The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Happy Boy May 29, 2013

Elihu: I just have a question.

Keith: Yeah?

Elihu: Are you happy?

Keith: Yeah, I am. Are you? Or are you bored?

Elihu: I’m not bored. I’m the opposite. Whatever that is.

Sitting on the computer, enjoying a moment of down time in between household chores, I listen in on Elihu and his buddy Keithie. They’re both playing with a remote controlled car on the kitchen floor. They’re sharing it, and there’s not much to their play. Yet they are having an absolute ball. When I heard that little tidbit just now, I had to open a new post and get it down before it was lost to a busy life. Too many moments are forgotten in spite of our best intentions, and I really wanted to remember this one. These two boys have less and less in common each passing year, yet they continue to enjoy themselves whenever they’re together. They enjoy a relationship that started in their kindergarten class – and for that alone I’m fairly certain that decades hence they will still be fast friends no matter what happens between now and then.

They’re taking their game all through the house, giggling and carrying on so much that I have to check and see if it’s really just a simple rc car that’s inspiring all this play. Yes, it is. That, and the imagination of two ten year old boys. Still in that place of illusion, of true play. I know it won’t be thus much longer. Last night, after we’d finished reading and had turned out the light, just as I was dozing off Elihu startled me awake. He hadn’t been getting sleepy, instead he’d been thinking. “Do you realize I’ll be in fifth grade next year?” I swear he almost sounded panicked. It seems he’s always been far too aware of himself to be a true peer of his classmates. We’ve spent hours discussing the way in which one’s thinking and priorities change as one ages. He’s keenly aware of how precious this time in his life is. Maybe because I’m his mother, and it’s on my mind too. But regardless of that, he has an innate sense of the deeper meanings behind things – all on his own. There’s some nurture for sure, but it’s more nature than anything else. Shortly after he turned five, he once turned to me and said in all seriousness “You do know that I’m more forty-five than five, don’t you?” His tone was firm, and his eye contact direct. “Yes, sweetie” I said, imparting all the sincerity I could, “I do know that.” And I did. I was taken aback at his statement, and yet on some level, I might have expected as much. There’s just always been something different about my child. And I admit that I’ve always been just the teensiest bit sad for him precisely because he is so aware, so thoughtful…

The giggling continues, and it lightens my heart. He might think of himself as ‘more fifty than ten’ on some days, but today there’s no question. He is still a little boy. And thankfully, a very happy one too.

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Keithie and Elihu share time on the coveted DS.  This was one lovely afternoon. Not an argument between the two all day; a good time was truly had by all. Me included. !

 

Summer Starts May 27, 2013

Elihu is in the bath, and I’ve snuck away to make a quick post. Spent the day readying our place for the warm months. Raked and rocked the entire garden and set up the bean poles. Planted flowers, cleaned out beds, secured the chicks’ outdoor run, plus a handful of other outdoor tasks. Needless to say I’m a good sort of tired right now. The lilacs have all gone by, so have the lily of the valley. Now we turn our attention to the growing of tomato plants and the swatting of mosquitoes.

Didn’t want Memorial Day to slip by without sharing this wonderful photograph of my father playing harpsichord for fellow army men. He was in his early twenties then. His was the Korean War era, and while he was never deployed, he had been trained for war. When greeted at Fort Dix by a superior he would hear “Private, what is your mission?” to which he was expected to salute and respond “To kill or be killed, Sir!”. When he related the story to me his face took on an expression I’d seldom seen. He looked to me for my shared disbelief and horror. “Can you believe that?” he asked. No, I could not. When he had shared this with his own father, hoping to receive just the smallest show of love or support, my grandfather instead surprised my dad by coldly reminding him “That’s what he was there for.”  (This is a time and culture in which my father and grandfather shook hands when saying goodbyes – and also when upon reuniting after long absences. No physical expressions of tenderness between these men in that day and age.!) All pretty horrific from my perspective today. I cannot even begin to imagine my son in such potential peril, not to mention sending him off in such a cold, unfeeling manner. A different time, a different world for sure.

My father took jobs painting the base’s chapel and playing harpsichord for services. I might not be here at all if he’d seen combat. Never know.

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Private Robert Conant plays harpsichord (this instrument is now in my living room) for the troops, Fort Dix, 1951

 

Blow Up May 25, 2013

father and sonit started out so sweetly…

The last item I remember on the table for consideration regarding ‘possible scenarios for this coming summer’ was that Fareed, his girlfriend and their two young boys were making tentative plans about driving out here for a visit at the Hillhouse (yes, you heard right) in the RV on their way to visit his extended family in Montreal. It would likely be the end of July. Wow – that was sooner than I could wrap my brain around. I’d always figured this would come one day, I guess I just didn’t figure on that day being so soon. Man, did that get me thinking. How would I deal with this? How should I deal with this? Need I even deal with this at all? This little bomb had me stopped in my tracks. Yes, we’ve all managed ok so far, but then again that was probably because we never saw each other. We knew about each other’s life to some extent, but that was it. Wait, was he honestly serious? Did he really feel comfortable with all of them driving here in that megalith, dropping anchor, plugging in… Having his girlfriend and their two small boys jump out and be cheerfully invited into our modest home for a casual visit? As in a ‘come on in, have some tea and see what we’ve done with the place oh look how well the boys all play together’ kind of thing? Really? Wow. Where to start? Really, where? I told him I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea. But I didn’t say no. Told him I’d have to think on it. And so I began to work on it…

Some four years ago I did in fact have short visions of welcoming Jill here… I realized that there would one day come a time when Charlie would be old enough to want to see for himself where exactly his half brother came from – and maybe even, become slightly curious as to who his brother’s mother was. And by ‘that time’ the mother of Elihu’s half brothers and I would have become somehow able to greet each other properly, civilly. In that first strange year after their son was born – some of you may gasp at this admission – I even had envisioned opening my arms to embrace her, and through that gesture letting her know that I no longer wished to hold all these bad feelings about what had happened… After all, didn’t we both know what it was to love – and live with – the same man? Were not our children siblings? I’m fairly sure that it was the antidepressants that enabled me to function in those early years, but more to the point the drugs were tempering my thoughts and making it possible for me to actually envision positive scenes like that unfolding so naturally… (They also helped with the mundane stuff too, like just plain getting out of bed.) It’s probably why I can no longer retrieve that same visualization these days; I weaned myself off of the medicine a couple of years ago. I’ve made attempts at reviving those first benevolent visions, but without the help of the antidepressants, I just can’t get there again. In fact just trying to makes me feel rather weak and ill. And sometimes quite angry, too.

