The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Birth and Baptism June 13, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:30 am
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It was three years ago today when my husband saw his second son born. My husband’s pregnant girlfriend was due to deliver their baby sometime around the middle of June, so I’d made plans for Elihu and me to be out of town during that time. The wait was over.

As my husband had not officially moved out of our house, and as the couple had no place other than that of her parents, I had begun to make peace with the idea of starting over far across the country, closer to my own family, and leaving our marital home to the two of them and their new baby. Just a few years before I’d left my beloved Evanston, just outside of Chicago and moved to the rural town of Dekalb so that Fareed, Elihu and I might start our life anew. Now, without my husband, I had no reason to stay in that small town. I packed for a week’s vacation and took Elihu to the place that would soon be our new home. My son and I were far away when Charlie was born, three years ago today.

A friend had insisted we come and enjoy her family’s beautiful pond anytime we cared; they were all away and busy during the daytime, we would have the dock and water all to ourselves. On that sunny, warm June 12th, 2008, I took Elihu to the pond for an afternoon of pollywogs and distraction. While he had little idea how his own life was changing, I did, and that day was heavy with a strange, sick brew of feelings. It seemed I was living in a dream. My husband was about to have a new child. The child that had blown the lid off of everything.

My comprehension about it all was primitive. I could still not understand this. I’d lived through nine months with Fareed still living in our home; each day I was dreading the event that he himself awaited with great excitement. Such a queer mix of things, I could do no more to keep myself sane than to leave town and come back after the babe had been born. Here I was now, with my son, on a hot summer’s day, toes dangling off the dock in the cool water of a country pond while almost a thousand miles to the west something was changing. Here, my son was busy with nets and buckets, scooping up pond life, unaware of how his own life was changing in that very moment.

The sun and sparkling water gave me some relief. Elihu had taken an interest in the fishing gear there and for a time my energy was spent helping him bait and cast, and making sure that he didn’t hurt himself accidentally on the hooks. I was on vigilant watch against mishaps for a half hour until he lost interest and contented himself again with the net. I sat back in the Adirondack chair and looked out over the white pines that rimmed the water. I watched my son play, and thought to myself that in spite of our having been a family til now, Fareed had shared very little time with the two of us.

Most of my memories around Elihu did not include his father. Instead my memories were mostly just the two of us. Walking around our Evanston neighborhood, riding the bike on the lakefront, visiting friends, together at rehearsals, radio shows, gigs. I had Elihu with me all the time, everywhere. I’d always felt this was a time of waiting. Waiting for our new life. A life in which I would set aside my gigs and projects to raise a family. A life in which Fareed would tour less, stay home more, enjoy our company. Now, it seemed, it might be just Elihu and me, alone, forever. My heart couldn’t bear this.

Here Fareed was, embarking on the familial journey with someone else instead of us, his real family. How could this be happening? We’d moved to Dekalb just two years ago in order to start over, but not like this! I tried to drink in my surroundings, to buffer myself against the constant thoughts. I needed to breathe, to separate myself from the pain. It felt like nature, water, air and light were the only things that could help me today. The lakeside day seemed so bright and hopeful – yet it was oblivious to our loss. It was a day of contrasts that I could not comprehend.

My thoughts were interrupted by a huge splash. I needed not an instant to think, but sprang from my chair. The pond water was a dark amber, tinted by the tannin of leaves, and it obscured even bright objects only inches below the surface. As I looked down I saw the top of my son’s head descending through the water, its shape disappearing in the dark. I threw myself down into that darkness, grabbing blindly for my baby, finding him as fast as I could, then pushing him upward, my feet sinking up to the shins in the silty bottom. If I’d been rescuing anyone other than my only child, I don’t know how I’d have gotten purchase enough on the ground to push him into the air…

But this was my son, my life, my everything. Somehow I lifted him above the water and again another foot upwards to the dock. I myself sank back down again after I’d set him on the platform, but in a rush of adrenaline I lifted myself up and onto the dock beside my Elihu, who was scared, and thank God, crying and alive. I held him against my body, I rocked him, I tried to soothe him. I held him as I’d never held him before.

We sat for awhile, waiting for our hearts to stop pounding. The horrifying image of the dark water closing in over my son played again and again in my head. He might well have died. Yet he didn’t, I had saved him from that. I’d given birth to him once, and today in some way, I’d given birth to him again. He was alive, I was alive, it was ok. And once again, it was just the two of us. It seemed the universe had demonstrated in the most acute way that we two were starting over. We had emerged from the water somehow changed.

