The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Tenure November 10, 2018


Most posts come to me almost finished. They’ve rolled around in my thoughts over and over again; pre-sleep, in the midst of sleeplessness, and often just after waking. A line here or there comes to the fore, something to hang my thoughts onto, a general framework which gradually etches itself into my memory while I go about the day. A few days of somewhat passive ruminations and I have it. Mostly that’s how a piece of writing comes to me. Mostly. But not always. And definitely not today.

I’d put it off longer if I could. Stalled a few months already – something which is not at all characteristic of me. Cuz I love to write. Folks who know me personally understand how I love to talk – anecdotes, stories, sidebars – the whole thing (no matter who’s doing the talking) is always of keen interest to me. Stories, I got em. And if you get me started, you’ll hear the story til the very end. God bless my little man, my son Elihu – I remember when he was just a wee one, and we’d lie side by side in bed at the end of a day in the dark of his tiny bedroom, and he’d ask me to “tell him a story that really happened”. Oh, I did indeed have stories “that really happened”. Stories the likes of which most mommies probably didn’t. Jumping off the caprail of the H.M.S. Bounty into crazy-deep water, jumping out of a plane (and surprising my jump master with a kiss the on last round before bailing), hosting a radio show (sometimes while nursing that same kid as an infant), playing to packed houses on the road, never knowing a soul there… Leaping from a moving train in Italy after throwing my belongings onto the disappearing platform, hitchhiking in Indonesia. I could go on, but you get the gist. I’ve been a lucky, lucky gal. Lots of stories. Lots of them – until it all wound down to a rather mundane existence in the suburbs north of Chicago. After giving birth to my first, and only child. (Yes, your life changes.)

Shortly after Elihu was born, I was still performing in a couple of bands. I’d worn the rocker chick/jazz chick/hard working musician badges as long as I possibly could; I was on stage performing in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek homage to the 70s when my milk first came in. My poor newborn babe was at home, hungry, waiting for his first real meal, and there I was at a club. Dressed in a red, white and blue patchwork pattern, floor-length dress reminiscent of something from Linda Ronstadt’s wardrobe, I felt it start. My milk-filled breasts had finally let down. I felt two wet spots begin to grow on my chest and I was grateful for the visual distraction of the patterned material. Immediately I recalled how my gut had begun a robust round of Braxton Hicks contractions only a few weeks earlier – when the band I was in soundchecked for a performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Park West in Chicago. I’d truly thought it was the beginning of my labor and that some 800 paying guests – not to mention the band and cast – were about to be sorely disappointed… Thankfully the painful spasms subsided long enough for me to get through the show. It was close. Up until that moment I’d kinda treated the whole pregnant thing as some sort of amusement – but on that night I was finally made aware of the seriousness of my condition. (I even took on the job knowing the performance was only a handful of days shy of my due date. !! I know, right? I really didn’t get it until then. And that’s the honest truth.)

Yeah, it’s usually the way it goes for me. And I’ll guess, for you too. Who the hell truly understands the real significance and meaning of an experience while smack dab in the middle of it? Few of us. Ok, so there are some moments of clarity, paradigm-shifting events and such, yes. But for the most part, we need hindsight to provide clarity and perspective, and truth. And that’s what I have a whole lot of right now, ten years in. Oh so much has changed in the last ten years of our life here at the Hillhouse. I have learned so much. So much that was once fuzzy is now clear, so much which was unknown is familiar to me now. And to use a writing technique I rather loathe but feel might make my point very well in this case: Oh. So. Much. Has. Changed.

There is no tidy way in which to summarize. I cannot possibly recount a decade of life with all of its drama and joy. Suffice to say, in the ten years since Elihu and I moved here, he and I have visibly aged. When we moved here (to the small white ranch house with a great view we lovingly dubbed “The Hillhouse”) in upstate New York from the suburbs of Chicago, Elihu was 5, and I was 45. He was tiny, and I still looked ‘young-ish’. Now he is taller than me, with a voice an octave lower than mine, and I can no longer hope to pass for forty-something.

There was a blessed island of time – say from his being 6 (and me being 46) and his being 12 (me 52) when all seemed easy, gentle, innocent. Sure, I grumbled under my breath about how hard it was to afford food (then came the food stamp era) and how much time it took to cook the damned stuff (it was only two people, why did it take so much time?) and then there were all those dishes (again, how do two people use so many dishes?) and yet still, in spite of the poverty, the domestic drudgery and even the loneliness of it all, there was a certain unmistakable charm to that time. And even when in the midst of my fresh heartbreak, all the chores and my near-constant grumbling, I had understood that. I knew that one day this time would be in our past. I surely knew it intellectually, but not so much emotionally (that would be the understanding I’m achieving now, in these reflective days).

There were the bathtimes, followed in the earliest years by playing dinosaur on my big kingsized bed – me roaring loudly while tossing the small child up and crashing him down onto the bed to his shrieks of pure delight… Then a few years later (an era which lasted a long, long while, perhaps due in part to my son’s reduced visual acuity) we came to read together each night – or rather I would read aloud to him. He would be lost in his inner visions as I shared along in the adventures. Oh so many books we read. I lament now that we didn’t keep a record on file at the library – I learned only after reading dozens of books that our titles had not been recorded as I hadn’t signed up for that service (all young parents please take note of that!).

