The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Cool and New September 1, 2014

It’s a lovely, late summer morning. A cool, humid breeze blows gently in from the east, causing the still-green trees to gently nod and twist. The temperatures inside and outside match, at a comfortable 70 degrees. For the first time in a long while, one can detect the season that’s coming in a few weeks. Though still green, the leaves are not the bright, lit-from-within green of spring, nor are they the rich, full green of a tree deep in the middle of its growing. Now, they are what I call a tired green… Just the faintest hints of olive and yellow begin to emerge when the light is just so. As I sit here this morning, the light itself is gray, the skies heavy with a coming rain, the green still looks like summer. But the rays from a setting sun would betray what’s really going on. This is that time of year in which we must all make our internal goodbyes, our quiet inventories of all that we’ve managed to do during the brief time when we didn’t have to wear anything extra to go outdoors… This is when we sigh, we surrender ourselves to the inevitable change. We shrug our shoulders, declare to friends that whether we’re ready or not, fall is just about here. School, after-school programs, the tasks of making lunches and cooking planned, sit-down suppers… Routine is coming. And soon after, colder weather.

Although I’d given notice at the Waldorf School back in June, and was assured mid-summer that I did not need to concern myself at all with the possibility of being needed again at school in the fall – that there was already an interested prospect for my replacement in the works – plans changed, as I had suspected they might. Apparently the ‘new’ gal who’d been enthusiastic about the post came to realize that the time it actually represented (yeah, I know, how hard could it be to be a musician? Ya show up and just play, right?) wasn’t worth the lousy money they were offering. Coulda told her that. For me, however, it had been worth it, as I had wanted to be with my son, I had wanted to get my reading chops up again, I had wanted to make driving him into town every morning worth the gas money. But it wasn’t enough for her, and I’m back on the hook. Which is a lousy thing at this particular time. I have a lot going on with the Studio – much of which I must do with my own hands – and this job will interrupt my workdays in awkward ways, blacking out entire mornings or afternoons, causing more delays in my progress. I wasn’t able to work this summer because I had things backing up here at home, I had a few house guests, many large-scale outdoor projects, and at the end of the summer I had a child about. This fall I’d planned to hit the ground running… But now I’m stopped. I can’t see an entire movement program at the school hanging in the balance should I refuse to play. I can’t do that to the kids, or the school. I had promised I’d help if they absolutely needed me, and disappointingly, now it turns out they do. They assure me it’s only for the first quarter. Yeah, the quarter in which I begin to teach my class at the high school, start up again with piano students, begin a new diet – plus it’s the quarter in which I must get both the Studio and my home ready for winter. Pretty lousy timing to be sure.

This afternoon we dropped our house guest Ken off at the train. He is setting out for an unknown adventure of his own, going to live somewhere new and turn to the business of tending to his health and even more importantly, his painting, his peace and his sanity. I feel like Elihu and I are also embarking on a new life; middle school, playing in a full orchestra and wearing contacts for my son, restoring and building the Studio while still working part-time, keeping a supportive home life and a full teaching schedule for me. I’m a little afraid, to be honest. It’s a lot on its own, and on top of it I’m planning on beginning another weight loss campaign at Weight Watchers in a week’s time (sponsored by my mother) and that will be an enormous challenge, I’m sure. The Atkins diet, while allowing me great and relatively fast success, assured I was seldom hungry (yet it also assures one gains it all back when eating as one did before). I know well enough – from having lost 55 pounds after Elihu’s birth – that WW is not as easy-going as Atkins. And me, I’ve been finding my solace over the past few months in chips and wine – exactly as Elihu had predicted I would over the summer – and this will not be an easy habit for me to break. Yeah, I have no friggin clue how I’ll pull through. Some folks have suggested the ‘humiliation’ diet: admitting – to the pound – on my blog how much I weigh each week, how I’m failing or succeeding – in real-time. Naw. I don’t have the stomach for that. So I’ll continue to share my experience, and at the risk of seeming catty, will casually fail to mention any hard and fast numbers. As you may see, I’m trying to give myself a bit of cover, a bit of safety to withdraw into should I – in the words of sixth grade boys these days – experience an ‘epic fail’. As of this moment, I really don’t have the confidence that I’ll make it. Still hoping against hope that I’ll find it in me to pull the motivation out of thin air.