As I drove up to my parents’ house my cell phone rang. Fareed’s tone was matter of fact. While he was not overtly rejoicing in his news, his mood was light and upbeat, different from the somber tone he’d used all those months as we waited for this day. I could hear in his voice a guarded excitement about his new life. His new son had been born about forty-five minutes earlier and he had just wanted me to know.

But then he went on to tell me details about the delivery – things I didn’t want to know, couldn’t possibly share delight in – while I sat in my car, still wet from the pond, stunned, trying to integrate what had just happened here with what had just happened there. As Fareed continued to talk, my mind began to piece together the last hour. It seemed that nearly the moment the new baby was born, my son was tumbling into the water. As the newborn took his first breath of air, my son struggled for the same. I sat, unmoving and stunned with the metaphor that had been placed so clearly in my path. This was a day of emergence and change. It was a day of cleansing and rebirth.

And if I’d not been entirely convinced before, I was then. We had been washed clean of our old life – and a new one had just begun.

 

Sorrow of June June 12, 2016

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Growing Older,Pics,Retro Post — wingmother @ 3:20 pm

Although there is much good news to report on our current life here, today I can’t summon the focus to organize it all, to sort through photos and keep straight the chronology of events. My thoughts keep returning to the significance of this day in our personal history. It’s a cloudy, cool day here in Greenfield, and for that I’m glad. My soul isn’t up to sunshine right now. Today, I am remembering, and it feels as if the overcast skies are empathizing with me.

This is the week of my former parents-in-law’s wedding. Something like 55 years by now. Nothing sad there, but it reminds me that the other anniversary is coming soon… Today is the birthday of my ex-husband’s third child – his second son – born while we were still married; the child who changed our lives forever. And one year ago, on a rainy June night, Martha Carver died. That last one feels surreal to see in print, but I know that one day, like all the other once-surreal events of my life, it will be just another landmark in my life. It won’t hurt as much as it does now. Martha’s time had come, and she lived a full life. My sorrow over her death is the usual sort. And I suppose this day doesn’t hurt as much today as it did eight years ago on that afternoon when Elihu’s half-brother was born, but it still causes a little dark spot in my gut. Sorrow may diminish, but once there, it never fully goes away. At least that’s how it feels to me. I’m always amazed at the sorrow we human beings can live with. I realize it’s part and parcel of being here on this earth, but I’m still not a fan. I also realize that without sorrow and loss we might not fully appreciate what it is to have the people and things we love around us. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining; I don’t have it bad by any means, but still… Sorrow slows me down in my thinking and in my actions too, it bears heavy on my heart and makes me linger at the view of the hills outside my window, wondering and wondering…

Everything is as it should be. I have no regrets. The life that Elihu and I have created here in Greenfield is all that we could want. It may not have arrived in a way I would ever have expected, but somehow the crappy situation that brought us here gave birth to opportunities we never, ever would have had otherwise. Knowing this is what keeps me moving forward, even when sorrow continues to follow close behind. Our finances are still a stressful thing, dysfunction continues to thrive in my family, and the future is – even with all the potential for great things ahead – still uncertain. But even so, somehow, I’m able to put it all aside and help us to live our lives to the fullest. We have so much to look forward to, and Elihu and I are pretty good at enjoying the ride along the way, from quiet moments at home to jam-packed schedules and plates piled high with commitments. Silliness mitigates the sorrow, and hope for happier things to come helps to get us out of bed in the morning.

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Click here for the story of how we came to live in Greenfield: Birth and Baptism

Click here for the story of Martha Ward Carver’s death: Remembering Martha

And finally, click here to see what’s been going on at The Studio – this is happier news to be sure.

 

Day of Dads June 16, 2013

In my family we never celebrated Mother’s or Father’s day. In fact, we were discouraged from really talking much about it. My mother, the clear captain of our familial ship, would always tell us it was a Hallmark-created holiday (subtext: not real or worthy) and that she didn’t need a card on one particular day of the year because, as she would so enigmatically add, “everyday is mother’s day”. You can imagine how confusing this sounded to a young girl. I got her gist, that the holiday was somehow inferior and unnecessary, but what about that ‘every day is mother’s day‘ bit? Did that mean she knew we loved and appreciated her every day of the year? Because we were not a household that ever said ‘I love you’ to each other. And we certainly never thanked her for all the things she did for us – we were kids, after all. Her statement always felt a bit dark, even a bit angry. Young though I was, I was definitely aware of my mom going through life with a certain mother-as-martyr sort of attitude. (I too share this tendency at times, but hope that I counteract it by apologizing to my son when I do express a similar sentiment; I always assure him it’s my greatest joy – albeit exhausting sometimes – to provide him the things he needs.) So was she being sarcastic? Did she actually want some props on her day? Or did she truly feel contempt for the whole thing? Each year I’d feel a strange sort of dread at the two holidays. My father himself was simply silent on the subject of his own day. We never mentioned it, never uttered the words “Happy Father’s Day” to him, never gave him a card that I can remember. It just was not what we did. But in that it was what the rest of the world seemed to be doing, deep inside I was always very conflicted about these two holidays.