Each Spring I read the Burgess Bird Book for Children (a first edition given to us by a dear friend – this tome is over one hundred years old!) and Elihu had a nearly word-for-word recollection of the text – something I’ve come to learn is a byproduct of his low vision. (He told me this past year that he’s informed only about 20% by his vision, with his ears telling him a good 80% about his environment. Even with my knowing his visual situation better than anyone else on the planet, this was still revelatory.) Elihu would correct me when I read something slightly different from the printed text – and many times when a signature, oft-repeated line would arrive, we’d say it slowly together, smiling at the secret joke. I deeply treasured those moments, knowing they wouldn’t last forever, even if it surely felt as if they just might… I loved our evenings reading together, and especially those precious spring seasons when we read from Mr. Burgess’ tender book. In the spring when Elihu was 14 he allowed me to lay down next to him and read a few lines. But it wasn’t the same. I felt it and so did he. The magic window had closed. But I couldn’t bear to leave his side, I couldn’t bear to confirm it aloud or with my actions. Eventually, he asked me to leave, softening it as best he could with a “please”.

Single mother. Used to be, years ago, when I heard the descriptor “single” used before the word “mother” I would think some unkind things. How does a mother end up single? How pathetic is that? And for single mothers with more than one child I just tossed my head and rolled my eyes in disbelief. Idiots. For God’s sake, didn’t you make a plan? What do you mean your husband just left? Why in hell did you allow him to? Yeah, I wasn’t very open minded, tolerant – or experienced. Yet. And although something deep inside me still bristles at the term “single mother” (culturally I may never cleanse myself of thinking it brings low-brow values along with it) I myself have (sometimes even proudly) brandished the title many, many times in order to impress upon folks that it’s just one woman doing the work of two here. I’ve used the term to help create a clearer picture without going into details. My hope is that folks might understand that I did not ever expect to be in this situation. I use the word “single” to imply I am in the situation, but I didn’t choose it – it chose me. But if they don’t get that bit, or if they end up passing judgement on me, that’s fair. I guess I have it coming to me. Once, when Elihu was a wee one and I was juggling the usual domestic crap (my then husband was on the road most of the time) I lamented over the phone to my mom that I felt like a single mother. She responded “Every mother is a single mother”. Nuff said.

Having just one child, and having no spouse around to accommodate has been a great gift. Raising a child alone offered me great freedom, almost unlimited opportunities. Any adventure that appealed to us we were able to dive into without the baggage of extra people and their stuff. Mom and son is a very portable unit. Everything could be done at a moment’s notice; busking, birdwatching, poultry auctions, a trip to Vermont, a trip to New York City, a walk in the woods, gliding at the airfield, flying a handmade plane in the cemetery. A thousand tiny moments, hundreds of excursions, hundreds of snowbound days indoors side by side, talking, not talking…  Discovering how to draw a wing, how to build a cantilevered shelf into a tower of building blocks, how to articulate passages on the tuba, how to figure out the chords to a melody on the piano, how to nurse a hen with sour crop. Together, Elihu and I have become good at figuring it out. Solving the problem. It’s been a great adventure for both of us. I often say I gave birth to a 50 year old man, cuz this kid’s always had a much deeper understanding of things than anyone I know. Yet he’s been a tiny, adorable child, too. And as a mother I can recall all of these aspects in an instant. Years ago, I was unable to conjure an image of my son taller than me. No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not. Even now, when he appears in my mind’s eye, he’s usually shorter than me. But when I see him, I begin to see the next era. Now I can begin to understand all those things I knew were coming one day, because one day has arrived.

This past May I turned 55. At a glance, not so crazy. But then you realize – 55 is closer to 60 than 50. Wait, what? Come again?? How long have I been in my 50s? Wasn’t I just 45 last year? Give me a minute here…

This becoming 55 really altered my awareness. This was the first year that I could have imagined myself dying. Sure, we never know. I could yet die this week, next month, next spring. Who knows? Although none of us is very good at living as though we were dying – I began to get a bit more motivated this past year. My piano chops were still pretty modest, and I while had long stalled on looking for a local piano single job, indefinitely citing the need for improvement before I could get a gig anywhere, I decided that that shit had to end. There was no longer any time to waste. I decided my timidity was doing me a great disservice; if I had limited time remaining, what in hell did I have to lose? I had enough in my fingers to work. All I had needed was something to dissipate the unnecessary fear. Now I had it. Mortality.

I got in my car and drove to a local golf club and asked to play for the manager. She and her assistant leaned against the tables as they listened. “When can you start?” was the response. Empowered by my first success I knocked on the door of the only restaurant on Broadway that had a piano. The owner let me in and within minutes I was playing and singing for her and her husband. They booked me for that Saturday in March, and I began a steady which had me working all the way through September. Finally. The kid was old enough to be left alone, and I was back out in the world. Finally, I was playing again. Doing what it was that I used to do before this whole kid/divorce/move across the country/raise chickens/start a business adventure began. Phew.

The Studio too has brought me a long way in my personal development. Not a one of us Conants ever thought the scenario through to the far-off future, and it appears that future is now upon us. I myself didn’t really believe (although on some subconscious level I must have known) that running the place would be entirely on me. But it is. And now the main matter at hand is to get the venue inhabited by compelling programs and – the kicker – to see the venue paying for itself. My mother’s been able to patch up the holes, covering the shortfalls and helping with some maintenance, but it cannot remain this way. And it won’t be. A year ago my head was still fully in the motherhood mode; I was making progress with the Studio in fits and starts, and I simply didn’t have time or energy to devote myself to the job as it required. And now that Elihu is 15, things on the domestic front are a lot easier. Hell, I even have my own labor force – and a willing one, too. The kid is so helpful when it comes time to set or strike the room. I’ve given a lot of myself to him and he knows it. My heart is warm and grateful when he returns the service with enthusiasm.

