Breaking Away

“Oh, your job is done” my friend said, very matter-of-factly. I waited a moment to see if she planned on elaborating. I’d never heard it put so directly before. I knew exactly what she meant, but I paused, hoping she might soften her comment a bit. “He’s what, twelve? Almost thirteen?” She paused, but not long enough to reassure me. “Yeah” she nodded, “You’re definitely done.”

We’d been ruminating about the major life change that comes about when your kids don’t need you the way it seemed they always would. The time when mommy becomes mom, when the bedroom door shuts with a distinct click, when your kid tells you that you wouldn’t understand – and you can’t protest, cuz you know he’s right, you probably wouldn’t. I’d been emotionally preparing for this, so I can’t say it was unexpected. What was jarring was just how blunt my friend had been about it. She went on to explain, “When you’re pregnant, you could have the baby at six months. It would be premature, but it would survive. So the last three months are basically just incubating. And that’s kind of what’s going on now. He has everything on board, now it just has to integrate. So yeah, you’re done.” I knew she was right. But I still wanted to believe that Elihu would always need me. It wasn’t like I didn’t want him to learn how to live in the world without me – but I still couldn’t truly see it happening. His vision issues, his inherent clumsiness… How would he ever live on his own? Then on the other hand he was smart, savvy, full of good humor and common sense. And as we spoke, he was hundreds of miles away in another country.

In the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, each seventh grade class takes a trip to Quebec as part of their French studies. They take the train to the Canadian border, spend a night in Montreal and a day there sightseeing before heading further north the historic town of Quebec City. There they embark, in groups of three, on a day-long quest – a scavenger hunt of sorts – in which they must ask for directions only in French, in which they must budget their money, buy lunch and trinkets as the stash allows, and reconvene with the class when they’ve made it through the list of clues and directions – all given only in French. They sketch monuments during the day, they journal in French in the evening. They stay in hostels, schlep packs through the snowy streets, they take a bus into the country, they experience a dogsled ride, they visit an ice hotel. And all the while, the boys and girls flirt, make inside jokes, and test the waters with forbidden swear words and primitive sexual innuendos. Change has begun.

It’s not as if the change hasn’t been taking place up until now – but there is a new awareness that comes of this landmark trip – there’s a certain new confidence in my child, and a certain kind of vision for the future, too. He’s been given a glimpse of what life might be like surrounded by his peers – instead of his parents. And he’s thrilled with the way it feels. Don’t get me wrong – I am positively thrilled for him too. I can’t remember a time when my son has ever been so happy, so exuberant, so proud, so joyful. Truly, no experience in his life has left such an immediate and dramatic impression on him. Even today, two days after his return, his first words upon opening his eyes were about the trip. In his head swirls a great collage of images. For all of this I am deeply grateful, and I’m incredibly excited to see the ways in which my son will grow into a fully independent individual and break away on his own path. I know it’s not around the immediate corner, but it certainly feels much closer than ever before.

IMG_2096His French journal of the trip – and his new coonskin cap from the dog sledding adventure.

imageThe seventh grade got a train car to themselves.

IMG_2089Ever thinking of things aviation-related, Elihu drew a schematic of an RC helicopter en route.

IMG_2107The next day in Montreal, Elihu drew a detail of the interior of the Basilique de Notre Dame.

image (7)Off they go on their scavenger hunt.

image (5)Quebec City really has a European feel.

image (6)There’s topography which requires a funicular. Fun!

image (8)Ice skating at night. Elihu has never enjoyed this sport, but this time he stuck it out until he got his bearings. (Thanks to classmate and talented athlete Norah for encouraging him to try!)

image (4)The class went dog sledding on the last day.

image (2)An intimate, hands-on experience, with just two passengers; one drove, one sat. The dogs were raring to go and they sped over the narrow trail through the woods. Probably the highlight of the trip for Elihu.

imageThey got to smooch a puppy too!

imageLast event on the itinerary was the ice hotel.

image (2)The seventh grade Canadian adventure was a life-changing trip, and a memory which Elihu and his classmates will treasure always.

IMG_2064A new young man arrives home.

Our Chapter Book

If only we’d signed up at the library early on to have our checkout history saved – we’d have been able to re-create the impressive list of all the fantastic journeys that Elihu and I have shared. From the time he was five, when we moved here, til the time he decided that he’d rather read the stories for himself (just over a year ago – I milked it, believe me!) we have covered impressive territory – from stand-alone chapter books to six-book series, we have journeyed to so many far-away places that we can hardly recall them all. But thankfully, some details do remain – and today we found ourselves (it’s not just my flabby recall at play here!) struggling to piece together the scenarios we’d once lived in our own chapter book adventures here at the Hillhouse, as the memories now spread across so many years.

Today, after Elihu’s tuba lesson, we were both pooped. It was a mid-day lull in which we could summon no energy for anything that needed doing. No school writing assignment could be written, no chickens could be fed, no aquarium could be cleaned, no laundry could be put away, and there wan’t enough oomph to make lunch, either. And so we pulled the curtains in the living room closed, and retired to the generously-sized, L-shaped couch. We each found our spot, adjusted the pillows, split up the throw blankets and settled in.

Although we were both too pooped to actually do anything, we, as it turned out (will you really be all that surprised?), had plenty of energy to talk. And so we passed the next thirty minutes like two bunkmates at summer camp, stalling after lights out. We spent our lounging time exchanging long, thoughtful pauses between funny remembrances and tangential offerings.

We reflected on our seven and a half years here. Having just had a conversation the morning before about adolescence and all that would come with that new era, it seemed we two were in something of a reflective mood these days – taking inventory of the past, and sizing up the fast-coming future. “I’m just looking at this room in a new way” Elihu said. “You never really notice places when you’re there all the time. But look at those windows – they’re huge! People must really notice them when they come here for the first time, ya think? Look at the instruments here. Accordion, tabla, tuba, harpsichord. Wow. Imagine seeing all this when you walk in. To us, it’s just our house. But it is pretty amazing.” He paused for a bit. I was about to say something when he spoke again…”I like the way it looks through new eyes.” Yeah, I also liked this room a lot. It’s cozy, it’s tidy (mostly) and in spite of how many objects live inside it, the room does not feel the least bit cluttered or overwhelmed. In fact, it has the opposite feeling: the room feels welcoming and cozy. Peaceful. Perfect for two homebodies who are feeling pooped for no particular reason and need a generous couch on which to ruminate and stall a little longer.