I remember attending baby Charlie’s baptism, my five year old son sitting a pew ahead of me, next to his father, who sat beside his young girlfriend. I was in a heavy, heartbroken daze that day, but had decided to go to the service in order to show my son that all was ok. Yeah, right. I began sobbing within minutes, sitting there in that foreign church, knowing no one there save my in-laws (who have never shown me any compassion throughout this ordeal and continue to have a strangely ‘Stepford wives’ air about them) and staring with absolute disbelief at the back of my husband’s head. I saw him take his girlfriend’s hand and give it a squeeze. He put an arm around Elihu. Jill’s own mother must have seen this too, for strange as it might seem, at that moment she turned around and handed me a tissue. This tiny gesture told me a lot. She knew what torture this was for me. She got it. But her daughter seemed light years away from any similar comprehension. My tears fell uncontrollably throughout the ceremony. My son returned briefly to my side afterward, but then trotted off to be with the celebrating family. Not mine. Not his either, really. Or was it? Who the hell knew anything? For God’s sake her parents were our peers! Nothing felt right at all. In the church lobby, Jill’s dad agreed with me that he’d be up for breaking away for a sanity-restoring cigarette outside. Only time I’d ever spoken to him. But as kind a gesture as it was, it didn’t end up happening. Like his wife’s offering of a tissue – his loose invitation for a smoke also told me that he too got it. That he felt bad for me, for the situation. For the way things ended up. I remember both of us agreeing, as we looked towards our shoes and shook our heads, that it certainly wasn’t the baby’s fault, but still, just so not the way any of use would have wanted things to be.

Fast forward to now. I had just spent several weeks in deep contemplation of the proposed visit by my ex’s ‘other family’. I’d been greatly stressed by it, greatly at odds. I spent morning quiet time thinking it over from all sides, trying to get myself into that moment when I finally saw her… and of all places on the planet…here. Why was it just so, hard? Why? I was just about to post something about the process itself, when I learned that it would turn out to be worry wasted: At dinner last night, Fareed casually said those plans were now not happening. Instead, he would be taking Elihu on a nearly six week (and nearly ten thousand mile!) tour in the middle of his summer – a trip that would take the local county fair off the summer’s list (a top priority item, year after year, but missed each year on account of dad’s plans). Things, once again, have changed radically – from the already radical plans they’d originally been. Without so much as a heads up. Or email. Or phone call.

So, imagine what’s going on inside me. First, I’m pissed that he posed this incredibly awkward possibility, had me agonize over it for a while, then just drops it. Granted, HUGE relief. But then instead, he has his time with his child occuring on a hippie jam band tour? Late nights, long boring drives, unknown babysitters, not to mention the partying that takes place along the line…. I’ve dealt with this culture since my son was 5, so it does not freak me out for the many and obvious reasons it might another mom… and at the age of 10 he’s certainly much more able to handle himself safely. But six weeks in a friggin RV with grown men? That’ll get old soon enough. I do get that he’s old enough to play music with them – he’s been doing that all his life, and that’s an amazing experience that will be with him always – but there’s a down side to this too: he misses summer vacation at home with his friends, his farm, his free time. The past three summers have ended in tears because Elihu felt he did not have enough time at home just to do nothing. Just to be a kid, agenda-free. And his days just to be a kid are fast coming to a close! Three times now he’s missed the county fair. (Tears always result.) His dad says to suck it up – and reminds me that the court says he should have two whole months with his father. What to do? Fareed tours much of summer. So if Elihu should visit his dad at his home, that will be interrupted by absences here and there – and they certainly won’t get two months of visiting in. And from what I understand, Jill doesn’t feel comfortable taking care of Elihu when his father’s gone. (Why, after five years and two sons of her own, she should feel this way – I don’t really understand. But as Elihu says, ‘she’s family, but she’s not family’.) So, in order for father and son to be together, the ‘best’ way to accomplish that is pack the kid on the bus and join the tour. Sigh.

I will admit that I should have researched the dates of the county fair and sent them to dad long before today’s conversation. I know Fareed’s priorities, and I should have carved out ours months ago and put them in black and white. Fareed is crazy busy, and I know he can’t just keep dates and overall objectives in his mind with all that’s going on in his world. He needs them on paper. I get that. But I will not retract my opinion that the way Fareed handled the summer plans sucked. Abruptly announcing the current plans have simply changed, and that they have been replaced by another new and challenging scenario is supremely lame and selfish. Look, I’m so much more sympathetic to his side of this than most can understand. I cannot imagine the heartbreak Fareed lives with, and while he may not know it (but my friends all do and think I’m crazy for it) I worry about him still. (As I write this I fret that he’s not sleeping well or isn’t comfortable enough on the train ride back.) I don’t want him separated from his son anymore than possible. It positively grieves me to know how deeply he misses Elihu, it does! But not to give any consideration to his son’s expectations of the summer, to think only of getting in his ‘court appointed time’ against all odds – that is a lame and selfish approach. I wish Fareed could try and imagine summer vacation from his son’s perspective: un-planned days on the farm, long days spent with friends… empty, sunny days expanding into the future… I know Fareed’s busy, I realize he misses his son terribly and that we must all make this work, but I just wish Fareed would think of his son before he thinks of himself. But that’s not the way he rolls.