I’m still not enjoying a lot of administrative success – I haven’t assembled a true working board yet (friends, mom and a couple of local artists hold the space for now), and the website is rudimentary and not at all the way I’d like it. I cannot add images in the proper places or align text correctly – the whole thing is a huge frustration. But I know about frustration. This too shall pass. Somehow, I’ll figure it out. In the past year the Studio has lost its power line from the road (thank you dear friends who donated to our power restoration!), been struck by lightning, and we were also sued by a woman who slipped on the ice at – get this – a community drum circle. So nothing really fazes me anymore. Nasty letter from a lawyer? Mech. Sliding door doesn’t slide? Red food dye on the white walls? Table gone missing? Hey. At least the place is still standing. All possibility is yet before us…

My son is in Germany. The last time he was in Germany he was inside of me. Last time I took a trip of any note was when my ex and I went to Germany to perform, and then to Italy to make a baby. Truth to tell, I’ve always felt pretty smug about how it happened. Sure it happens all the time – but I got pregnant on my very first ovulation cycle off of the pill in over a decade. Ha! We stayed in a tiny town on Lake Como, in a small family-owned hotel, in room 12, which was the lucky room in which our Evanston friends had stayed, the room in which our friend worked on his book. The room with a view like no other. And 12 happened to be our shared lucky number. The stars were lining up… One afternoon Fareed and I took a walk in the woods on the steep bank of the lake, and we came upon an ancient, moss-covered well. I looked down into the black, and I became aware of a feeling. I knew that there was a tiny new life inside of me. I knew it. I continued on the path under the canopy of pines as if I was floating in a dream. I just knew that things were different now.

Back in Frankfurt I saw a drop of blood, and I was disappointed. How could I possibly have thought it would be this easy to get pregnant? I remember the sounds of the men in the Turkish coffee shop on the street below, the high ceiling of the tiny room where we had spent the night, the sorrow in my chest… In hindsight, I know now that the drop of blood was due to a small cluster of cells embedding themselves into the lining of my uterus. I’ve often said that Elihu’s life began in Italy, but he took up residence in Germany. Funny how life goes… He is loving his time on exchange in the south of the country. He has informed me that he may attend university for free – even as a US citizen! – if he tests in. And that, for my little straight A student, will not be a problem. He loves the slower, gentler pace of life there. It seems his childhood in Greenfield has prepared him well for it. Now fluent in German and without question truly bilingual, his world expands. My eyes fill with tears if I think too hard on it; I am proud, I am in awe, I am in love, and I am sad at the impending separation that college and his life beyond will bring. But it’s all good. It wasn’t all good at the start of this Hillhouse adventure, but it sure is now.

In a couple of days I will fly to Zurich and rejoin my son. We will stay a few days with his host family, I’ll visit his school, meet his teachers and new friends, and I’ll have the opportunity to thank them for their enormous gift of support for my son. We’ll say farewell to our hosts, then take a train to Paris, where we’ll be visiting with both my Godmother and an old friend from Saratoga who now lives there. Finally, we’ll take the train – the famous Chunnel – to London where we will enjoy two very good seats for the musical Hamilton on Thanksgiving eve. We’ll meet up with Elihu’s sister who lives just outside of the city, and then we’ll embark on adventures yet unknown to us at present.

This year marks ten years well-lived here at the Hillhouse. To be sure, we’ve earned our tenure.

 

 

Dear Readers, Elihu has worked so very hard at building aircraft and subsequently documenting their flights – all of his work available for viewing on his YouTube channel entitled “Copterdude”. Indulge me if you will, please, and watch a video or two. And if it’s not a great imposition on your inbox, might you consider subscribing to it? This mother would be deeply grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking Thanks November 27, 2014

It’s often my son who turns me around. Sometimes I self-police, but usually it’s him. I’ll moan over my arthritic, misshapen fingers, or worry about running out of heating oil, or I’ll make some grumblings about the plight of the divorced, single mother, and there he is, to turn it all around. “But just think, you can play music with those fingers”, and “Isn’t our house nice and toasty right now?: or “If it weren’t for you and daddy splitting up, we’d never have known this life!” Sure, I’ve said all those very same things to myself, but it always helps to hear them again from an outside source. Yes, all of this is true. And while it’s become something of a trite, Facebooky sort of platitude by now, it really does make things so much nicer when we’re deeply appreciative of all that we do have, right now. It’s always easier to condemn than to praise, likewise it’s often easier to feel disappointment than gratitude. But putting that extra oomph of energy into turning it around, and seeing things ‘half full’ is worth the effort. Contentment becomes the prize.

Yesterday we spend a snow-bound day inside and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The kitchen is currently a hot mess on account of my negligence, but it doesn’t bother me. Nor did it last night, as Elihu and I cozied up on the couch and looked over his favorite childhood books together. Nor did it distract me when we decided to actually use our fancy, modern tv in the basement and watch a whole movie together. ! Nor did I fret over the unkempt house when we went outside in the darkness to marvel over the still-falling, sparkly snow that lay in great mounds over everything.

