The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Preparation April 25, 2015

Such a strange mix of life and death going on here in Greenfield. Elders passing, babies expected, pets dying, chicks hatching…. And yet not for a moment does it slow. Every day life presents its obligations without fail; students must be taught, supper must be made, rehearsals must be prepared for, and dust bunnies nestled comfortably in the corners of my house grow steadily in size, reminding me that they aren’t going to vacuum themselves. The wind blew the porch door open this morning and the entire flock decided to take shelter there for a few hours, leaving generous-sized poops all over a formerly clean-swept floor. I could cry, but at least it’s a sunny day, and good for starting all over again.

Tomorrow is Elihu’s twelfth birthday party, and there’s so much to do before then. Meanwhile, Martha lies in the hospital, getting nearer to her death. She’s certainly fooled us all before, rallying from her hospital bed to her post in the farm’s kitchen, but it won’t be happening this time. We who love her have even finally conceded that she will not be dying at home as we’d all very much hoped for. It’s simply not possible; Martha is far too weak. This time there will be no rehab. A bad UTI has had her in and out of reality the last few days, and that was a shocker for all of us. We had never seen the indomitable Martha like this. Signs of fear and agitation reminded me of my dad in his final days. I knew it was mostly due to the infection, but still. We’d turned a corner.

Last night, after Elihu’s school spring assembly, we’d gone to visit Martha. We were relieved to see her much restored to her old self. Elihu sang for her, and mom and I made small talk and related news of the day. (I’d been to see her earlier that day and enjoyed the privilege of singing her to sleep with “April Showers”.) When we left, Elihu leaned in to kiss her, and he told her he loved her. “I love you too,” she answered, and then offered “You are one unusual child.” We knew what she meant. I myself had been honored the day before – in the midst of an infection-induced episode – with the only open acknowledgement of affection I would likely ever hear from Martha… I told her I loved her, and she responded “I should hope so!” She’d also told me to ‘stop being a sissy’ and help her out of the bed. When I told her it just wasn’t possible she’d scolded me, telling me I’d better help her because she’d known me since I was ‘one young girl’. Even in her altered state, she was all Martha.

When we left her last night, she was still all Martha. When I asked how she’d felt, she admitted to me that she was tired. Very tired, all the time. On this bright and sunny morning when a new chick has begun to peep from inside its shell and a new life is ready to appear at any moment, I’m so keenly aware that just a few miles away, Martha lies in her bed, waiting for her own transformation.

IMG_7945This little gal/guy came a few days early. (Each year we time it such that the eggs in our incubator hatch on the day of Elihu’s birthday party.)

IMG_7801Mom shows Elihu the grave in which she and Andrew buried their cat only moments earlier. Ginger had to be put down without warning in the wake of a cardiovascular trauma. Such a shock. Mom doesn’t need more loss at this time. Neither does my emotionally fragile brother.

IMG_7803Little Annie, now at least sixteen, follows Elihu and Mom. We’ve all told Annie she’s not allowed to die. ! She acts like a kitten; those who don’t know her all assume she is. She’s a precious spot of joy in mom’s world.

IMG_7581Mom, Martha and Elihu, a few days before she took a turn for the worse. She was very present at the time of this photo, and very much herself. Even got a little vid of her reciting a poem she’d written years ago for a childhood friend (who died just last month. This life/death stuff is getting intense. Ich.)

Martha used to write little ditties like this for special occasions. Here’s her poem:

It was May 1st, 1922, now that you’ve come to ask it

That Mrs. James of Chatham, Mass

Got Viv in her May basket.

IMG_7898Not the selfie I’d like to see, but I had to take it.

IMG_7889Can’t remember ever holding Martha’s hand in my adult life. She even told me she was afraid. This is a woman who has never, ever shown vulnerability. I assured her things would be ok. And they will.

IMG_7902Elihu played Simple Gifts on his alto recorder. It’s her favorite song.

At first he was reluctant to play, as Martha shares a room, but he did – and see how Martha enjoys it. Glad he played.

IMG_7899And then he says goodbye and tells her he loves her.

IMG_7973Ending the night with a very fine performance by Mr. Esty’s sixth grade class at the Waldorf School’s spring assembly. They sang a song from Schoolhouse Rock about interjections. Wow! A big hit.