It was five years ago this week that my ex husband’s third child, and second son, was born. I had made plans to be here in New York around his girlfriend’s due date, as it was just too much to bear to remain in town for the birth. My ex was still living in our home then, staying some nights with me, some with her. By June he still had made no plans for his future living arrangements, so I began to make my own. I’d come here in part to escape the birthday of that new child, and also to convince myself that a move to this place was the next necessary step in my life. As planned, his son was born while we were here in Greenfield. I felt as if I were in some bizarre, waking dream when he called me moments after the birth and excitedly recounted all the details. (See “Birth and Baptism”, a post from June 13th of 2011.) I just sat there, in my car, cell phone to my ear, feeling almost dizzy. Almost in my body, almost floating. Adrenaline filled my veins and my body felt cold with shock. I had known it was coming, why did this hurt so much? Why didn’t I stop him from talking? Why was he saying all this to me? Was I truly hearing this? I don’t think I said much back to him. I just remember thinking, my husband has two sons now. And a daughter, older than our son. How could any of  this possibly be? This was my son’s father. My husband. Our Daddy. He belonged with us, his real family.

Father’s Day was a couple of days later. I was out doing some errands on that beautiful, sunny day when I pulled into the huge parking lot of a local box store. I had NPR on the radio, and some music came on. Not just some music, but nylon string guitar. I knew that sound immediately. Two decades with a guy who pretty much lives only for the ‘sound’ and you just know. I stopped driving. I remember pausing, looking up at the huge, white cumulus clouds. Thinking how small I was in the world, how far I’d run, and yet… here he was again, sharing my tiny bubble of personal space. But I couldn’t turn it off, I was curious. Was it just an anonymous sound bed? I held my breath… Then a familiar male voice, one of the regular NPR guys came on. Said who it was we’d been listening to. Said he was a dad, too. Then, in a smiling and warm tone wished Fareed a very happy Father’s Day. Again, that cold feeling shot through me. Would they have been so gushing if they knew? Fuck this! Fuck him! He’s just changed forever the life of his one, true son and here he is being lauded as a great dad! They forgot to say “father of three, but only one by his wife!”. It all still felt unreal. I was a thousand miles away from him and yet still – here he was, in my face, keeping the hurt as fresh as possible. It was the single hardest decision I have ever made, but in that moment I knew that Elihu and I could no longer live in Illinois. I finally knew on that Father’s Day that our lives had truly changed, and so had our home.

Back in Chicago we’d known a guy who’d had two families. At the same time. I never got how it worked. I had been told that he was not with the mother of his first four kids, but still, you’d see them together at his concerts – and their relationship wasn’t quite clear… He had two children with a younger gal, essentially the gal he was currently ‘with’, however there seemed to be an overlap in ages, or at least a very small window between the ages of the kids from the two families. Sometimes you’d see both families – all six kids and the two moms – sitting not very far from each other at one of dad’s shows. I’d watch them, looking for clues, for something… I couldn’t fathom how this was tolerable, especially when I’d heard that the first – and older – mother had not been part of the decision. Back then it was stuff of another world altogether, but now it’s my reality. I do understand that plenty of folks separate, divorce and then go on to make new families, but this overlapping thing still just feels creepy. I also know that mistakes happen, that we all lose our thinking selves when passion and physical desire overwhelm us – yeah, I know. I get it. And strangely, my heart goes out in some way to those poor guys who discover they’ve left an unexpected child behind – cuz that has got to suck. And also, I’m pleased to see these dads of multiple families try to step up as best they can. But seriously, how can one give oneself fully to more than one young family at a time? I can better understand having different families at different life stages – but having several sets of small kids at one time that all need their dad – I just don’t think anyone’s gonna win in that situation.