We retired late. The two of us often rely on help to sleep – benadryl for him on bad nights, half an ambien for me – but last night we both gave it a go without assistance. He got into my bed, and we chatted a bit after I turned out the lights. “How is this going to end?” I asked him, “If we both love talking so much?” “Ok, Good night” he said, and not another word was spoken, although we both tossed and turned for a good forty-five minutes before we finally slept. But a good night’s sleep we had, and my dear child is still in bed as I write.

Later today we’ll go to grandma’s for a proper Thanksgiving dinner. There may yet be drama to follow, but for now I’m not worrying about it… I’m looking forward to all the annual food favorites – all around a proper table, on the good china, with good wine… After that we’ll pack up a meal and bring it to Martha at the farm. Our family traditions have morphed and diminished with time, but I’m grateful that things are winding down slowly, and not changing all in an instant. It was a year ago today that my family had its final meal together, and with dad being gone this year, it feels different. We’ve had time to adjust, thankfully, and all is as it should be. Throws a bit of a nostalgic, melancholic feeling on things, but still, there’s so much we do have – and so much that we have already had in our lives – that it’s ok. Sad some moments, but happy others. Such is life here on Earth – contrasts we struggle to reconcile, losses we must work to accept. The stressors in our lives may constantly vie for our attention, but today it’s best not to listen. Instead, let’s look around the room and sigh with satisfaction at those simple gifts we are so blessed to have in our lives right now.

IMG_1638We needed to fix our dove of peace that floats over the garage at this time of year…

IMG_1633Elihu is a great help.

IMG_1642Still needs a little tweaking, but isn’t she lovely?

IMG_1662The first thing I see outside this morning: the beautiful view from our living room window to the southeast.

IMG_1699The sun pokes through for a moment as powder falls from a branch.

IMG_1650The view from our kitchen window, in the same direction.

IMG_1654The birds need a little help this morning! Platform feeder’s under a good eight inches…

IMG_1657Stanley the Tree Sparrow on the kitchen’s dry erase board.

IMG_1678And my dearest bird boy, sleeping in on a snowy, Thanksgiving morning. Thankful am I.

 

Sixth Starts September 4, 2014

Going from fifth grade to sixth is a thing. It’s more than just another grade level, it signifies a whole new era in a child’s life. No matter whether you call it Junior High or Middle School – we all can agree that some big changes are about to happen now. Neither small children anymore, nor yet the older, more adult-like children of high school, but playfully somewhere in between; now they’re better able to learn more challenging lessons in class, to grasp more nuanced concepts and techniques for doing things like making music or playing sports. They’re a bit bigger than they were before, and yes, they’re a bit smellier too.

And on top of that, soon they’ll be wrestling with much more: all those agonizingly embarrassing moments as mistakes are made and as jokes find their targets, the ongoing awareness of social strata, cliques and what it is to be popular (or not so popular), and, of course, the real beginnings of romantic expression. How this thing works in such a small and static group of kids, I don’t know. I’ve been told that Waldorf kids will often ‘date’ (!) up or down a grade to relieve the tension of ‘dating’ within their own small class. (Please folks, understand how very loosely I use this D word.) As a sixth grade girl, I myself remember ‘going’ with a young man, but that simply consisted of being made to feel sick in the stomach from a mixture of horror and intrigue as my girlfriends made me walk next to my ‘boyfriend’ on the way home from school.

Here at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, the middle school years are also marked by a physical separation from the younger grades; their classrooms are now on the ground floor. It’s a metaphor none can miss. And I, as a parent, find a certain, stinging nostalgia to this time; no longer do I watch the class eagerly bound up the stairs, listening to their many feet rumble on the creaking wooden staircase. Now, they slip to the back of the building and are gone… Gone to those new places, gone to meet all that new learning, all that life… Now my child is just that much less my child – and more a child of the world. But that’s ok, I know that’s what’s supposed to happen. And hey, my son even turned to kiss me – on his own – after getting out of the car this morning. So I have it good, I know. And so does he.

Everything in life is constantly moving and changing, but one doesn’t always see the change in distinct, clearly-defined ways. This year, however, there’s no doubt about it. The change is easy to spot. Yes, this is different. Because this is sixth grade.

IMG_2583

He’s up super-early, but still moving swiftly to get stuff done before it’s time to go. Loading a couple final Pokemon cards into his binder (which, btw, is not going to school. It was just on his mind).

IMG_2589Gettin that backpack zipped up quick.

IMG_2595Elihu appears a bit thoughtful in the backseat en route to his first day of school, but we’re listening to polkas, his very favorite kind of music. Hm. Can one be pensive and listen to polkas at the same time?

IMG_2596On the move..

IMG_2597And being greeted by Mrs. Maguire, once again, at the door. She knows every last student and has the lovliest, warmest way of making everyone feel truly special.

IMG_2599He’s on a mission; there’s no looking back now.

IMG_2604I’m not the only one watching with bittersweet emotions on this first day of school.

IMG_2602Such bright and gentle weather this morning.

IMG_2610This is the Rose Ceremony, in which the 1st graders ceremonially cross over the rainbow bridge and are welcomed to the Lower School. Here the faculty sings to them as they enter the space.

IMG_2613Here they come – the new 1st grade, led by their teacher (who will be the group’s teacher all the way through 8th grade). She was the school’s well-loved handwork teacher in years past, and it’ll take some getting used to her ‘belonging’ to one grade and not the whole school.

IMG_2622

A dad and a grad. Adam is a baker par excellence and West-African-schooled drummer, and Kai just spent his freshman year of college in Norway, studying violin. (Adam has two younger boys at Waldorf.)