Here’s the performance. Worth a listen. Some may remember this from Saturday mornings long ago.

IMG_7375I’m crazy-sentimental about everything, and this turning twelve stuff has me – and my lil man too – a little nervous. This relentless marching forward of time is certainly a mixed bag. It’s easy to get nostalgic and long for earlier days, no matter what age you are, and yet there’s still so much ahead to be excited about. I think the best way to prepare for the future is simply to enjoy the present day to its fullest, for one day many years hence, these too will be the good old days.

 

May Daze May 9, 2014

Elihu asked me last night why I often say that ‘when we get past something’ we’ll be alright… He wanted to know why I’d say from time to time that we’d be ok once a certain event, a certain time or a certain holiday was over. “Like Christmas, you kept saying ‘We’ll be ok as soon as we get past Christmas.’ Why do you keep saying things like that? What exactly do you mean?” I hadn’t realized my offhand remarks had made such an impression on him. It gave me pause for sure. I wanted to learn from this, yes, but at the same time I wanted him to understand my point of view too. “It’s just that we hit these super-busy spots in the year, and I just can’t keep up. I can’t keep up with the food, the laundry, the work. And it gets harder when there’s more to do.” He understood, but warned that my comments didn’t sound as benign as I was making them out to be. Wow, I do really try to keep from getting too dark with him, but he’s a sharp kid. He gets my meaning. And again I wonder, is it just me complaining? It can’t be. I’m not that crazy-different from most folks. I like to flatter myself into thinking I might be, but I’m pretty sure I’m not experiencing anything that out of the ordinary. Or am I? After all, there is no partner to tag-team with, no one else to step in for a minute, no one else to make it happen. Ok, yeah, so there’s a lot to do. But I’m not the only single mom here in this world. I just express myself without much editing, I guess.

This past week Elihu has felt it too – it wasn’t just me feeling the overwhelm of a busy, end-of-the-school year rush. There has been a lot going on recently in a very short amount of time. And today, Elihu got it. After being patient and good for an hour long appointment at the eye doctor after school, he finally broke down in tears. “I’m SO tired” he moaned, and pushed his face into my shoulder. But he’d made it. Me too. Still have another couple weeks of recitals, performances and then the big pentathlon event for the fifth grade, but most of our landmark events were past now. And we enjoyed them all, every moment. But we’re kinda zapped now. As I write, he’s relaxing in his bedroom, organizing his collection of Pokemon cards, and I’m sitting here wondering what in hell I’ll make for supper. But this is a mere blip on the screen in view of the two huge, life-changing events that happened just today: Elihu learned how to ride a bike!!!! And what else? Get this – Elihu learned how to put contacts in his eyes!!!! We’re on the path to tinted contacts – something that will radically change his life forever. These two landmarks have us elated, proud, relieved – and ready to collapse. This is one May we will never, ever forget. We’re definitely in a daze tonight, but man, it’s a happy one.

IMG_2645Going back two days (feels like two months ago by now) to a window on my birthday morning. Guinea fowl Austin on the bridge, our beloved flock below and Ace’s sculpture “Mayfly” to the left.

IMG_2745

Hey, we had the garage cleaned and painted last year, why the splotches of mud??

IMG_2743A-ha! Our friends the Phoebes have returned and once again made their nest atop the garage light. Ah well, we can always wash up the mess after the babies are raised and gone. So very glad you came back! Nice to see and hear you again. Now I think this is a very sweet birthday present.

IMG_2777Here was another sweet birthday experience… I got to write and play music for the eighth grade play. Mr. Ruel introduces “Tuck Everlasting” to the Waldorf students in the charming theater space of the local Episcopal Church, Elihu is in the dark hair and shirt in the center.

IMG_2666Jessie explains the magical properties of the spring in the wood, and its awesome implications.

IMG_2687Angus Tuck tells young Winnie “I just got to make you understand” as he explains the dangers of living forever.

IMG_2704A climactic scene in which the tension rises and the play takes a turn.

IMG_2709Well done, eighth grade!

IMG_2728There’s been a delay with the carpenter… still hoping this job will be history soon.

IMG_2731What a perfect birthday present from mom! The name says it all too! Finished with washing dishes by hand soon!!