Thankfully, I think my son’s fared pretty well in spite of his less-than-favorable dad situation. As I write, they’re Skyping. (Dad had to take a break moments ago to Skype his daughter in London – it’s a busy holiday for him. !) I don’t flinch anymore though. It’s become our life. And while I’d still like to speak one day with that ‘other original mother’ of that Chicago fellow to better understand how she deals with it, I have enough of my own experience at this point to feel at home in our unique family situation.

As to my own father, he’s not even aware of what day it is. Doesn’t mean Elihu won’t make a card and we won’t stop by for a visit. But just yesterday dad greeted me with a “Happy Thanksgiving”, then cheerfully acquiesced when I told him it was actually a fine Spring day. He always easily adjusts to being corrected, then seems to forget all about it seconds later. But he still retains memories of his life, and he does know he’s my dad, and in spite of his having once called Elihu ‘his favorite nephew’, in spirit, at least, he recognizes Elihu with his heart. Yesterday I had my own sudden and unexpected memory of my father pop up… The wild roses had just burst into bloom and every breeze carried their scent. The perfume brought back a snapshot image of my dad from years ago… One Spring, when I was about twelve or so, I played Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose” as part of my end of year piano recital. When I rejoined my parents afterward, I saw that my father was crying. It stunned me, that my playing could move him so. It also shocked me because until that moment I’d never seen my father cry. Or show much emotion. I’d seen him happy or mad, but not much else. As I said before, we were not an ‘I love you’ sort of family. That was a moment that changed me in some way, and changed the way in which I saw my father. He was touched, and so was I. And I knew for sure then that he loved me.

My son is lucky that he has his dad in his life, and that he absolutely knows his father loves him. I also feel lucky that I’m still able to see my own father and tell him that I love him too. And a little later today, that’s what we’ll do. Because no matter what some may feel about the artifice of the holiday, I think the idea of celebrating our parents on one special day out of the year is a good one. Happy Father’s day to all you dads.

Elihu plus kidsCharlie, Brigitta, Erie & Elihu

 

Sister Pattie February 23, 2013

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Just finished reading Pattie Boyd’s autobiography. As I was browsing the shelves for something new to read and saw the title, I had a dim awareness of who she was. The cover photo intrigued me, and of course, reading that she had been married to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton (and now remembering exactly ‘who’ she was) – naturally, I had to read her story. Aside from being a fascinating window into the culture of those times, it was so very much more to me. Of course my story isn’t anywhere near as colorful, historically significant or fast-paced as hers, but there are a few similarities. (Not the least of which is that we’ve each broken both of our wrists – one in nearly the same sort of accident – and have had more than one reconstructive surgery to fix em.) The big list however is of course this: music widow, shadow partner to famous guitar player, wife whose husband bore children with other women during their marriage – and whose husband somehow thought that it was ok. There’s a tiny personal link too…

Years ago, shortly after Fareed and I met and had become so deeply smitten with each other, he was asked to play on Sting’s album, Nothing Like The Sun. I had been on the road with a Chicago-based R&B band and our tour ended in Montreal. Since Fareed had relatives from the Pakistani side of his family living in town, he met me there and we went to pay them a visit. Next we drove south a couple of hours to see my folks in Saratoga Springs, New York. It was a casual phone call into Pangaea to say hello made from my parents’ kitchen phone that opened the door to the session (this was a pre-cell phone world). The secretary told him to hold on, and the next voice he heard was Sting’s (Pangea was his record label to which young Fareed had just been signed). Sting asked Fareed if he might pop by the studio and add a couple tracks since he was in New York. Sting had no idea we were a good four hour drive away – but of course that didn’t matter much to us, and we immediately hopped in the car and headed down to the city.

The track was They Dance Alone; a mournful tribute to the Chilean women made widows by the Pinochet regime and the dance they make in honor of their deceased husbands. As Fareed himself is the son of a Chilean mother, it seemed all the more appropriate. While he played, I sat on the couch eating strawberries with Sting as he nursed a bad cold. Anecdotally, I remember that we were asked to join him and his producer for dinner afterward, but I missed Fareed so much plus I really didn’t have the energy to hang with people I didn’t know well and come up with the requisite small talk – no matter how glamorous they were – so I asked Fareed to pass. So how does this all substantiate that distant connection to Pattie I mentioned? It was that Eric Clapton had also played on the same track (we got to hear his tracks soloed up too). In the end his stuff didn’t end up making it on the final mix – but Fareed’s did. Kinda fun. So. Not a close call by any means, but definitely within the six degrees of separation thing.

