The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Win-Win-Win February 2, 2015

Finally got my pantry back again today. Elihu finally gave his belated birthday gifts to Uncle Andrew, Mom and Martha today, plus he Skyped with his sister in England and played some string bass for her as a birthday offering too. Those were all good, winning things. But I suppose the biggest win of all was that of the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks at the 49th Super Bowl.

My kid’s never watched football before tonight, and the whole culture of sports in general has always been something of a mystery to him. (As an achromat, visually tracking a ball is nearly impossible in real life.) He’s wanted to learn more about football in particular these days, as it’s often a topic of conversation among the kids at school. How perfect that we joined the game at the end of the first half, in time to witness two very cool plays – plus of course the half-time spectacle (the Katy Perry medley to which he knew all the words… I mean come on mom, everyone sings this stuff in school…) A winning end to a pretty good day. More adventures (and much more snow too, I hear) to follow…

IMG_0404Playing bass for sister Brigitta, who lives in England. It’s her 12th birthday.

IMG_0410There she is!

IMG_0418I dash across the road to get neighbor Zac’s help with some cleats I need for my new pantry shelves. Between Zac and his dad Phil they’ve got every type of saw one could ever need. Or so it seems to me. I’m sure Zac could point out the deficiency in their collection if pressed…

IMG_0426Hmm, let’s see, there’s ripping, mitering, planing, chopping, jigging (is that a word?) and then plain sawing. I think. Might all of it be correctly called ‘sawing’? Who knows? All I know is that one better watch the fingers. !!

IMG_0431See what I mean?

IMG_0455Back home, lil man picks up the camera and does a little editorializing on my home improvements.

IMG_0457Why did I wait til my 50th to buy myself a nice drill? Friends, don’t wait. If you don’t have an 18 volt cordless drill (preferably with a light at the end, unlike my old-fashioned model) then go out and get one. Today.

IMG_0460He catches me measuring twice, drilling once.

IMG_0463A few minutes later! Hoo-ray!! Thanks to pregnant Stephanie for lending me her handy husband to make these cleats for us – and they’re made from trees harvested from their property too. ! Last night we ate locally grown venison, today we’re using locally grown wood to hold up our shelves. Virtually living off the land, we are. !!

IMG_0466And a few minutes even later! Woo hoo! Been without a pantry for going on three months. Ahh. Life really is about the simple things.

IMG_0472And speaking of simple things, we’re off to the farm now, where Elihu plays for Martha her very favorite song, Simple Gifts, on his new alto recorder. (Her birthday is in July, so this gift is either very late or very early.)

Elihu plays Simple Gifts for Martha.

IMG_0494Elihu presents grandma with a pastel of a landscape. I mistook it for recycling afterwards and folded it – after weeks of delicate handling. I could weep. Thankfully, Elihu and grandma were upbeat about pressing it flat again under some glass. Argh.)

IMG_0514Elihu gives Uncle Andrew a high quality, entry-level rc helicopter with money he’s been saving. He’s been wanting to see his very depressed uncle happy for ages and put a lot of thought into the perfect gift. (Andrew’s birthday was on New Year’s Eve.) I myself can’t remember the last time I saw my brother smile. Success!

IMG_0516Seems a bit unfair that the ladies here seated are tipping back their bourbons in the presence of a not-so-dry alcoholic who’s trying his best to maintain. Ah well. Such is the ever-present dysfunction and denial of my family.

IMG_0481I’ve known this kitchen since I was tiny. It’s more cluttered, yes, but it’s still just as familiar. It still really does feel in my heart like the true epicenter of my life. Always has – no matter where I’ve lived or traveled, this kitchen ultimately feels like true center. Where everything begins and then one day returns.

IMG_0596I was ready for bed after our visit to the farm, but the game was too compelling.

IMG_0566Gotta turn off the kitchen lights – even after adjusting the tv’s brightness levels, it’s still too much light. He takes it in stride, but I’m always mildly saddened by the light-sensitive state in which Elihu lives. Wish it were easier for him.

IMG_0561Holy crap! This game is getting intense!!

IMG_0583The Patriots are down by four and I don’t think they can possibly win any longer, but lil man still does.

IMG_0595I was wrong – things turned! It’s pretty much a done deal here, but nonetheless, here we go…

IMG_0608New England Patriots win Super Bowl XLIV!