IMG_2735A quick, late-night trip to Stewart’s to grab a birthday cake for myself. Yes, I ate both of them. !

IMG_2791The next day starts with a double smooching of chickens.

IMG_2806Dinah and Thumbs Up share Elihu’s lap and really seem to like it there.

IMG_2819Now it’s time to go to the gig. Elihu regularly donates the proceeds from his Eggs of Hope sales to Drilling for Hope, a non profit run by local woman Karen Flewelling. She asked Elihu if he’d play drums for the opening night of “Faces of Rwanda”, a collection of gorgeous black and white pictures taken of Karen’s last trip by photographer Emma Dodge Hanson. Twins (and classmates) Jonah and Phoenix join him here.

IMG_2850This is a photograph from her recent trip to Rwanda of villagers drilling a new well.

IMG_2827Pics of donors and the Rwandan children that they’re helping to send to school.

IMG_2826We looked and we looked and yay! We finally found our friend from so far away! Hopefully we will be sponsoring this very student in the years to come. Wow. I can’t believe we’ve been able to help someone else here on the planet. We, of so very limited resources are absolutely rich in the world-wide scheme of things. This helps to keep things in perspective for sure.

IMG_2838Classmate Ben helps Elihu find his picture on the big wall at the exhibit.

IMG_2845Karen says hi to Elihu; he just made another gift to Drilling for Hope to help Karen do her wonderful work in the world.

IMG_2902The view from my post most of the day: high school eurtythmy class. They’re in costumes now, getting ready for the big performance at Zankel Music Hall at Skidmore College next week.

IMG_2853After my high school classes are done for the morning, I rush over to the Lower School to see how Elihu fared. And just as I got out of my car and pulled out my camera – who should come riding up on his bike (a thing he could not have done only a couple of hours earlier) but my amazing boy!!! Talk about a surprise!!!

IMG_2854And just as effortlessly as he rode to me, he then promptly rode away. Sigh.


IMG_2862The sanctuary of an empty, fifth grade classroom, pre-lunch.

IMG_2873And the same room moments later. All are in a good mood.

IMG_2895After lunch I get to hang out with the kids for a bit as I’m on yard duty. Our equestrian friend Cally (who’s also an incredibly talented singer) smooches a home made horse doll and lil first grade buddy Tylor admires a beeswax figure Elihu’s working on.

IMG_2907Now we’re visiting a new eye doc in hopes she can be a little more proactive in getting Elihu red tinted contacts. It’ll be new territory for her. She was very kind and positive. We’re hopeful…

IMG_2925These have a crazy, futuristic Harry Potter-esque vibe – maybe even a little Brazil-esque feeling to them too (yeeks). Elihu’s trying out some mild prism glasses here to help him find the null point in his nystagmus (shaking of pupils).

IMG_2918The doc’s assessing Elihu’s ability to read – hard to know if his vision challenge is a product of light sensitivity, acuity or both.

IMG_2934Assistant Jen shows Elihu how to put contacts in his eyes.

IMG_2930Here he is – with contacts in! They’re not tinted, they’re just to give him an idea of how it all works.

IMG_2947One more spin around the park. (The bike was a gift from the local program “Bikeatoga”; thanks guys, we so appreciate it!) I told Elihu ages ago that riding a bike was the closest thing to flying that he’d ever know. Today he laughed and said I was right.

May we remember the feeling of this special day in May for years to come.

 

Lucky Eleven April 28, 2014

Eleven years ago this very minute I was standing in my bedroom in a mild state of confusion. Water was gushing out of me as if someone had turned on a faucet. Nearing two weeks past the due date in my pregnancy and this night truly unable to get comfortable, I’d only just fallen asleep minutes earlier. That night my husband and I had just finished a dinner of pasta and wine while watching The Producers before going to bed well after midnight, both of us figuring we’d be getting a good night’s sleep in before any action began. Wrong. Before long I was stuck in the middle of a searing, non-productive back labor at home, with no good end in sight. Some seventeen hours later, after giving it my best and ending up with blood spots all over the whites of my eyes from five hours of pushing to no avail, I was on Lake Shore Drive being driven through rush hour traffic to the hospital for an emergency C section. Nothing about my beloved son Elihu, from start to present, had been what I’d planned on. Including his gender. I was convinced I was having a girl. Wrong again. And so it was that my son was released from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Hospital as “Baby Boy Conant”, now over a decade ago.