What struck me most about Pattie was how incredibly insecure she was. At first I couldn’t believe the things she knew about – and put up with, yet she behaved as if nothing was going on. How could she? I thought. And then at once – a memory hit me. And I realized that I was no different. In roughly our third year together, Fareed was being pestered by a woman who’d once known him on the road. Nothing new there. But then he said the strangest thing – so out of the blue: “She says she’s pregnant with my baby.” I remember now a snapshot of that moment; the end of day light, standing near Sheridan and Broadway in Chicago, a large stone church just to the north of us… I can still see in my mind’s eye the look on his face. That first glimpse into the emotion-less facade he would wear so much of the time later on in our relationship. There was a lot going on behind those vacant eyes, and I was privy to very little of it. I was stunned more than anything, because he seemed to infer that this was not a vague, warrant-less threat from some crazy fan. Something had happened. Our relationship was still fairly new, and to even consider something like this was absolutely unthinkable to me. So I too behaved as if nothing had changed. And yet, somewhere deep down, I must have known things were going on…

I learned that Pattie knew about – but somehow still ignored – lovers of both George and Eric. But it was more than that. Eric, a substance abuser and most certainly deeply troubled guy, was just plain cruel to Pattie. But she stuck around. She took it. Unlike Pattie, I certainly never knew about anything – at least nothing was obvious. And certainly Fareed was never anything but a gentleman to me. But I did feel a tiny hint of doubt. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it, because if I did, I stood to lose my partner. I wasn’t brave enough to go there. And I guess Pattie had to face it because it was shoved in her face. (Hell, I suppose it was shoved in my face too, eventually.) Even after hours spent googling over the past four years in search someone having told a story similar to mine, I still hadn’t found anything close to what I myself experienced – until I read Pattie’s story. When I got to the part where Eric tells her his news, my whole body went cold. My God. Here it is. I know that moment. I remember that out-of-body feeling, that strange, shifting reality that invades your body like a drug all in an instant… Finally, here was someone putting a voice to this experience – besides me. Finally.

“He’d met a girl called Lori when he was in Italy. They had slept together a couple of times. He still loved me but he thought he was in love her too…One day I was in the kitchen putting flowers into a vase when he came in and told me that he had had a phone call from Lori. She was pregnant. I felt panic, fear, uncertainty, terror of what might happen next. What would I do? How would I cope? ‘Can’t she get rid of it?’ I asked. I felt sick. I couldn’t breathe properly and my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t think…” Man, do I know that place. I know it so well. But, this is only the first phase of a long and bizarre process, which inevitably ends in the birth of this new person – an event which is the most exceptionally queer and dreamlike mix of things one could ever experience in a lifetime. It’s acutely painful, it’s surreal… and of course, there’s a low level guilt present, because, after all, this tiny child had nothing to do with all the surrounding drama. And you do, in some way, wish for your not-yet ex’s happiness, and the new mother, and the babe… It’s a grueling, strange process for the wife. But oh thank God, I’m not alone. I finally read the experience from another woman’s lips…

“One evening we were sitting on the garden wall when the phone rang. It was Eric, wanting me to know that he was the proud father of a son, Conor. He was so excited. He had watched the baby being born, and went on and on about how moving, how marvelous, how miraculous it had been. His enthusiasm was unbridled. I might have been his sister or a friend, not his jilted wife. He had no thought that this might be news I didn’t want to hear.”

If you’ll read my post “Birth and Baptism“, you’ll hear me describe a nearly identical scene. Reading her account has helped me feel so much less alone. And in some ways, her experience was harder still because at that very same time she and Eric were undergoing IVF to have a child of their own. ! Pattie however, unlike me, never had the privilege of having her own child. I thank God up, down, right, left and center every day for my beloved son. I am so glad that I was able to know what it is to carry and raise a child. My heart goes out to Pattie, as that was a dream she worked so hard to achieve, yet it never came to be.

But on goes life. And while it may seem I can’t let go of my ‘story’, and I probably continue to write about it these days more than my audience might think is necessary, it shows me that my process isn’t over yet. But I am so very much better these days. I’m doing better than I was this time last year. And I suppose I’ll get better still with more time. My story will evolve, my heart will heal. Pattie’s story marches forward too… She has had so many adventures and such a rich life beyond that tiny tragedy that it gives me hope. I know that more adventures lie ahead for me too. For now, they’re more about fourth grade plays and egg collecting than travel or new careers, but I’m so very grateful for what I have.

And I’m grateful for my new sister, too.