As soon as the train had slid north out of the station and our friend was safely off on his journey, we turned to go and in our path found a young boy with caramel-colored skin standing beside an enormous, broken duffel bag, a faint smile on his face, in the middle of the pavement and looking lost. Happy, but lost. Like he could use some help. I asked him where he was going, and he told me Skidmore. “A student?” I asked, feeling almost silly – he was clearly too young to be anything else. Man, he looked like a lost doe in the woods… “Yes” he answered – with a gentle voice, and some vague, hard-to-pinpoint sort of accent. I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to figure out what kind of accent it might have been – or even if he had an accent at all and maybe I wasn’t just confusing it for a relaxed conversational style. I asked him where he was from and he told me New York. “Well, Brooklyn, actually” he added. Hm. “We can give you a ride to campus, would you like that?” “Oh yes”. He was still all smiles, despite having to move his broken and uncooperative bag to the car. In a short ride through town I got a few answers from him and his profile began to flesh out a bit. Raised by a single mom, one of three kids, the last to leave home, and in possession of a flip phone almost out of minutes and just a handful of change to his name, he was undaunted and ready for his new start. “So how were you going to get to school? What were your plans?” I asked, mystified. “You were my plans, I guess.” he smiled his response. What an interesting person, I thought to myself. What an interesting adventure is this life…

We found his new dorm and there was a cheerful crowd of students there to not only meet him, but to carry his bag for him and welcome him with handshakes and pats on the back. Byron (who liked poetry and computer programming and answered with surprising enthusiasm for an eighteen year old when I asked if his first name was Byron, “as in Byron Keats”) had made it to the end of a long day’s travel, which had started very early that morning on the subway, where he and his mother had parted ways. All I could think of was: what if this were my boy? Left to find his way on his own, not enough juice left in his phone to let me know he’d arrived and not enough money left to eat? I felt maternal towards him and wouldn’t leave until I was satisfied that he was safe and sound and at his destination. Just as he was about to be swept away by the welcoming committee to his new room – room 222, another seemingly serendipitous nod from the universe that things were all as they should be – I opened my arms to hug him goodbye. I kissed his cheek and held him as his mother would have if she’d been there. It was the least I could do for her, so far away from her baby. I insisted he get in touch when he was able, and then, not entirely sure that he ever would, made a mental note of the dorm name. Then off went Byron, on his new adventure, leaving us in the same, cool-headed manner in which we’d found him. Off to his new world. It started to rain, and we turned to head back the few miles left to our place, where soon we would be starting off on a new life of our own.

It did indeed rain today. It rained so hard that I could hardly see to drive, so hard that when I pulled in the driveway I found its entire surface one large, moving sheet of water. All my new landscaping was a few inches under fast-moving water, and our creek bed was finally living up to its name. I called Elihu away from his video world and had him join me outside. We followed the stream of water down the yard and into the woods onto the steepest part of the hill. Down it tumbled, making wonderful gurgling and rushing sounds which excited us both and drew us farther along its path. We passed almost an hour making dams, pulling up leaves and roots, freeing up the water here, stopping its progress there… We both fantasized, as we have done for the past six years, about what it might be like if we could one day afford to free up our stream bed again. How exciting it would be to have a real pond, a real creek… But then again, would we necessarily enjoy it so much more than we were now? Our lives were so simple, yet it didn’t diminish our enjoyment of what we had. As I listened to my son’s still-high child-voice, I realized that perhaps next year things might be different. He might not enjoy passing an hour in the rain with his mother as he did today. That our life, just as it was right now, was delightful and precious. And that one day, in the not-too-distant future, I might well look back on this time with a sigh of longing. No matter if our water ran in nothing but a grassy ditch across the yard, no matter if our schedules were scattered and a little too full for our comfort, no matter if money and heating oil would be scarce again this year, I knew that we still had it good.