Not sure how it happened, but I’m guessing the wine and beer musta helped loosen me up (don’t drink much these days). Cuz I was fuming. Fuming that he should once again just Lord His Way over us. Tell us the plan without any input from Elihu beforehand. I have been through enough tears from this child over summers in which he feels he has NO control, and NO audience with his dad. I have had it. Plus, I’ve had it with Fareed acting like this is all life as usual for a normal family. Acting as if nothing is wrong. Or different. He has never apologized to me for any of this new life – nor has Jill for that matter (as an olive branch of sorts I once emailed her to say thank you for taking good care of Elihu. Heard nothing back. Fareed said she was scared of me. Geez.). Only recently did Fareed offer a letter of apology to Elihu – and that was only in response to having read a blog post here! Instantly, things begin to tumble around in my head. In my mind I replay his words just before we married: “Remember, no matter WHAT happens, divorce is NOT an option”. I remember that so well. So well. They were words of true and lifelong committment and I took them seriously. I think of this and it makes me madder. Now my head is buzzing. I am livid and still gaining. In this moment I remember too my miscarriage, and how he’d knocked up his girlfriend shortly after… I remember that he did her on the same couch where I had once nursed our baby… I remember that he does voice and guitar duo gigs with her now too, the very sacred thing that he and I had shared for so many years… I remember that he pays his lawn guys the same money he pays in support… I thought of our days without heat, mixing powdered milk with water while his kids ate pricey gluten-free crap… All of this and more swirled about in my head in one hot, horrible, raging mess and as he left the room I screamed at him just to go home to his slut and her illegitimate kids and leave us alone. Although I’m sure there were moments before that had come close, I cannot remember feeling such acute betrayal and rage as I did in that moment. I walked outside looking for an outlet for my rage, but nothing felt right. I needed to keep busy. I was spinning. Inside the house again, I sunk my hands into the dishwater; at least I could use this surge of white-hot energy to get the stupid dishes done. I picked up a knife and paused; for an instant, I could see how good it would feel…. And I understood much better how crimes of passion come to be. I finished the dishes, and as my anger subsided I began to feel sick about what I’d said. Sick. God damn it – this whole fucking thing was sick. I so wish I could just escape from it, but there’s nothing to do but take a breath, exhale, then keep going.

Shortly before we dropped Fareed off at the train station tonite, we stopped in a little Indian restaurant because I’d had a taste for some gulab jamun. The owner had a small rack of kurtas there, and I made a beeline to them. After perusing the options, I settled on a turquoise blue choice, and Elihu found a handsome one in black – just his size and right for wearing on stage. Yeah, it was all pretty perfect. Then Fareed spied a gorgeous deep red kurta, one I too had thought of taking – but not wanting to be greedy had left it be… He looked it over once, then rolled it up. “I’ll take this one too” he said. It was bagged separately. Walking back to the station I laughed to myself. It just didn’t ever seem to end. He asked me what I was laughing about. I told him. “She gets to have the second baby, she does the duo gigs with you now, plus she gets a kurta.” I paused. Wasn’t sure if I should continue, but hey, he asked… “She’s got bigger boobs and she’s younger too – she’ll last you a lot longer. Yeah, you’ve done a good job in replacing me. You got yourself a pretty good deal.” Really, I was smiling. It just seemed so crazy. Scripted, almost. Kinda like Reba’s show, only not. Kinda, but… While he has a good sense of humor and will sometimes join me in acknowledging how insane this all is, he wasn’t joining me this time. In fact, I think he probably thought it was too much. Too insensitive or sarcastic maybe. Oh well. Still seems kinda funny to me. Hey, if I don’t laugh about it, I’ll cry. And when I cry, there’s a good chance I might just blow up.

sadbut it ended with a bang.

 

Iron Bird May 21, 2013

Those who live in my neck of the woods and are familiar with the main north-south commute from Saratoga to Schenectady may know of the old garage on route 50 which is surrounded by large abstract sculptures and painted over in bizarre icons. I myself had remembered passing this strange landmark upon occasion over the past two decades, and in the past few years as I began to pass it even more frequently (as Elihu and his father went back and forth to the train station) I’d begun to wonder more deeply about the place. I’d stopped a few times to take photographs, and as I examined the whole menagerie more closely I became increasingly  intrigued with the place, the paintings, the sculptures… Who’d made them? Why were they all just sitting there? And where was this person now? What were the stories behind the pieces? I’d loved this art for years, and now with the place for sale by owner, they sat, rusting, languishing. At first it was just a small hunch, a wisp of an idea… could I possibly own one?  There was one piece in particular that called to me… a lovely bird… and I knew exactly where it would go in my garden… Then months would pass, nothing would change. There they still sat. My vision remained, too. I loved that bird. I could find a way to take it home with me, right? Why not? But how? I can’t just take em. That’s not right. Gotta find out who owns them and go from there. And money, oh, yeah. I’ll have to set some aside. Gotta make a plan here…

About a year ago I finally took down the number on the sign and called. After a bit of Googling to equip myself with some preliminary backstory on the place, I called the family who was selling the property and spoke to the artist’s brother. The artist himself was named Allan – known better to friends as ‘Ace’ – and had made the sculptures several decades back. Ace had been in Viet Nam, had returned a changed man, had discovered relief in the bottle, in the Bible, and finally in his artistic creations. At one time in his life he lived all across the country, hitching rides and taking odd jobs where he could. But finally he ended up here, in his grandfather’s old auto shop, using bits and pieces from the junk pile and welding them into large, free-standing organic shapes. He was still living, his brother told me (to my great relief!) and in fact he was in a nursing home not terribly far from my home. Within a day of that call I was off to meet Ace.

Since that first meeting, I’ve stopped in a handful of times to visit. Although I understand he has his off days, whenever I’ve seen him he’s been pretty together. Recalling stories, tidbits of this, tidbits of that. He’d had a stroke about eight years ago, and that’s when he moved out of the property. His brother’s been taking care of the place ever since. When I told his brother I’d like to acquire some of Ace’s pieces – in particular that delicate bird which had so captivated me – he expressly told me that it was business between me and his brother alone. Told me to take it up with Ace. As this man was a tremendous fan of Ayn Rand and put great value on respecting the rights of the individual (and would therefore not intercede in the sale of something that was not his to sell), I realized my hoped-for pieces were safe for now. No one had expressed interest before, and I had a direct line to the artist. Perfect!