“Think of all the birds we’ve had here that seemed normal.” Pause. “Like ‘no-big-deal’ normal” Elihu added after a few moments of silence. Yeah. Come to think of it, we had had a lot of different types of birds through the years. I thought back to the different phases of his bird life – of our bird life. I had always followed Elihu’s lead in his love of all birds – and thinking back on it, I wonder if I would have done so now. Did I jump on board so easily because I was still in shock at even being ‘out here’ to begin with? Or did I just feel I had nothing to lose? Cuz I really don’t think I had the slightest clue as to the adventures that were to ensue after bringing our new avian friends home… Really, from parakeets to parrots, homing pigeons to golden pheasants, button quail to barnyard geese and a hundred chickens in between, man, we’d seen a lot of feathered friends here. And the thing was – we remembered them far better than we remembered all of those fantastic books that we’d read. We remembered the unique qualities of every bird, we recalled every adventure, every mishap and every lesson learned. And we recalled how lucky we were even to have had those memories at all… I mean, how many people have been fortunate enough to call out to a homing pigeon named King Louis to come and join them for a stroll?

“When you’re in ’em, you don’t even realize it”, Elihu said. “It’s not like you actually realize you’re in the ‘duck’ chapter or the ‘goose’ chapter. It’s just what you’re doing. You don’t think of it like that.” I agreed with him, and told him that I’d written a post on this idea a few months back. And that I’d been thinking of addressing it again, because it seemed we were on the precipice of another new chapter. He was nearing the end of his true boyhood; this April he would be a teenager. And as we’d discussed the day before, lots of things were going to change. “You’re going to be a teenager!” I said, hoping for an emotional response from him. “How does that feel?” I asked, waiting for a revelation, but instead he answered, “I’m not really that worked up about it. “I guess I was, about four months ago or so, but now, now that I’ve had time to think about it and adjust, I guess I just kinda know it’s coming. I mean I can’t change that, so why should I freak out about it? It’s coming, so I should just look forward to it, I think”. Mentally I was scribbling notes as fast as I could – trying to capture this moment, hold it, remember it for always. After all, I’d been so careless about remembering so many things in the past. This moment I was bound and determined to remember…

Eventually we did get to our individual tasks of the day; he to his writing, me to my cooking and cleaning, muttering to myself all the while as I pulled out pots and pans and began to chop onions for the umpteenth time in a week… Grumbling all the while about how I didn’t understand how anyone could possibly need to eat again so soon – as we had only just finished eating a few hours ago… And then promptly scolding myself for even thinking such a thing, much less lamenting out loud… Round and round I went from complaint to apology, hearing Studs Terkel in my head all the while, and how he had spoken of the old Eastern European mamas in their babushkas, going about their household chores while audibly lamenting their plight in life… Sheesh. My current chapter would most likely reflect something in the domestic arena. Some days it certainly felt as if this was all that I ever did. !

In spite of my errant mutterings, lunch was as pleasant as our respite on the couch. As has been the remainder of the day. Now I sit in my chair, and it being a weekend (tomorrow is a holiday on account of Martin Luther King day), we are in our casual, unrushed mode – which can push bedtime back to a very late hour, which makes the start of the new school week a challenge. I shan’t let us stay up much later, but as Elihu is fully engrossed in another chapter of his book, and I am still musing over the recent chapters of our very own edition, it’ll be a while yet before either one of us is asleep. As I think back on our time here, it’s clear that I can’t recall it all – but I can recall moments and highlights, paragraphs here and there – just enough to demonstrate how very far we’ve come in our seven year journey.

“I guess I’d call this the ‘tuba chapter’ if I had to give it a name” Elihu’d said when I asked him how he thought of his current life. “And the early ones, maybe they were the bird chapters?” I asked. “Naw” he said, and paused. “They’ll all be bird chapters.” (I guess what I’d add to that is that the past years have been about flight and aviation as much as they’ve been about birds.) Although Elihu’s been wanting to play bass and tuba since he was tiny, it’s only been recently that he was even big enough to play either. So gradually, he’s moving from one love into another. I can begin to see the general direction in which our story will grow – no specifics, of course, because that’s at the very essence of life – the details, detours and adventures we can never anticipate! Good Lord, if we could know what was coming in the next chapter, I wonder if we’d jump out of bed or hide under the covers? Thankfully, we haven’t a clue as to what’s ahead, so there’s nothing to be done but turn the page and see how it all works out…

eliandduckThis is the image that comes to my mind when I think of our early days here at The Hillhouse. Just a boy chasing after a bird on a fine summer day.

brodyandbookThe early years were also about Brody, our Senegal parrot (who chewed all the woodwork in the kitchen and needed as much attention as a toddler. He now lives with an elderly bachelor in Schenectady who actually relishes such a needy companion.)

king georgeOnce upon a time, Elihu was as cute and tiny as was his button quail, King George.

drawingquailNot long after we moved here Elihu began to draw the objects of his passion.

waxwingAt nine, Elilhu drew this from a dead Cedar Waxwing we’d found. He embellished it bit and made it into its fancier cousin. (He drew this with a ball point pen!)

Lanner falconShortly after that he got a falconer’s glove for his birthday, and got to use it, too!

grandpaandelihuThis was also the chapter of grandpa; Elihu will only remember his grandfather as an elderly man. Thankfully, they had some nice moments together, like this one in the park, where Elihu shows off a duck he caught (one of literally dozens he’d caught over the years.)

IMG_1719This is our life now; the final few paragraphs of the first, chock-full chapter – or perhaps, more aptly, the first book in a series. (Note the indoor glasses; a perfect halfway darkness for seeing in bright interior light. This was the missing puzzle piece for reading music.)

tuba momTuba-toting Mama. I’d hoped the days of lugging gear were over. This is a chapter I don’t mind closing!

IMG_1626Elihu’s playing tuba for Drake, his new friend from school. It’s likely that Drake will be prominently featured in future chapters.

IMG_1654Elihu still loves flying. Here he enjoys piloting his quadcopter from the cozy confines of a big bed.

IMG_1720This morning Elihu spent some quiet time with his all-time favorite bird, rooster Bald Mountain, father of the flock.

