The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Relic July 3, 2015

It’s not my home anymore, and today this sight is truly a relic of my long-gone past, but still the shores of Lake Michigan restore my soul as nothing else can.
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In the wake of Martha’s death, things have changed around here. For one, in the short time between the lovely farewell party we held for her at the farm and the day in which her relatives returned to organize her house, several of her belongings had been stolen. It had to have been an inside job, which leaves the few of us who know the place well to be suspects. I don’t truly think Martha’s niece thinks that we did it, but I can’t know this for sure, and that cloud of distrust has given this transitional chapter a very unsettled feeling. But it sure helps to wind things up there, and at the same time helps propel me back into my own life, something that’s been on hold for a while now.

It’s more than strange to see the farm no longer inhabited. Not a soul remains. Only stuff. Things upon things, more piles and objects than one can comprehend. It is a house that has been receiving its contents for half a century. And now, with their final caretaker gone, they sit, silent and enigmatic, most of their stories lost to those who are left to dispatch with it all. For me, I don’t find myself wondering so much at the items – if the stories are lost, at least their purposes speak for themselves – but more to the point are the unanswered questions – why was Martha saving all of this stuff? For what use was it all intended? Hoarding can just as easily be achieved with elegant, historical relics as it can with modern junk. In the end, things that aren’t of use are essentially just that. Junk. Stuff that sits inert, waiting for someone to give it a new life. So while this house may seem at first glance to be full of precious antiques, I see it a little differently. I see it as a repository for things that at present aren’t realizing their potential. (And in some ways, I also see the place as a mirror for my own life in this moment.)

When mom, Elihu and I visited Chicago a few weeks ago (for the memorial of another dear, old friend), we were given the rare opportunity to see the places where my parents raised my brother and me – and personally it was a way in which I could finally say a deep and meaningful goodbye to those chapters in my life. Our old home had been lovingly restored, the new owners more than happy to share with us every nook and corner of the place. We had the good fortune to eat familiar, much-missed food at places that were once regular destinations in our lives. We re-acquainted ourselves with the new city skyline, saw neighborhoods where some old places were razed and new ones erected, and we took it all in with enthusiasm and great interest. The lake, the unending stretch of beach that goes on for mile after mile, that boundless expanse of horizon which I still miss so very much… We saw it all, and we experienced it all together. And at the age of eighty, I’m not sure my mother will return in her lifetime. I know I will never return in the same way. (As for Elihu, he doesn’t remember his Chicago life, brief as it was, so for him it’s just an interesting anecdotal chapter that came before his time.) This trip was the perfect conclusion and farewell to our former lives. And this time it made coming home to Greenfield truly feel like coming home.

Shortly after we came home from our brief visit to Chicago, Martha died. And a week later, we had her memorial celebration. After that, the items went missing from her place. And now, the farm is no longer our space to enter freely. Ultimately that’s ok – there’s plenty I need to get to; the Studio, my teaching, my own home and property, my chickens, my health, my daily routines (which have been anything but routine over the past month or more) and, of course, my son. I’m resurrecting my quest to find piano solo jobs in this bustling tourist town, and last night made more than a dozen stops in my first attempt to sus out how things work these days. I learned plenty in just six hours of conversation and visits. I’m not up to speed in many ways. I’m out of practice, unfamiliar with my songs, my keys, even the silly lyrics. And technology? Forget about it. My lack of a smart phone and tablet all but cuts me off from the world around me. My songlist itself needs some serious updates (I’d thought I could hang my hat on the novel concept of being nostalgic and ironic, playing mostly a diet of guilty pleasure radio hits for the over 50 set, but the wisdom on the street is that I need a serious infusion of more current material, regardless of my cute little shtick.) I recall a time in my life when I had several hundred songs up and ready to go without a second thought; now I second guess it all. Did I really ever do this before? Was I really a musician in a former life? I certainly never jobbed with a vengeance, but I got work. More importantly – I almost always had work; and if I didn’t, it ended up finding me. Here, in Saratoga, a world in which I’ve never worked professionally, I don’t have the infrastructure of dozens of musician friends nor the good reputation I once took for granted to proceed me. And I certainly don’t have that ‘famous’ guitar-playing husband to help give me an added boost of credibility. All I have is me. (And a new rig, thank God. Wait, make that ‘thank mom’. !) Here, in this ‘new’ town, in this new life, it feels like I’m a relic.