IMG_0597One happy dance for a winning day well-ended, and then it’s off to bed…

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Post Script: Another win: Snow day! Letting the lil man sleep in, and gonna get into bed with a book within minutes… Score!

IMG_0614

 

Time Neverlasting May 6, 2014

Tomorrow, on the 7th of May, 2014, I will be fifty-one years old. The novelty of turning fifty now past, I find myself wondering how to emotionally approach this very average-sounding, non-landmark of a birthday. It’s interesting to me that although aging is a concept I admittedly have a hard time with, I haven’t invested a lot of energy or thought into it – certainly not the way I did last year’s birthday. And when I do pause for a moment to consider what’s happening here, I feel a bit stuck. I’m getting older, but somehow I’m still not adjusting. Somehow, I still don’t believe it.

This time last year I was twenty-something pounds lighter after a long and successful campaign on the Atkins diet. I passed my fiftieth summer looking and feeling great. I even got to visit Chicago, got to sing in front of some audiences, eat some fabulous food, visit much-missed friends and favorite places… And all while not being two dress sizes too big for me. (Say what you will, I don’t care. You’re right, I am not liberated, modern or emotionally responsible about this; life just feels a whole lot better as a size 10. Sorry, but for me it’s true.) There were some moments in which I felt absolutely glowing and good; positivity and energy radiated from me without effort… It had been some years since I’d felt this way, and I was a bit surprised to notice how familiar a feeling it was – and how not only enjoyable it felt to look and feel good, but how powerful it was too. To have virtually no reservations about how I visually presented to people. I zipped up old favorite dresses and they felt as good as super-hero costumes. But this year, I live in a different body, and the thought most forefront in my mind each day is this: man, I fucking blew it. And once again, I look and feel frumpy. Tossed many of most of my fat clothes last year, and bought a couple new skinny outfits too, which now I simply cannot wear. Crap. Choosing clothes was hard enough, now it’s an extra tricky challenge. Oh dear Lord, whatever have I done to myself? No matter, it is what it is. The question that I’m left with now is this: what do I do next?

Ok, so I’ve quit smoking, I’ve done the fad diet thing, I’ve gone months without a glass of wine, I have myself a brand-spanking new giant tv and a dvd player and all the Richard Simmons workout videos I can ever use. The trick here seems to be to get it all going at the same time. Since being a mother I haven’t ever had my game on like I had in the old days. Almost… but not quite. Like a bump under the rug, one weakness or another shows up in a corner while the rest of the room looks tidy and put together. So the game plan for going forward seems obvious, but daunting: just get plain healthy. It makes sense, really. It would be so much more enjoyable to feel lighter, more flexible, less driven by a jones and more by an organic desire just to be well. I can guess such a world exists, but it may as well be on another planet the way I feel right now. Gotta be honest here, food is the great reward at the end of a long and tiring day. The pure pleasure of sitting down to a tub of hummus and a stack of pita break with my kid when we return home is a highlight of the day. What would replace that? What will I look forward to if I don’t have my snacks, my wine? I have to figure it out, because I can’t eat as I used to, and while I may love my after school snacks, I sure don’t love the new body that came with em. So one goal for the ‘new year’ might be an overall re-tuning of my routines. A more watchful eye on portions and a workout time scheduled into my day just like I’d make time for practicing or teaching. I guess. A healthy, flexible and trim body sure would be a nice birthday present to give myself. And if I plan on going low and slow, it’ll probably take me a year to get my gift ready…

The eighth grade is doing “Tuck Everlasting” for their class play, and I’m playing the music for it. Even though Elihu read the book rather recently himself, and even though it’s something of a kid’s classic, I hadn’t read it myself and wasn’t even sure of the premise. As I sat there today composing little pieces for the interludes between scenes, I learned about its theme of accidental immortality and the frightening repercussions. And then in the midst of pondering my own process of aging and the reservations I still had about it – it hit me: Yes, I actually do want to grow old. Yes, my God, I do. Can you imagine not growing old? Staying just as you are now – forever? I know there’s nothing new to this message, but still. As I sat there, watching the characters talk about living until the end of time… I could feel the terror in it. And I thought of my father and his life, well-lived, perfectly wrapped up, ending with closure and rightness. Why should I fear concluding what is happily finished? I’m not done yet, and have much still to learn, but I can’t bring my experience to a happy ending unless I grow old first. So I guess I kinda need this birthday tomorrow. I remind myself that at least we’re all going at the same speed. And we’re all headed the same place, so I may as well relax and try to enjoy myself along the way.