The year coming up looks more unfamiliar than any of those that have come before in our six years here at the Hillhouse, but somehow I know it’ll be ok. I’m not saying I’m not scared, cuz really, I am. In all honesty, I think I feel more frightened than ever before. Yeah, definitely. I am. Yet somehow, I’m not sure quite how, I’m managing to keep my cool as I face down this new life of ours and watch the old one disappear behind us in the rear view mirror. And like our new friend Byron, I guess it couldn’t hurt to keep a smile on my face along the way.

IMG_2522I can’t believe my artist pal’s been living in this kitchy, Americana barn for the past two years.  Cute, but enough already. Time to move on, indeed.

IMG_2533Engine’s here…

IMG_2526One final selfie…

IMG_2535Elihu spreads his wings as Ken departs.

IMG_2541Next thing we know, it’s “Welcome, Thoroughbreds!” Here we are at the lovely, wooded campus of Skidmore College.

IMG_2542A cheerful coed with a clipboard is here to meet us…

IMG_2545A whole team is here to meet us! I unload one of Ken’s paintings – done when he was about the same age as these kids – so that we can unload Byron’s bag.

IMG_2547I feel better when I see such a great reception.

IMG_2550After a hug, he’s on his way. All the best to you, happy freshman year!

IMG_2557We spy a hawk on the way home. Always a thrill.

IMG_2559This, however, is not such a thrill. My heart still sinks. I know we’ll adjust in time. Just one more new thing to accept.

IMG_2567After a vigorous rain shower, our place looks tidy and clean.

IMG_2564Spreading our wings now, ready to fly off into the new school year.

 

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Brain Cramp June 1, 2012

Been a sweet, happy morning so far. Elihu’s off to school now, and I’m psyching myself up to put away the laundry I’ve boycotted all week. My mood is light in the wake of a delightful breakfast during which Elihu and I played a game of our own invention. We call it the ‘Non Sequitur Game”. You can probably tell by the name what’s involved. It had us giggling over our french toast this morning. It’s always a fun little game. You think of a word, then the next person has to think of a word that totally has nothing to do with the word that’s just been said (that also means you can’t choose a word that is opposite in meaning, as that creates an inherent relationship between the words). Today we kinda tweaked the rules: the person who goes first is the ‘leader’ of that round. His word determines the type of word to follow; verb, adjective, and so on. He, as the round leader, can change the type of word any time he likes. When is the round over? When we feel like it. It’s a lot like Calvinball of the comic strip ‘Calvin and Hobbes’; the rules kinda morph as you go along to suit your fancy. (Whether intentional or not, Elihu has modeled much of his life after Calvin and Hobbes, from his Spaceman Spiff costume at age five to the Non Sequitur game and lots in between.) So we enjoyed a robust couple of rounds, using terms like ‘mandelbrot set’ and ‘axis’ (non-tangible things) and ‘petticoat’ and ‘cotter pin’. We also like to use words that may sound a bit alike – it usually ends up a bit sillier that way. They still have nothing to do with each other definition-wise, so it follows our rules and adds a fun dimension to the game. After a while the game starts to slow down as you start to over-think your answer. I’ve always thought there should be a time limit on answers in order to keep the thinking fresh. Myself, I usually end up throwing in the towel after about five minutes. My brain cramps up pretty easily, and this game does it for me. Fun though. Try it sometime when you have a couple of minutes to kill.

In a few hours my brother Andrew will receive a visit from an adult protective services case worker employed by the state of New York. The visit is supposed to be unannounced in order to prevent the hopeful patient from having any lead time with which to build a case to defend his behavior and choices. Those who live like he does will, of course, always be able to make a case for why they’re living thusly, so it makes sense to give them as little time as possible to ramp up their defenses and get emotionally charged. Andrew is fundamentally a well-raised and polite fellow, and no doubt he will open his door to the man. But the question then becomes, where will the two stand? There is hardly more than a cow path thru the mire and mess. It’s hard to picture two fully grown people standing side by side in that house. And I know that regardless of how Andrew rationalizes his environment, he must certainly feel a good bit of shame and embarrassment when people actually see the interior of his house up close. My heart aches for him. It must be so hard to pull himself thru the day. How does one live when one’s own home is literally filled to the ceiling with garbage? Many times through the years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to help; it not only fails, but it backfires incredibly. It fans the flames of his rage, because in his eyes I am the one responsible for where he is today. And while I understand that this belief in of itself is a symptom of his illness, I still have to fight my keen desire to get it through his head that I’ve never done anything but try to help.