Things can change, this I know. And thanks to a handful of magically timed recent meetups with some very wonderful women I know and a little outside perspective, I’ve been able to reinvigorate the vision. If it weren’t for my hairdresser – whom I merely visited yesterday for a quick hello – I wouldn’t even have set out to meet all the people I did. She urged me to go and close those deals which I’d proposed just a few months ago. And sitting in her chair, whom should I meet but an old friend of Martha’s. It seemed another push from the universe to let go of the past and move into my future.

My day started at six a.m. and didn’t end until lil man was back home and we two settled into bed around 2:30 (his flight from Chicago – where he’d been visiting with his father – got in after 1. A super late night.) My day started by learning, praise Allah, that I didn’t have colon cancer. Pre-cancerous polyps, but that was all (my grandparents died of colon cancer, and my cousin, two years my junior, is on her third round of chemo in her fight against the disease). My day filled quickly after the doctor’s appointment, and I only returned after dark to close the chickens in before I headed out to the airport to pickup Elihu. It was a day full of unplanned-for events, the enjoyable company of friends, and the gleaning of much important professional information. I felt a bit like an outsider though. Yes I’d left Chicago more than six years ago by now, but I’d been cloistered away ever since in the role of rural, impoverished, single mom. Yesterday it felt like I was starting all over again. But at least I was beginning on my own, not in the wake of a famous husband, not on the reputation of a varied career as keyboardist, not as a frontman for a well-loved band, not as any of those things. Just as me.

I still have a hard time letting go of my past life because sometimes I worry that nothing can match its glamour; that instead of a fruitful future, I can expect a long, bleak road ahead. That kind of thinking has been easy to succumb to in the past, but I need to get rid of it now. It’s ok to hold on to a keepsake – there’s nothing wrong with being in possession of a relic or two – but there’s still a lot of junk in my house that no longer serves me which I need to clear out, so that a new life can have the space and freedom to move on in.


IMG_0085The most beautiful, perfect sendoff for our dearest Martha. Michael made a fine toast (we all raised a glass of Martha’s regular evening drink – gasp – Apricot Brandy) after which we all sang Martha’s favorite song, “Simple Gifts”. That big, beautiful farmhouse came alive again, and I’m sure wherever Martha was, she was pleased.





A real-life tableau, undisturbed for decades.

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Ever a practical woman, Martha wrote her own obituary, as well as her final wishes and disbursements here in this plain, spiral notebook. She called her matters ‘mundane’; simple though they might have been, mundane they were not.

IMG_0152A last image of what has been our ‘normal’ for the past five decades. Mom and Andrew sit in the kitchen at the farm as they have since he and I were tiny.

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IMG_0048Is my own collection of stuff any less of a mystery? How in hell did this crap all find me? Another garage sale of epic proportions in on the calendar for this summer. My house will not end up like Martha’s. (Besides, there’s no space; it’s a mere four rooms to her ten.)

IMG_0052I am of the opinion that if you do not see it, you will not use it. I’ve labeled all this stuff and use it all pretty regularly. I’m doing my best to keep my crap confined to this storage room and nowhere else.

IMG_0058I’d thought my new rig was so modern and ready-to-rock, but alas, the bulky 3 ring binders of charts (and my reliance on them too) instead of a handy tablet is a handicap in this day and age. No matter, for now it’ll have to do. Until I can store it all in my brain, that is.

IMG_0103I try to keep my world as simple as possible. Hopefully, a tidy home will provide a solid platform for a full and invigorating life to come. If some things are about to change in my life, I’ll need some things in place that never do. That’s just the kind of gal I am. I’m fine with some change, and I feel it’s important to routinely clean one’s house out of unused items, but I utterly depend upon some things remaining just as they are.

IMG_0025Here’s a pic of our first-born hen this year, whom we named Martha. Sadly, for no reason I can understand, she died one morning this week. We’d never before had a hen who was half red and half white. She was as unique as her namesake.