In real life chapters don’t always begin or end in one single event. But one can still feel the gradual ending of one era and the emergence of another. And these days, things are beginning to shift. A young boy still lives here, but a young man will be taking his place before long.  Our book will have a new chapter very soon…

Rays of Sunshine

Well, this is a first! On we go… As some readers might not have seen this lively debate, I thought I’d make it into a post of its own… Whew… (Apologies in advance for the formatting issues; WordPress has ‘retired’ my template and so it’s becoming a little wonky.)

  • Selene Says:January 12, 2016 at 11:35 am e
  • Not to start a blog war here, but all of these things that you’re doing that you count as “working” are barely keeping food on the table and heating oil in your tank, so they aren’t working for you and instead of ruminating about the hard life in a blog, that energy would be best spent trying to change this. The real reason I feel is that it’s easier to accept welfare and sit home and hover protectively over your son than it is to get a job and work to make life easier financially for the both of you. That is hard to hear, but it appears to be true. And think about this: If you were a man blogging about these things, people wouldn’t be so kind. He would be told to man-up, grow some balls, stop living off your mother and get a second job if he must. Whatever it takes. And every man that sees this will say “Yeah – I guess she’s right on that one.” But they will never tell you that. And there are a lot of people who read your blog that feel the same way, but they just respond by saying nothing. Also, remember that when you lay yourself bare in such a public fashion, you have to expect that not everyone is going to blow rays of sunshine up your behind. Comes with the territory.I don’t feel you’re a bad person or a bad mother, I just feel that you’re caught up in a pity-party that you can’t seem to walk away from. It’s comforting to know so many people feel sorry for you and this makes you feel you’re not alone. I get it. But it’s time to shake it off and take care of business, that’s all I’m saying. I wish you and your son all the best, I really do. I see that in spite of things, you love him desperately and he feels the same about his mom.Reply
    • wingmother Says:January 14, 2016 at 12:24 am e
    • After a long day of ‘not working’, I finally have a moment to respond thoughtfully. If the recent spike in readership is any indication, it seems that people are really entertained by conflict. I hope they also take an interest in conflict resolution! I suppose I should thank you for all this excitement…
    • Firstly, I heartily agree with you, as I’d mentioned earlier; this is a public forum, and I can therefore expect a range of responses. Not just from those who choose to ‘blow rays of sunshine up my behind’ (as you so obviously were not). Me, I might have chosen a less hostile way to express that idea, but hey, I get the gist.
    • I don’t believe you’re being needlessly mean (although a bit snarky), but I do feel that you’re completely missing the larger picture here: I am working on growing a business which takes time daily; a business which will one day net me the income of a ‘real’ job. If I don’t do this important foundational work – it will never go anywhere. In addition to the paperwork, research and networking that goes on, I still have students daily, plus now have evening classes to teach as well as a musical production to accompany. This, no matter how you may see it, is all ‘real’ work. It all takes hours of preparation. To cease forward movement on The Studio after two years of preparations would be to shoot my future in the foot, so to speak – not to mention neglect my family’s legacy. My days are organized and efficient and very full.
    • I spend a lot more time doing laundry and making meals than I do writing! So I’m certainly not blogging all the time. I spend about six hours out of the week writing (wish it could be more!). My time is spent working, teaching, being a mom, and lastly – writing.If you have read more than a post of two of this blog, you’ll know that while I do indeed express my inner doubts, fears and anxieties, on the whole I take the ‘glass half-full’ perspective on things. I try to share the simple joys in my life here. And yes, as a proud mother, I also share the moments with my son that I feel are worth remembering. And it’s also worth recognizing what commenter Gene says: my words are ‘self-selected’, and that alone prevents anyone from knowing the true God’s eye perspective on things. But honestly, I’m pretty much who you see here. And this whole blog is about me journaling my private thoughts in public – so I agree with you, as had I said in my first response, that with greater exposure, I’ll need to develop thicker skin. But it’s all a good, forward-moving process.If I talk about being poor – so be it! It’s what I’m feeling, so I’m talking about it! You don’t have to fret about it. Either say, ‘yeah, I know what that feels like’ – or ‘what a loser, I can’t read any more of her crap’. And then don’t.

      Interesting note about the gender flip idea too. I can see how it would present differently. But check this out: My 50 year old brother lives with our mother and has not had a job or relationship in 25 years. But his friends have no problem with that. Nor does my mother, as she continues to enable him. (Of course he doesn’t write publicly about his experience.) If I don’t satisfy your definition of being a responsible, working member of society, I wonder what you’d think of him. At the very least I’m raising a good human being.

      At the end of the day, Selene, THAT is the most important job of all. Believe me, I aint smothering this kid – there are many folks who know us well, and who would enthusiastically agree. But what I am doing is providing him a platform from which to soar into this world with confidence, education, good humor and skills – oh, and a great, big heart.

      I do appreciate your scrutiny. It’s always good to stop and do a self-check every once in a while. You’ve touched on issues I’ve wrestled with in the past. Personally, I think you’ve overlooked a great deal of nuance, humor and honesty here. I’m sorry to hear that this reads to you like a ‘pity party’, because I’d like to think that my experiences aren’t that different from other folks; what is different is that I’m sharing them in a public forum. I’d think that folks like you, for whom these journal entries are self-sorry entreaties for pity, would simply rather not return. Maybe you are done here, and that’s why you’re speaking your peace. Ok. I heard you – and so did a thousand other folks too. Thanks for your perspective.

      (I’m curious to see if you keep reading…!)

    • here’s a link to our Facebook page for the Studio. Folks can take a peek at the project as it moves forward….

Pouring In


On our kitchen wall, just next to the front door hangs a glass weather barometer. It used to hang above a rusted drip tray on the kitchen wall at Martha’s. Elihu had mused over it once, as all children had through the years, and we’d explained how it worked. Mom recalls that Martha had said he could have it if he liked. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of yet another piece of stuff in our tiny house, but the idea grew on me… When the green-tinted water rises to the top of the spout – and sometimes drips over and stains the wall – we know that rain is coming. I wish there were such an indicator for incoming emotional storms… “When it rains….” as the expression goes…

An old family friend had kept the tradition through the years of calling Martha on every solstice. This year, on the occasion in December, the fellow called mom as a stand-in for Martha. His call was welcomed, as he too was an old family friend. But his news was not good; he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and didn’t have much time left. Sadly mom was out the first two times he called, and by the time she found him in, several days later, he was quite weak. Only two weeks later he died, and on Saturday we attended his funeral. All about her my mother sees her contemporaries leaving this world, and must be a strange and sad place in which to live. There comes a time in life when every time you turn around people seem to be getting married. Then life takes over for a stretch of time with an assortment of twists and turns, until… All the people around you now seem to be dying. Old friends take their place in line one by one, and then, all of a sudden, they’re gone. Just like that.