My mother had a little accident a couple of days ago. Don’t want to say that she had a fall – it sounds like such an old-lady thing to have happen – but that’s exactly what it was. She said it was because she ‘broke her own rule’ about running for the phone. She turned and stepped on her gym bag and fell. The irony was a killer – she’d just gone to the Y to begin working out again after years away (hmm, do I sense a trend?) and had only just placed the bag there. She’d injured herself out of her effort to improve her health. ! (And who was the caller? You guessed it. I do feel kinda guilty about it.) Thankfully, she didn’t go the ultra old-lady route and break a hip, instead she just really whacked her back and kidneys. She’s so sore she thinks that she may even have fractured a rib. I was on the phone with her today as I sat at the piano between classes when the eurythmy teacher came up to me showing surprise on her face –  as I wasn’t supposed to be using my phone inside the school. But when she heard the conversation I was having with mom, she lightened. When I hung up she advised me that it wouldn’t always be like this. Being there for my kid, then for my folks. One day they’ll all be gone, and it’ll be just me again. And then, how did she put it? I’ll be free to work on ‘my own biography’. I added that it was a pity that I’d have to be doing it without benefit of youth. But she just waved her hand in the air and made a face that said ‘nonsense’… She insisted that most women found their most fruitful and enjoyable years to be in their fifties and sixties. Could be. She herself was good evidence of that. She definitely had an idea that I needed to add to the pot.

As my father would struggle across the floor with his cane he’d tell me that he remembered as a boy looking at old men like him and thinking that he’d never be like that… and then he’d laugh and say, ‘but look, here I am!’ I’d chuckle along with him, deep down thinking the very same thing that he once thought as a boy. How self-righteous of me! Ah, but how human. How mortal… Thank goodness there’s an end to it. I like the process of learning things, of doing things, but I also love being able to cross things off the list too. And one day, there’ll be an end to the to-do list that is my life. So for now I’ll just have to throw myself into it, while I’m able, because I think I’m beginning to understand that it won’t last forever.

IMG_2637An abstract image (the most forgiving type) of me, a guinea feather and dad’s wedding ring on the eve of my 51st birthday

 

May Begins May 4, 2014

“Whoah” Elihu laughed, looking around, “Did I sleep here last night?” He was truly surprised to be waking up in my bed. I told him that late last night, as I’d been sitting in my chair at the computer, he stomped into the room, grunted, and then proceeded to get into my bed – and on my side, no less (if he’s to share a bed with me, he knows I’m pretty particular about me being on my side). Instantly, he was deeply asleep. More like he was asleep the whole time; he can get fairly animated while sleepwalking and talking, but this was dramatic even for him. But there was no use making an issue of it, this night I wouldn’t be sleeping on my chosen side, so I just slipped into bed on the other side and turned out the light. We spent a little time after waking just goofing around, making our hands into characters, inventing silly scenarios and goofy little jokes. It made me so happy to see him the way I’d always known him. There was no hint of the offended eleven year old who’d been hanging around the house this past week. In fact, even the night before had been entirely delightful. Mom, Elihu and I had gone to the fancy Wishing Well restaurant for his annual birthday dinner of frogs’ legs and had had a wonderful time. (Man, he gets so fired up each year for em, and I don’t think there’s any dish on the planet he relishes so.)

It had been a pleasant evening the night before, and it looked like we’d have a nice, easy-going day before us too. His old pal Keithie was coming over, and we had little planned. I had some practicing to do, some work in the garden and a few domestic chores inside, and the idea of having a house full of inspirational young boy energy appealed to me. The weeks to follow are going to be chock-full of end-of-year projects, plays and assemblies. It all kinda starts tomorrow, and I can’t really say I’m energetically there yet. Hopefully this weekend will be restorative enough that I make it through relatively stress-free. There is, however, one major event that is approaching for which I can hardly wait – one which I hope will change my life in a very important way: we are having a dishwasher installed!! It’s a Christmas gift from my mother, which has now become my birthday gift. The thing arrives tomorrow, and on Wednesday, my 51st birthday, carpenter Josh will install it. I still don’t believe it. I’ll miss my junk drawer for sure, but I won’t miss wasting upwards of two hours a day doing the blasted dishes. This is literally a dream come true for me. Seriously, where would I be without my mom? I cannot wait to see how life feels post-install…

IMG_2488 Elihu waits all year for these delicious delicacies…

IMG_2466He requested escargot, too

IMG_2463Please, mom, no pictures now. Let me enjoy my food here.