IMG_0014I don’t cry anymore when our animals leave us, but my heart still breaks. I’d hoped to have a living remembrance of Martha here on our tiny farm, but I’ll have to let go of the sentiment and attachment. Sorrow and regret can zap a person of their hope, and I need to keep mine strong and healthy. Goodbye and thank you, tiny, feathered friend.

IMG_0002It’s not exactly in my backyard, but Saratoga Lake’s not terribly far.

IMG_0011Our house on the hill lives in the middle ridge of this photo – in the darker blue section just above the treeline, with the Adirondacks beyond. For me this is a new body of water, a new horizon. This beautiful view gives me a new perspective on things, and that’s something I could really use right about now.


       Post Script: Martha suffered a stroke in the mid 80s which left her left side paralyzed. While she was able to drive for a while, and did far more than one would expect for a person in such a situation, she was clearly stopped in her tracks by this life-changing event. It has been posited that her stuff remained in disuse because she was never again able to resume her activities and projects as she’d planned after her stroke. Heartbreaking to think how everything can change in a minute. A good reminder for us all to use our lives as fully as we’re able, and while we’re able, too.

 

Improved Mood January 25, 2015

Yesterday saw an improvement in Elihu’s mood. Although Friday had ended rather badly – he’d been knocked to the ice on his head by a bruiser classmate plus he’d jammed his fingers and hit his knee too – after a good night’s sleep and some farm-fresh eggs for breakfast he was back to his old self. After a mellow morning in we headed out for some sledding and window shopping at the local odds and ends store. Now, on Sunday morning, Elihu relaxes on the couch and plays Pokemon on the DS he got for Christmas. Homework will follow later today, but that’s ok, because now he’s rested and ready.

IMG_5904Friday night I actually went out to a party (!) while grandma and Elihu enjoyed some time together.

IMG_5924Sylvia gives us a passive-aggressive message that the girls need feeding.

IMG_5922Elihu works on his birthday card for dad.

IMG_5934The card featured his cartoon character “Stanley the Sparrow”.

IMG_5942Upon finding a “52” in the street, Stanley decides it needs correcting….

IMG_5945…and so improves the situation by making it into “25”.

IMG_5950Wait, 52? 25? Which is right?!

IMG_5965Starting out on our first sledding day of the season. (Better late than never.)

IMG_5966It’s one big hill.

IMG_5961There’s a little hump midway, which offers old-timers like me a shorter, gentler run. It also makes the run more fun for those who start all the way at the top.

IMG_5977The sun came out, and so did Elihu’s smile. A good run almost landed him in the street!

IMG_6094After warming up with a cup of tea at a local coffee shop in town, we headed out to Ocean State Job Lots and began to peruse aisles of mismatched, oddball stuff the likes of which one might find in a market in some third-world country. Always good entertainment. Indulge me, if you will, in a little retrospective of our finds:

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IMG_6055Elihu was most impressed that this kit was made “for her“. I like that the notion strikes him as absurd.

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IMG_6099It’s my friend’s sixtieth birthday today, so naturally I had to grab this harbinger-of-death bottle stopper for her.

IMG_6077And finally, this one, so perfect for my lil man who still hasn’t made it to 70 pounds. !

IMG_6113Nothing restores the mood so well as a Sunday morning at home.

 

Moving Up June 25, 2014

Yesterday, my son’s old elementary school had its moving up ceremony for the fifth graders who were leaving to attend the local middle school across town in the fall. Wish I’d known about it, cuz I’d have been there. Of course Elihu doesn’t go there anymore, but his class does, and I’ve known all those faces and many of those kids since kindergarten. A dad of a friend said that there’d been a presentation at the event, a video that followed the children from then til now. He’d said that Elihu was in some of the pictures, and that he had been missed. Yeah, and I myself missed those kids, too. I’d played piano for them every year, Elihu and I had performed at the talent shows, I’d organized the talent show one year too, and generally I’d always felt at home in the school, even though Elihu left towards the end of third grade. Those first years just seem to bond kids as no others do. I myself had just recently visited a woman I’d known from first through fifth grade, and you’d think we’d been in constant touch through the years (we hadn’t) for the sense of familiarity that was natural to us. But see, that’s what comes of knowing someone since earliest childhood. There’s just no substitute for the relationships you make at the start of your life. Yeah, I wish I’d been there to see the kids one last time. The middle school is huge, and I won’t  have the opportunity to see many of them again. So tonight I’m feeling a little wistful, just a little sad. Things are changing, and I have to adjust once again. The moving up ceremony reminds me that my son too will be in sixth grade next year. (Only he’s moving ‘down’- downstairs, that is.)

