The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Bunny Belief March 30, 2013

We’re at that time when I can’t be sure if the holiday magic will hold any longer, if my son will truly believe, one more time, that gifts have been magically delivered as he slept… My son is so thorough in his thinking, in his reasoning and internal deliberations, that it seems impossible to me that he can truly still believe. And yet he does. Yesterday, as we sat cuddled on the couch, I made the mistake of telling him not to get his hopes up for anything big on Easter. (My goal was to plant some doubt so that the appearance of the Easter bunny would have even more of an impact. Not a good choice.) He burst into tears and told me not to say such a thing. “I want to have hope, mommy. I’m just nine years old, don’t take away my hope!” he told me. I was instantly very sorry I’d said anything at all. I was also struck by how much his comment seemed to imply; there seemed some foreshadowing in his remark of the adult reality that lay just around the corner. He must know, I thought to myself, but he’s still holding on…

On most most holidays and school breaks Elihu stays with his father. This past year was my first Christmas here at home with Elihu, and tomorrow will only be my second Easter here with him. I had wondered about the Easter bunny’s visits to Dekalb. I want to have some consistency, and it seems that the Easter bunny keeps many different methods and traditions in different households, so as we made our weekly drive to deliver eggs yesterday I asked him about it. Seemed fairly similar to my experience growing up. There were some differences, but I was relieved to know the bunny wasn’t in the habit of delivering handsomely wrapped birthday-worthy gifts because the Greenfield bunny had made no such preparations. (The Greenfield bunny is quite satisfied with several finds; a hand-crafted, dark chocolate bunny from the local candy shop, some wooden airplane models and a small bird puppet. The eggs, on the other hand, proved challenging as Master Elihu knows his eggs by shape – each hen has her signature style – plus dying an already dark egg is tricky. I couldn’t use the few white eggs we have, as Cora’s eggs are also very distinctive. A dilemma. Ended up drawing designs with sharpie on the most generic-looking medium brown eggs I could find. Since Elihu sees no color at all this seemed a good choice.)

A little anxious that everything be in order, I arose early today and went to my secret hiding spot in the basement to do an Easter basket inventory. Because of Elihu’s vision, he’s not good at spotting things. I’m continually surprised at how quickly and easily visiting kids will see things that I’ve stashed ‘out of sight’. Because color offers Elihu no clues (bright green plastic grass for the basket, for example) and since things beyond ten feet don’t register much, my job is made much easier. As I retrieved my goodies I felt completely satisfied that it was all still perfectly secret. I was happily surprised to see that I’d saved a few more things in the months leading up to the holiday (when on a budget one must plan ahead) and was very satisfied to see that it made a tidy looking cache of loot. Pretty too. I even got myself a single hyacinth bulb and a nice new ceramic vase for it at the dollar store – just to show the bunny had something for me too. That would further support the case that I had nothing to do with it. Might be over thinking it, but it’s probably the last such time I’ll have to do so.

Yeah. He’ll be ten in a month. It’ll be over soon. At least it can’t last too much longer. So, as with Christmas this year, I approach Easter with the same emotions, the same tender nostalgia. I will savor it all. Every surprise, every laugh, every egg. And Elihu’s right, having hope is important – especially at this time of year. After all, isn’t that what Easter itself represents – apart from any religious significance? The renewed life of springtime and with it, hope… And belief, yes, that’s important too, cuz I know this Easter bunny sure is happy that one certain little boy still believes.


Chatterbox March 27, 2013

Elihu is home sick today. It’s where he should be, but might not sound it. He’s asthmatic and yesterday had a tummy thing. He slept a deep sleep for twelve hours last night, and this morning wasn’t quite back to health. And even while I can hear him snorting and wheezing from the next room, I also hear his intermittent narration of the things he’s doing, the things he’s thinking. He calls out to me every few minutes with a thought, an observation… If I were to take a step back and realize things won’t always be thus, I’d probably be charmed. It is sweet. But after a while… I wonder, where did he get this talking and talking thing? Then I realize. Oh. Yeah. Me.

I have a lot to do; re-certify for food stamps – for both me and my brother – get taxes done, finish the application for tuition assistance at Waldorf. All the grownup homework assignments are due now. March is the month of deadlines for me, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  There’s also an Easter basket to fill on Sunday, and I’d counted on today in which to collect its little surprises. And now that Elihu’s home I have one less day to spend nose to the grindstone and chasing chocolate bunnies.