For my 50th birthday I bought myself two pieces of sculpture. I visited Ace, wrote up a little contract, put the money in his account at the home, kissed him in thanks and left. Life got busy, and while I’d intended to pick them up sooner, a week had passed and they still sat waiting for me. One morning the phone rang. It was Ace’s brother. He had my ‘bird’. My heart pounded with the thrill of knowing it would soon be here, in its new home. We made plans for the next day. Elihu and I met the brother at the garage, but when we pulled in I felt something might not be right. There were only two pieces left of the dozen or more that had sat there for years… and none my bird. These pieces had sat virtually ignored for decades, and now they were nearly all gone? Just like that??  Ace and I had agreed on two pieces, so Elihu and I looked over the mere three remaining and had just chosen the small one (which he titled “Mayfly”) when Bill pulled up and told me the bird was in the locked garage. I held my breath as he opened the door… and then – I’m ashamed to say I reacted so strongly – when an entirely different bird appeared my heart sank and my body went cold. Oh no… I’d waited. And I’d trusted this man. Thought he had let the deal be mine and Ace’s alone. “That’s not the one” I said, trying not to cry. Really. Cry? Oh, but I’d had this vision for so many months now… So much anticipation. This piece really had that ‘look’; it was Ace’s for sure – and it was a nice piece, just not the one I’d held in my mind’s eye for so long. Fifty year old women don’t cry about things like this, I’m thinking to myself. Suck it up. You’re lucky you got anything at all. But still. This feels wrong. He sold my bird to someone else – knowing full well which one it was I wanted! And you know what else? Although Ace and I had agreed upon two pieces of sculpture for the price, his brother told me that was unacceptable. !! The small piece already in our van would cost extra. Extra? I thought this was between Ace and me! I hadn’t any extra with me – Elihu and I had hoped to have a celebratory lunch out. (Maybe I didn’t need extra money for eating out – there was less to celebrate than I’d thought.) I made him an offer of the remaining cash I had on me, and as I went to find it in my purse he agreed to take ten less. So at least we could swing lunch. Thanks. Sigh.

Always one to try and preserve relationships as best I can, I smiled my way through some small talk as we looked around Ace’s old shop together. We even had some friends in common – the folks at Elihu Farm! But that didn’t help us here and now. As Elihu admired the stuff all around, and even as the brother gave us a couple of Ace’s things as mementos, a sick feeling still hung in my gut. I was stunned and in disbelief. Something so simple. A man proclaims his principals, proselytizes about them to me (an earlier visit had him and his wife urgently encouraging me to seriously begin to study Ayn Rand and learn about the importance of individuals acting on their own behalf), then doesn’t even live by them in the end. Ugh. My tummy wasn’t much better even by the time we got home.

I’d thought some time, some perspective might lighten my heart. And yes, it has. A little. And yes, this still might be a ‘best mistake ever’. Cuz I’ve told myself that I’m just going to have to learn how to weld a bird of a similar shape on my friggin own if I can’t have Ace’s bird in my garden. We’re a bird family, after all! There is a woman not far from here who is a sculptor of large pieces. Already considering calling her up. Can one just up and learn to weld? Really? Secretly, this missing bird has got me going… been collecting interesting looking pieces of metal from abandoned farms, from trash piles in the woods… all with the hope of doing what Ace has… Can I? Not convinced I’ll take it that far. I just miss that little shape, that gentle turn of iron… and still wish she were here with us.

For now I’m going to enjoy the pieces we have. They animate our little perennial forest garden so delightfully. They just add a certain charm, humor and extra presence which seems to bring the space alive. Since I’ve lived here I’ve secretly held a vision of this property with footpaths running throughout, a flowing creek under the bridge, terraced land held back with lovely stone walls, perennials at every turn, trees that will one day make a glorious canopy overhead, walls of lilacs that will burst each spring….

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Here is the ‘wrong’ bird. He’s growing on me, though.

(Maximus hissed at it like crazy when I took it out of the van and stood it up. !)

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and now from the other side (looking toward the driveway from the woods)

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Here’s little Mayfly

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and up close..

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Elihu smooching rooster Irik on the bridge

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Tall Bird, Mayfly, Irik and Elihu

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A handmade leather vest Ace made for himself.

A part of this guy will always live on here at the Hillhouse.

 

Catch Up May 19, 2013

Almost there. Very close now. I know there are wizened folks who might spoil it all by reminding me that nothing is ever completely done, and nor will I truly ever get there, and that I should enjoy it all and be truly present for the journey of the process rather than jones for the destination itself. Mech. Can’t really get next to that kind of Zen thinking just right now. Cuz after some eight loads of laundry, several hours at the kitchen sink dealing with the dishes and another hour spent dealing with the animals… the end is finally in sight! I’ve been busy busting out the process all day, present only to the idea that I gotta get all this shit done!! . My house has been vacuumed until the bag could hold no more, the tops and bottoms of picture frames and heat registers have all been wiped down, the long-avoided undersides of both beds have been investigated with flashlights and the once-thought-to-be-lost items excavated with broom handles… even the ceilings have been swept of the cobwebs I have spent months pretending not to notice. It’s Spring, after all, and that itself may account for my unplanned campaign today to get things cleaned up.

It’s Sunday too, and a rainy one at that. Had it been warm and sunny, as it was yesterday, today might not have turned out as it did. But in that the two weeks ahead are rather full of events and commitments, I thought it best to muster all my resolve and restore some order before the next round hit. If I didn’t, my sanity was at risk. Plus it was entirely possible I might start breaking one of my own rules of a tidy home, which is to “reduce redundancy”, and I might start simply buying things because I could no longer find the ones I already owned in all the mess. Yup, having two or more of the same thing’s a pretty good sign of a chaotic house. Some redundancy is fine, but when you end up with three hammers or half a dozen pairs of scissors or ten pairs of pliers… that suggests things have gotten a little out of control at one time or another. So I began my piles, like with like, items with shared destinations (the box to go to the basement, the bin to go to Elihu’s room, etc.) and little by little began to make some headway. Elihu helped a bit, and by the time my mother called to say the Conants had a visitor and invited us to come over for a lunch break, much had been done. It was good to see our old family friend, and made me happy for dad to have company. We stayed perhaps a tad too long for Elihu’s allergies, as when we got home he remained rather sniffly right up until bed time.