Like Elihu, I too went to a private school in my early years, but the difference was that I left after fifth grade to join the larger Jr. High in my town. It was a deeply sad move for me in a couple of ways; I was leaving my friends – the only ones I’d ever known – and I was reaching a new age. Even I was aware that in entering sixth grade, and soon turning twelve, that I was no longer a little kid. It was a poignant time for me. And my kid seems to have a bit of that sense, too. It’s a time of change for both of us. Funny, you spend all those hours giving baths and getting meals and coaxing and cajoling and wondering if it’ll ever stop already – you’re pooped by eight, you’re isolated in your house, your world is small and always moving… And then there it is, the day when your kid’s bedroom door is always closed, the day when he smells, when hair starts to grow, when he starts to grow. Or at least I’ve heard rumors saying something to that effect. I still choose to believe that my son will hover here in this netherworld of non-child, non-man for years…. he will always be shorter than me. Right? The order of the world surely depends on it. Right? ??

In part my sense of melancholy is heightened because today I too have made a change in my own life. And it’s probably bigger than I actually realize. In this moment, I don’t so much feel a sense of the change that might be around the corner; instead what I’m feeling is a sense of peace. I also feel possibility beginning to grow. And excitement. Yeah, I’m not dreading the fall as I’d been doing since I left my post at the piano just a couple of weeks ago. I’m no longer feeling a dull nagging inside that I’m not making wise use of my time. I made a change today, the kind of move that I wouldn’t have had the courage to do even a year ago, but as with many things in life, the stars all just kinda lined themselves up just so…

It started with a long conversation with my partner. I told her that I’d like to make the Studio my job, but I couldn’t if I still had this other job going at the same time. For a while now I’ve been fooling myself into thinking that I can work all day, be a mom, and somehow run a startup business on the side. Plus oversee the remodel of a building. Uh huh. See, as a single person who doesn’t run with a gang of friends, as one whose only sounding boards are mom and young child, I often feel alone, and often forget that my partner – while she currently doesn’t have a stake in the ownership of the building – has the perfect kind of energy and perspective I need, plus a deep personal desire to see this thing get moving. I don’t know why I keep feeling it’s all on me – and why I often forget to go to her. Hell, that’s how I met her a couple of years ago, in the very beginning. All I had was a venue and an idea, but no contacts, no friends, no money, no way to start… One afternoon I just ran out of hope and patience and through tears called the local arts council. The fellow there put me in touch with Ceres, and just as I was calling her, at my very wit’s end, tears rolling down my cheeks, she was at her wit’s end too and having her own sort of meltdown – but this lovely lady doesn’t cry, she laughs. ! So there we were, on the phone for the very first time; I was crying – and she was laughing. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Man am I lucky to have found her.

So today I got myself unstuck, as it were. I left my job as accompanist at the Waldorf School. I promised not to leave them high and dry – I’ll make every attempt I can to find someone to replace me. I’ll even play if it’s an emergency – if they have no one at all – but I also made it clear that I didn’t want that sort of situation dragging out, because I need to leave this post. It requires my only free time at home, it requires I be on site all day, it leaves me no time to tend to the Studio. Not unless you count the window between getting home and making supper… but then when does one go grocery shopping?? I hate disappointing people, and I am uncomfortable not helping out when I know I have what someone needs… But clearly, this past year hasn’t been the most pleasant for me. The rise of panic attacks seems to have been brought on (after a nearly two decade period of dormancy) because of a particular cocktail of stressors. I used to think it would be wimpy of me not to take it all on, but now I see the reality. A couple of days of waiting for appointments, pricing materials and meeting with tradesmen has already shown me that if I’m not there to move this along, it aint gonna move anywhere.