IMG_2471Dark shot, but here we are. Our hostess, Ganna, who is from Ukraine (and who remembered us from our visit to the Wishing Well this past New Year’s Eve), took our picture.  We ate in the living room of the old house-turned-restaurant, carpeted and cozy and lined with bookshelves.

IMG_2500After dinner, Elihu played his djembe for a bit with the gal playing in the piano bar. Mom looks on.

IMG_2504Bartender David (known to patrons as “Hook”) is a drummer and surprised us by joining in on the bongos.

IMG_2397A little mandolin in the morning

IMG_2523and then some fun with the two chicks…

IMG_2507Elihu has stereo chicks – each one nestled up close to an ear. It tickles!

IMG_2446Elihu and Madeline regard each other

IMG_2456Madeline is one of the oldest. She was hatched on Elihu’s 8th birthday. She is the only hen with eye makeup. She looked a lot like a sparrow when she was born and still has a distinct look. Unlike Thumbs Up, Madeline always retains her dignity and composure and does not allow herself to be treated as a mere plaything.

IMG_2417In the current vernacular of the fifth grade boys: this is just so wrong.

IMG_2401I cannot imagine a time that my counters won’t be covered in drying dishes, but it’s coming soon!!!

IMG_2444Time to March past April into May!

 

Much of May May 13, 2013

Always too much to tell. A slower pace in the country? Occasionally, but not often. The first half of May has been very busy here. Rather than tell you all about it, I’m offering a photographic retrospective of the last two weeks. Hope you don’t mind – there are quite a few pics here…May Day 2013 165Starting with a surprise visit one morning by Phil on his tractor, who’d come by to plow our garden. He’s doing it for nothing. Just being a kind neighbor. I told him I felt guilty about his helping us like that, but he responded that Mr. Sessleman had done it for him once upon a time, he was just passin it on. Hope I too am able to pass on some helpful kindness one day.

(This is earliest May – note how few leaves are on the trees, then compare to similar shots just a week later)

May Day 2013 177I like this shot – tractor, Elihu, goose, all in motion…

May Day 2013 180Elihu runs down the driveway after the tractor

May Day 2013 057May 3rd, the fourth graders dance around the May pole while singing (in harmony parts!) and weaving very intricate designs with the colored ribbons. This is a rite of passage for fourth graders at the Waldorf School.

May Day 2013 065Elihu and Dierdre bow to each other before the dance

May Day 2013 047Grandma and Grandpa were able to join us…

May Day 2013 084

My mom remembers dancing around the May pole when she was in fourth grade, too!

May Day 2013 092A nice looking group, these wonderful fourth graders.

May Day 2013 016Goofburgers!

May Day 2013 099Elihu enjoys a little picnic with his grandparents

May Day 2013 155We take a look at the weaving job

May Day 2013 156Lovely up close

May Day 2013 160Then Elihu helps carry it off…

May Day 2013 118Now for a quick family picture…

May Day 2013 120Before zipping off to catch a duck…

 May Day 2013 146Notice Elihu, to the right…

May Day 2013 122No bait used – nothing but extreme motivation and a finely-honed technique

May Day 2013 136Duck time

May Day 2013 126A fine end to May day!

May 2013 Merck Forest 007…and a fine start to our Merck Forest field trip as Elihu chases a turkey vulture across a field…

May 2013 Merck Forest 024Visiting pastured sheep, Elihu dashes off in hopes of seeing birds…

May 2013 Merck Forest 107The view was gorgeous. All I can think of is how much labor was involved in clear cutting the old growth forests and making them into farmland – at this elevation and nearly three hundred years ago, no less. Boggles the mind.

May 2013 Merck Forest 040We visited pigs that lived out in the woods. !

May 2013 Merck Forest 065Kids feeding kids.