There’s the rub with this mental illness thing. For the most part, the person seems absolutely fine. You might even spend a good bit of time with that person and not have any idea what lurks below. (There’s a strange lack of rationality in the ill person’s thinking, and yet despite their being unwell, they are quite adept at hiding it.) One aspect of their thinking isn’t flowing correctly. And because it’s only one little hiccup in the larger scope of their thinking, and because they have so much together in other departments (mentally ill people are fantastically skilled at deception and creating stories!) it’s really hard to fully comprehend that they are not all right. That they are living partly in our shared reality, partly in a reality of their own creation. I can tell you from having been the daughter-in-law of a schizophrenic for over two decades that a very sick person can appear, for the most part, to be completely well and totally on the ball.

I myself once lived with mental illness. I experienced panic attacks long before they were even called that. Before they were even a recognized ‘thing’. Before it was slightly in vogue to suffer from them. (There’s nothing hip about them. I lived dodging random, nearly unpredictable episodes of sheer terror all throughout high school and college. It was a nightmare.) And even in the midst of a profound attack, I realized how crazy a phenomenon it was. I would physically feel as if I was free-falling – as in my tummy, my whole body would feel as if I was in rapid descent through the air, although of course, I was not. If I were to close my eyes it would be virtually impossible to tell I wasn’t falling; the only difference was that my hair wasn’t being blown back. These attacks were illogical in every way. I remember sitting on my bed once, consumed by fear (the fear is beyond being a simple reaction to the physical sensations – I cannot explain it. It is a bottomless, acute fear that is far worse than any type of fear I’ve ever known. I broke my neck years ago and was told I might not walk again – and even this did not make me feel the profound sort of terror that accompanied my panic attacks) and I knew it made no sense. I sat there, falling, yet I was not falling. I knew I was, and I knew I wasn’t. Knowing that I sat safely on my bed did nothing to stop the sensations I was experiencing. In fact I would often tell myself over and over during an attack that there was no logical, real reason for feeling like this – it was physically impossible. I would command my mind to stop this crap now! I knew something was misfiring and it was so frustrating that I seemed powerless to change it in spite of my desperate desire to do so. I was either free-falling or my ears rang so loudly that they drowned out people’s voices or I was consumed by fear and found sweat dripping off my brow within seconds – any one of these horribly real things could be happening to me, yet it was completely illogical. But at I was at least aware of the illogical nature of my problem. Andrew, my mother-in-law and others more deeply trapped within their illnesses, are not.

There’s another discussion around mental illness with respect to artists and thinkers. Many brilliant people have been crazy. So the question arises, do the brilliance and insanity go hand-in-hand? If the mental illness was ‘cured’, would the artistic brilliance become dulled? I don’t know, but my guess is yes, artistic brilliance and insanity are probably related in some way.  Although I think there must be a relationship between the two, I also know that to live with the torment of some mental illnesses is exhausting. I believe a person should have options, artistry be damned. If there are medical means to stop the unpleasant symptoms, I believe they should be made available to patients. I’ve watched friends work their way thru the meds, adjusting dosages and types until they find what works best for them. I don’t envy them the process. But at least once they’re on their way; they get it. They see the light, they know there’s a destination, they experience some hope again. And I think everyone with a mental illness should be given the opportunity to see the goal. But it’s tricky territory, I know. Legally speaking, a person’s rights are protected and you can’t force treatment on them. But I assert that if their very thinking isn’t healthy, then it’s our job as caring, fellow humans to get that person’s thinking healthy again. I know there are some symphonies that might never have been composed, and paintings that might never had made it to the canvas had the authors’ thinking made entirely healthy. Like I said, it’s not an easy question. Lots of nuances, many different situations, a bunch of ‘correct’ answers.

