The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Present for Good Night August 30, 2013

I’d come in to Elihu’s room to say goodnight. Although I hadn’t planned on reading to him (the night before I’d read Oscar Wilde’s very amusing “The Canterville Ghost”), I had a feeling there’d be no short goodnight. There almost never is. Elihu always has something on his mind. And tonite, I must say, he surprised me. He was lying on his side in the dark room, facing the wall. ‘You know, I just don’t get it. It seems most people miss the very reason for their lives.’ Huh? I thought. Where is this one going? I put my hand on his shoulder and asked if he could tell me what he meant by that. He responded in a slightly agitated tone. ‘One should always acknowledge the present before moving on to the future’. I waited. Did I just hear him correctly? Elihu often came up with things that had me second guessing what I’d thought I’d heard him saying. ‘What do you mean, honey?’ I asked. ‘I’m not going to repeat it’ he said in frustration. ‘You heard me.’ Ok. He wasn’t in a great mood, but clearly he had something weighing heavy on his mind that he wanted expressed and out before he could sleep. So I waited.

‘Why is everyone so modest?’ he asked, but before I could ask what it was that he meant by that, he continued…. ‘If someone is good at something, then why don’t they justĀ admit it? Why does everyone seem to feel they can’t be successful at something? They’re missing the lessons they’re supposed to learn if they don’t just admit when they succeed!’ He sounded almost angry. Now I was able to ask him to help me understand him better. He went on to explain that he thought that before someone gave up on a hobby or a field of study he should pause first to assess all that he’s learned thus far. He said that he though everyone ‘in this culture’ was always in a hurry to move onto something new. He lamented that people seemed to be hard-pressed to celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy them. He wanted to know why it wasn’t accepted in our culture to admit that you were good at something. He cited this phenom kid banjo player he’d jammed with on the street the other night. Clearly this kid was more than just good. But when Elihu’d told Nathan he was good, Nathan just replied ‘I’m alright’. I offered that it’s never been – as far as I’d known – accepted in polite culture to flat out accept such praise without some degree of modesty. I also explained the idea of false modesty, and how that wasn’t really a great alternative either. ‘I think most people have a hard time admitting when they’re good at something.’ I offered. ‘Maybe the best way to accept a compliment and be polite too is just to say ‘thank you’. That way you’re accepting the truth, you’re enjoying your success, but at the same time you’re not being too full of yourself. I think Nathan will be more comfortable simply saying ‘thanks’ when he’s a bit older.’ Elihu was quiet for a moment. ‘Yeah. Guess saying thank you is the best thing to do.’ More quiet. ‘But I still think it’s very important to acknowledge when you’re good at something. To accept when you’ve done something well. Because if you don’t, you’re missing the lesson.’

Goodnight had become an occasion for pause and reflection to be sure. As we lay there in the dark, just staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on his bedroom ceiling, I think we both found a tiny bit of closure to the day. I was lost in my own thoughts, trying to make mental notes in order to recall our conversation later, so that his bedtime wisdom might not be lost, but he was clearly still following the trajectory of his initial musing. ‘Ok, please don’t get mad with me, but can you repeat what it was that you first said just now?’ I asked him. He sighed, but he obliged me: ‘If you don’t acknowledge the present before moving on to the future – you miss the whole point of things. And that’s all I’m going to say.’ I repeated it several times over in my head before leaning in to kiss him. ‘I love you so, Mommy’ he said, looking into my eyes by the dim closet light. We hugged again, tightly, and in my heart I thanked him for choosing me. ‘I really love my present. Don’t you?’ I asked. ‘Yeah. I do.’

I got up to leave the room. As I shut the door I saw him turn to the wall again. He put his arms around his giant stuffed macaw, and he sighed.

Post Script – here’s a link to some video shot this past weekend on Travers Day in Saratoga Spring, NY, of Elihu sitting in with tenor guitarist Jesse Rock and banjo player Nathan Hanna… so much fun!

 

County Fair

It’s week-old news by now, but it’s still news-worthy in our world. Two of the finest summer days yet. Elihu and I spend eight hours each visit, and we still didn’t manage to do all the things we would have liked. The whole experience was nothing short of magical. My son surprised both of us when he ventured onto rides I’d thought far too daring for him – and I surprised both of us by finding the favorite rides of my youth just a bit beyond my comfort level these days. We ate fair food, visited the animals, the craft tents, went on the rides, played a game on the midway (and won!) and ran into old friends. The sun shone bright, the breeze kept us just cool enough. There will be plenty of summer excursions we may not remember, but it’s likely we won’t ever forget this year’s trip to the Washington County Fair. (There are no chicken pics here; they will get special treatment in their own poultry post shortly.)

county fair and cleanout 2013 497Hugging a gigantic cow is a great way to start the day.

county fair and cleanout 2013 489Didn’t get to see the draft horses, except for the enormous rear end of this gal. Just too much to see.

County Fair 2013 008There’s a chainsaw artist doing his thing…

County Fair 2013 001What a beautiful bird he’s made!

county fair and cleanout 2013 727Next you got your standard sheep shearing…

county fair and cleanout 2013 726And I guess this is the style that freshly-shorn sheep sport these days to keep away the chill. !

County Fair 2013 359Elihu gets a little demonstration on how wool is turned into yarn.