May 2013 Merck Forest 056Too cute!

May 2013 Merck Forest 083Now to see the beautiful draft horse

May 2013 Merck Forest 093The class sang a song about horses (in a round!) as they admired her

May 2013 Merck Forest 097Ben found a B on the horse’s side

May 2013 Merck Forest 112Elihu and I head up the hill to the barns in search of swallows

May 2013 Merck Forest 143Bingo! Such striking markings and color

May 2013 Merck Forest 148What’s this? A pigeon’s nest…

May 2013 Merck Forest 149With eggs! Hope mom comes back soon to brood… think we scared her off

May 2013 Merck Forest 147We watch the horse get hitched up to her gear. They really do farm with the horses here at Merck Forest.

May 2013 Merck Forest 152On the trail to the car everyone fills the ‘elevator’ tree

May 2013 Merck Forest 153Nora and I are having mint chocolate chip! This girl’s amazing – she used a balled up piece of tin foil from lunch to make a baseball, and found some sticks… within minutes she’d started a full-on baseball game.

May 2013 Merck Forest 157We’re at the local Battenkill Dairy – our ice cream was made right on the premises. All of it. !

May Apple Blossoms 2013 005Ah, the apple trees…

May Apple Blossoms 2013 008And the flowering Quince, too

May Apple Blossoms 2013 035Look who’s returned one week later to till! Thank you Phil!!!

May Apple Blossoms 2013 017While Phil works, Elihu picks violets..

May Apple Blossoms 2013 026and picks…

May Apple Blossoms 2013 029and then makes ‘Violet Angels’ in them…

May Apple Blossoms 2013 039Next on the agenda, some Cinnamon fiddleheads from our woods for supper. They’re fuzzier than Ostrich ferns (and slightly more toxic) and take a lot of prep. Mainly why they don’t work well in restaurants.

May Apple Blossoms 2013 041Cleaned and washed

May Apple Blossoms 2013 042Boiled, next to be sautéed in butter

May Apple Blossoms 2013 045We actually really liked them.

May wishing well ballet 2013 016Onto the Saratoga City Ballet’s Spring production of Alice in Wonderland. That’s our friend Freya in the middle…

May wishing well ballet 2013 054and this is our friend Mahogany

May wishing well ballet 2013 061Here’s the only boy in the whole group. He is good. !

May wishing well ballet 2013 038Love the en pointe thing. So much harder than it appears.

May wishing well ballet 2013 079All three Waldorf kids afterwards. Mahogany and Freya are in seventh grade.

May wishing well ballet 2013 084We went out for ice cream after the show (Atkins diet took a week off) and it was positively snowing white apple blossoms!

May wishing well ballet 2013 100So pretty

May wishing well ballet 2013 155A few hours later and it’s our annual birthday dinner at the Wishing Well!

May wishing well ballet 2013 106In short order Elihu was playing along with the pianist in the bar

May wishing well ballet 2013 133Elihu’s very favorite dish of all: Frogs’ Legs. ! (I think he’s playing drums on the table with their little leg bones. !)

May wishing well ballet 2013 108Yeeps. I’m trying them too. And they’re actually very delicious. And no, not really like chicken.

May wishing well ballet 2013 131The pic above our table (Saratoga is a racing town.) This is pretty incredible, huh?

May wishing well ballet 2013 138Happy 60th birthday to us!

May wishing well ballet 2013 137Thanks for singing!

May wishing well ballet 2013 142Yay! A picture of the two of us taken by someone other than me. !

May wishing well ballet 2013 141The Wishing Well is an old-world joint. Lots of wood, mounted moose heads and such.

May wishing well ballet 2013 144Elihu gets a good-night smooch from owner Brenda Lee (with whom I’d sung ‘Exactly Like You’ earlier in the evening – when I requested  it and the pianist had – gasp – never heard of it.)

May wishing well ballet 2013 146Good-bye  WW – see you next year! (We love the place, but must note that our fiddleheads were better than theirs and that the escargot was not good. Wine not cooked off, not enough salt or butter, and gritty. We’re very forgiving, but it was a lot of money for a not so spectacular dinner. But it was fun to actually hear a person playing the piano. Plus I have learned that I cannot casually drink a martini these days. I got fairly loaded on nearly nothing. Times are a changin’.)