IMG_2629Here the new 6th grade teacher (in blue, with tie on the right) expresses his wishes for his class through the coming year. Elihu’s previous teacher left her post at the end of last year, as she’d done the 1st through 8th cycle twice before and felt a shift in career focus was what she needed at this time. The transition from 5th to 6th is a good one for such changes. Btw – while we dearly loved Abigail, my son is beyond thrilled with his new teacher. And I’m happy for him to have a male presence in his life on a daily basis now.

IMG_2631The boys in blue… of course, mine’s the one with the dark glasses.

IMG_2663As with years past, we celebrate the first day of school with a visit to the Congress Park ducks. Soon they’ll take flight and migrate.

IMG_2665With a half a loaf of bread to work with, Elihu easily snatches up several ducks in our short visit.

IMG_2666He’s getting a better grip on this one.

IMG_2677And now he’s savoring having her in his arms. This never gets old.

IMG_2649I suppose this doesn’t get old either… Some boys come home to a dog, Elihu comes home to a hen.

IMG_2651Sometimes even two. Yup, things are off to a fine start this new school year.

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Summer Winding August 12, 2014

It’s been a minor challenge to get back into the swing of having another person around; someone who shares my space and requires extra attention and has his own special needs, you know, like eating. ! And this kid likes real food, too! How this skinny waif of a kid can eat as much as he does has been an eye-opener for me. Plus my son eats very differently from the way in which I’ve been noshing my way thru the summer; in fact he eats something very close to the Atkins diet. Paleo maybe? The mostly-protein-and-vegetable thing. That’s in part why he’s able to eat so much,  I guess. (That and the constant running around after frogs and chickens). For him, it’s natural, it’s what he’s always preferred. While other kids were content with pizza and mac and cheese, those were seldom acceptable options for my kid. He’d have asked for grilled (definitely not breaded or fried) calamari and arugula salad if he had his druthers. And what’s even more remarkable than his palate, is that he knows when he’s full. He’ll eat well; not fast, not slow, but with a steady, measured pace, and then he’ll often finish before his food is gone. He’ll say simply “I’m done,” and push his plate away. Only thing is, he’s hungry again in a couple of hours. Unlike me, he’s not content to satisfy his hunger with a bag of jalapeno-cheddar kettle-cooked potato chips eaten on the run. Having to come up with a menu for him has been challenging (plus it turns me into something of a minor bitch several times a day. I clearly need to formulate a plan and make a run to the grocery store in earnest). Hey, it might try my patience, but deep down I just think I’m jealous. I passed the whole summer, productive as it was, making little more than a handful of ‘real’ meals for myself. Instead I snacked on the go, ingesting thousands of thoroughly enjoyable though hardly useful calories. I’ve packed on eleven pounds since the last week of school (a result of 3,500 extra, un-needed calories each week), but my kid’s as fit as a fiddle. Oh well. I did what I needed to do then, and going forward I’ll do what still needs to be done with regard to eating a more responsible diet.

School starts in less than three weeks, yet it may as well be a year off for the way in which we’ve sunk into summer. Elihu’s on a teenager’s schedule, going to bed around midnight and often sleeping til eleven. This morning he roused early because he’s in the middle of a good book. I had been looking forward to ‘having the house to myself’ while he slept, but his reading is just as fine. I get my space, he gets his. If it weren’t for the having to come up with something healthy and decent to eat every two hours, this would be the easiest gig in the world. Yeah, we’re having a good end of summer time.

Yesterday it was hot and sunny – not a cloud in the sky – and we went out to Crow Field to fly his glider rc airplane. Although he complained that the controls were rudimentary and made real, controlled flight impossible, some gentle wafts of moving air kept the craft aloft for some stunningly-long and beautiful flights. My heart soared even more that my son could actually track and see the plane. He’d lose it in the sky when it reached a good distance, but then it would flip over or circle back, making a pass over our heads, thrilling us both. I’d thought about going back to get my camera, but even if I’d had it, I wouldn’t be able to catch the moment. Just being there, watching my still-young son, standing just above the goldenrod and tall field grasses, remote in hand, eyes on the vast blue sky, white bird soaring above, the heavy, hot air, scented with blooms and all things growing… that was enough. It was an island in our summer that I’d likely return to in my mind many times.

Covered in sweat, I peeled off my shorts and shirt when we got back home and slipped into my kiddie wading pool. Many a guest has laughed at that thing – shaking a head in disbelief that I, a grown woman, counted this as such an important possession. But truly, it is. I am a water person. I am lost in a landlocked community, and sometimes I think the only thing that preserves my sanity here is the small pond I’ve made for myself outside the kitchen door. In the morning it reflects a lovely pattern of waves onto the walls and ceiling inside, and that alone restores my soul. So my little rigid plastic pool is all-important to my summer. After a hard day pruning fruit trees or fixing fences, off come the clothes (usually all of them) and into the pool I go. Longer than a bathtub, it’s the perfect size for immersing an adult body. And this time, a rare one, Elihu joined me. He was dripping with sweat and ready to get in, although he did go and change into swimming trunks first. (Me, underwear was just fine.) It was here that we two passed the next hour and a half – I kid you not – doing nothing at all. The chickens would occasionally walk by, and we’d entice them into a couple of investigatory pecks on the side of the pool, we’d watch the birds fly by and identify them by their flight or call, we’d notice the leaves falling from the apple tree prematurely and lament what it represented, we chatted about all sorts of things. He caught me up on his summer, most notably the wonderful waterscapes he visited while in Florida, both natural and man-made, and all of the glorious water birds he was able to see up close. In my book, this had been a very fine summer’s afternoon.

