The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Call Waiting August 8, 2012

I don’t want to run the risk of embarrassing my son later in his life; relaying the matter on my mind tonight may require some careful use of words, so I will simply say this: he is still ‘challenged’ when it comes to ‘making it through the night’. We continue to earmark a portion of our modest monthly income on disposable paper-based products in order to both lessen my workload (otherwise it would be laundry every single day) and to help maintain his dignity. It’s not something he nor I wish for, but apparently, since my brother also had a similar challenge when he was Elihu’s age, it seems there’s a genetic component in the mix. I do not think my son will enter sixth grade (nor fifth, I hope) with this problem. So I don’t really sweat it. It’s a project we will have to work on together. I’ll do what I can, waking him in the night, helping him to remember the task at hand, helping him to make it routine. That’s my take on it. Elihu’s too. But his father has other ideas.

After a rather cryptic email today from his father, the subject line reading simply “visit with Dr. Mark” he tells me that it was “intense” and that we three should talk soon. ?? I’ve called several times with no answer. So I wait. Wait for the call that will unveil the mystery behind the ‘intense meeting’ with Dr. Mark. I did encourage him to take Elihu to his own family doc if he felt he needed to. I don’t know this Dr. Mark, but that’s not what I’m worried about right now.

I also received another message of concern from my near-ex just last week. Fareed was troubled by Elihu’s continuing ‘problem’ and suggested – in a frighteningly cool tone – that perhaps “we should consider circumcision”, as that would have Elihu paying more attention to “that part of his body”. I was aghast. When I told my mother, she panicked, wondering if Fareed might actually have Elihu undergo such surgery while he was there in Illinois. I certainly don’t think he would even attempt it – and I do not believe it would be allowed to happen without my consent. But still, that shocker of a message followed by today’s email and no still word from him, it all has me a little uneasy.

It’s amazing that a man such as my near-ex, who is in so many ways can appear to be a thoughtful, intelligent and sometimes even loving person, can be such an idiot, and so insensitive. The bladder muscles have nothing to do with the skin of a penis. Causing his child undue, unnecessary pain will not help in this situation. And anyway, we both chose to leave our son the way he was designed. We both knew that the trend to circumcise all baby boys in America without question was a modern phenomenon. Without religious or cultural mandates guiding us, we had no obligation to do so. In fact, as the mother of a son, I felt very strongly that it was my job to advocate for his rights not to be circumcised. I realize that Fareed was born into an era when all baby boys were cut as a matter of routine – but come on! To even suggest this so far into the game – at the age of nine! – and to imply that it will stop bed wetting – all of that is in my eyes simply outrageous. But then again, my almost-ex is the rather spoiled only child of wealthy parents, and he is a musician of mini-star stature in some subcultures. Lots of people know him and think he’s quite a guy; he’s accustomed to having things his way. And apparently, having his son circumcised is the ‘way’ he thinks is best.

I know Elihu’s getting ready for bed right about now. I know that he’s fine, and that he’s probably busy doing something. Reading to himself, or maybe to his baby brothers, maybe taking a bath…. He may even be in bed by now. I hope so. Oh but how I’d like to talk to him once before the day ends. Just to know he’s ok. Poor kid. I hope his dad hasn’t added to the shame and embarrassment he already feels about all this.

All I can do is send him my love. And send quieting, peaceful energy to his dad, so that this might all fade away as just another routine challenge of growing up. Because that’s what it is. Even if tonight doesn’t feel very routine for me.

I hope my beloved Elihu sleeps well tonight. I myself could go to bed much with a much lighter heart if only his dad would pick up the phone…

 

Young Man August 7, 2012

Just got off the phone with my son. He’s spending five consecutive weeks at his father’s home in Illinois. It’s the longest we’ve been apart from each other during his nine years on the planet. He can do it, I know, but it’s still kinda hard for him (me too.) Kid’s been feeling a bit voiceless in all this shuffling back and forth from household to household. I listen, and I tell him that I hear him. That I understand what he’s saying, that I respect his feelings about it all. I ask if he’s told his father what he’s just told me. He tells me no, because if he did, he knows his dad would just ‘yell and smack him’. Now I know that’s probably not exactly what Fareed would do, but I do know that he’s been known to smack Elihu a time or two, and that he’s done so in some pretty public places. I know what Elihu means. And I understand the impression his dad has created of his own fatherly might. I tell Elihu to let his dad know that he just wants to express his feelings – that he’s not asking for anything but his dad to simply listen and hear him. He answers “I just know he’d say ‘suck it up'”. And I agree. He would. When I explain to Elihu that both he and his father need time together, Elihu easily agrees, it’s just that he wonders if there isn’t another solution.