This has been our wonderful month of May so far…

 

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. !

 

Mid Century Mama May 5, 2013

Folks that know me – or knew me in the life that preceded this current one – will know me to be a most enthusiastic fan of all things mid century. I cherish the Eames chair in my living room (although I admit it’s a vinyl knockoff – but it’s still gorgeous), and I lament the loss of that stunning, five level ranch home in South Evanston that some may remember from those once-famous Christmas parties. I still have a few mid century things in my life, in fact I’ve created a rather pleasant look in my home here by mixing early American with modern pieces. What I have satisfies my desire for beauty – it still ‘scratches the itch’, as my ex and I used to say. But day after tomorrow, mid century will come to mean something entirely different in my world. Finally, after much ambivalent anticipation I myself will be ‘mid century’. !

Honestly, that’s not a big deal. The bulk of my friends are already past that landmark. I’ve done enough rumination on it to be able to move on. Or have I? Ok. So maybe it is a big deal. There are still a couple of things on my mind at the doorstep of this birthday: I’m alive, many of my dear friends are not. My parents are alive, many of my friend’s parents are not. I’m healthy, many of my friends are not. I have my beloved son with me every day. Many parents do not have their children with them. So – there’s the half-full glass take on it. And that’s my overall, bottom-line assessment of this landmark. However, in the spirit of complete honesty, I feel the need to vent just a teeny bit (I am secure in the knowledge that I am putting a voice to the feelings of many in this forthcoming mini-rant…)

Here goes: Not happy with the funky neck skin (which literally seemed to appear over goddam night just a few months ago), nor the crazy new chin hairs (some white!), nor the now full-time creases around my eyes, nor the deeper lines from my nose to my mouth (when acting in high school  plays I’d pencil in these lines to appear older – the way I look now!), nor the way the arthritis in my hands is causing the joints to become grotesquely oversized, nor the strange way in which the skin on my thighs and butt is more crinkly than seems fitting for my age, nor the way I just can’t lose those last ten pounds, nor the way I now need readers or glasses – no longer can I blow off the glasses when heading out… While not a one of these things came on all at once, and certainly no one thing just up and happened in my fiftieth year specifically, I can say that I didn’t really notice any of this age-related activity in my forty-eighth year. I can honestly say that a whole bunch of stuff really came to the fore just this past year. All of a sudden I had a head of silver when just a year ago it was hardly noticeable. My neck? Just fine and dandy – til recently. I’m sure all these changes happened incrementally, but they seemed to hit a critical mass of sorts this past year. When in my mid forties I still felt I looked pretty good – I didn’t really see what all this crap about aging was about. Didn’t need readers, hell, didn’t really need my glasses so much either. Yeah, physically speaking, my forties were fine (except for a little divorce-related weight gain). But all of a sudden I really feel that I look my age. The jig is up, the charade is over, the cards are on the table. So I’d better quit my bitchin and proceed with a little class and composure. I don’t need to go on and on about the disappointments of growing old when Nora Ephron, bless her soul, so eloquently expressed all of her aging-related predicaments in “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. If you’re a peer of mine or older, read it. She brings such humor and humanity to the experience.

I remember a moment once, when a new awareness washed over me – clarity and perspective came to me in a flash. I can remember being in my bedroom in my beloved Evanston home, looking through the branches of our backyard tree towards the afternoon sun… I was contemplating what it meant to be turning 42… I considered that if I had a life expectancy of 84, that I was now halfway there. That I was, more accurately, on the downslope of my life: I had passed all those years of youth, and before me was nothing but the process of aging… In that moment I realized that I’d had a general sense of hope and expectancy that had been present with me all my life and had been driving me forward… to that next moment of satisfaction, then the next one, and then the next… yet where was the destination? What was that ultimate, one experience that I still ‘hoped’ for? Cold fear grabbed my chest – had I been on a fruitless, vain search for something I’d never find? Or had I already found it – and didn’t know that I’d found it? I’d enjoyed my life – all of it, as best I could, I’d always been aware of my good fortune, and yet, there was always a tiny nudging from inside to move toward something not yet achieved… As endless as the process had always seemed, a certain end was, in fact, coming. To me.