Last night Elihu busked a bit and netted enough cash to buy some heating lamps for his frog terrarium. That’s the new thing now. He can hardly sleep but for thinking about the Golden Tree Frogs he’s been preparing for these past three months. He’s paid for everything himself, all that’s left to do is to order the little amphibians. The other night I caught him sleep walking; he was in his bed, on his knees, plucking tiny frogs from imagined branches above his head, cautioning ‘be careful, be careful…’

Before we can order these new members of the family and add another adventure to the list, we’re going to make a quick trip to visit my Uncle Paul – my mother’s only sibling – and his family. If you can imagine it, my mom hasn’t seen her brother in over twenty years. ! They exchange Christmas cards, but that’s about it. I don’t think there are any hard feelings, it’s just that uptight, dysfunctional non-communication thing that my family seems to suffer from (me, however, not so much. !) My cousin Rusty is much like my brother Andrew, sans the drinking problem. He lives in a dark bedroom off of the living room to which he retreats most of the day unless asked to make an appearance. He takes seasonal work in the local cranberry bogs, and although I know him to smoke those skinny cherry-flavored cigars, I’m not sure how he pays for them, as he doesn’t seem to be employed anymore than Andrew. But Rusty is a very friendly and affable guy (unlike my brother in his current state – update on that situation to follow in a future post) and he has made such an impression on Elihu. The last time we visited, the two of them spent hours exploring the inlets and tidal pools. Elihu is more than excited about another such visit with his cousin.

What is interesting about this side of mom’s family is this: mom’s own father left her and her mother as a result of an affair he’d had with a much younger woman across town. My grandfather had knocked up his young girlfriend, and then chose to leave my grandmother to be with his new family. Hm. Sound familiar? The big difference was that back in those times, it was customary for the mother to retain custody of the girls, and for the father to retain custody of the boys. So off older brother Paul went with his dad and his new family. I have a strong feeling that I’ve been placed in this strikingly similar situation in order to bring better closure to it. Not sure I’m being very successful at present; I know I have far more resentment than I’d like to think. It’s definitely a life’s work in progress. As for my mother, it’s amazing how much hurt and resentment she’s carried with her all her life on account of her father leaving in this way. When, as a child, I’d ask her about my grandfather, in a tone dripping with anger and a queer sort of sarcasm (uncharacteristic of her) she’d often respond “you don’t have a grandfather.” She was nothing short of cryptic in her answers to my inquiries as a child, and it wasn’t until I’d pieced things together for myself as a teenager that I got what had happened. To be more accurate, I hand’t truly understood what my grandmother’s (and my mother’s) experience had been until the moment that Fareed told me he was leaving. Then the shit hit me like the biggest aha moment ever.

So we’ll be making a two-day trip to this family at the northerly end of Buzzard’s Bay, a sort of low-rent version of the Cape. There are no waves at the small neighborhood beach, it sits at the mouth of a river and it’s waters are a bit murky, there’s lots of grass and marsh, and the houses on the water’s perimeter are small and very close to each other. That’s alright, I crave that certain smell of the air that always comes with saltwater and I don’t care what it takes to experience that once again. I do envy those for whom lakes, pools or oceans are but a short walk from their doors, but I cling to the opinion that I enjoy these rare water moments even more for having been deprived of them for such long stretches of time. (Sour grapes? Maybe.) I cannot wait…

Today may turn out to be a great landmark in not only our summer, but also in our lives. Elihu will try on tinted contacts for the first time later today. I myself have not given much emotional energy to this because I don’t want to be too excited, nor do I want to be too let down. I am choosing instead to simply not think about it, because if I did, I’d do something, like, I dunno, maybe, explode?? Cry?? We’re not there yet, just a couple of hours to go… This is a far bigger thing than I’d thought, and its implications in my son’s life are e-fucking-normous. Can you imagine? My son must wear huge, dark glasses that cling to his head with a gasket – they must be held fast to his head with straps, and there can be no light at all allowed to penetrate. He lives with a perennial raccoon’s mask of a tan line, and he absolutely cannot leave the house without protection. It’s not as if he ‘kinda’ needs them; he cannot even open his eyes outside. At all. So the freedom this could potentially afford him is huge. Huge. As I write this I begin to get butterflies in my chest. I’ve been downplaying it the last few days, as Elihu’s said a time or two that he’s a little scared. It represents a whole new world. It brings up new questions too: how will he adjust for indoor and outdoor lighting? Have a supplemental pair of ‘regular’ sunglasses? Remove the contacts for long indoor stays? I’ve set up our house so that it’s quite dark, perhaps I can just remove the window tint and open the shades in order to enable him to keep the contacts on all day. The rest of the world is a very bright place (light increases exponentially as it gets brighter, it does not simply ‘double’) and for the most part, I think these contacts will do the trick. They’re expensive too (almost $400!! Not fair I say) and so how about a second pair? How will we swing that? One thing at a time… I need to relax here.