So now he’s asleep, and I would so love to get into my own clean bed (I wash my own sheets so seldom my dignity prevents me from letting on…) but the coverlet tumbles away in the drier, taking much longer than it seems it should. I am tired. A good tired, though. It’s been a full day. Nice to see our friend Ken today, nice to see my family all in one place, nice to watch my father enjoying an organ concert on TV, lifting his hands at the conclusion of passages, humming, leaning forward in his chair at a certain turn… Most engaged I’ve seen him with anything in a long time. That was nice. And now, as I sit here in my comfy bedroom chair, having just kissed my own beloved son goodnight, I’m feeling pretty good. My house is clean. Things seems possible again. There’s just this ever-so-subtle feeling of hope that begins to germinate in the wake of such a cleaning and inventory-taking. It’s as if you’ve been given a new starting point. Everything from here’s gonna be easy. Cuz you know where everything is again. Like you should. Freshly cleaned, newly put away. And in a moment, I too shall be in my own resting place. Ok, now I can feel that Zen thing. Cuz this is a good moment. Yeah, I’m feeling it, liking it. Sorry I rushed through all those previous moments to get to this one. Ah well. Here we are. Nice, huh? Ah yes, this is a moment I am savoring. Feels good. Ahh, all is in its place.

Finally. All caught up. (For now…)

 

Fallout May 15, 2013

Just how on earth does everyone else do it? A busy week, food to prepare, laundry to wash, school projects to complete, calls to return… Never mind the added inconvenience of a toilet that no longer flushes, a severe lack of counter space on which to prepare said food – and homework assignments which continue throughout. Oh, and violin practice. Yeah, right. Seriously, how does everyone deal with all of this… life? The other day Elihu himself mused aloud “I wonder how families with five kids manage. How do they get everything done? Imagine five kids to feed, five kids doing homework and then actually getting all of them getting to bed!” I was impressed that he’d made such an observation. Not that his mother hasn’t encouraged such thinking – I’m a frequent self-mutterer, ever in search of that missing piece of information. Other households can’t be this chaotic, this cluttered and un-picked up, can they? Maybe. The other day, utterly exasperated with the barrage of crap all about me, I complained to my mother as I waved an arm toward the kitchen table which was piled high with the detritus of a life fully lived. “Is everyone’s house such a mess? I don’t remember things looking like this when I was growing up. Did they? Did I just forget?? I cannot believe life needs to be like this!” She was uncharacteristically unphased by my frustration. In a surprisingly matter-of-fact tone she told me that she thought that yes, other households probably did look like this. Then she added that that’s what life looks like. Still, I wonder. Really?

I like right angles and clean surfaces and find great joy in knowing that things have been put in their proper places, like with like. In fact, a tidy house gives me enormous pleasure. If you are familiar with the characteristics of the Zodiac signs, then you may know that this is a hallmark of the Taurus. A love of things beautiful, of home, of things comfortable. Stability and domestic peace are top priority for the bulls. I feel myself to be quite definitely Taurean by these standards. And when my home is a scattered mess of stuff, I simply can’t feel true peace. Now I realize that if it were indeed ‘true peace’ that I was experiencing, it would have no requirements and no conditions. If I were truly a woman of inner balance I suppose a sloppy house would not stand in the way of a contented soul. But sadly, I am quite linked to the state of objects around me, and as things are now, inner peace is a long way off.

Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how it is that other people live. What are they content to accept? To let go of? How differently might they tolerate the same conditions? As I wonder, I feel a persistent, low-grade guilt; I must be a wimp. I don’t even have a day job, yet I almost feel as if I can’t keep up. How do folks with friggin day jobs handle life? I wonder… does it help to have a partner? Once, years ago, I mused to my mother that I felt like a single mother. “All mothers are single mothers” she replied without the slightest bit of irony. Yeah, there’s just so much work to be done. But still, I can’t let it go… am I missing something? Sometimes I wonder how different things might be if I had a dishwasher. I cook each and every night. Takeout’s not a remote option on our budget (oh how very different from the last life I knew in which restaurants were part and parcel of daily life). And for some reason, cooking for two seems to involve just as many pans, dishes and utensils as does cooking for a bigger brood. Limited counter space means that things get quickly out of hand if not cleaned up promptly. But honestly, I just can’t find the energy to deal with it night after night. Thankfully, Elihu’s big animal report is done and I’ve learned all the music I need to for the eighth grade play, so our load’s a little lighter. Kind of. Got both a paycheck and food stamps today and so went shopping. Nothing sexy, just toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, bread, vegetables and such, but now there it all sits, taking up half my kitchen floor, waiting to be put away. Ich. Today I am pooped. Fell asleep during a rehearsal this afternoon, and frankly, I’m not sure where the energy to write this post is coming from (I enjoy it, maybe that’s part of it…). I just wish I could catch up. I was going to take a picture of the mess on my kitchen table but didn’t even have the energy for that. Hell, you probably know what a big mess looks like anyway. (Or do you?)

In my mind I’m going over the easiest dinner possible. How I can pull it off without washing anything, without moving anything or putting anything away. Then I’m thinking about bed. Oh how I want to go to bed now. But then there are chickens that need tending, chicks too. Elihu helps, yes, but in the end, it’s mommy that gits her done. As I write this in fact, he’s searching the house up and down for something. He can’t find it, but most likely I will. Thankfully, he understands I’m not feeling up to full mommy duty right now. He’s trying his best. And in a minute, after another moment of pause in my chair, I’ll pull myself together and do the same. I’ll bust it out. I’ll find his charger, I’ll make supper, I’ll put some things away. And then… finally… I can fallout.