And what an adventure has ensued… We love our little tradition of birthday parties here, from hatching out chicks to jamming in the basement (well, kind of) to silly string on the trampoline to poker-like pokemon action at the table to the ancient model T driving the neighbor kids back home. It all comes together one day in late April and nothing, not even a brief downpour, can dampen the joy of the day. (After all, our parties go to eleven.)

IMG_2206Some intense gaming at the top of the afternoon

IMG_2236then the action migrates downstairs to the music room for a bit… but still, kids are constantly on the move

IMG_2241they do stop long enough to try to get something together

IMG_2285let’s not forget the trampoline… it’s just getting going (pre-silly string, that is) Look who surprised us by coming! It’s the twins, Cora and Sophia! That absolutely made my kid’s day. And my mother just kept admiring all the red hair present.

IMG_2289Annabelle is daddy’s girl. That family’s a brainy, techie bunch.

IMG_2225our beloved Thumbs Up entertained everyone. She allowed herself to be picked up and set down anywhere. Here Sam and Eva get a good chicken-smoochin in.

IMG_2316And Miss Coco’s bringing the chicken back to the party

IMG_2296kinda fuzzy, but can you see? Babies and chickens in the kitchen. Fun!IMG_2210Recognized immediately by his Pokemon peers. Charizard. I think. ?

IMG_2248the closest we’re gonna get to having all twenty-something kids in one shot.

IMG_2303the little kids hear the frantic peeping coming from inside an egg in our incubator… this chick worked hard all afternoon

IMG_2325With mom watching over from the steps, our neighbors get ready to load up on Zac’s Doodlebug. Stephanie has three little ones to bundle up and get ready. Let me not forget our other neighbor mom Casey – she has three little ones too, only her oldest can do it pretty much all herself.

IMG_2332Loading up six little ones for a ride home

IMG_2335Good-bye! Thanks for coming!

IMG_2343Out of twenty-four eggs, this lil gal’s the only one to have hatched on her own so far….

IMG_2338This little one struggled valiantly for seven hours, and then I realized that like me, she too needed just a little help. We very carefully peeled her free of her shell and laid her there to dry and rest. A chicken C section!

IMG_2351The end of night selfie. Thanks everyone for coming to Elihu’s 11th birthday party!

A Happy Birthday Post Script: The little C section chick, although still a little scraggly-looking, is doing just fine in the brooder tank with her/his only other sibling. A third chick died mid-hatch, and no other eggs have shown signs of life. Such is the chance one takes when breeding your own chickens. 

 

Flip Side May 8, 2013

Made it to the other side. I am now one of those ‘other’ people on the planet who walk around ‘being older’, as if they were completely unaware of it!  Naw, I suppose they’re aware. But what’s a person to do but march along the mortal path, make mistakes, learn the best one can… and grow older? Today, as I sit to create the quickest of posts, I have hit a particular grouping of keys which has just inverted the image on my monitor. !! Being a no-nonsense woman of action (and 50 years experience!) I simply picked the silly thing up and turned it upside down on my desk. And so there it will stay until I have some time to figure out how to ‘right’ it. Literally. But for now I will accept this as a metaphor for the second half of my life: it aint gonna be like the first half. Some shit’s gonna change. My world is gonna get turned on its rear… (and in a good way, I proclaim!) But until that time…

I’m here tonight to very quickly share some pictures from my birthday yesterday. It was a warm, breezy day, full of sunshine and without one single cloud in the sky. From my duties as recess monitor at my son’s school to a birthday gift to myself of an oil change and car vacuuming, some chicken smooching, a surprise visit from my childhood friend Sherry and her daughter Katy, and then a lovely birthday dinner with mom, dad and Elihu – complete with surprise new gas grill on the porch! – the day was about as perfect as a day could be. Let the photos commence…

May, 50th Birthday 2013 037My final portrait as a woman in her forties, thanks Elihu. Hey – I was pregnant with him in this same bathrobe!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 152A birthday tradition; I dig up perrennials from abandoned farms. How wonderful to share the beauty of these pink daffodils once enjoyed by old-time farmers Mr. and Mrs. Meunch, both now many decades gone. But their garden lives on here at the Hillhouse!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 138The girls are always close by to greet us

May, 50th Birthday 2013 144Elihu almost always has to get a proper smooching in before school

May, 50th Birthday 2013 066I just LOVE this fourth grade class. They’re making a fort. Lots of great ideas in this ambitious project.