He’s fine without me, but he still calls out to me every few minutes. Not so much for soothing as for a witness to his play. Or his ideas… and they’re fairly nonstop. I find it hard to listen actively to him – and I don’t want to simply ‘mm-hmm’ my responses – so I find myself getting testy. Will have to retire to my office as soon as the house is picked up and spend some time in earnest at my desk. He’ll just have to do without my audience for a while.

I listen, I wait. He’s engrossed in something now, and his one-sided conversation has stopped. Maybe this is a good time to head downstairs. I’ll make sure he’s happily engaged before I depart. He’s a good kid, with a lot of ideas swirling around in his head. I want to be there to share them, but just not right now…

I make a promise to Elihu that when I’m finished with my homework I’ll come back and listen to everything he wants to tell me. My wheezy little chatterbox of a boy.


Atkins: Seven, Eight Weeks? March 25, 2013

It feels like a year but I don’t think it’s been two months yet. Not in a mood to check. Lost about twelve pounds, then ceased losing over the past two weeks. In Atkins language, I’m “stalling”.  Yeah, I know why. Portion control, as usual. I don’t have much latitude with this silly diet, so I admit I’ve started to go heavy on the heavy cream in my coffee as a perk in my day. The pours have gotten more generous, and coffee has begun to last the whole day, instead of just a cup first thing in the morning. That, and a couple of strawberries here and there. So goddam counter intuitive that I shouldn’t be able to eat a fucking piece of fruit, right? I don’t eat much of it, but every now and then I am so tired of sugar free jello being the only sweet thing on the menu…

I don’t mean to sound so bitchy, after all, this is my choice to do this. And I am, lest I forget, now able to wear some new pants that have been waiting in a bin in the basement unworn for the past four years. I guess some progress is better than none. I just need to step back for a minute and regroup. To help myself get back on track, I’m pouring out my day’s ration of cream ahead of time.  Same goes for cheese. Limiting myself to two eggs a day. It’s easy to go a bit overboard with Atkins, cuz it seems so forgiving. Eat fat and lose! Yay! But then you realize after a month that it’s like anything in life. Sounds novel at first. In the beginning, limits feel reasonable, easy to manage. But somewhere down the line one’s patience thins and limits are tested. So then you stall.

Back to basics. Will review a couple of Atkins sites, pump myself up with new inspiration and remember that my 50th will be here the first week in May whether I can wear my old skinny jeans and dresses or not. New clothes that cost me nothing and make me happy to wear?  That really would be a nice birthday present. Ok. I’m good. I’m back on the horse again…


Class Play March 22, 2013

march play 2013 200Elihu’s fourth grade class has been studying Norse mythology, and so their class play this year was about the Three Trials of Thor. Tonight we went to the production they put on for the families. While it may have been an effort to get my dad to the show, I’m glad we did. We’d had to borrow Martha’s collapsible transport chair to get him there; without it he couldn’t have joined us. I felt lucky that mom, dad and even Andrew were all there for the play. It’s not often that we Conants are all together in one place. And these days I can’t help but wonder on the few times we do manage to pull it off, if this might not be the last such occasion. You never know… Elihu was beside himself all afternoon with sheer anticipation of the show itself, and when it came time to perform, it meant so much to him to have his family there. And later, surrounded by classmates and friends, with that frolicking post-show energy buzz all around, he was one extremely boisterous and joyful child.

This little production was more than charming, more than a cute class play… it was infused with love, intelligence and good humor too (and some pretty sophisticated, old-timey language!). And if I may say so, my son spoke his lines with a robust, un-hurried intentionality that is generally not too terribly characteristic of a nine year old kid. Yes, I think he was good. No, I know he was good. Others certainly were too, but Elihu, he had a certain thing… The pipes kinda run in the family. That he’s got em makes me smile to myself – but that he uses em and enjoys using his gift… that absolutely fills me with happiness and and a deep, maternal satisfaction.

I feel slightly self-conscious about posting so many photos – maybe even a little like an over-zealous stage mom, but hey, it’s part of my job, right? Surprisingly, I was the only person snapping pics of the kids as they got ready – and also as far as I know the only one sneaking a shot or two during the play. There will be professional photos and even a video of the play available at some time – but I’m not sure I’ll have the extra cash for them, and besides, if they don’t arrive for another week yet, it’ll be old news. The way our life chugs along, we’ll be onto a new adventure before long… Gotta post while the topic’s hot. !