 

Much of May May 13, 2013

Always too much to tell. A slower pace in the country? Occasionally, but not often. The first half of May has been very busy here. Rather than tell you all about it, I’m offering a photographic retrospective of the last two weeks. Hope you don’t mind – there are quite a few pics here…May Day 2013 165Starting with a surprise visit one morning by Phil on his tractor, who’d come by to plow our garden. He’s doing it for nothing. Just being a kind neighbor. I told him I felt guilty about his helping us like that, but he responded that Mr. Sessleman had done it for him once upon a time, he was just passin it on. Hope I too am able to pass on some helpful kindness one day.

(This is earliest May – note how few leaves are on the trees, then compare to similar shots just a week later)

May Day 2013 177I like this shot – tractor, Elihu, goose, all in motion…

May Day 2013 180Elihu runs down the driveway after the tractor

May Day 2013 057May 3rd, the fourth graders dance around the May pole while singing (in harmony parts!) and weaving very intricate designs with the colored ribbons. This is a rite of passage for fourth graders at the Waldorf School.

May Day 2013 065Elihu and Dierdre bow to each other before the dance

May Day 2013 047Grandma and Grandpa were able to join us…

May Day 2013 084

My mom remembers dancing around the May pole when she was in fourth grade, too!

May Day 2013 092A nice looking group, these wonderful fourth graders.

May Day 2013 016Goofburgers!

May Day 2013 099Elihu enjoys a little picnic with his grandparents

May Day 2013 155We take a look at the weaving job

May Day 2013 156Lovely up close

May Day 2013 160Then Elihu helps carry it off…

May Day 2013 118Now for a quick family picture…

May Day 2013 120Before zipping off to catch a duck…

 May Day 2013 146Notice Elihu, to the right…

May Day 2013 122No bait used – nothing but extreme motivation and a finely-honed technique

May Day 2013 136Duck time

May Day 2013 126A fine end to May day!

May 2013 Merck Forest 007…and a fine start to our Merck Forest field trip as Elihu chases a turkey vulture across a field…

May 2013 Merck Forest 024Visiting pastured sheep, Elihu dashes off in hopes of seeing birds…

May 2013 Merck Forest 107The view was gorgeous. All I can think of is how much labor was involved in clear cutting the old growth forests and making them into farmland – at this elevation and nearly three hundred years ago, no less. Boggles the mind.

May 2013 Merck Forest 040We visited pigs that lived out in the woods. !

May 2013 Merck Forest 065Kids feeding kids.

May 2013 Merck Forest 056Too cute!

May 2013 Merck Forest 083Now to see the beautiful draft horse

May 2013 Merck Forest 093The class sang a song about horses (in a round!) as they admired her

May 2013 Merck Forest 097Ben found a B on the horse’s side

May 2013 Merck Forest 112Elihu and I head up the hill to the barns in search of swallows

May 2013 Merck Forest 143Bingo! Such striking markings and color

May 2013 Merck Forest 148What’s this? A pigeon’s nest…

May 2013 Merck Forest 149With eggs! Hope mom comes back soon to brood… think we scared her off

May 2013 Merck Forest 147We watch the horse get hitched up to her gear. They really do farm with the horses here at Merck Forest.

May 2013 Merck Forest 152On the trail to the car everyone fills the ‘elevator’ tree

May 2013 Merck Forest 153Nora and I are having mint chocolate chip! This girl’s amazing – she used a balled up piece of tin foil from lunch to make a baseball, and found some sticks… within minutes she’d started a full-on baseball game.

May 2013 Merck Forest 157We’re at the local Battenkill Dairy – our ice cream was made right on the premises. All of it. !

May Apple Blossoms 2013 005Ah, the apple trees…

May Apple Blossoms 2013 008And the flowering Quince, too

May Apple Blossoms 2013 035Look who’s returned one week later to till! Thank you Phil!!!

May Apple Blossoms 2013 017While Phil works, Elihu picks violets..

May Apple Blossoms 2013 026and picks…

May Apple Blossoms 2013 029and then makes ‘Violet Angels’ in them…

May Apple Blossoms 2013 039Next on the agenda, some Cinnamon fiddleheads from our woods for supper. They’re fuzzier than Ostrich ferns (and slightly more toxic) and take a lot of prep. Mainly why they don’t work well in restaurants.

May Apple Blossoms 2013 041Cleaned and washed

May Apple Blossoms 2013 042Boiled, next to be sautéed in butter

May Apple Blossoms 2013 045We actually really liked them.

May wishing well ballet 2013 016Onto the Saratoga City Ballet’s Spring production of Alice in Wonderland. That’s our friend Freya in the middle…

May wishing well ballet 2013 054and this is our friend Mahogany

May wishing well ballet 2013 061Here’s the only boy in the whole group. He is good. !

May wishing well ballet 2013 038Love the en pointe thing. So much harder than it appears.

May wishing well ballet 2013 079All three Waldorf kids afterwards. Mahogany and Freya are in seventh grade.

May wishing well ballet 2013 084We went out for ice cream after the show (Atkins diet took a week off) and it was positively snowing white apple blossoms!

May wishing well ballet 2013 100So pretty

May wishing well ballet 2013 155A few hours later and it’s our annual birthday dinner at the Wishing Well!

May wishing well ballet 2013 106In short order Elihu was playing along with the pianist in the bar

May wishing well ballet 2013 133Elihu’s very favorite dish of all: Frogs’ Legs. ! (I think he’s playing drums on the table with their little leg bones. !)

May wishing well ballet 2013 108Yeeps. I’m trying them too. And they’re actually very delicious. And no, not really like chicken.

May wishing well ballet 2013 131The pic above our table (Saratoga is a racing town.) This is pretty incredible, huh?

May wishing well ballet 2013 138Happy 60th birthday to us!

May wishing well ballet 2013 137Thanks for singing!

May wishing well ballet 2013 142Yay! A picture of the two of us taken by someone other than me. !