Elihu himself suffers from panic attacks and has since he was six. We call them his ‘brain problems’. It’s horrible to witness them, and I know well there’s not a thing I can do to make it better while they’re happening. I have learned however, that there are two main things I can do to prevent them: 1) make sure he has enough sleep – and this is not to be underestimated – eleven hours is sometimes just what he needs, and 2) empower Elihu to have as much control over his life as he can have. I pump him full of information, ideas, facts, opinions, data… all in an effort to have him feel that he knows everything he can about the world in which he lives. Feeling out of control and uneducated about the world is something that contributes to, I strongly believe, the onset of panic attacks. Although preventing panic attacks not been my primary motivation in teaching my child about the world, it’s been an important one. I want him to know that although he may not have ultimate control over what happens to him in his life, he is free to learn all he can about what he might expect and why things tend to happen as they do.

But no matter how much thinking you do, life will always throw something in your path you hadn’t expected. Like a game in which the rules change ever so slightly while the game’s in play. You know, kinda like our ‘Non Sequitur Game’. You just gotta roll with it. No use trying to understand it completely, because most likely your brain will cramp up.

 

Drummer, Different May 21, 2011

What is it, I wonder to myself, trying to pinpoint it exactly, in definite and concrete examples, that makes my son so different from his peers? The most obvious thing one might cite, the dark red glasses, are off the list from the start. That’s not it at all, it’s something else. I think back on my interactions with his peers. Once and a while one will stand out, one of many will have a similar ‘thing’ to my son; the only way I can articulate it at the moment is, they ‘get it’. Get what? And am I not sounding a bit of a snob here? Yeah, I admit that, I am sometimes a snob. But that’s not it right now either. Elihu is different; I think anyone would agree. Just what is at the essence of this difference? Might I make a list of some sort for myself? Would that help? I need to understand this better…

I sometimes feel a tinge of sorrow that Elihu is so thoughtful and aware of things in his world. There’s a hint of adult, of peer, in him that sets him apart. And because of this I sometimes miss his truly early years – the first three, I’d say – when he was really and truly a baby. Then I knew unquestionably what he was. Then at least there was no doubt, I knew where I stood. I knew where he stood. Lest I fret too much over this, I’m reminded by things he’ll say or do, ways he’ll act (see tantrums and laundry!) that do in fact tell me that he is still a young boy. Yet somehow, in some way that I’m struggling here to identify for myself, he is no longer a child. How can I say this? He is, yes, he is a kid, and yet, not…

And as for a tiny child’s adoration? Well, although my child is no longer small, I’m lucky to get that daily. In fact, it’s really one of the things that keeps me going. I can’t imagine being a mother to an autistic child who never hugged, kissed, told their mother they loved them. Truly, my heart goes out to these moms who must long for those moments with every cell in their body… I am grateful to the skies for what my son bestows upon me. When I come in to wake him each morning (or, well, nearly each morning!) he always insists I stay to snuggle. This means that we just lay together on the bed for a few moments, usually with arms or sides touching. Sometimes we hug, sometimes not. It’s just a comfortable moment in the covers, in which we simply take in being here, being together. Sometimes we talk, sometimes not. It’s just about connecting.

And regarding connection, here is another related perk of living with this aware child; he recognizes his own need for connection in the course of his day. If we’ve been doing our own things for a good bit of time and have been psychically apart in some way – after a day at school, at home, or temporarily isolated by life’s general busy-ness, Elihu will come up to me and say “We haven’t connected in a while. I need to connect.” At which time I drop what I’m doing. We find a place to just sit together. Since he’s still small enough to fit in my lap, he usually climbs up, and we just sit together, arms around each other. We’ll look into each other’s eyes and just stay there for a moment or two. And I do realize how this seems very much like a romantic exchange. I believe it is related, yet it is very different. And I can tell you that this is is one very peaceful and blessed way to recharge the batteries in a life of never-ending events. An oasis for us both. And it’s been at Elihu’s request alone (until recently, as I’ve begun to recognize when my own feelings of disconnection surface and have requested ‘connections’ of him). He alone came to know what it was to feel disconnected, and furthermore, to know the importance of turning that feeling around. He knew what he needed, how to get it, and how to ask. That, I think, is a skill that many adults don’t even have together, ya know?