County Fair 2013 355Then it’s the goat line up. They’re cute, yes, but not really our thing.

County Fair 2013 236Elihu loved the cows. Gentle giants.

County Fair 2013 203It was nice to meet some other animal-loving kids.

County Fair 2013 227Elihu meets a cute girl and an award-winning cow. !

County Fair 2013 220They watch the milking. Love that everyone was so laid back about the kids hanging out there.

County Fair 2013 210Aside from the birds, Elihu spend a lot of time just hanging with the cows.

County Fair 2013 160Total shop talk. Crazy cow sub-culture. !

county fair and cleanout 2013 805We visit Paul H. Van Arnum and his wife, Betsy. Known him since I was four. His daughter Sherry and I have been friends since then. (She was matron of honor at my wedding.) Paul was once a tree man and is now widely known for his greenhouses and his lava rock sculptures. Here he’s explaining a bit of his technique to Elihu. We love Paul. No one like him.

county fair and cleanout 2013 773He sells these little critters to adorn your potted plants.

county fair and cleanout 2013 789But why assemble your own when Paul’s done the work? Tiny vignettes are his thing.

county fair and cleanout 2013 794Pure Paul.

county fair and cleanout 2013 811Like an HO train set scene.

county fair and cleanout 2013 808Bye, Paul! Thanks for all your work! Hope you sell a lot before the fair closes (so you don’t have to pack em all up again!)

County Fair 2013 098We’re gonna do some rides now…

County Fair 2013 092But wait – Look! It’s pal Keithie! How cool that we ran into him.

County Fair 2013 076Elihu is on the right. This is about as crazy a ride as Keith will go on. We find that ironic – in that it was rather tame as rides go, and Keith is talented and gutsy when it comes to riding motorcycles. He’ll jump anything, try any stunt. But he’s a big ol wimp when it comes to carnival rides. Go figure.

County Fair 2013 108We both really like this one. Feels like you’re flying…

County Fair 2013 118And of course this one’s simple and fun. That’s my boy on the right.

County Fair 2013 047Whew.

County Fair 2013 049

This is a much, much taller version of the swing ride above. Elihu insisted I challenge myself and ride it (it’s called ‘Vertigo’). No longer can I enjoy the circular rides like this; while it looks easy enough, my inner ear can’t seem to deal with it. If I’d kept my eyes open I mighta lost my lunch. I took the quickest peek at the view. Sorry I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the ride.

county fair and cleanout 2013 848The must-ride classic.

county fair and cleanout 2013 833One of the views near the top…

county fair and cleanout 2013 846…And another view from the other side. I must admit, after years of living panic attack-free, they began to suggest a comeback when we stayed suspended at the top for a few seconds. I knew I was perfectly safe, but panic has nothing to do with what you know. It’s irrational and can sometimes simply ruin an experience for no apparent reason. Ich. Still enjoyed the ride though.

county fair and cleanout 2013 876Always enjoy this ride. Plus my dad’s name is Bob, so it makes me chuckle to myself.

County Fair 2013 301The Hansen’s family act of juggling and high wire stunts.

County Fair 2013 311

Mom helps eldest daughter of three onto the ring. Although she had that professional smile plastered on her face throughout her daughter’s routine, I couldn’t help but wonder how she was really feeling inside.

County Fair 2013 307This girls is Elihu’s age… wow

County Fair 2013 327And now her mother…

County Fair 2013 323Upside down, essentially hanging on by her butt. !!

County Fair 2013 338Getting momentum up for this heart stopping moment…

County Fair 2013 342Never has Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ been so forgiven for its over-use; for this is exactly what this woman did – she jumped forward and landed in ropes around her ankles – with NO safety harness, and NO net below. Unfucking real. She is another kind of human being the likes of which absolutely mystifies me. Plus she’s had three kids. And she’s beautiful. Huh?

County Fair 2013 347The Hansens concluding their act. Then they pack the whole shebang up themselves, and head off in their RV to the next show. Plus the mom home schools the kids while they’re on the road. Props to this hard-working family.

County Fair 2013 371I was very surprised – and impressed – when Elihu insisted he go on this ride. Alone. He LOVED it. He’s the lone rider under the flag.

County Fair 2013 383My baby’s little feet are wearing white socks, second from the left. The floor has dropped out. Oh dear.

County Fair 2013 380

And now he’s being spun while being swung upside down. This one’s called ‘The Wild Claw’. All I can think is ‘my baby’s on that thing. My baby…’

County Fair 2013 405Time to settle our stomachs the American way.

county fair and cleanout 2013 925I told him to resist, but since the prize involves a living creature, he just can’t…

county fair and cleanout 2013 922Signature Elihu pitch…

county fair and cleanout 2013 929And the legally blind kid actually wins a goldfish! In his own words: “I can’t believe I won it fair and square!”. Me neither. (The fish, which he named ‘Sinbad’, now lives happily in our pond with four fishy companions.)

County Fair 2013 440Now it’s time to join the crowds in the grandstand for the….

County Fair 2013 419Tractor pull!

County Fair 2013 457Personally, we prefer steam traction engine shows, but this is a close second.

County Fair 2013 495

On the way out we notice our tiny hamlet is represented in the ‘antique farm tractors’ exhibit.

County Fair 2013 502Good-bye and good night to the lights of the Washington County Fair! See you next year…