes. Well, at least no quick changes. Skin care commercials always seemed to be about so much over-priced bullshit to me. I could never even see a need. But now, I begin to wonder. Did I miss some sort of essential prevention routine? Was I too hasty? Might there be something to all this anti-aging hoopla? Might I slow it down just a skitch? The voice inside me tells me no, there’s nothing to be done but drink more water and keep a good, grateful attitude towards life. I believe that’s the real answer, but still, I can’t help but wonder if I might be missing a simple serum that could help me recapture the glow that I think I’m missing all of a sudden…

For now I let it all go – because I certainly haven’t the money to dabble, and anyway I don’t have a real need to get super-pretty in my current life. Pretty enough is just fine, and for now my skin is what it is. I’m more concerned today about the hair situation – the hair on top of my head, that is, but then again there’s also the hair below the top of my head to consider as well. But not to worry – I’m on it. I keep a vigilant, daily lookout in the rear view window of my car each morning. I keep my eyebrows nice and tidy, and I do a daily sweep of the face for errant stragglers. How humbling it is the first time one discovers an unprovoked hair appearing in the middle of a cheek or chin. No warning. Just one day, woah! – there’s a hair sprouting from your face where none has ever grown before. I used to have a really impressive hair which would pop up a couple times a year. It would stick out sideways from my face a good two inches. And it was beyond my comprehension that the thing would literally grow overnight. My husband jokingly called it my ‘curb finder’. Cute. Haven’t seen it in a long time now – but if it makes another appearance, you can bet I’ll pluck that baby out before I even turn the car on. Hair patrol is dicey when you do it alone though. It’s nice to have someone around who can catch you before you leave the house with one lone chin hair blowing your cover… It’s nice when someone has your back like that. And that’s one thing I do miss about Chicago; my regular visits to the Pakistani ladies on Devon who could henna your hands and remove every unwanted hair in one stop. They would snap their heads, make that ‘tssk tssk’ sound and tell me not to worry. “We make you beautiful” they’d say as they sat me down in a chair. Between my favorite eyebrow threading (movie star eyes every time) to lip wax and whole face thread I would leave glowing. Yeah, partly because of the sheer pain involved, but partly because I was restored. Beautiful once more. What fun it would be to experience that feeling again. To open the door of that tiny shop and step out on to the street with a light heart and hopes renewed. Can you imagine all that good feeling, generated merely from the removal of some unwanted facial hair? Mm. Crazy.

Facial hair well in hand, I turn my energies to the crowning issue of the day: what to do with my hair color? For under ten bucks, I mean. Last spring I popped for a real color job at ‘my gal’s’ place – and while it was lovely, it didn’t last. Roots came soon after. The lovely color she’d created was never again matched just right, and before long I was back down the road of $3 box color from (my shame doubles) Walmart. (But seriously, $3? How can you say no? How?) I waved the white flag and bought a coupla boxes. I’ll try mixing em maybe. Want that nice, warm brown. Won’t be brassy if I just put a little more finesse into it. Hm. Ok, roots are lighter. That’s wrong. Google it. Ok. That’s known as ‘root burn’. I can fix it. Next week we’ll try again. Hair keeps coming out lighter and lighter. And while I notice that aging female celebrities seem to choose lighter and lighter hair colors, I myself have been doing so unintentionally. My ‘real’ color – not seen in perhaps a good seven years – was always quite dark. Almost black. Originally my son’s hair was lighter, mine darker. Now, we’re the opposite. So finally, I will right this wrong. I will change things back to the way they should be.

Changed it. Oops. My hair sure is darker. (Secretly, I really like it. I feel like I’m about to go on tour…) My kid tells me it makes me look masculine. Like a rocker. (Secretly love this even more.) My gray is for once completely covered. That alone feels like success. But the color is flat. Definitely a box color. A color without any class. No depth. At least it doesn’t shine plum-ish or blue-ish when backlit. Maybe I should count my blessings. But it’s gonna be kinda hard to focus on the good when I have to face the world this week with hair that’s radically darker than any I’ve sported the past six months. If I’m going to get attention, I don’t want it coming to me in double-takes and long looks as people inwardly assess the subtle change about me today… I can remember getting haircuts and people thinking I’d lost weight instead – or even losing weight and people thinking I’d cut my hair. Funny how folks notice changes – even if they can’t quite figure out just what it is about you that’s changed….

I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately. I’ve always been fascinated with the many different ways in which people live and think. I surprised myself by checking out a book by Kathie Lee Gifford. She seemed to come from such a different planet as me, and the opportunity to learn just how different a planet was too much for my curiosity to pass up. In reading, I learned that she is not stupid, she lives a life with much love, humor and gratitude, and I also learned that staying young-looking is very, very important to her. I guess it’s her job, right? It’s also a fundamentally different way of approaching life. When I heard what was involved with the surgical skin treatments she’s undergone in order to keep her face looking smooth and young, I was taken aback. Maybe even shocked. She lightened the stories with charm and humor, as if to forgive herself for doing something so hard-core – and vain. Wow. I couldn’t fathom doing anything like that myself. Could I? And if I couldn’t, was it simply a case of money? Was my growing interest in the appearance of my skin just an infant stage of her full-grown concern? If I were a few years older, and a few dollars richer, would I do something like this too? Would I? I’d like to think not – I’d really like to think it’s not that big a deal to me. But still, this whole new chapter of aging has me just the teensiest bit concerned as to how I’ll navigate through it all. And I will admit to one and all right here and now: the ‘Lifestyle Lift’ appeals to me. A lot. I’m sorry, but there is nothing like a good jawline. Never had one to begin with – so it might be nice to go out with one. !

My entire professional, pre-baby life was all about the look. Now I’m just content to own a pair of good mud boots and a sturdy farm jacket. Last few years I haven’t had much occasion to get out. To represent, as it were. But now with Elihu’s new school, looks like I can’t hide the way I would have liked. So I’m trying to shift gears these days. Still don’t have a game plan, but I have a goal. I gotta get it together. Gotta find some pants that fit, gotta make sure my face is tended to, gotta make sure that I drink enough water and stretch in the mornings.

Gotta keep up with the upkeep.