May wishing well ballet 2013 141The Wishing Well is an old-world joint. Lots of wood, mounted moose heads and such.

May wishing well ballet 2013 144Elihu gets a good-night smooch from owner Brenda Lee (with whom I’d sung ‘Exactly Like You’ earlier in the evening – when I requested  it and the pianist had – gasp – never heard of it.)

May wishing well ballet 2013 146Good-bye  WW – see you next year! (We love the place, but must note that our fiddleheads were better than theirs and that the escargot was not good. Wine not cooked off, not enough salt or butter, and gritty. We’re very forgiving, but it was a lot of money for a not so spectacular dinner. But it was fun to actually hear a person playing the piano. Plus I have learned that I cannot casually drink a martini these days. I got fairly loaded on nearly nothing. Times are a changin’.)

This has been our wonderful month of May so far…

 

Dream Tears May 10, 2013

Guess I’m still workin it out. Every now and again I’ll wake up in the night, racked with sobbing. It’s the physicality of it that wakes me, and I always stop and spend a few minutes trying to piece together the events of the dream that led up to it. In the ‘beginning’, that is to say within the first few months of my ex’s news, I’d find myself waking in tears several times a week. In the years that followed, it only happened every other month or so. This past year it’s happened only a handful of times, so even in my groggy state I was rather surprised at it. Even more surprised to remember the situation surrounding it. Last night was a brand new theme; usually it was me begging him not to go, or being surprised once again at his news, but this time it was quite the opposite; I had just told Fareed I couldn’t marry him. Everything was in place for our ‘second’ marriage; somehow he’d left the anonymous other woman he’d been with, somehow things were all set to begin again. His uncle had even come to my house to discuss some plans… But I couldn’t. I remember it being the hardest decision I had ever made. In some ways I could think of no greater relief than to be reunited with this person with whom I’d shared so many years of my life. His company was agreeable, he was an intelligent person, we shared a common knowledge of things musical; there were a lot of reasons to make him the simple, easy answer for a life partner. But something in me knew, and finally I had the balls to face it. And in the eleventh hour, I informed him, his parents (and his uncle), that I was not going forward with the plans. This dream was long and involved, and as I lay there trying to calm my breathing, reconstructing the events of the dream, I surprised myself at the number of details I was able to recall. Fascinating. I had been the one to end things this time, not him. Guess deep down I needed to reclaim the power I must have felt I lost in being the partner ‘left’. The right decision, but a tough one, and it still involved enough conflict to break my heart once again.

A friend suggested on my recent birthday that I look back over my old posts so that I might fully appreciate where I am today. Sometimes – most times, I think – distance from life events is required to formulate perspective on what’s happened. Understanding and insight cannot be rushed, they are organic and need to grow and evolve before their ultimate lesson can be recognized. My friend’s idea was a good and fitting one for such a landmark birthday, and it reminded me of an experience I had back in the beginning of this blog regarding perspective… I recall writing the very first post here, entitled “Snowflakes”, and in it saying something about knowing that things had happened as they were supposed to; that my situation had actually served me well in some ways. Immediately upon writing it, it occurred to me that although I was certain it was true, it didn’t feel true yet. I wondered if I might edit it out – because honestly, my heart hadn’t caught up to the platitude. But some two and a half years later, I finally feel it. Makes me wonder how my current experiences will resonate with the me two years down the line. Funny how some things can’t be rushed. They just need to happen on their own timeline, no matter how much you wish things would hurry up and resolve themselves.

Some five years later, it comforts me to learn that my sleeping self is still tending to its healing. Woulda thought that was all history, a done deal by now. But apparently not. Guess that’s what dreams and tears are for.

 

Flip Side May 8, 2013

Made it to the other side. I am now one of those ‘other’ people on the planet who walk around ‘being older’, as if they were completely unaware of it!  Naw, I suppose they’re aware. But what’s a person to do but march along the mortal path, make mistakes, learn the best one can… and grow older? Today, as I sit to create the quickest of posts, I have hit a particular grouping of keys which has just inverted the image on my monitor. !! Being a no-nonsense woman of action (and 50 years experience!) I simply picked the silly thing up and turned it upside down on my desk. And so there it will stay until I have some time to figure out how to ‘right’ it. Literally. But for now I will accept this as a metaphor for the second half of my life: it aint gonna be like the first half. Some shit’s gonna change. My world is gonna get turned on its rear… (and in a good way, I proclaim!) But until that time…

I’m here tonight to very quickly share some pictures from my birthday yesterday. It was a warm, breezy day, full of sunshine and without one single cloud in the sky. From my duties as recess monitor at my son’s school to a birthday gift to myself of an oil change and car vacuuming, some chicken smooching, a surprise visit from my childhood friend Sherry and her daughter Katy, and then a lovely birthday dinner with mom, dad and Elihu – complete with surprise new gas grill on the porch! – the day was about as perfect as a day could be. Let the photos commence…

May, 50th Birthday 2013 037My final portrait as a woman in her forties, thanks Elihu. Hey – I was pregnant with him in this same bathrobe!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 152A birthday tradition; I dig up perrennials from abandoned farms. How wonderful to share the beauty of these pink daffodils once enjoyed by old-time farmers Mr. and Mrs. Meunch, both now many decades gone. But their garden lives on here at the Hillhouse!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 138The girls are always close by to greet us

May, 50th Birthday 2013 144Elihu almost always has to get a proper smooching in before school

May, 50th Birthday 2013 066I just LOVE this fourth grade class. They’re making a fort. Lots of great ideas in this ambitious project.

May, 50th Birthday 2013 084They fight, yeah, but they work together really well too!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 079Dierdre’s got her own window!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 071Ok, one crazy shot allowed.

May, 50th Birthday 2013 098Sherry’s 50th is the 16th.  We’re next door neighbors and have known each other since we were 4. !! Sherry remembers all the crazy stuff we did together in the high school and college years. I don’t. I have to ask her to tell me the stories. !

May, 50th Birthday 2013 105We brought our own balloons – it was just lively enough

May, 50th Birthday 2013 120So few of us together, must you stick out your tounge, young man?