Time’s almost getting away from me now, I need to wrap things up and see how lil man is doing. That must be a pretty good book; he hasn’t told me he’s hungry yet. I’ve been writing on borrowed time! Later today we’re going to a local Indian buffet with mom, after his contacts appointment. I am trying to stay myself; all I can do is imagine him laughing at his new ability, assessing with new eyes what it is to read, to look out a window (that’s a big deal!), to do all sorts of things. But at the same time, I can foresee frustrations, tears even… Only a few hours away, and yet a lifetime away. Amazing what awaits us. Ok. I think it’s time to rouse ourselves from our tasks and take in some tea and farm-fresh eggs for a late breakfast. Our summer ride clearly isn’t over yet… there’s still more road ahead, winding off into a brand-new countryside.

 

Blue March 16, 2014

It’s probably the cold. Day four and it’s still pretty bad. My nose is sore, I’m pooped and this endless winter isn’t helping. My poor kid is fed up too, and he’s not even sick. But God bless that little man, he finds joy enough to keep both of us afloat when I’m at the very end of my rope. Not saying that Elihu hasn’t felt it too – oh he has. He’s had his mini-meltdowns, been brought to a point of near weeping for the endless cold and indoor living. But he rebounds fairly well. Better than I do.

House-bound as we are we’ve had to make do like the rest of the world in our northern neighborhood. But even with the gift of a new tv in our basement, we’ve found other things to keep us entertained. Good thing too; I’m fairly ready to sink into despair. A quick visit to the Studio today was a bit discouraging and had my mood becoming even darker; the workers have torn out more of the walls than we’d originally planned on. It was not a happy surprise. Guess it was necessary. Must have been some additional damage, I don’t know. It’s Sunday, and there are no answers today. Gotta get thru til tomorrow before I find out where we’re at now. But for the moment, I rest in a very blue mood.

I’ll get to bed soon, heal myself with a generous night’s sleep, and then rally tomorrow. Another long week ahead, more on my plate than I can ever see achieving, but what can I do? Either give in or push back. Right now I don’t feel the strength to do a single thing. But knowing that I share my life with such a boy as Elihu gives me the inspiration I need to keep it together just a little longer. After all, blue moods don’t last forever….

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A little music….

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and then some tower-building.

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Impressive, huh?

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In the end, it’s always about the birds…

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Because they’re such a big part of our daily lives.

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Inspired by his desire for Spring, Elihu drew this lovely picture. I had not the heart to tell him that the reeds were as blue as the jays… He would have been heartbroken that his use of color wasn’t accurate. But notice what a lovely mood has been created precisely because of the blue palette…

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Maybe blue’s not such a sad color after all.

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Let’s hope a good night’s rest helps us do away with the winter blues…

 

We Are Three! March 1, 2014

The Hillhouse turns 3 today! Wow, what a lotta stuff here… Some 440 posts, over a thousand subscribers, visitors from over 100 countries… Sitting here in this tiny room, just the two of us, it’s almost impossible to imagine it.

I can hardly remember so much of our past three years (especially the first one), as it all seems so far away now… It kinda feels as if these days we’re living a completely new chapter. I guess we are. My fiftieth year is nearly behind me now, I have a regular job, my father is gone and the Studio is emerging as the new adventure… We’ve learned how to raise and butcher our own chickens and grow our own food. My son has braces, he’s becoming more capable and independent every day, and he has discovered a passion for upright bass…. Yeah, things these days are indeed new and different.

As I pass casually over the old posts I’m reminded of our three-year ride here; in the beginning, Elihu was baby-toothed, had an adorable lisp and his passion for birds – as well as his collection of books on the subject – was just beginning to grow. We shared our life with avian friends of all sorts – from homing pigeons to exotic pheasants and much in between (I particularly loved our button quail, King George, who, along with our cat, lived free-range in our house and made strange, espresso machine-like sounds in the dead of night in his vain search for a mate). The bird adventures still amaze me. We’ve tamed our current bird experiences a bit; having sent our goose Maximus away, we’ve nothing left but some chickens (one of them is in the kitchen recuperating on sick leave from the coop as I write this).

While this blog officially started three years ago today, we’d already lived here for two years. I think of those first two as the lost years, as I was still fairly reeling from the loss of my husband and old life in Chicago. This blog came about as a means to express myself, to free myself from the ceaseless internal turmoil. My ruminations circulated, around and around in my head without resolution, without any sounding board, any witness… And the whole thing had felt very unfair (let’s be honest, it still kinda does). There was no legal justice coming my way, so at the very least I though perhaps I might glean some emotional justice if I could only share my story. So it started as a therapeutic device – but ended up being so much more.

What an amazing world this is in which we live; even when separated by half a globe, we can participate in each other’s lives, give each other support and continue to grow and learn from each other in ways we never could have anticipated. The world in which Elihu will grow up both thrills and frightens me. I can’t being to imagine the challenges his and future generations face, but at the same time I marvel over the potential before them… The planet will continue to shrink as social media and platforms like ours help to bring us all together – so that we may unite in our common goals as one human family. I’m convinced there’s enough on the planet to go around – and I pray that in the not-too-distant future the distribution of wealth and resources will begin to level out. Hopefully the better our ability to express ourselves and communicate, the happier and healthier our futures will all be.

While we haven’t ever known true hardship, Elihu and I have experienced enough challenges here at The Hillhouse to have learned a few important things. May I share them with you? As we see it, here are the top three ‘things’ to have in your bag of tricks as you go along: 1) A sense of humor (cannot be overstated); 2) A sense of adventure (life is a game, be bold and take chances, play as hard and creatively as you’re able) and 3) in the end, act in love as often as possible (for us, gratitude goes into this pot too). Look at that! Three years here, three little pearls to share.