Yesterday I received another jolt in the form of an angry email from Martha’s niece. In the message she called me a thief, and told me that she knew I’d been in the house since Martha had died, and that the only possible reason for such a visit would have been to steal something. She wanted an end to it all here and now. She demanded the thin, sterling silver bangle that Martha had always worn be returned to her at once, as well as the rest of the things I’d stolen. Seriously? Ok, come to think of it, I do have Martha’s dusty copy of “Yankee Expressions”, yes, I did take that. I was reading it while sitting with Martha one afternoon, and threw it into my bag. It’s still on my bedside table. I peruse it from time to time, very likely in the same sort of way that Martha once did. Regular readers may even recall how puzzled and concerned I was when Martha’s niece announced that items had gone missing from the house after Martha’s death (the items had since been found; they had simply been moved). After posting some lovely interior tableaus from Martha’s house on the blog, her niece had asked me to please remove them to ensure the safety of the house and its contents. I promptly removed all the images, and apologized as best as I was able. There seems to be nothing I can do to ensure a positive outcome with this person. Ugh.

This morning, as Elihu ate his breakfast, I’m afraid the poor dear got an earful from me. I recounted to him the whole thing – after which a look of deep sadness passed over his face. “But I want to keep the barometer” he said quietly. “Sweetie, we’ll buy the barometer from her. She just wants the monetary value of it. Don’t worry, we’ll make a fair deal with her”. I stewed a bit more in silence, until my beautiful son looked up and quoted a saying that he heard Martha use often: “Everything always works out”. I smiled, and wondered it perhaps Martha herself hadn’t nudged that little piece of calming wisdom into my son’s head. Howsoever the little nugget came to him, it was nice to reminded again.

What a strange and heartbreaking week this has been, and it’s only Tuesday! Lest I waste any more precious work time battling folks who ultimately do not care what I have to say – or believe me – I will paste the response I penned to her last night below, and call it a day.


XXX, I have no idea where all this has come from. I could have easily taken things all the while over months, years even – objects that I’d known and loved since I was a child. And I did not. The bracelet is the ONLY thing I have to remember Martha by, and I shall not return that which was given to me!! We were all together as I asked you if I might have it, as it meant a lot to me. You were kind and assured me Martha would have liked me to have it. I have no recollection of anything else. I also recall it was a low-key, friendly meeting. I had no idea you were giving this trinket to me under duress. Plus this tiny bracelet is not even worth much! I wear it daily, keep it by my bedside nightly. It is my link to a woman I consider to be my second mother. It is a cherished keepsake. 


As mom recalls, Martha told Elihu if he was interested in the barometer he could have it. I wasn’t particularly interested in it – but he was, so we left the rusty drip tray on the wall and took the glass home. 
And yes, I did come back to the farm once or twice after Martha left. Just to sit and be in the space, to remember. To take in that certain way the kitchen smelled, the views from those windows…  It was a living link to my oldest memories. I was savoring that which was soon to disappear forever.
So sorry you feel this way. It is a shock to my very core. Perhaps you and mom can remain friends – I don’t suppose we were friends to begin with, but that will certainly be a challenge going forward. I hope one day you feel differently about me. I’m not a thief, and Lord knows, there were many things – the red bench I mentioned several times – that I would have loved to have in my life as a reminder of the Farm, and for which I gladly would have paid. I would even have loved, bought and used the school bell at the Studio to ring in kids from lunch break at camp. But I dared not even ask – that’s how respectful I was about Martha’s/your stuff. There was also a Harry Belafonte LP I liked and would have paid for – and would actually have listened to – but I didn’t ask about that either, cuz I didn’t want to add stress.
The barometer is a lovely way to share Martha’s story with all the children who come to my home, but if you feel strongly that we came to it by unsavory means, I’ll box it up and leave it at the Farm asap. It would be disappointing to Elihu, and I know he’d like to buy it with his own money if you’d allow him that option. I really hope you’ll consider it.
It seems that distrust and hate are motivating you here. It’s hurtful to be the recipient of such anger – and especially after all this time has passed – not to mention bizarre, as you sound so unlike the person I’d thought you to be. Never, ever would I have seen anything like this coming. I am very sorry that you’re feeling so taken advantage of. I didn’t know you well, but I’ve always liked you. All of this truly breaks my heart. 
Maybe a robust sale will help you to feel more secure about things. I hope it all goes well.

IMG_1473A rainbow appeared as Elihu and I took down the Christmas tree on Sunday. I didn’t even see this second rainbow until just now when I uploaded the photograph! One for me, one for lil man. Maybe Martha really was right when she said that everything always works out.


Comment Posted

This came as a little shock to my system recently… And, ironically, in tending to its reply I wasted a good chunk of my “work time” this afternoon (use of quotes inspired by the sentiments of the commenter below). I found that I did not possess the self-discipline to apply myself elsewhere until I had responded directly to this reader’s criticisms. Sheesh. I can’t handle not being liked very well. ! I am a supreme wimp, and it’s hard for me to see what I look like to some. Oh well. I just gotta live in my integrity as best I can, keep making the to-do lists and attending yoga every Monday night. Just breathe….
Selene Says:

Hello. I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and I just can’t figure for the life of me why you just won’t get a job and get your life together. You don’t seem to be disabled in any way and from what I gather, your mother foots the major bills. Your house is 100% free, minus utilities, food and cable (and heating oil is at the lowest price in more than a decade) and I remember you saying that you have a vehicle, but no car payment. A basic JOB would cover these leftover expenses without much difficulty. You should consider yourself very blessed to have a mommy to handle the tuff stuff. And personally, I feel a little miffed that you’re availing yourself of welfare benefits as an able-bodied adult. It feels like in a way you’re scamming the system. Your son is of an age where he can chill out by himself while you go out and earn your keep for a change.

