Elihu’d been asking me frequently over the past few days if I was unusually stressed. It was easy for me to think I lived in my own world, my thoughts entirely private and unnoticeable as I marched forward through my days… In the car, driving us here, there and all points in between, running out to tend to the chickens, standing at the counter making supper, and then not long after standing at the sink washing dishes, even later on in the evening sitting at the piano, concentrating on the page before me. True, we spent a lot of time together, but these days, I agreed with his observation that we’d gotten suddenly very busy – and we hadn’t been living together as much as we had been living side by side. My focus was seldom on him, but more on the task at hand. We were now at the end of our day and enjoying a quiet moment’s conversation before bedtime. We’d been so busy doing, doing, doing…. but yet we hadn’t checked in with each other in a while. We ‘needed to connect’, he’d said to me quietly. “Mommy, please tell me, are you stressed these days?” I stopped, turned to face him, looked straight into his eyes, and gave him my full attention as I answered his question.
Yes, I admitted to being stressed these days. There was a lot of new music to learn for the fall, there were other classes to prepare for and students too, plus the never-ending list of farm and home-related work. There was a new string bass to move around now, and lessons to pay for. Doctors appointments and house repairs. Grandparents that continued to age and change. While there’d never been an absence of things to think about and plan for here at the Hillhouse, this recent spell was indeed a bit heavier than many. So yes, I was stressed. He too admitted to being a bit pooped with our non-stop life. There was a moment of quiet. It was not quite 7 pm, and we were attempting an early bedtime in order to catch up. I’d already read to him from the current favorite book about a pair of wild Golden Eagles. But tonite it hadn’t done the trick. Elihu was still just as wide awake as moments before. And he felt needy as I put the book away and then moved in to kiss his cheek and leave. He pulled me back down with his still-small arms and asked me to stay for a bit. Oh well. Ok. Things – all those stupid things on my never-ending list – they can wait. They can. Elihu needed me, and I probably needed him too. So I stayed, and we talked by the hallway light that streamed in through his half-closed bedroom door.
Elihu asked me about the House Cafe, and for me to tell him what was going on with it now. He asked me why daddy doesn’t just sell it. I explained that he had too much invested to let it go. Kinda like us and our chickens. Kinda. I could tell that sleep wasn’t coming any time soon, and both of us had a head full of concerns and queries…. so I let him continue. “If you and daddy had never bought it, would I have been a city boy? Would I have been living in Evanston and playing video games and going to a regular school? I nodded. “Pretty good chance of that.” We sat in silence for a moment and took that in. I began to remind him – to remind us both, really – of all the things we’d have known nothing about had we not come here to this place…. “No homing pigeons. No geese. No garden. No chickens, eggs, butchering. No Jonah, no Phoenix, no Ms. Reid… no Waldorf. You wouldn’t be playing recorder, or knitting, or playing string bass… singing in rounds, bringing fresh baked bread in for lunch, playing your djembe on the street… everything would have been different. Maybe all of it would have been just fine, but certainly very different.” I looked into his face with a slight smile for emphasis. “So. Do you think you’re doin ok here?” I ask him gently. He smiles. He tells me yeah, he knows he is. I probably don’t need to go on, but I do. “I know it’s still not the same without having your daddy actually live with us, and you know I’m really sorry about that, but in the end, there’s just so much that factors into it. I dunno, it’s kinda like I just can’t even consider regretting it. Cuz it’s how it is.”
Without a second’s pause, he asks me “So are you happy?” He was sincere, and his face waited for my appraisal of things. He wanted to know. Heck, I wanted to know! Yeah, so, was I happy? I can’t deny I feel stress sometimes, but hmm… I did a little scan of my feelings. I was surprised to feel the confidence, the lack of hesitation in my answer. “Yes. Yes, I would definitely say that I am happy!”I answered him, smiling wide and true. But then I looked at my knobby fingers which are just this past month beginning to hurt in earnest. “But I’m also kinda bummed that just when I am feeling so good about things that these start popping up. And the sad thing is, they’ll probably never go back to the way they used to be even just a month ago”. Elihu takes my largest, most arthritic finger in his cool thin hands and gently kisses it. “Never say that, Mommy. Say ‘they will be better, and they are better now and I can feel how well they’re working…” he is not joking, not being ironic, sarcastic or clever. My son is coaching me to employ a little more loving and positive ‘self-talk’. Oh how I wish I could share his hope, but I fear that I must find a way to incorporate this new mild handicap into my life and hope that before long it just blends into the landscape. Least that’s what I tell myself for now. Ok, so it’s a stressor, to be sure. But it’s not the larger point here. What is rather remarkable, is that Elihu has had me realize something that I wasn’t quite sure I even believed myself! Don’t think I’d ever really committed to the feeling of being happy with my life. I was happy with my life. Forgetting the fingers for the moment, my quick internal assessment confirmed it once again. Yup. I loved our life. Wow. We both waited in the darkness for a minute, each of us recounting past adventures and feeling proud of all we’d learned. Yeah, there was no point to worry about what we might have been if we’d never come here. Obviously, that was not the future that served us best. This was.
I sometimes wonder how it is that I can accurately convey the nature and nuance of the relationship exists between Elihu and me. Adults caution parents – and especially single parents – not to treat their children as peers – as their buddies. But I’m not so sure I’m completely down with that approach. My son still knows I’m mom, and certain things are ok, certain things aren’t. There’s not a lot of protestation, because I feel I have a fairly intelligent, loving and well-reasoned kid. For the most part he accepts the few rules I lay down. To be truthful, a single child in a one parent household is going to have a different sort of relationship with the parent he or she lives with. It’s going to be unique. It’s going to be what it is. And in our case, our relationship, if I may borrow from the current vernacular of the fifth grade boys, is awesome. It’s all good. Even the bad. And thankfully, these days there’s not a whole lot of that. Thanks to my beautiful boy for checking in with me and reminding me of what’s important.
Staying connected like that helps remind us how good things are.