Having said that, I think at this juncture it might be a healthy energetic move to wish my ex, his wife and their two boys, Elihu’s sister and her mother too, my love and good wishes for their futures… I don’t wish any of them ill. Not saying my heart’s not still recovering, or that it doesn’t pose a challenge for me going forward… This whole process – this very blog – has been driven by my discomfort with that situation. But I can say that I’m working on it. I don’t harbor bad feelings for my ex’s new family, and I wish it publicly known. All I wish for is that everyone here on this globe get a fair shake at a good life. And that includes people who’ve hurt me, intentionally or not. I guess we’re all just doing our best. So on with the adventure, and peace to us all.

To all of our dear readers, thanks for being part of our global family of friends; your love and energetic support means so much to us, and we send it back to you too.

E & E

 

Bird Boy Back October 23, 2013

“That’s not a Goldfinch.” Elihu knew what he was talking about, but yet I doubted him. Although the tiny bird was mostly an olive-ish brown, it had a yellow patch at the base of its back, and I, as a mere casual observer of birds, thought it to be a Goldfinch already changed into its drab coat for winter. But Elihu knew better.

I’d found the bird earlier that day, freshly dead, just beneath the laundry room window as I filled the chickens’ water buckets. Poor thing had crashed headlong into the glass and fallen, instantly dead, onto the ground just below. It was still slightly warm and still very supple. Couldn’t have been long ago, as it was morning and had likely happened since the sun had risen. This would be a good take for my kid – he loves to have a real bird to draw. So I brought it in, put it on a plate and left it on the table. Later when we got home from the airport, it was a treat to have this prize waiting for him. Immediately he began his inspection, wings out to admire the fan of feathers, a complete turning over to scrutinize the subject from every angle, a check with his mother to confirm its coloring. He then brought it straight to his desk to begin sketching it. “So if it’s not a Goldfinch, then just what is it?” I asked him, somewhat defiantly. I’m thinking, ‘yeah, kid, there aren’t a whole lotta other options. You just can’t see color – so you don’t understand.’  He didn’t miss a beat. “It’s a Yellow Rumped Warbler”. “What?” I asked, still unbelieving. After all, we’d complied a list of all the birds we’d ever seen or heard, dead or alive, here on our property. And this was not one I’d ever seen or heard before. “Look it up” he said, unphased by my lack of support. He continued to draw. So I grabbed a couple of field guides, a pair of dollar store reading glasses and laid down on his bed. I’ll be damned if the kid wasn’t absolutely right. “WHAT?!” I screamed when I saw the photo. “A Yellow Rumped Warbler?? I’ve never even heard of one, let alone seen one!” Elihu laughed. “How on earth would you know this?” I asked him, still not completely understanding how he could possibly have come to this conclusion. I know the kid was reading David Attenborough’s books and field guides cover-to-cover at six, I knew that he’d memorized every specimen in his two audio bird books, yeah, I knew all this. I realized that through his motivation to look up birds without my help he’d learned how to count, learned to look up three digit page numbers on his own at a very young age… but how was it that I, alongside him for so much of this process, had not learned about a fairly common backyard bird? Maybe this was more the issue here for me and my frail middle-aged ego; my kid had me beat. He knew exactly what he was talking about – and I didn’t.

He continued to laugh at me, and continued his drawing. “Remember the bird that got stuck in Martha’s music room?” I thought back – he was about seven then. I nodded. “That was a Yellow Rumped Warbler.” There was a pause. Elihu wanted to help me out a bit. “Remember the black on him?” And yes, I did kinda. It was very contrasty, very obvious. And I do remember that even back then it was a bird I professed not to know. “Mommy, that was a male Yellow Rumped Warbler.” I checked my field guide once more. Man, this kid was good. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And I, my dear, am amazed at your skill.” He finished his drawing, complete with the beautiful detailed triangular patches of black on the top of the breast, something we’d not have known about had we not had the bird in hand. He had a huge smile on his face the rest of the evening as I continued to muse over my own inability to remember this bird and sulked ever so slightly. I wasn’t so pleased with myself, but my pride and joy at his success and happiness more than made up for it.

Last night, before we went to bed, Elihu offered to close the chickens in. He always does a head count. I’ve long given up on this task; I’m satisfied just to be done with my chores for the day and choose instead to tell em I love em all and close the latch. He came back, announcing that Julius Caesar was missing. This seemed highly improbable, as he was the young rooster emerging as the most royal pain in the ass of the whole flock. Mounting all the ladies and fighting the other cocks all day long, it didn’t seem like he’d be the first to succumb to wildlife. I grabbed a flashlight and went out to check for myself while Elihu got ready for bed. Sure enough, I counted only 29 chickens, and didn’t see the big white fella anywhere. I made a cursory check in the trees and around the coop, but saw not a thing. He would’ve stood out, his bright white body and huge, arching tail. I felt a slight sadness at his absence, and noted to myself that it was a selfish one: he was one delicious young bird we wouldn’t be enjoying on our table. Rats. I went inside and confirmed the news. “Darn” Elihu said. I began to comfort him when he stopped me – “I’m not sad, Mommy, it’s just that we didn’t get to enjoy him, someone else did!” We had a little laugh together, and were warmed at the thought of another creature sleeping full and happy this night, and so we let it go. After all, we still have another five roos that promise to be just as tender and delicious.

Birds in every form, enjoyed and appreciated in every way possible. And all thanks to one young boy who sure knows his birds.