In many ways I’ve created in my son the very things that now I sometimes lament having encouraged. I sometimes wonder if I’ve created a child too savvy, too adult-thinking for his own good. Yet I do not regret my teaching him. (I do regret not curbing some of my more unheatlhy actions, like muttering about people under my breath, being quick to anger, expressing opinions like they were accepted fact. I pray my ‘good’ teachings – you know, the old ‘do as I say and not as I do’ – can make up for some of my poor examples.) I’ve spoken to my son as if he were a peer for perhaps all of his life. I also know that I’ve spoken to him in a cutesy baby voice once upon a time – how can one not speak like that to an infant? I can remember playing ‘kissing factory’ – a mommy-invented, changing table game which most certainly involved baby talk. But beyond those tiny years, I’ve talked to my son with an inherent respect. I tried to impart information – and understanding – to him as I would have anyone give it to me. I’ve always wanted him to truly get things – to understand as much as he’s able. I personally believe that people rise to the expectations set for them; I expect that he can understand, so I give him the information to be able to understand. Make sense?

There’s a personal motivation for my wanting to present all pertinent information possible to my son. It comes of my own experience in part, and it also comes from the sense that Elihu and I both have of his being somehow ‘different’. Throughout my life I have often felt very, very lost in this world – often not understanding rules that seemed second nature for those around me. Kids always seemed to ‘know’ things that were an absolute mystery to me. How did they all just ‘know’ about the rules of the games at recess? Or know the icons of pop culture? Or all the types of cereal? Was it just because I didn’t care, no one taught me or that I was missing some sort of gene for this? I missed stuff growing up, and I still just can’t place what it was. It wasn’t even so cut-and-dried as not knowing the names of the teen idols or cereals. Cuz I knew of many, and my kid too knows the names to drop. There was just something else missing. I was aware of it. I just knew that I was missing things, information – something – that other kids were getting. Elihu’s dad had a similar ‘missing’ of things, cues, information and so on, however the difference with Fareed was that he didn’t know he was missing things! He was clueless, and in his case, ignorance was bliss. He was not plagued as a young child by a gnawing sense that he was missing something as Elihu and I have been. This sense of being in the dark, of living in a world parallel but apart from others is something Elihu feels very keenly. Oh how it hurts my heart to hear him express his anguish, his deep need to be like others, to see the world as they do. He’s been brought to tears wishing that he would love Star Wars and soccer like his classmates. Through his tears he condems his beloved bird guides and artists’ tools, his djembe, his drums, his difference. It doesn’t happen often, yet when it does, I let it. I don’t let my discomfort at witnessing his allow me to stifle him. Instead, I try to be a quiet audience, an emotional sponge, taking in all the sorrow, all the isolation, being a witness to it as if somehow I can bear it away from him, transform it, and leave him renewed and full of hope. My intention is for this, yet I doubt I can lessen his sorrow by much. So I do the best thing I can. I just listen. If nothing lessens the pain of these moments, at least I can feel better about them when I consider how healthy it is that he can identify that he’s feeling this way, and how lucky Elihu is to come into such an awareness at such a young age. My own feelings had no audience, had no witness, and so manifested in my high school years in the terror of panic attacks, and the near-miss of not graduating.