Then my son, who has been upset over missing his summer vacations ‘at home’ for the past several years, offers his idea: if he agrees to spend every last holiday and break with his father, he hopes he might earn a whole summer vacation here. Well, only problem is – he already has nearly every holiday – and every break – there in Illinois. Hmm. There must be an equitable solution here. I think for a minute. This is really important to Elihu, and our presentation of our case to his father is critical here. “How about,” I start, “we invite Daddy here for as long as he can visit – and any time he’d like, during the summer?” It feels possible. His father can come out for a week each month if he wants. Elihu notes that his dad will likely have gigs that interfere. “So tell him to block out those weeks and not take any gigs then” I add.  “Have him plan his visit into his calendar just like it was a gig.” There’s quiet on the other end for a couple seconds. “Yes” he finally says. “Yeah, that might work…”

And so we worked out our goal, our strategy. I realize it might not fly with Fareed – especially if it stands to eclipse a paying gig, but who knows. There’s also Fareed’s ‘other’ family to consider. I know he likes to have them all together there in Illinois – that way it doesn’t take him away from his other two sons, plus it gives him time with Elihu. It’s kind of a convenience for him. I understand. But still, it’s an option worth presenting. I’ll leave it to Elihu to pose it to his father. I’ve told him that I’m behind him on this, but he needs to get his father to listen. That’s not something I can do with much success, as Fareed might think I’m trying to interfere with their relationship, to strip away his time with his son. I’m certainly not – in fact I’m always encouraging it – yet I’m not sure Fareed sees it that way. (This really makes me sad. You’d think there’d be a bit of inherent trust of some sort after a quarter century of shared history… but it ain’t necessarily so.)

Elihu feels a bit more at ease after we navigate through that issue, something which I guess has contributed to his headache tonight. (Seriously, what nine year old should have a stress headache? Sometimes a tiny voice in the background worries if it might not be something more serious… I cannot be alone in my maternal worryings, can I?) Elihu seems to be a little lighter now, a little happier. He goes on to telling me about his two younger half-siblings, and how they’re kinda rowdy and will soon be going to Montessori School. Elihu talks about how Montessori will bring out the best in them “in spite of themselves” and uses phrases like “such that” and “in so doing” as he speaks, and oh how eloquently he speaks, this nine year old boy of mine. It seems he has turned a corner. Not simply for the mature use of language or the complexity of his thinking. There’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but something about him is changed. He himself asked me tonight if he might not attribute his recent sentimentality about things to his growing older. He noticed that he’d grown so tall that his head now brushed a bird ornament he had hanging in his room, when in the past he’d walked well underneath it. Noticing that had made him wistful. I told him I wasn’t sure, but it made sense to me that his emotions should be registering this change too. I also told him that I’d been sensing in these past two months that something about him was changing. (I’d recently had a moment of real panic in which I fully understood – maybe finally believed might be a better choice of words – that my son was no longer a cute little boy, a child I could lift up and carry on my hip, but rather he was now a young, capable boy very close to becoming a young man.) The chubby wrists were gone long ago, yes,  but even after that he had remained a ‘cute little boy’ for a good long while. But now, he wasn’t that boy anymore. I too, was wistful.

After nearly an hour on the phone, we agreed it was time to say good-bye. He parted as he does with family he loves (grandparents, parents, Martha): by saying “love you so much”. He emphasizes the “so much” in such a way that it sinks deep down; anyone listening gets it. His love comes through, his intention is strong. And yet there’s also a hint of sorrow present in his parting declaration of love. A sorrow that comes naturally of a family divided, a family that can no longer live under one roof. Sad though he may be, he sure is loved, that kid. From both sides. And he knows that, which is, as we all can agree, the most important thing.