But for now this is the adventure still dancing in our heads, and the songs that the children sang (beautiful rounds and three-part recorder pieces) will be ringing in our ears for a few more days yet…

march play 2013 148costumes going on…

march play 2013 151and more preparations backstage…

march play 2013 164as the audience members read their own individual programs, each one was drawn by the family’s child

march play 2013 226Ben (Thor), Sawyer and Elihu before the show

march play 2013 224meet Utgartsloki, the King of the Giants

march play 2013 173Abigail Reid welcomes everybody and introduces the play

march play 2013 251Nora plays the recorder and sets a beautiful mood

march play 2013 184Utgartsloki challenges Thor to Three Trials

march play 2013 185the cast, at the end, singing their final song

march play 2013 192a happy post-show visit with grandma and grandpa

This was one lovely night we shall never forget.


Mo Sno Photo March 19, 2013

What fun we had today! Haven’t heard Elihu giggle and laugh like that in ages. And the best packing snow I remember in a long time… yay! Here’s a mini album of our afternoon outdoors. (The way I’m making such a big deal about it you’d think we don’t play outdoors much. Yes, sadly, that’s actually true. !) I’ve included a few extra shots in order to give folks a more complete vision of our property. In an unintentional nod to ‘Where’s Waldo?’ our goose Maximus makes a cameo in more than a few shots.

march snow day 2013 012the view of the sledding hill from our piano

march snow day 2013 018a closer look

march snow day 2013 024Elihu, fittingly, is using a goose quill in place of a plastic stylus with his DS

march snow day 2013 033the sledding hill is just beyond the pine trees to the SE

march snow day 2013 068here’s our grand Beech tree

march snow day 2013 072 and here’s the king of the hill

march snow day 2013 079and who’s this?

march snow day 2013 083he can’t be all bad, he’s wearing red sunglasses and an aviator’s cap

march snow day 2013 087smiley fellow

march snow day 2013 093the run has been made, now to enjoy

march snow day 2013 095movin now

march snow day 2013 101picking up speed

march snow day 2013 112and it’s a fine finish just shy of the pricker bushes!

march snow day 2013 120it’s a long, long walk back up

march snow day 2013 122the most enjoyable exercise I’ve had in years

march snow day 2013 135going in now

march snow day 2013 139coming around the South side of the house

march snow day 2013 142beech tree to left

march snow day 2013 143around the corner now on the West side of the house

march snow day 2013 152on the front porch (facing North now), eating snow

march snow day 2013 153the view from the kitchen window, our tiny bridge visible at the far left.

We love our little corner of Greenfield. And it’s just so pretty in the snow.


Mo Sno

march snow 2013 151

Seriously? Yesterday the talk was all about the big storm headed our way. As I looked out over the barren, dry-mudded schoolyard from my new post as recess monitor, it just didn’t seem likely. Things were looking so hopeful, so almost spring. I scoured the perimeter of the fence looking for tiny pips of new growth to back up my case. Nothing yet. But still… I couldn’t bear to think of starting over. My son and his pals had even managed to chip away at the huge mound of surviving winter ice until it was a mere blip on the blacktop. Things were just now getting so close

I checked the live radar images last thing before getting into bed. It showed us to be already covered in a great swath of front – but outside there was still nothing. I held out a tiny bit of hope. But I remembered that one of the teachers at school hadn’t taken soup orders for the next day as he was that convinced we’d have a snow day. And apparently this guy always knows. Hey, I myself understand that we’re not out of the woods. I know we’re fair game for snow here til the end of April at least. But I went to bed hoping against it anyway. I really do love the beauty of snow, and I think it’s kinda silly when folks who live here find such entertainment in grousing endlessly about how much they hate it, but just the same…

Up in the middle of the night, all I had to do was glance outside to see the expanse of garage and coop roofs glowing white in the dark to know it had come. And this morning, after a quick 6 a.m. check online to confirm the homebound day for myself – I went easily back to sleep and didn’t wake for another two hours until I heard the engine of Mike’s plow truck shoveling its way down our driveway. I got up and donned my apron, tall boots and farm jacket in time to wave him a thank you before going out to open the coop and shovel some ground space out for the birds. It is pretty, I think to myself as I look around. May as well enjoy it.