The other thing that bothers me is that you simply will not let go of your ex and the shameful thing that you allowed him to do to you. And by mentioning it constantly – years later – it doesn’t give you the chance to heal and move beyond it and get on with your life. He doesn’t care. Next.

PLEASE stop smothering your son and living vicariously through him. He’s going to wind up a momma’s boy, constantly afraid to face the world, hiding behind his mother’s skirt everytime life get’s a little difficult for him. You’re doing him no favors.

2016 should be the year you put on your Big Girl Panties, get a job, lay off blogging, and get back to the real world and handle your responsibilities like the rest of us. Life IS hard. Yeah, we get that.

  • Hey Selene – Always wondered if I would one day get a comment along these lines… All good points. This is my first reminder that not everyone sees things the same way.

    May I offer my take on your ideas?

    Firstly, I do work. I have a dozen private students who each require individual lesson plans, as they have different goals (some want to compete, some just play in a band, some take just cuz “Miss Elizabeth is fun”) I spend a lot of time compiling material and creating arrangements and exercises designed individually for them. My regular accompanying jobs and the outside adult courses I teach also comprise what I would call “work”.

    Teaching does cover the bills when the school year is in session, but when school is on break, I often have no students, and therefore, no income (aside from some support I do receive from the ex, which is a Godsend). Until now, I have chosen to teach private lessons, accompany performances and play piano at my son’s school because these were jobs that allowed me to be present after school; to assist with homework, get my son fed and keep him ‘on task’. The older he gets, the less this is necessary – we’re in complete agreement on that!

    With this in mind, I have already begun to inquire about possible part time jobs I might take. Now that Elihu takes the bus home, it frees me up considerably (that being said, I’m learning that most entry-level retail part time jobs require weekend hours, which I don’t feel I can accept currently). Until recently, leaving Elihu alone ‘out here’ while I was miles away at a job was never a responsible option. The older he becomes, the less this is a concern.

    Believe me, I don’t ever take for granted the safety net my mother – and sometimes my friends – have provided for me when the unexpected arrives. Root canals, car repairs and the like can be impossible to pay for on piano teacher’s wages.(Never mind tuba lessons!)

    Regarding the governmental support we receive; having worked a multitude of small jobs since high school, I have contributed and paid into the system for over 30 years. The amount my son and I receive annually – for food and heat – is less than $3K. I’m pretty sure I personally put thousands more than that into the system over the years! Believe me, I never thought I’d be a single mother to a legally blind child living in the middle of the country! None of the extra support – whether governmental or gifts – goes without deep appreciation. We say prayers of gratitude at every meal, and I stretch our dollars as I have never stretched em before.The past six years were the hardest, and I don’t imagine they’ll be like this much longer.

    Re the ex – a critical look back at the posts will see that I mention him very seldom. I can’t remember when I last checked the ‘divorce diary’ category… But when shit happens that involves him, I ‘report it’ as I experience it. Cuz that’s kind of the point here, right? I’m just expressing my inner world to the outer one. I certainly don’t spend my days thinking about him., there’s just too much to do with the Studio, with life and Elihu!

    Maybe I should take the ‘backstory’ page down, yeah, I’ve thought of it. But hey – that’s how I got here, ya know? I actually enjoy my ex’s company (although my friends tell me I’m ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’) and have many times written that he’s a good, loving dad. While he has certainly angered me in the past, I have never said that he was a bad father, only that he’s made some short-sighted, self-serving choices along the way.

    Most of the blog is about our current daily life. At least that’s how it feels to me….

    I can totally understand how it looks like I’m living thru my son. Sure, I see that. But at the end of the day, it is just the two of us together, all the time. Think of it what you will, but we often feel more like a partnership than a mother-son relationship. These days my son is at an age when he needs responsibilities, he needs privacy and a sense of autonomy, and I encourage all of this.

    Remember, Selene, you read only what’s presented here on the blog; this is but a tiny percentage of our life. There is just so much more that occurs, but I only record the events or thoughts that rise to the surface in moments of stillness. I’m more aware than anyone that I need a life apart from my son’s; and my vision for this next chapter is anchored in The Studio and its future. There’s been a plan afoot all these years. As unsure of myself as I may seem, I do have a vision of myself in a role other than mom! Understand, if you will, that the Studio was a bombed-out shell last year, but this year it is rehabbed, gorgeous – and being used. ! Guess who made that happen? That was more than a part-time job, I can assure you!

    Bottom line is, you and others may not think I have a job, but I do. Putting on my ‘Big Girl Panties’ is really more about cultivating a dynamic board, writing my first grant proposal, designing a curriculum or running a summer music camp than it is about getting 40 hours on the clock at Target!

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, it’s fascinating to see how our blog presents to different people. I have to disagree about your ‘lay off blogging’ bit, because I have discovered myself to be as much writer as a musician – or mother. When I write, I am following my joy. (And who knows, one of these days I just might find myself a publisher, or at the very least, a writing gig!)

    Elihu has a question for you: Why do you keep reading if you’re so disappointed with me and my choices? (I sure hope you don’t respond that it’s ‘like watching a train wreck’! :) )

    Yeah, life’s not easy, I agree. I think all humans kinda share that idea. You’re welcome to share the ways in which life challenges you, too. Yes, there are plenty of folks who have a much, much harder road than I do. But that doesn’t mean I can’t share my experiences. Thankfully, there are some folks who enjoy what I share. If my choices piss you off – then don’t read about em! :)

    Seriously, thanks for your perspective, it was not easy to read and indeed, my feelings were hurt by it. But it was good grist for the mill, and I’d rather know what folks are thinking than not. Plus it’s been a wake up call for me; the more public I become, the thicker my skin needs to be.

    I do wish you a happy and successful New Year –

    Post Script: OK, folks, let me have it! Thoughts welcomed… The good, the bad or the ugly. Come on, I can take it…. (I think)…

Winkle Toes

I’ve been thinking it might be time to contribute a little levity to this blog… For those interested in an update on the ongoing Conant family drama, I’ll catch folks up on the current action soon, but for now, let me offer a little recap of our holiday time here at the Hillhouse. Elihu was here til only a few days before Christmas, and then he joined his father in Florida for his break. He remarked yesterday, as we enjoyed a school-free day (he’d gotten in at 2 am the previous night), that this was the first day it had felt “Christmassy”. He said in Florida it just wasn’t possible to feel this way. So we enjoyed the twelfth day of Christmas together, free of obligations or places to be. (I had one student, but in that Elihu was able to pull out his string bass and accompany the boy as he played, it was actually a fun little diversion in our day.)