Having publicly declared my intentions like this, I’m beginning to wish I had somewhere to hide should things go wrong, some way to retract all of this in the future should things really tank. Cuz I’m doing this before an audience of friends and readers, and we all know, once it’s out into the internet ether, there’s no taking it back. And I truly am scared here. I do not know what the fuck I am doing. I am not a business person, I don’t have great organizational skills, and I have never supported myself without backup income (part time job, husband, mom, father-in-law, etc.). Just how the hell am I supposed to net income from a friggin arts center? I’ve written only one grant proposal in my life (I got it, btw, but hey, that was years ago, the world was a kinder, gentler place back then) and I do NOT enjoy the idea of having to keep books, follow rules and in general, behave like a friggin grown up. Cuz I do not know the rules, I’m not even sure how to learn the rules, and moreover, I’m not even sure that I’m a real grownup. ! However, I will not freak out. Because I do feel pretty good right now. Pretty hopeful. Let’s just hope the hopeful lasts.

The big move is upon us. Moving up, moving down, moving out, but mostly, moving on….

 

Culture of Two October 6, 2013

It’s begun to dawn on me today that the time of just we two – Elihu and me, that is – will be coming to an end before too long. Tonight, my son is spending the night with his twin friends, Jonah and Phoenix. Together, the three of them are joy personified. They revel in each other’s company and never tire of wanting to play together. Although I still get a kiss goodbye and a good solid hug, I am so quickly forgotten when Elihu is with them. And while it really does lift my spirits as a mother to see him so supremely happy, I can’t help but wince just a little way deep down at how easily he moves away from me. I know it’s right and good, but still…. And when I got home tonight and had no one to talk with about the day, no one to talk with about upcoming plans, future projects… I realized that I missed my kid. A lot. Gone one friggin night and I was missing him! Don’t get me wrong, I hold dear my precious little time alone – tonight is a very rare occasion indeed – but something about a one-off night on my own just gets me off my groove, leaves me feeling just a bit little adrift and aimless…

Truly, I exaggerate, for aimless I really aint. Tonight, in fact, I’ve been working for the past seven hours on Elihu’s Halloween costume. And I cannot get that kind of quality work done when he’s home, so it’s just as well he’s out. I know he’s had a great night and so have I. As I begin to envision my son’s enormous satisfaction with the costume, I pause, realizing that this might well be the last such costume I make for him… and the thought gives me a little pang in my heart. I know that life at Waldorf is a bit different, that childhoods in that culture last a bit longer than those of kids in other schools – yet still, I’m not confident that next year he’ll dream of a costume the way he has up until now. It might not be a priority in the presence of his peers… I can already just see half a dozen sixth grade boys out trick-or-treating… the roughhousing and craziness, the running on ahead, the leaving of parents far behind…  It will no longer be my young son and me alone, taking our time to prepare for each house, adjusting the costume just so, getting into character before ringing the bell…. Until now, I’ve loved our Halloweens. It’s been just we two, alone in the dark night, each of us feeling the thrill of a costume unlike any others, each of us marveling at the fine homes of Saratoga, lingering to admire gardens and courtyards, taking in the decorations on the massive front porches… I just can’t see any of that happening in a posse of boys. And it looks as if this year, now that we’re fully ensconced in our new school, we’ll be joining his classmates in a group on Halloween. That means mom and son night won’t be. I wonder if I might enjoy a half hour of our own, but I tell myself not to count on it. Not to hope for it. His new friends are so important to him. And I’m relieved that he finally has a thriving social life. But the more it develops, the less I’m a part of it. This year’s Halloween reminds me of the middle school years just around the corner. Things will change, I know. And it’s all as it should be, but I’m just not sure I’m ready. I’ve had him so much to myself up until now, that having less of him – relatively all of a sudden – may be hard.