Before we hang up, he asks me to come to him tonight in his dreams, and I ask him to do the same. So tonight I’ll be on the lookout for that familiar, fine, young man. Only he’ll probably be just a bit taller than the Elihu I remember.

 

Kaboom! June 4, 2012

Well. Everything had settled nicely, in spite of Fareed’s having put ‘summer shit’ in the subject line of his emails. I understand his frustration. I do. But finally it seemed we’d hit upon a win-win. Elihu would remain in Saratoga for the 4th of July, and then he would spend a good, long vacation in Dekalb with Fareed later in the summer. Then, in looking more closely at Fareed’s open-ended, still-not- defined-by-exact-dates proposed visit, I realized that he might well be here with us on the 4th. While his visiting is always welcome, and we usually have a fine time (I make a nice dinner or two, we have a little family excursion, etc.) I knew that for some reason, Elihu had liked spending the holiday just me and him. So in the spirit of this full-disclosure, give-the-kid-his-voice sort of debate we’d entered into since last night, I thought it better to address it now than later. So I did. Guess I should have prefaced it with some explanation, because the response was anything but friendly. Really. And I was stopped. It’s stuff like this that has my heart racing whenever I see an email from Fareed. I hate this stuff. Man I do. Guess I need thicker skin.

I, of course, will not copy his email here, but suffice to say that his main points were these: 1) I am deeply selfish 2) Waldorf is selfish 3) I have lots of bad karma coming my way because of points 1 and 2. Man. Seriously??  I’m not good with this kind of crap. Plus he says it all in a facetious tone, which makes it even sicker to hear. Am I so selfish?? I honestly don’t think so. But he does, which has me wondering – what would he have me do to think otherwise? I know him pretty well, so I can guess… He’s told me before to get a job. Ok, a job between 8 and 1:30. Hmm. That I don’t have to work nights or weekends. No place will accept those terms, I know, I’ve applied to them all! Hmm, maybe I should think outside the box… I know! I can teach piano lessons! That way I can be home with my child, plus  make some income! Obviously, that’s not good enough for him. Hey, if I weren’t a single, full-time mom, there are lots of things I might do. But for now, they’re not options. But tell that to Fareed. He will not hear it.

What else might I do to change Fareed’s seeing me as a selfish, mean bitch? Letting him stay with us on the 4th? I really don’t care that much if he does or not. If that’s all it takes to calm this fire, maybe I’ll just tell Elihu it ain’t worth making a fuss over. I think he’ll understand.

Fireworks, indeed. Blew up in my face, they did. Can’t wait for the 4th…

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Here is the response I sent to his nasty email. Sigh. Are my feelings clear?? Hope so.

Look, Elihu and I have our thing – and you and Elihu have yours. !  I’m not being mean – come on – give me a break!! You’re always welcome when you’re here – I always make sure to have good food and make you comfortable. Where is this coming from??? Elihu expects it will be the two of us here on the 4th – he’s talked about that before. I’ll talk with him again about it if you want – all you have to do is ask nicely!! Why this venom?? I’m just speaking up for our son! There’s no personal attack on you here, I assure you!

That you still can’t see the incredible opportunity and gift that Waldorf is (I do realize you’re not here to witness it) and continue to bring it up as if it were some horrible mistake or selfish move on my part (?!) – that itself shows inherent selfishness. I am Elihu’s advocate, so I had to get him into that school. Plus I also encourage his relationship with you. It blows my mind that you don’t appreciate either one of those things.

After all the heartbreak and shit you’ve put on me, that you can even get angry at me is evidence that you’re lost to reason.  And I thought we were all three finding a happy balance. I was thrilled we’d finally found a happy solution for this summer. Had we not?? Damn. I couldn’t be more surprised by your venom.

Karma? I think I’m doing a good job of playing nice, building a good life for our son, and respecting your needs as a father. I look forward to my ‘karmic payback’ – because I’ll reap love and kindness. I know you will too, when you’re free of all this hate vision and can see that none of my actions are about anything but creating a good life for me and our son. My needs are modest, my requests of life are few. My objective is not to break anyone’s heart, but to see everyone feel respected and satisfied.

Can’t you please be nice? I’m trying my best, I hope you can do the same.