Today Elihu and I are back to life as usual. (Or at least as usual as it can be.) My son and I are classic homebodies, and more than anything else in life we enjoy doing nothing much at all, right here in our cozy little house – and so we both very much appreciated having a day to regroup before diving into life once again.


IMG_1174Tiny paw prints made by “Winkle”, our catch-all name for each mouse in our house. Who doesn’t love bacon fat?

IMG_1173Tiny tooth marks.

IMG_1179Where the party took place.

IMG_1172I never feel good about this choice, but mice have taken the place over in the past and ruined food and clothes. (I think this label kinda looks more like ‘moose traps’, ya think?)

IMG_1142Some kind neighbor left this wonderful bottle of 2008 Silver Oak cab at the party. It was a delight to discover as I enjoyed some solitude at my house over the holidays. What an exquisite break from the usual table wine. !!!

IMG_0002Our humble kitchen in the early morning. My first photo with the new camera (same model as the old one). My old Canon point and shoot got beer-logged at the Christmas party. This was an expense that set me back a bit. Oh well. Two steps forward, one step back. It’s still forward movement I suppose.

IMG_0192Diving into the sub-culture of Pokemon in earnest at Elihu’s first-ever ‘official’ tournament.

IMG_0010Complete nerds. But good at what they do. Rules are the name of the game here.

IMG_0027Elihu and pals from Waldorf who share this obsession.

IMG_0187Going deep. The two long-haired boys play ‘after hours’. Dedication. To hair and the game.

IMG_0236Elihu loves, loves, loves his tuba lessons. Michael Meidenbaur is simply the best. Here you can see Elihu’s new rig to get the printed music up close so he can see it. It’s a two-step process; first there’s an extended shelf, then a clip on a gooseneck. Doesn’t look it, but there’s over $100 invested in this contraption!

IMG_0243The music can’t really be more than about ten inches from his eyes. Beyond that it’s a blur that no glasses can remedy.

IMG_0279Now we’re backstage at a performance by the Boston Camarata. Artistic Director Anne Azema plays the hurdy-gurdy.(You-know-who plays the bass recorder.)

IMG_0292Our dear friend Steve Lundahl, a man who plays every manner of wind-powered instrument, plays in the grand first piece of the evening’s program from the Chapel’s balcony.

IMG_0317What a concert – this year they featured Middle Eastern Christmas music. Wow.

IMG_0341Steve was a regular performer in the Festival of Baroque Music, which my parents hosted for 52 years. (In 2011, the series’ final year, it was the longest-running early music festival in the country.) He and mom had a nice visit.

IMG_0351…and afterward, Mom took us out to dinner! Yes!! Indian food!

IMG_0356Me with my Kingfisher, Elihu with his tuba mouthpiece.

IMG_0380But this is where we prefer to be most of the time. Chillin at home.

IMG_0431Probably the last letter Santa will get from this boy. “And if you please… make it the sort of magic, idyllic Christmas all hope for, but few experience.”

IMG_0433Taken with all things Michelangelo lately, he signed his name in mirror writing. Then he added a little levity himself by drawing his signature character, Stanley the Tree Sparrow.

IMG_0401Bass recorder over his shoulder, he gets stopped in the airport – as always – by security, so they can double-check the contents of those damned Pokemon tins. !! Soon he’s off to meet his father in Florida for a couple of weeks.

IMG_1184He’s back! An unexpected haircut in Florida inadvertently gave my long-haired boy a mini rockstar look. Even though Elihu had been intentionally growing out his hair for the past year, we both had to agree the results were not bad. Plus the new electric bass he got there aint bad, either.

IMG_1246But after that generous respite, he’s got some catching up to do on homework.

IMG_1219Elihu plays his bass recorder by the tree. On the twelfth day of Christmas we discovered a small cache of presents underneath it.

IMG_1235An unwrapped box sits under the tree, glaring slightly menacingly at the kid, who’s been instructed to wait until Grandma and Uncle Andrew arrive for a family belated Christmas and birthday celebration.

IMG_1333Today, 1/6/16, is Mom’s 81st birthday. She and my dad shared a birthday – he would have been 88. New Year’s Eve was my brother’s 50th birthday.
IMG_1286I transferred hours of VHS to DVD as a gift to her – and the family. She watches my father play harpsichord as my ex mother-in-law Nelly listens. This video was from the very first time the Conants and the Haques met each other, back in ’86. Wow.

IMG_1289Elihu plays Grandpa’s old wooden recorder for Grandma.

IMG_1282We enjoyed some old photographs – here’s one of toddler Eli and Uncle Andrew over 10 years ago now.

IMG_1270Lil man got an enormous drone rc helicopter from Dad and co. in Florida. I’ve seen a lot of rc aircraft in my day, and I gotta say, this puppy’s pretty awesome. Camera and lights – the whole nine yards.

IMG_1243Goodbye to Epiphany, birthdays and the Christmas season – and goodnight to all! If I can ever get the kid to put down the recorder and go to bed, that is….

Here’a a little clip of Elihu noodling around on a soprano recorder… we’re noting the difference between plastic and wood instruments. To those who know the difference well – please understand we’re just beginning to learn. It’s still all fairly new territory to us…


Last night I spoke with Elihu. He’s in Florida with his dad and his dad’s other family, and for the most part, he’s loving it. He’s got a racoon tan around his eyes and sand lodged in his sneakers. Aside from the occasional all-American family gatherings which he must endure – replete with football-watching menfolk and salads that contain marshmallows – it’s been a happy time for him. Which makes me happy, too. Yet it’s never easy on this end when lil man is absent; our family if rife with dysfunction, depression and a deep apprehension for the future ahead. My son can be a lovely, shining distraction in such times. But these days, even Elihu’s presence might not have changed things, cuz they’re dark. I know, that doesn’t sound like a nice way to kick off the New Year, but hey. It’s true. I’m always ready and eager to find the hidden silver lining in any crappy experience, and I’ll broadcast my good findings when I discover them, but I will never shy away from telling my experience the way it is, no matter how it looks.