The other night, as Elihu got out of the bath and was drying off, I noticed hair on his legs I hadn’t noticed before. I’m not sure if I’ll always be able to talk with him easily about his body and the changes that are coming soon, but thankfully these days it’s still ok. I felt comfortable pointing it out, and he himself was kinda pleased. He giggled. And did I see just the faintest haze of hair on his upper lip, too? Oh my God, did I? It’s hard to see the change in my own son – I’m still only now adjusting to the changes I’ve seen in the other kids at school. One summer, so much change. And it’s subtle stuff, it’s not as if you can so much pinpoint any one single thing – it’s just an overall look of maturity. Has my own child grown too? I myself find it hard to detect, being with him every day as I am. But I know he must be… Each day that he continues to call me ‘Mommy’ I consider a blessing. It simply can’t call me that for much longer, can he? I certainly don’t want him embarrassed by it. Again, I’m thankful that we live in the Waldorf world which is much more nurturing and like home than school. Elihu still takes up my hand as we walk to and from school, and he still kisses me goodbye. I can say with confidence that he would not do the same were he attending his old school. But it’s different here. Yeah, childhood is precious and unhurried here, but nonetheless, boys will be boys, and kids will grow up. So I take not one moment – or good-bye kiss – for granted.

With the house to myself for a night I find that order is easily restored; the dishes for one rare night among many are all washed and put away, the laundry’s in and the house is in general good order. Most days I find myself complaining more than I’d like to admit about all the stupid housework life requires of me – about the never-ending dishes, the cooking of food, the sorting of piles and putting away of things – and while I tell Elihu it’s just the way it is – it’s not anyone’s fault – I do know that when he’s not here, there’s much less to do. I as one person eat less (I certainly require less thoughtful food preparation), I don’t burn through clean clothes as he does, and I don’t have as many toys to put away. Yeah, it’s a quieter, easier household when he’s not around. And yet he’s a pretty good kid too – tidies up, is mindful of things, helps out. But no question, there’s less work with just me. And it occurs to me – that pretty soon, at least a lot sooner than I think – it will be just me. And I won’t have dirty dishes to bitch about. I won’t have piles of crap to put away. I won’t have to stress over cooking ‘nice’ meals…  I won’t have a reason to bitch anymore, will I? What I will have will be an empty house. A lonely house. A house of one. Ich. That doesn’t sound so nice. Maybe I don’t mind the housework. There’s not a lot, really, and it’s gotta be a hell of a lot easier than having a family of four or more… Yeah, I think I like what we’ve got. I like our tiny family.

It’s time to turn in now. The paper mache costume is in the basement drying, the house is tidy. I’ve enjoyed a nice night to myself and was grateful I didn’t have to make supper or do dishes. But still, I’m not yet ready for a house that’s this clean and quiet every single day. I’ll take the extra housework if it means I’m still lucky enough to enjoy life with just me and my boy. I enjoy the simple life of just one person for sure, but for now I think I still prefer the culture of two.

 

Present for Good Night August 30, 2013

I’d come in to Elihu’s room to say goodnight. Although I hadn’t planned on reading to him (the night before I’d read Oscar Wilde’s very amusing “The Canterville Ghost”), I had a feeling there’d be no short goodnight. There almost never is. Elihu always has something on his mind. And tonite, I must say, he surprised me. He was lying on his side in the dark room, facing the wall. ‘You know, I just don’t get it. It seems most people miss the very reason for their lives.’ Huh? I thought. Where is this one going? I put my hand on his shoulder and asked if he could tell me what he meant by that. He responded in a slightly agitated tone. ‘One should always acknowledge the present before moving on to the future’. I waited. Did I just hear him correctly? Elihu often came up with things that had me second guessing what I’d thought I’d heard him saying. ‘What do you mean, honey?’ I asked. ‘I’m not going to repeat it’ he said in frustration. ‘You heard me.’ Ok. He wasn’t in a great mood, but clearly he had something weighing heavy on his mind that he wanted expressed and out before he could sleep. So I waited.