I’ve suggested to Elihu that we make use of our hill for some sledding. Can it really be two years since we’ve gone down the hill? Seems a bit much, but it’s true; Elihu doesn’t really like being out in the brightness, and I sure can’t blame him. So this is a major detractor from enjoying outdoor play in the snow. In fact, my best memories of playing in the snow are of at night, long after sundown. It’s only then that Elihu can finally relax and just enjoy himself. But tonight is a school night, and his school play dress rehearsal is tomorrow, so there’ll be no late night snow play today. I’m going to find his oversized wraparound sunglasses (broken though they are) and insist on going out. We’ve got a great swath of lawn that is so much fun to sled down, only problem is the patch of pricker bushes at the bottom (another ‘problem’ is that mom must first ‘carve’ out the path – a grueling job that can take a good sweaty and panting half hour. !). We call the run our ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ hill. You gotta bail just when you get to the bottom. It’s kind of a pain in the butt, but the comic element is strong and (almost) makes up for the inconvenience.

As I write this, Elihu is uncharacteristically engrossed in his recently rediscovered (as in a half an hour ago) Nintendo DS. He’d been so nonplussed with it this past year he agreed to trade it with a friend for his erector set. Fareed intervened, and there was a tiny bit of drama as the mother of the friend (who’d already surrendered his aforementioned erector set but had not yet received the DS ) got a bit upset with me. As she’s a friend, it was upsetting to me too. I’d just wanted to hand over the DS and be done with it. But Fareed insisted we keep it. Now I’m kinda glad he did. It’s a cute and fun little game. My son is not the type to succumb to a video game addiction (no, he’s already addicted to flight) so I don’t worry at this. In fact, it makes me happy to see him happy. Cute little soundtrack too. (It’s still new to me, might not be so cute in a month.)

So the snow day begins. By now, on a usual day, breakfast would be long over, the dishes would be washed and put away, the eggs cleaned and sorted, and I’d be at my desk busily knocking items off the never-ending to-do list. For some reason snow days just throw me completely off and I’m hard pressed to get anything done at all. So I’m letting myself off the hook today and I’m just gonna go with it. All the way down the hill.

march snow 2013 111


Fiddling Around March 17, 2013

It’s been a fine weekend here at the Hillhouse. On Friday we enjoyed a visit from the girl twins with whom Elihu had grown so close months ago. Their moving away this past fall broke Elihu’s heart (see the post “Heartsick” from November 2012) and being able to spend an afternoon with them gave my son joy as he hadn’t known in a good long while. The following day we were still coasting on that great feeling, and we celebrated with a bountiful breakfast of fruit-filled crepes, oh-so-good bacon, and deviled eggs. Elihu requested the deviled eggs, and in that we have no shortage of eggs around here, and no one to justify it to, I made a good dozen of em. (Strangely, my Atkins diet even allowed me to enjoy some, albeit in moderation). We were both enormously contented and sated after our decadent brunch. So I began the clean-up with a happy and light heart, as Elihu retired to the living room and began to play his violin.

Usually, Elihu will choose to play his recorder when he’s in the mood for something aside from the piano or the drums. And he’s actually gotten quite good at it; he can play chromatically as well as play a handful of different scales. He began to learn the chromatic stuff in an effort to duplicate a blues scale. It was a good motivation; now he’s off and running. He hasn’t played the violin so much lately, so this is nice. I hear him go through his modest beginner’s repertoire; just a bit beyond Twinkle Twinkle, he’s off into the territory of Cripple Creek and Old Joe Clark. (I smile to myself as I recall my brief stint with banjo lessons years ago. I remember learning the iconic Boil Them Cabbage Down – as taught by the equally iconic Bob Gand at the Village Music Store in Deerfield, Illinois). What a sweet time this is, I think to myself. I know my son is growing up, but I also know he’s still a young boy. Sometimes he’s so smart, insightful and articulate that it’s often a bit difficult to realize that he is still so young. But he is still little. Still not ten. Still believes… And while the world is becoming more real to him each day, there is still some magic present in his experience which only belongs to the very young. He’s not quite there, but change is underway. This too will be a memory before long. I try to focus on this moment. I breathe in, I pause, I try to suspend time as best I can…

As I stood at the sink, my hands in the warm, soapy water, I looked out over the lovely pastoral view outside my window. I listened to Elihu making up sweet little variations on his violin, and I sank as deeply into the moment as I could. We were two happy people with nothing much to do, except just to be… A perfect day just to fiddle around.