The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Clean House August 12, 2012

Almost there. Hoo boy – I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Spent a good ten hours yesterday in my office, filing and tossing reams of paper. The recycling boxes fill up and the inbox goes down. Finally. After months and months of piling up. The going isn’t so easy at first; I find it hard to stay focused, hard to work for more than fifteen minutes in a row. The piles, the boxes, it all looks like way too much. I reward myself with snacks, with little trips outside to check for eggs or other domestic details that could use attention. I file for ten minutes, then I fill the bird feeder. I file some more, then I go upstairs and wash the dishes. Finally, my house – the upstairs, that is – is as put together as a model home. There are no more distractions. I need to get down to it now. Sigh.

In the end, it was the Turner Classics channel that got me through; a James Mason marathon, from ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ to ‘Lolita’ kept me entertained as I slogged through the monotonous project . It’s a mind-numbing, exhausting job to file a year’s worth of life on paper. Divorce, bankruptcy, health issues, governmental assistance, the life of a low-vision advocate – it’s all represented here in papers I must keep somewhere. Papers I must be able to locate easily. Somehow I’ve managed to navigate through the past four years without much of a permanent filing system; my life exists in two boxes: one marked ‘current, to-do’ and one marked ‘archive, done’. Not the most efficient system, but in the eye of the storm, in the midst of a full and busy life, it’s easy to let it go. So far I’ve made it work, but every time I sit down at my desk there’s a knot in my stomach. Am I sure where my auto insurance policy is? My income and expense sheet from last semester? My masters for teaching handouts? Kind of, but not really. I admit it, I’ve had a problem with paper for years. It was even a source of stress between me and my husband. I always contended that I needed time to set up a system, and that I felt life moved too fast for me to catch up. In some ways I still agree with that – there’s always been so much going on that it always took a back seat. But no more. Finally, I have the time and space to deal with it. I’m catching up. Getting my system in place. And man, it feels great.

A big part of my current paper-related challenge is the volume of Elihu’s artwork. I know many moms probably share this struggle; what to keep and what to toss. I once asked friends of mine who have four children how they decided what to keep and what to get rid of. They told me that they saved much of it, and at some point had each child go through it and save what was meaningful to them. I liked that, and have used that technique myself, but in of itself it’s not enough. My son is an artist. Prolific, yes, but honestly, he is good. I mean really good. So I can’t just toss his work. I have to go through it. Elihu’s got a thing, and in going through the past fours year’s of his artwork, I find myself fascinated with his evolution. In the end, I managed to negotiate my way through the huge catalog by dividing his art by not only years but by the quality or the ‘importance’ of the work. I found dozens of incomplete drawings in which I can see him working on ideas, a wing or body shape, perspective and such, and so I keep a few of these in a file to be tucked away, but I reserve only the very best and final drawings to be inserted into a large book. I put all the art into plastic sleeves and in turn put them into three ring binders. Two large binders end up representing his work so far – along with a letter from David Attenborough and one from Senator Farley commending him on his art – and they are now tucked neatly into his bookshelves in an exceedingly tidy and organized bedroom.

As for the garage – the ultimate vortex of crap – I have managed to heap all the trash outside and have cleaned and set aside useful items for their new owners to come and pick up. The breadmaker and lamps left today, more toys will go tonight, and tomorrow I’ll deliver a few things on my round of errands. The rest will go to the Salvation Army, and the garbage will be picked up by Frank, my favorite junkman. (Not without cost to me; it always takes a good $75 to rid myself of the final dregs. I just hope this is the last time I’ll need to call him in for help.!) I stand so very close to completion of this project that I find myself in a constant state of low-grade anxiety about it. I look at the piles waiting in the driveway and tell myself ‘just a few more days…’

My office isn’t quite finished, however. I have piled boxes of all sizes on a wall of bookshelves which I have covered in a sheer film of deep orange curtains. Just sheer enough so that I don’t forget the task ahead of me, but just pretty enough to allow myself some peace when I sit down at my desk. CDs from old bands of mine, master DATs, probably now degraded beyond usefulness, unsorted photographs, schoolwork of Elihu’s kindergarten and first grade years, tax docs from my married years, paperwork from the Cafe I used to run back in Dekalb, pens, pencils, office supplies and every manner of long-forgotten but hard-to-let-go-of mementos from years of travel… all this and more await my attention. Yesterday tackling the wall seemed insurmountable, today it seems vaguely possible. I stare at it, taking it all in, and I wonder, how do other people deal with all of their life’s crap? Years ago I had a woman help me organize my files. She and her husband were able to keep their possessions to a mere couple of file drawers. They moved frequently, and were able to pick up and pack up in short order. How? I grilled her – where were the postcards from old friends, the letters, the key chains and tchotchkes? Apparently they had none. I still didn’t really come to understand how they came to live a life so free of physical stuff. Apparently she approached life in a far different way than I. So often I’ve encouraged friends to get rid of stuff by reminding them that the stuff is not the love they shared with a person, nor is it the person, nor does the loss of the stuff remove the memory or the experience from their lives. I tell myself the same things. In fact, I have to coach myself hard and heavy when it comes to letting things go. Throwing things away. Jesus warned us not to ‘store up treasures of the earth’… Good advice. I’ve already learned how much heartbreak comes of mice and moths.

So I power on. I steady myself for the final wall, for the last few weeks of vacation and a child-free life and the ability to get it all done without interruption. The final weeks of my intensive house cleaning and a very nice end to a wonderful summer. What a fine thing it will be to start the new school year with a clean slate – and a very clean house.