The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Turning Tween May 2, 2014

Maybe it’s because of the landmark birthday. Maybe it’s because he himself feels that something should be different by now. Maybe it’s the recent onslaught of the relentless Pokemon sub-culture that has created a divide between us. Maybe it’s because his very physiology is changing. It could be any one of those things or more that have us in a new place in our relationship. It’s pretty clear to me now, we’re entering into new territory; my son and I are entering into the world of the pre-teen.

Yeah, my heart sinks a bit to admit it, but I know for sure that something here is new. It still feels foreign – really wrong, in fact – when I think about such a change occurring between the two of us. We have always been a team, but it doesn’t quite feel like that right now. I’d have expected some sort of mysterious change in our relationship had he been a girl, but I guess I’d thought the mom-son thing might be immune. No matter, something present in our relationship is changing, and I need to adjust. And I need to help make this transition smooth. I need to treat him gently, and with love and understanding. I need to remember how I myself once felt to be on the verge of that kind of change. To be at the doorstep of sixth grade, with its first heavy heart breaks, the complex web of communication and misunderstanding between friends and classmates, and not lastly those strange physical changes that just add to the insecurities of the age. I need to honor what it is that he’s going through. And most of all, I need to give him more space.

We two, like-souled and blessed with uncanny communication have become subtly divided over the past few months without my even realizing it. We have begun to become what our peers have already long been: parent and child. No longer are we somewhat parent and child, mostly peer and friend (I know, I know, folks will chide that this is unhealthy, unrealistic, impractical and more. Say what you will, so far it’s worked very well.) Now our relationship feels just a bit different. There’s nothing wrong here, and we still laugh and play together, but a definite shift of sorts is taking place. And it’s all ok – it’s to be expected. Elihu is growing into a healthy individual, I get that. It certainly helps to keep that in mind when bedroom doors are all of a sudden closed, bathroom doors too, when normal conversation is embarrassing, when my previous silly antics – while still entertaining to his classmates – have now become horrifying for him to witness… Keeping this big, pre-adolescent change in mind helps me to ignore my slightly injured ego when he recoils, tells me angrily to “please stop” or even worse, begins to tear up in embarrassed frustration. I have to remind myself that I too am shifting gears here; what’s worked for the past few years no longer does, so I’ll need to figure out the new boundaries. I’m just beginning to get a handle on it, and I hope that until I do my dear son can trust that I have his back, and that it is not my goal to embarrass or horrify him in front of his peers. I may not edit as much as he’d like, but I will do my best to demonstrate to him that I’m still on his side. (And I hope I can do so without making him into a spoiled brat. It’s tempting to want to acquiesce and buy him that coveted Pokemon card to show him what a pal I can be…)

This new place is not a bad place to be, really. As soon as I begin to lament the passing of my tender young child, I find myself enjoying a bit of relief as Elihu takes on new jobs around the house. In fact, he’s responded resolutely to my requests. I can sense (not just a hunch, we two have discussed it) that he needs more responsiblity around here. He sincerely wants to have more regular duties in our household. And I gotta say, after years of doing every blessed last thing myself, I am more than ready to delegate a couple of jobs.

It’s still a bittersweet place to be; from this day I can remember well what it was to hold my small child only a few years ago, and yet at the same time I can picture a young man preparing to leave home. So many nights I’ve nearly wept with exhaustion at the unending job of motherhood – the baths, the meals, the laundry, the cajoling – the usual stuff. Some days my dearest wish has been that my son not need so much of my goddam help anymore. When, I think, fed up and simply aching for a moment to myself, when will this kid grow up already?

I’d thought we were probably past it, and wondered if I hadn’t been doing it more for me than for him this time ’round, but tonight Elihu asked me to please read to him from our beloved Burgess Bird Book for Children. A rare, first edition copy nearing a hundred years old, we both love the quaint language and thorough accounting of birds that the main character, Peter Rabbit, encounters as they return to the Old Orchard with the coming of Spring. We first read it the Spring he turned six, and I’ve read it aloud to him each year since. Feeling a bit grouchy at the end of a long day and possibly on the verge of another self-sorry rant, I asked if we might want to skip the book tonight. In response, Elihu got kinda quiet, smiled up at me and shook his head ‘no’. My heart thusly softened, we cozied up together in bed to enjoy a couple of chapters.