May, 50th Birthday 2013 110Mom was hell bent on actually lighting fifty candles. She did it!!!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 117No mean feat blowing em all out!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 128Elihu says goodnight to grandpa

May, 50th Birthday 2013 049We’re not sad or mad in this pic, just tired… plus the flash is hard on Elihu’s eyes. Goodnight all!

Thank you all for a wonderful day! We felt your love and good thoughts coming in from all over.

Sending you hugs and kisses right back. May each one of us know the love of friends and family on their birthday. !

 

Mid Century Mama May 5, 2013

Folks that know me – or knew me in the life that preceded this current one – will know me to be a most enthusiastic fan of all things mid century. I cherish the Eames chair in my living room (although I admit it’s a vinyl knockoff – but it’s still gorgeous), and I lament the loss of that stunning, five level ranch home in South Evanston that some may remember from those once-famous Christmas parties. I still have a few mid century things in my life, in fact I’ve created a rather pleasant look in my home here by mixing early American with modern pieces. What I have satisfies my desire for beauty – it still ‘scratches the itch’, as my ex and I used to say. But day after tomorrow, mid century will come to mean something entirely different in my world. Finally, after much ambivalent anticipation I myself will be ‘mid century’. !

Honestly, that’s not a big deal. The bulk of my friends are already past that landmark. I’ve done enough rumination on it to be able to move on. Or have I? Ok. So maybe it is a big deal. There are still a couple of things on my mind at the doorstep of this birthday: I’m alive, many of my dear friends are not. My parents are alive, many of my friend’s parents are not. I’m healthy, many of my friends are not. I have my beloved son with me every day. Many parents do not have their children with them. So – there’s the half-full glass take on it. And that’s my overall, bottom-line assessment of this landmark. However, in the spirit of complete honesty, I feel the need to vent just a teeny bit (I am secure in the knowledge that I am putting a voice to the feelings of many in this forthcoming mini-rant…)

Here goes: Not happy with the funky neck skin (which literally seemed to appear over goddam night just a few months ago), nor the crazy new chin hairs (some white!), nor the now full-time creases around my eyes, nor the deeper lines from my nose to my mouth (when acting in high school  plays I’d pencil in these lines to appear older – the way I look now!), nor the way the arthritis in my hands is causing the joints to become grotesquely oversized, nor the strange way in which the skin on my thighs and butt is more crinkly than seems fitting for my age, nor the way I just can’t lose those last ten pounds, nor the way I now need readers or glasses – no longer can I blow off the glasses when heading out… While not a one of these things came on all at once, and certainly no one thing just up and happened in my fiftieth year specifically, I can say that I didn’t really notice any of this age-related activity in my forty-eighth year. I can honestly say that a whole bunch of stuff really came to the fore just this past year. All of a sudden I had a head of silver when just a year ago it was hardly noticeable. My neck? Just fine and dandy – til recently. I’m sure all these changes happened incrementally, but they seemed to hit a critical mass of sorts this past year. When in my mid forties I still felt I looked pretty good – I didn’t really see what all this crap about aging was about. Didn’t need readers, hell, didn’t really need my glasses so much either. Yeah, physically speaking, my forties were fine (except for a little divorce-related weight gain). But all of a sudden I really feel that I look my age. The jig is up, the charade is over, the cards are on the table. So I’d better quit my bitchin and proceed with a little class and composure. I don’t need to go on and on about the disappointments of growing old when Nora Ephron, bless her soul, so eloquently expressed all of her aging-related predicaments in “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. If you’re a peer of mine or older, read it. She brings such humor and humanity to the experience.

I remember a moment once, when a new awareness washed over me – clarity and perspective came to me in a flash. I can remember being in my bedroom in my beloved Evanston home, looking through the branches of our backyard tree towards the afternoon sun… I was contemplating what it meant to be turning 42… I considered that if I had a life expectancy of 84, that I was now halfway there. That I was, more accurately, on the downslope of my life: I had passed all those years of youth, and before me was nothing but the process of aging… In that moment I realized that I’d had a general sense of hope and expectancy that had been present with me all my life and had been driving me forward… to that next moment of satisfaction, then the next one, and then the next… yet where was the destination? What was that ultimate, one experience that I still ‘hoped’ for? Cold fear grabbed my chest – had I been on a fruitless, vain search for something I’d never find? Or had I already found it – and didn’t know that I’d found it? I’d enjoyed my life – all of it, as best I could, I’d always been aware of my good fortune, and yet, there was always a tiny nudging from inside to move toward something not yet achieved… As endless as the process had always seemed, a certain end was, in fact, coming. To me.

In that moment, I understood – in a way that even evades me now – that I was going to die. Not sure how else to explain it. But I got it for a second. I also got that nothing was to be taken for granted, I got that I was somehow not exempt; that I too, if all went well, would one day be an old woman. That’s mighty hard to truly get when your skin is smooth, your joints flexible, your eyesight perfect… but I got it. For a few moments I think I not only came to know that I was going to be old one day, but in some way I made peace with it. But then life overtook me, vanity returned, the sense of being somehow immune to fate – all of that settled back in and had me forgetting again; living as if things would always be thus. But these days, now that the physical evidence is mounting, I am beginning to learn a little humility. And man, I’m not very good at it. Yet. My aim is to age with humor and dignity. I need to do this well, if for no other reason than as an example for my son. I’ve got to find a way to sink into this new body without that nagging sense of sorrow and loss. I know I enjoyed my youth – I surely did. So I have no regrets – and that should free me up to really embrace this new chapter. It’s liberating not to care so much about the trappings of vanity. I like that my priorities have changed. I’m looking forward to learning things now in a way I never had the time or interest to before. So while I might continue to bitch and moan about stuff, truly I’m coming from the half-full place. Just might not always behave like it. As I’ve said before, it’s a balancing act.

My paternal grandma and my maternal great aunt both lived to be a hundred. So, if I’m to live as long as Bessie or Helen, then I’m right smack in the middle. And I’m ok with that. After all, I’m a mid century mama.