‘Why is everyone so modest?’ he asked, but before I could ask what it was that he meant by that, he continued…. ‘If someone is good at something, then why don’t they just admit it? Why does everyone seem to feel they can’t be successful at something? They’re missing the lessons they’re supposed to learn if they don’t just admit when they succeed!’ He sounded almost angry. Now I was able to ask him to help me understand him better. He went on to explain that he thought that before someone gave up on a hobby or a field of study he should pause first to assess all that he’s learned thus far. He said that he though everyone ‘in this culture’ was always in a hurry to move onto something new. He lamented that people seemed to be hard-pressed to celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy them. He wanted to know why it wasn’t accepted in our culture to admit that you were good at something. He cited this phenom kid banjo player he’d jammed with on the street the other night. Clearly this kid was more than just good. But when Elihu’d told Nathan he was good, Nathan just replied ‘I’m alright’. I offered that it’s never been – as far as I’d known – accepted in polite culture to flat out accept such praise without some degree of modesty. I also explained the idea of false modesty, and how that wasn’t really a great alternative either. ‘I think most people have a hard time admitting when they’re good at something.’ I offered. ‘Maybe the best way to accept a compliment and be polite too is just to say ‘thank you’. That way you’re accepting the truth, you’re enjoying your success, but at the same time you’re not being too full of yourself. I think Nathan will be more comfortable simply saying ‘thanks’ when he’s a bit older.’ Elihu was quiet for a moment. ‘Yeah. Guess saying thank you is the best thing to do.’ More quiet. ‘But I still think it’s very important to acknowledge when you’re good at something. To accept when you’ve done something well. Because if you don’t, you’re missing the lesson.’

Goodnight had become an occasion for pause and reflection to be sure. As we lay there in the dark, just staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on his bedroom ceiling, I think we both found a tiny bit of closure to the day. I was lost in my own thoughts, trying to make mental notes in order to recall our conversation later, so that his bedtime wisdom might not be lost, but he was clearly still following the trajectory of his initial musing. ‘Ok, please don’t get mad with me, but can you repeat what it was that you first said just now?’ I asked him. He sighed, but he obliged me: ‘If you don’t acknowledge the present before moving on to the future – you miss the whole point of things. And that’s all I’m going to say.’ I repeated it several times over in my head before leaning in to kiss him. ‘I love you so, Mommy’ he said, looking into my eyes by the dim closet light. We hugged again, tightly, and in my heart I thanked him for choosing me. ‘I really love my present. Don’t you?’ I asked. ‘Yeah. I do.’

I got up to leave the room. As I shut the door I saw him turn to the wall again. He put his arms around his giant stuffed macaw, and he sighed.

Post Script – here’s a link to some video shot this past weekend on Travers Day in Saratoga Spring, NY, of Elihu sitting in with tenor guitarist Jesse Rock and banjo player Nathan Hanna… so much fun!

 

Departure February 1, 2013

My heart sunk down to my knees and my body went cold. The kiosk where our Turkish friends sold helicopters at the mall was gone. Gone. In its place a wide expanse of hallway. As if it had never even been there at all. For almost the past two years this place had been mecca for my son. His young life has revolved around his chickens and his helicopters. This is the place he learned to fly. This is the place where he’d test pilot a variety of machines for hours on end while I waited nearby, reading. The two young men who ran the stand always showed Elihu such kindness. At Christmas one even gave him his choice of helicopter – just like that. “Which one do you like?” the man asked. Elihu showed him, and the man handed it over with a smile. No doubt Elihu had probably been responsible for a handful of sales – even so, this was truly an unexpected and sweet gesture. The men would share snacks with Elihu, they’d even leave the stand for a few minutes, trusting Elihu to keep watch in their absence. Truly, this had become an important part of our lives. The kind of place we kinda always thought would be there. And now, it wasn’t.

Thankfully, we’d been there just a few days before. We knew they were concluding their seven year business and moving on. The mall overall wasn’t doing well, their numbers were declining – plus they were getting burnt out on it. We understood. And yet somehow, we couldn’t really believe it. “Come back Friday” they told us, as they’d been working on getting one of Elihu’s helicopters fixed. Not sure why I gave them our info the last time we saw them, but I’m glad I did. It gives us both hope that they might stay in touch… Still, there’s no real closure here, and it’s upsetting. Elihu was so excited about getting his old helicopter back fixed too. Each morning the past two weeks he would count down the days until he picked it up. (I myself was never so confident that they’d been able to help – it seemed to me they were stalling because they didn’t want to disappoint him!) But it wasn’t the loss of his toy that saddened him. It was the loss of his friends, of this joyful oasis in his life for which there was no substitute. But they were just one day short… why? We couldn’t understand it, so I began to search for the story. 