In that moment, I understood – in a way that even evades me now – that I was going to die. Not sure how else to explain it. But I got it for a second. I also got that nothing was to be taken for granted, I got that I was somehow not exempt; that I too, if all went well, would one day be an old woman. That’s mighty hard to truly get when your skin is smooth, your joints flexible, your eyesight perfect… but I got it. For a few moments I think I not only came to know that I was going to be old one day, but in some way I made peace with it. But then life overtook me, vanity returned, the sense of being somehow immune to fate – all of that settled back in and had me forgetting again; living as if things would always be thus. But these days, now that the physical evidence is mounting, I am beginning to learn a little humility. And man, I’m not very good at it. Yet. My aim is to age with humor and dignity. I need to do this well, if for no other reason than as an example for my son. I’ve got to find a way to sink into this new body without that nagging sense of sorrow and loss. I know I enjoyed my youth – I surely did. So I have no regrets – and that should free me up to really embrace this new chapter. It’s liberating not to care so much about the trappings of vanity. I like that my priorities have changed. I’m looking forward to learning things now in a way I never had the time or interest to before. So while I might continue to bitch and moan about stuff, truly I’m coming from the half-full place. Just might not always behave like it. As I’ve said before, it’s a balancing act.

My paternal grandma and my maternal great aunt both lived to be a hundred. So, if I’m to live as long as Bessie or Helen, then I’m right smack in the middle. And I’m ok with that. After all, I’m a mid century mama.

 

What’s A Girl To Do? April 18, 2013

My mom stays with Elihu on Wednesday nights while I go in to the high school to teach a continuing ed class I call “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher”. It works out well; Elihu and grandma get to enjoy some time just to themselves, and I get out of the house. But after this final run of seven classes, I’m not so much in need of merely getting out of the house as I am in need of really going out. Just today I’d made impromptu plans to grab a drink with two of the only near-peer women I know in town, but then realized it was on the same night as my kid’s Spring assembly. Phooey. That was slightly disappointing. Not worried, we’ll reschedule. It’s not a big deal, but frustrating just the same. Don’t mean to sound whiney here – because I actually did go out last week, and it was an enjoyable diversion from my rather same-same life these days. But truthfully, there is nothing – that I know of yet – to take the place of the full complement of friends, music, food and places that were routine and treasured parts of my life back in Chicago. Nope. Still got nothing. Yeah, there are world-class acts coming through the equally world-class Zankel Music Hall at Skidmore College (less than 4 miles from our door!) – yeah, there’s stuff going on… There’s certainly an impressive roster of high-end restaurants to choose from up and down Broadway…(It’s all beyond my budget and past my kid’s bedtime anyway). But still. There’s no little taco joint with someone’s abuelita cooking in the kitchen, there’s no late night jazz joint with deep fried food and all the young cats lining up to sit in… there’s no Korean barbecue joint jammed to the rafters at 4 am filled with the mouth-watering scents of marinated meats grilling to blackened perfection… And there sure as hell aint no Green Mill. Mm-mm. And there aint nothin around these parts like the Diner Grill on Irving. Nope. Nothin.

I surely did live the life large, I did. Looked good, made good music, ate good food, treated my friends good, had good adventures, had good times and more good times. And I do not think that I am romanticizing those good times. I am not. I lived the shit out of my life all through my twenties and thirties. I’d planned to keep on living the shit out of my forties too. Remember being on a gig when my milk began to come in – just a few days after Elihu was born. Thought my boobs would break before the set was over. Even got kinda scared for a moment (first kid, no idea what was going on.) But it wasn’t my last gig as mommy, certainly not; soon after that came the big band dates where I’d press the poor babe’s head to my chest to try and soften the blow of the wall of horns just behind us… I learned how to hand off the babe when it was my turn on stage, I learned how to nurse while hosting a radio show, switching sides at the top of the hour…I learned how to bring the baby so that I could keep on doing my thing. My intention was to keep going in the same manner as I had for years. But no matter how one tries, nothing can truly be done in the same manner as the years ‘before baby’.