Last night, New Year’s Eve, was my brother’s 50th birthday. I know how deeply he blames me for his rotted-out, stinking life. I know he thinks mom gives me all her resources, that she favors me over him, that one day she will leave her entire estate to me when she goes. That none of this is true is beside the point; Andrew is ill, and simply does not posses the ability to see things outside of his own highly personal and paranoid perspective. For years and years I’ve fought this impediment to his potentially thriving life, but now, in this brand-new calendar year, I am choosing an entirely new tack: I am finally going to let it go. Nothing can be done for Andrew unless he chooses to do it for himself.

A lesson I myself would do well to live by – I keep waiting for some mysterious exterior force to enter into my life and help sweep things into a shining new order… Hoping for a savior to come and assist me, to uplift me, enlighten me, tell me how it is that I should proceed with my new business, someone who will see and share my vision and throw herself into the ring along with me, full of fresh ideas, vigor and business savvy. I keep thinking that somehow, this magical missing element will find me and make it all better. It’s a nice fantasy, and you never know, shit happens in mysterious ways, but still… I need to get moving. I need to make connections. I need to get my ass out of the goddam house and do things for myself already. No one but me can get the ball rolling.

Last night I’d planned on attending a bonfire and maybe meeting some new people, but between my running out of fuel oil (no matter how many times you see it, it’s always a bit disheartening to see the needle begin to visibly drop each minute) and it being Andrew’s birthday, and his being drunk and storming out, and my not wanting to see my mother sit alone, I bagged. Plus the idea of coming home from a bonfire in the cold, snowy dark woods to a cold and dark house was too much for me to take on. So instead I sat with mom, drank a couple of beers and watched TV like a good American. But that’s ok – because I’m lucky enough to have been invited to join some local musicians tomorrow night for an informal jam. Just the sort of thing I’ve been missing these past years. It won’t be too long before I’ll be back out into the world and making my new way.

During the day I’d been messaging back and forth with my brother’s only remaining friend on the planet, a fellow, who as far as I can tell, is living in the Bay area and is doing well for himself and his family. He spends hours on the phone with my brother, as much chatting about nothing in particular as he does conducting a covert attempt to draw out my brother’s feelings as a means of getting to the bottom of it all – and maybe even finding a fix to Andrew’s grim situation. However sane and successful this guy might be, sadly this fellow seems to have bought my brother’s skewed story, which is this: I, Andrew’s sister, am the cause of everything that is wrong with his life. He has been profoundly abandoned and unrighteously neglected by our mother. Mom pays my way, and leaves him out. I get all the accolades, he gets no respect. I live for free in a house she owns… You get the idea. What my brother doesn’t understand is that while yes, I do live in a home our mother provides for us, he too lives in a home provided for him. The difference is that I pay my own bills (while also raising a child), and mom takes care all of his expenses. But he’ll never see this. Because he can’t.

The truth of the matter is that my little brother has always been sick. In first grade, he came home from school reporting in a screaming rage how much the kids at school hated him, and that the whole class had “pulled machine guns on him” (I remember this specifically because as a 3rd grader I had never before heard this curious use of the word ‘pulled’). Last night, Mom recounted to me that when she’d gone back to work when we were young children, Andrew had asked her if he got a tummy ache in the middle of the day, would she be at home for him? She was honest and told her small son no. But she promised always to be there when he got home from school. And she was. So here we have a kid in whom something’s already a bit off (ie raging how kids ‘pulled machine guns’) and then you have growing feelings of abandonment on top of it: a cocktail for emotional trouble. But back then the signs were likely cast off as crazy kid’s talk, the behaviors chalked up to routine issues of childhood. My brother was quiet, funny and hyper-intelligent (when I described him once as ‘Rainman smart’ to my mom, she had a fit. “See?” she’d said, agitated and getting louder, “You think he’s crazy! Why can’t he just be smart?”) and if he brooded, it was considered merely part of his personality. It was a different time. We weren’t on the lookout for children with mental illnesses.

And while our culture is thankfully changing its feelings towards mental illness, I can tell you that it’s still not without stigma. I do think my mother’s thoughts about mental illness have changed over the past few years, but in her world it’s still not a comfortable subject. Yeah, I do think that personally she feels shame, maybe embarrassment, and even responsibility. Likely, she sees it this way: Mentally Ill Child = Crazy Child = Failure of Parent. Even I myself – dealing daily with panic and anxiety issues – have only just discovered a metaphor that allows for a deeper understanding of what it is to have a mental illness: If someone felt nauseas in their stomach – would you try to tell them they didn’t? Furthermore – you wouldn’t expect them to simply turn off the bad feelings, would you? Mental illness is the same as a tummy ache. It’s physical and it’s real, and it cannot be changed through will and desire alone.

Every now and then my brother’s friend will reveal a tidbit about Andrew heretofore unknown to us, and last night came this bombshell: Andrew remembers mom once saying that she ‘regretted ever having him’. Where the hell had this come from? Never once in mom’s life has she said or done anything that would have implied such a thing. Not even in the heat of an argument. Never. It shocked me to hear that Andrew thought this. And these days, in this crazy world, nothing much shocks me anymore.

I joined mom and Andrew last night, birthday gifts in tow, and tried to assimilate myself into the kitchen quietly. But I suppose I spoke too candidly, too animatedly, too something-or-other, and before ten minutes had passed, my drunk, brooding brother stood up and walked out. I followed him out into the snow, calling after him, begging him not to leave. He stumbled in the frozen ruts of the driveway and mumbled something unintelligible. This, by now, was sadly nothing new. I stood and watched, to make sure he made it safely to his house, some 200 feet down the driveway. The year that dad died, Andrew had fallen in the snow, and we were worried he’d pass out and die there. It’s always a concern in the cold months. On Christmas Eve, my 80-year-old mother had been worried enough to walk the rough terrain around his house, tapping her cane on the windows and calling out to him. Finally, he came to the window and barked at her he wasn’t leaving his house. Usually his rages are brought on by an event or a comment, but this was new – it was unprovoked, and as such, more unsettling than usual.