My talking to him like a peer – my giving him as much goddam information in as clear a way as I possibly can – talking to him with an inherent respect – I do ALL of this as a means to fill him up, to equip him with so much knowledge that if he don’t know it today, he can goddam well figure it out for himself one day. Ya know? I want him armed. I want him loved. I want him to know that I’m there for him, I’m not holding any secrets back. I’m in full transparency mode. I received an email from some mommy-related site the other day, whose topic was ‘when to have the sex talk with your kids’. Sheesh. My kid’s known how babies were made for years. He’s on the ready for those intoxicating, irrational and annoying feelings that his teenage years will bring on. I’m not saying that we’ll continue to have an open, easy dialogue about sex when those years hit, I’m just saying that we’ve been there, done that, and it wasn’t a big deal. Really.

All that and he loves flowers. I say this with unabashed pride. Yes, now I’m just bragging. Whenever Elihu comes grocery shopping with me, it’s understood that his repayment will come in the form of a long, lingering visit to the floral department. We’ll lament the high cost of the beautiful bunches, search for the most affordable items, an invariably settle on a single red rose. I’ve taken to pointing out to folks who we chat with there that Elihu sees no color. I’m not bragging in this case, but rather looking for someone with whom to share my continued amazement. The kid sees NO color at all, yet finds beauty in flowers that few people do. On a purely practical level, I do think he’s keyed into the shapes and lines and profiles in ways ‘we’ aren’t, much the same way as he’s attuned to the structural and linear differences between birds and can usually identify them much faster than color-sighted folks. Whatever, it really doesn’t matter, for his love of flowers is deep and real. He cannot be rushed when admiring flowers, whether in a shop or a garden. Man am I glad this kid found me.

Then, there’s the drumming. And I don’t mean the ‘look how cute my kid is on the drum set’ nor do I refer to the hippie-dippie sort of hand drumming that passes in a drum circle. He’s got something. I have something drum-related too, only it’s more the desire to play than the innate ability. I got myself some drums at seventeen, and spent hours on them, but never got much past some rudimentary rock skills. But my lack of ability wasn’t daunting to me; I just really needed to play. To keep that groove, that steady right foot… So, Elihu’s got this natural ability to play hand drums – he’s got this signature groove he plays on his djembe. His dad would call it a Punjabi sort of groove, and while I don’t know enough of the specifics to comment on it, I can say yes, that makes sense. It’s a swung thing, a distinct pattern that I myself cannot emulate. I haven’t tried very hard, for I admit that I’m not one to put lots of effort into something if there isn’t a flicker of natural aptitude for it. And clearly, this rhythm is something inorganic to me at the outset, which gives me a great deal of respect for Elihu’s ability to play it, and so effortlessly, so naturally. Not sure when Elihu ‘got his groove’, but he’s had it for at least a year. I think last summer it kind of just came. His dad got him a nice-sounding small djembe a couple of years ago, and last year it just made sense.

My kid also has a great sense of humor. I myself grew up with Monty Python and have exposed my son from the start to some of the more classic bits (and the naughty bits, sorry, couldn’t resist) since he was able to possibly understand them. I have perhaps desensitized him in some way to profanity in my sharing of some humor, but at the same time I have taught him the importance of using profanity in only the most carefully chosen, and appropriate places. It wouldn’t be a ‘bad’ word if we used it all the time, would it? He knows swearing is not something he’s allowed to do – at least in the proper and outside world. He also knows how funny just one little swear word can be, when inserted at the right place. Timing; that’s something he gets. He’s gotten that for as long as I can remember. Man, he’s got that thing. This kid was being sarcastic with me – and fooling me with the old straight face – since he was four! At five his greatest aspiration was to be like Calvin, of “Calvin and Hobbes”. (In fact, when he was five he went as Spaceman Spiff for Halloween.) He’s even concocted his own composite cartoon in which Calvin coaches the young and naive Caillou. Hee hee. Can you just see how loaded that one is? Maybe being outside the normal world helps him to see how funny things are. I think that’s part of it. We all know that phenomenon of the professional comedian; a loner, recluse, a person of few words who seems a whole different person altogether when on stage.

So I guess I’ve compiled a list of sorts. Self-realization, self-actualization, self-determination, self-expression. Not a bad list. Just maybe too heavy a portfolio for such a young child. Maybe that’s what that sense of humor is for.