In an effort to stay active and involved in music – in some form – and not simply give in to the obvious, home-bound role of new mom, I also began to tag along on a handful of daddy’s shows too. In the beginning it was doable. But before long I was beginning to lie to myself; telling myself I enjoyed going along with my hubby on his thing, that I was ok with having fewer creative events of my own. Cuz things were changing. Pop gigs were phasing out for me; my world of musical friends and projects and shows just kind of dried up in that first year after my child’s birth. I was becoming more mommy than musician. For a time, jazz gigs still worked (those dates actually paid enough to hire babysitters and often involved my husband. Gigs were our dates). But the alt bands with all those basement hours writing and arranging… that was out now. Just not logistically possible with a baby, especially a newborn. And even if it were, how selfish! Writing, rehearsing, it was way too self-indulgent for a new mom. That sort of music, after all, did not pay the bills. No room for that in this new life.

So there I am, newly forty, newly a mom, with my husband on the road most of the time. So I do what I hadn’t thought I would: I give up and stay home because it’s ultimately less stressful. Ok, I think to myself, I may as well try to assimilate into the culture of Evanston moms who, like me, had chosen to live a bit of life first before having their kids on the closer side of forty. On paper it might have seemed we’d be a good fit; college-educated, middle class white gals who listened to NPR comparing notes on their toddler’s development and lamenting their rising property taxes… But try to assimilate as I did, I could not, and it was a very depressing time for me. I had no connections to these people – people whom I shared my life with only because we lived within walking distance of the same toddler park! And it was around this time I began to notice something that there was very different about Elihu’s vision. And with that awareness came an even greater sense of distance from everyone.

That’s when my isolation started, I guess. Not my story alone, for sure. You have a kid and you have to let go of other things. You lose some friends, some hobbies, you get fat, you get cranky. We all know that having a family changes everything. But I was completely ready for all of that. I was ready to trade it all for the adventure that promised to come next; a growing closeness of family, having another baby, the putting down of roots, the beginnings of traditions, the sharing of our love. What I wasn’t ready for was the growing distance from my husband, and the growing sense that we weren’t as closely united in our goals as I’d thought. I learned years later that he really had wanted me to simply give everything up – as in my bands, the big house (to which I say come on – we wanted that house for years!) and just go along with him, gig to gig, babe at breast. I just wasn’t comfortable living like that. And so there the divide began. He going more deeply into that hippie, jam band culture on the road, and me, waiting it out in our beautiful mid century home. Yeah, Elihu and I spent a lot of time together, waiting.

So here I am at the cusp of fifty, my son about to turn ten (we like to say we’re turning sixty!) and I wonder what the hell happened to my forties? I can account for all the decades before with great enthusiasm, vivid, landmark memories, but my forties? What the hell happened just now??? I am grasping for tidy ways in which to organize my retrospection; I can’t have wasted these past years on nothing but a wretched, heart-numbing divorce, can I have? I search for the light, the joy, the relief…. I search for that feeling… the feeling of happiness and contentment that seemed to float all around me in my younger years… Much of it came from the music I was making, much of it was my home life, my husband, my cats, my friends… And it’s this feeling – the feeling of ease, of joyful happiness I miss these days. Do we all feel thus at this age? Is it my age, or my aging process that brings me to these ruminations or is it the events of the past decade? I haven’t had the worst of it, but somehow, I feel like my forties were taken from me. They sure as hell didn’t pan out as I’d thought.

Now at the end of a ten year run, I find myself just wanting to go out and have some fun. But what form does that fun take at this time in my life? I might have to re-evaluate that simple question. I love my son, and truly my life with Elihu has been the supreme gift of this invisible decade, but still…. I’m just a bit tired of being mommy all the time. I want to go…. somewhere…do something… I struggle with this. No answers come. Ah screw it. In the end, I find myself returning to my favorite date, my most cherished partner in life. Next week I’ll have some fun – we’ll have some fun. Elihu and I will have our annual birthday dinner at the local iconic Wishing Well where he’ll thrill to a plate of frogs’ legs and I’ll thrill to a cold gin martini before supper while the piano man plays in the lounge…. Not so bad, really. While I might lament this seemingly unending role of mommyhood, I do realize that this chapter too will close one day, and I will wonder where it has gone. I am deeply aware that I have a kid I not only love, but whose company I also thoroughly enjoy. This is where my life is now, so I’ll try to dwell a little less on the life I left behind. Cuz the one I got goin right now is pretty good. It is. I may know the thrill of city life again one day, but I also realize that one can’t ever truly go back. There really is nowhere else to go – but forward. So I guess that’s all a girl can do.