May, 50th Birthday 2013 084They fight, yeah, but they work together really well too!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 079Dierdre’s got her own window!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 071Ok, one crazy shot allowed.

May, 50th Birthday 2013 098Sherry’s 50th is the 16th.  We’re next door neighbors and have known each other since we were 4. !! Sherry remembers all the crazy stuff we did together in the high school and college years. I don’t. I have to ask her to tell me the stories. !

May, 50th Birthday 2013 105We brought our own balloons – it was just lively enough

May, 50th Birthday 2013 120So few of us together, must you stick out your tounge, young man?

May, 50th Birthday 2013 110Mom was hell bent on actually lighting fifty candles. She did it!!!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 117No mean feat blowing em all out!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 128Elihu says goodnight to grandpa

May, 50th Birthday 2013 049We’re not sad or mad in this pic, just tired… plus the flash is hard on Elihu’s eyes. Goodnight all!

Thank you all for a wonderful day! We felt your love and good thoughts coming in from all over.

Sending you hugs and kisses right back. May each one of us know the love of friends and family on their birthday. !

 

Elihu’s Tenth Birthday Pics April 29, 2013

What a fantastic day from start to finish. Gorgeous weather, dream-come-true birthday gifts, lots and lots going on all at once – music in the basement, a traveling trumpet, a worried goose, chickens underfoot, a trampoline and an old-timey car… and our wonderful friends and family to share it all with…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 003The birthday angel came!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 004WOW! The long-wished for Calypso remote-controlled glider!!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 005And the grown-up software for learning how to actually fly! OMG!!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 018Very proud owner of the Calypso

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 023There’s a helicopter coming in for a landing just above the cake… (bad angle to see well)

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 059The party gets started

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 064Something’s happening in the incubator…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 080It’s somebody else’s birthday now, too!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 078Some boys sneaking away for a little DS time…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 051Alex and Paige on the hammock

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 039Jessica and Matt enjoy the zero gravity chairs and the view

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 092Time for cake!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 152Look who’s here! The youngest resident of Greenfield, baby Rachel – and her whole family!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 156

Annabelle is a big sister twice…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 114Hayden announces the gifts with a fanfare

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 157Look what Cora made for Elihu!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 148Cora and Sophia made these too!!

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 136Lots going on at once…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 087And it looks like everyone’s having a good time

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 089What a nice bunch of folks

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 161Elihu with Grandpa, Mama and Grandma

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 168This poor goose was very frustrated and tired with all the coming and going…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 172Things take a little longer, but that’s ok. The whole party actually picked up and moved to accomodate Dad when he arrived. So grateful to everyone for including him. He hasn’t been out in ages…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 198Bye neighbors! Nice to see all five of you…

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 228Elihu and I have dinner by candlelight. Heather brought me some “Happy Birthing Day” flowers! So very kind of her.

Elihu's 10th Birthday 2013 240Two very happy people at the end of a very lovely birthday.

 

At Ten and Two April 27, 2013

No time for much reflection now, it’s late and time for bed. I was poking around my old pics and found one of Elihu at two… then just moments ago we took one of him on the eve of his tenth birthday…

Elihu at Twoat two….

Elihu at Ten…and then ten.

 

To Be Ten April 10, 2013

As tired as we both were, tonite, when we got into bed, our minds would not stop and we continued

to chat as old friends who haven’t seen each other in a very long time will do… Elihu had a poem inside of him,

so I got out the computer to get this thoughts down as soon as we could

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

to be ten is something different. it’s not what you used to be,

everything is different, all the things you hear and see…

are not quite the same as they were when you were nine

cuz when you were only nine, everything seemed good, and fine

but now that you’ve turned ten you say to yourself again

I don’t think things are quite the same as they used to be…

Elihu