This time when I reached for the ancient book my heart skipped a beat. A dim awareness had been growing lately, but I had been to afraid to name it. My hunch would no longer allow itself to be ignored, and my heart sank deeply when the question finally spoke itself to me: might this be the last year I’d ever read this book to my son? “Very possibly” was my answer. Oh-oh. All of a sudden I wasn’t so sure I really wanted to be over and done with my job. And when I located the bookmark and opened the book, I noticed that we were halfway through. And you might even say I panicked ever so slightly when another thought then occurred to me… We were halfway through our beloved children’s book, and we ourselves were halfway through Elihu’s childhood. The day that I’d prayed for on so many mother-worn nights was finally within sight. Oh dear friends, do be careful what you wish for…

I know how the remaining chapters of Mr. Burgess’ book will go, but I don’t have the same clear vision for our own story. I am, however, fairly sure that it too will end happily, while setting the stage for many more beautiful seasons yet to come.

 

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.

 

Harpsichords and Airplanes December 13, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Recently, a local musician I know called and asked to borrow a harpsichord. Naturally, this is a very serious request, and he may have found it challenging to ask me at first. He knew, however, that he stood a chance. I personally like this fellow, and he has long been a part of my father’s Baroque Festival. Plus I really want to help people when I’m able to (especially because these days it seems most folks end up helping me). Apparently the instrument they’d planned on was no longer available do to logistic problems. At first I wasn’t entirely on board. It did take a little lobbying before I was able to agree. My father and mother also needed to be in agreement, and I myself only felt comfortable after having a chat with the concert’s director. In the end, my father’s gorgeous, double-manual Flemish harpsichord built by Allan Winkler, with lavishly painted soundboard, replete with flowers and one Eurasian Hoopoe (a metaphor used by Baroque instrument builders to symbolize how this ‘dead’ wood sings once again), will be part of Handel’s Messiah at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. The concert is tonight.

My father has been out of the house fewer than a dozen times over the past year, and I made sure this would be one such occasion. Dad has also played harpsichord in this very cathedral years ago, and of course, he has performed the Messiah many times. (In fact, on Amazon one can still purchase a CD of his 1966 recording with Robert Shaw.) My young son sang in the local children’s choir last year, and he enjoys dropping in on the local men’s chorus rehearsals. I think both dad and Elihu will love the concert this evening. To hear his beautiful instrument in that space alone will be worth the trip. I’m so glad my father agreed to this – it will bring joy to so many. The very presence of a harpsichord in music – however delicate – adds a dimension and nuance like no other sound. Growing up, the sound of a harpsichord was easy to take for granted, it was always around me. Later, as I grew up and then apart from my parents, I can remember the feeling I got when I would hear a harpsichord… it comforted me, it sparkled there in the mix of other instruments, a tiny, beautiful voice that always reminded me of my father. I am so happy to be able to hear this music tonight with my father at my side. I pray he enjoys it too – in spite of the fact that he himself is not playing the instrument he has loved so well.

Before I can begin to think about the coming night, what to wear, how to get there, how tricky it will take to get dad up the stairs once we’re there… all those concerns must wait for a few minutes as I fulfill a promise made to my son early this morning. Yesterday, I had let him down. Today, I will not. Elihu, as a lover of all things that fly, has decided that he wants to give his pal Keith a radio controlled plane for his birthday, which comes just two days before Christmas. Elihu is concerned that once again both his folks and Santa will confuse Keith’s desire for an RC Plane for an RC Helicopter. It is my son’s greatest joy today to know that he, with his own money, is buying a plane for his friend, and that we will deliver it anonymously on the eve of his birthday. And so my very next task will be to place our order, paying an up charge if necessary to get it here in time.

How very good it feels to give someone just what they need, just what they want – be it a harpsichord or an airplane.