We visited a shopkeeper across the way who I knew to be a fan of Elihu’s. He would stand outside his store, watching Elihu fly, smiling the whole time. He knew us by sight, and thankfully, he was able to fill us in. It seems he’d been witness to their final moments there. Turns out they’d planned on being here Friday. We were not stood up (I didn’t think so, but it was still nice to hear.) There’d been a fight with the mall manager. They’d asked for three extra days, but the manager wouldn’t let them pay a prorated rent, and instead challenged them to pay him half a month’s rent for three more days. Our friends had no choice but to leave. I can imagine they were disappointed to know that Elihu would be let down, that they would not be here for him – either to return his toy or to say goodbye. It wasn’t the ending either party would have chosen. But little we could do. 

I’m proud of Elihu. He didn’t cry, even though it would have been entirely understandable. (Hell, I wanted to!) But he did keep staring at the space, walking back and forth over the spot again and again and repeating “I just can’t believe it…” In the end, we ended up making friends with the store owner, and he said he thought he had the Turkish fellows’ number at home – that he’d bring it in for us. So that made us feel a little better. And we both reminded ourselves that we never know what’s ahead. That sometimes big – and often sad – changes have to happen before something new and different and good can happen. Yeah, we both know that stuff. But it didn’t really make it any less sad. Just a bit more tolerable. 

Time will take the edge off our loss. We’ve both learned a lot from this chapter in our lives, we’re grateful for it, and now it’s reached its conclusion. Some new chapter will begin soon and we’ll learn new things and meet new friends. In time it’ll all sort itself out. After all we both know it’s true; every arrival depends upon a departure…

 

Ballet Boy December 15, 2012

“That was transforming.” Elihu’s exact words immediately after the applause died down. We both sat in our seats, rather dazed and unmoving as the crowd around us rose, chattered and made ready to leave. We had just seen the Saratoga City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker from the most intimate seating possible. Elevated enough, close enough. And for Elihu’s eyes, a situation like this doesn’t come often. He sat riveted throughout the whole performance – and why not? top-notch dancing, gorgeous costumes and all the production details of the real deal. Hell, this really was the real deal. I had even been moved to tears while watching the perfect and joy-infused performance of the only young boy in the company. He wasn’t even my child, yet I wept like a proud mother. An inspiring production all the way ’round.

Although I’ve been trying to get my son to see The Nutcracker for years now (we live in a town in which the New York City Ballet spends part of its summer) it was only just tonite that we finally went. His delight and amazement – and new desire to take dance lessons (?!) seemed to confirm that our timing was right. At intermission the floor was full of small girls playing at pirouettes and pretending to dance en pointe, and my son was flustered and frustrated. He was burning to dance around, to practice his own freshly inspired moves, but he simply couldn’t be the only boy. Yeah, he’s probably right. Nine is probably a bit past that window. But to be honest, I’m not sure there would ever have been a window for a boy to naturally join a cluster of pink-bowed girls in their dance-play. He sees how challenging actual dancing is, and he gets what a star that one boy in the company is, but it’s still not enough. I tell him he’d kinda be a rock star if he went down and joined the girls, but he angrily protests. So instead he goes to a corner and twirls a time or two, and makes a great leap, legs out and straight… oh the hope and promise of a young one. My mother’s heart smiles at his pure joy and possibility, yet I’m slightly misty too; uncensored, childlike moments like this happen much less often these days, and it seems we may be nearing the end of them altogether. Just in case, I savor it all with extra attention.

I’m not naive enough to expect this interest in ballet to last, as I am not expecting this week’s request to play the transverse flute will last (bass and tuba are still holding in strong though), but I see him feeling the inspiration rise within, and I’m witnessing his vision of possibility grow, and that in of itself is enough for now. I also know we’ll have to pick something soon and stick with it – but I’m not worried. He is musical – he’s got a great ear –  has better time than me, and he’s playing violin at school now. I’ll let him be. I’ll also listen quietly from the front seat, a smile on my face, as Elihu tells me all the way home about the moves he noticed, the questions he has about them, and how much he wants to start ballet lessons next week.

Elihu’s world has expanded once again. A ballet boy, maybe not, but a better boy? Definitely.