Among his concerns for his future, Andrew is worried that I will get everything when mom’s gone, and he will go the way of the poor house. Frankly, the way the market is, I expressed to mom that I personally held out no hope of a dollar being left when she died. She took immense offense to this, even though I protested – the markets were continuing to dive, and after all, she had her own expenses to pay. It was simple math! She’d been smart about her estate planning, yes, but no one can outrun a horrible market – this in no way reflected badly on her! Try as I might to de-escalate her emotionally charged reaction, I couldn’t. Maybe it was because my lack of trust showed a lack of respect and acknowledgement for all of her hard work and forethought. Her generation does things ‘the right way’ after all; they take care of their own, they don’t take handouts, and there’s great shame if things don’t work out that way. But things can change in unexpected ways, I tried to explain to my mom. And in light of my own experience, I thought it was prudent to be prepared for the worst.

At one time in my life I thought my husband had my back – emotionally and financially – as he had always promised me. Many times over the years my ex husband assured me I had nothing to worry about. He said his own mother had worried all of her married life that her husband would leave her unsupported. My fears were just as unfounded as hers, he had told me. But as it turned out, that wasn’t the case. I went from fancy restaurants to food stamps almost overnight. I reminded my mom of this. Shit can change in unpredictable ways!

I tried to assure mom that I was forever indebted to her for taking care of everything I couldn’t – tuition for my son, heating oil and injections of cash when there was no income in sight – but that didn’t assuage her agitation. I wanted her to know that I was being practical here, not personal; at the end of the day, no one really had my back. And it didn’t bother me. It was better to be emotionally prepared for lean times than to count on help. I tried to assure her that I wasn’t worried – and besides, the key thing here was not my future, but my brother’s. The issue at hand was that Andrew needed to know he would always be taken care of. I assured her that when she was gone Andrew would be cared for. I promised I would intercede, that I would not let him go without a home, without food or heat. And if there was no money left, then social services and governmental support would always be there for him, and I would always be able to advocate for him. I had hoped to ease her mind, but I don’t think it worked.

As long as my mother is living, and my brother too, there is nothing I can do to change their dynamic. The best thing I can do is remove myself as far as possible from the mix. I’ve spent countless hours on the phone, writing letters, emails, standing in lines, filling out forms – all to help Andrew get better. But with this new year has come a new realization – I cannot do anything for him. I cannot repair anything, and I can’t change the way he lives or thinks, nor can I change the way my mother behaves or thinks. While I may think the short and easy answer is a little tough love from mom – if she cannot bring herself to do it, then it’s not an answer. I explained that she was ‘an enabler’, but judging from the look on her face, I wasn’t sure she’d gotten my meaning. When I suggested that she withhold payment of his electric bill until he agreed to see a counselor, she moaned in classic passive-aggressive tones “I know, I know. It’s all my fault. You’ve made that perfectly clear.” So around and around we went with no real meeting of the minds.

I had simply wanted to remove a burden from her load, but it had backfired. She was not thrilled when I posited a long life of continual, low-grade poverty for myself (sorry, but I don’t see any gleaming opportunities from where I stand today). Honestly, I’d love to have money, and if I did, I’d use it well and wisely, and I’d share it too – but if that never happens, I need to be happy with what I have. Lowering one’s expectations softens the blow of reality. Hell, even years ago – when I had all the money I needed – I’d often say ‘lower your standards and you’ll be happier with the results’. Cuz seriously, it’s so true! Because then, any good that comes your way is lovely and unexpected icing on the cake! Yeah, I prefer to avoid disappointment by moderating my expectations. Crazy? Meh.

As I’ve been writing this, coincidentally, I’ve been talking on the phone to a friend of mine back in Chicago who is enduring her own battle with addiction. She’s an alcoholic, and last night, on New Year’s Eve, she had decided she would admit herself to the rehab program at a local hospital. (Like me, she is, although intelligent and accomplished at many things, living in poverty. Sadly, Medicaid offers very few options for inpatient recovery addiction programs. To my great relief there was a good local hospital available to her.) My thoughts were partly on her last night – was she there yet? Was she trembling yet? How crappy did she feel? I had told my mother about her. “Why does she need to go back to rehab if she’s already been through it before?” my mother asked, honestly confused. I promised my mother that rehab was very, very hard. That it might take several tries before someone had the strength to follow through all the way. And that even then it was not a fail-proof solution.

And as I explained this to my mother, inside I came to a new, deeper understanding about Andrew. He needed to want it, to crave it, to be willing to fight for it – all on his own. If a professionally successful mother of three had a hard time mustering the focus and will it took to get clean, how on earth could my brother even begin? In that epiphany I was no longer convinced that recovery was an option for him. Certainly it would never happen as things were now. Later on my friend called me from intake. We chatted a bit, laughed a bit, and I felt hopeful for her. She too knows that this time it still might not take; that this is a harsh and unkind world, and it will be difficult to go it without a drink. Her road will be hard. But I’m so grateful that she’s at least back on the path. Not everyone gets as far as that.

New Year, new game. I can’t play that old one anymore. I’m letting go of Andrew and his burden, I’m going to move into my future with focus and fortitude. The YMCA approved my reduced membership fees, so I’ll get back on that path. Haven’t moved in a long time, so my body will appreciate it. I’ll devote to my new business the time it requires, and I’ll figure out how to improve those things that I’m currently doing my best to avoid. Sometimes it might seem pure folly to use some arbitrary mark on a calendar as a reason to undertake great changes, but hey, if not now, then when? This will be a good year for me and my son, I just kinda feel it. At least I’m reasonably hopeful that it will be. One never knows. Serendipity and unexpected blessings are just as crazy and unpredictable as the scary stuff. Truly, it’s a mixed bag, and you’ll never know until you go.

So like I said, I’m going forward into this New Year with guarded, modest and humble expectations. That way, the little successes along the way will appear huge and thrilling! Imagine how wonderful it will feel when happy, unplanned-for events fall into my path when all I meant to do was just get through the day! Now that’s my kind of crazy.

Elihu with tanI’ll tell ya what’s crazy… Dad talked Elihu into cutting his precious hair – which he’d been intentionally growing, with my support for a year now – all because the family was having professional photo portraits taken on the beach. My kid felt duped, and he’d held back tears. He was deeply sad when we spoke this afternoon, but he’s a good kid, and he accepted it without complaint. We’ll be back on the quest for long locks upon his return. Love my boy so deeply it hurts sometimes.