The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Three Days Gone February 19, 2016

Dropped Elihu off at the airport just before sunrise on Thursday morning. By the time I got home, I was full-on sick. Whole body hurt, skin was hot, nose wouldn’t stop dripping and my head pounded. Really? I get a couple of days to myself and this happens? Elihu had been really walloped by something last week, and I’d been marvelling over the fact that I managed to escape the same fate. I was even bragging a bit to my young son about my robust and seasoned immune system, and how at least my advanced age had some benefits… Ha!

That’s ok. While I had originally thought I’d at the very least get an errand or two done, I have done not one thing but sleep – or sit in this chair, blow my nose and follow tangents across the virtual world. But honestly, it’s been interesting, and I’ve learned a few new things. And it’s not just sour grapes talking; the past two days have been a rare treat in some way. Last year when I got my annual cold, I’d read several books cover to cover, again not something I seem to find time for in my life as usual. So I suppose it’s all for the better. Everything in its time and place, I guess. This pounding headache is getting old, but the vast encyclopedic universe at my fingertips has helped to distract me (so too has assembling this post).

And so now let me offer a little photographic retrospective of our past week….

IMG_2500When the sun rises behind the branches of the apple tree I know we’re nearing the end of winter. In December the sun rises further to the right – almost at that clump of pine trees. The sun will end up rising at the far left side of this frame by June. Amazing. Never knew how much the sun’s rising and setting points moved throughout the year until I lived here in the country.

IMG_2556One night when Elihu was plumb sick and out cold, mom and I went to the nearby Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College to hear the Ensemble ACJW (a group from Julliard) perform some Mozart and Beethoven. I was feeling a bit guilty to be out, so we left at intermission. I feel so lucky that we have this gorgeous hall only five miles from our door. Mom had a good chuckle – and I had a revelation – when I was charged a senior admission price. !! Hey – close to home and reduced admission? I’ll take it.

IMG_2612Each year at this time some friends come to stay with us so that they can play music and dance at the Flurry – an enormous festival and gathering here in Saratoga Springs that’s now it’s 29th year. It’s a nice feeling to have guests in the house. I rarely see anyone else at my kitchen sink. And look – Sherry’s even washing the dishes!

IMG_2616Elihu and Evaline are just a few months apart in age, and have known each other since they were small. She’s as tall as me now.

IMG_2622Our friends also brought along pal Sele, who was born in Bhutan, and who now lives in Albany. Her family had to flee their country, and lived for several years in a refugee camp in Thailand. I can’t begin to imagine what she’s been through. She is a good example of why we as Americans must always accept fellow human beings of any nationality with open arms.

IMG_2640Evaline waves goodbye with her clarinet.

IMG_2560They left us with an amusing to-do list.

IMG_2565Ah, but this is what we two do best. Cozy life at home. Doesn’t happen often, but it’s heaven on earth when it does.

IMG_2587Elihu and I have been listening to A Prairie Home Companion together since he was little. Since Garrison will be retiring (who thought such news could break the heart of a twelve year-old boy?) we decided to watch the live video streaming. We both agreed. Not the same. Kinda took away from the experience. It was fun to see two old friends from Chicago who played in the band, but for the few remaining shows we’ll stick to the radio broadcast.

IMG_2579My favorite couch material – vintage, mid-century floor plans. Cannot get enough.

IMG_2691Building blocks – or more accurately, Keva planks – make for other cozy living room activities.

IMG_2801Elihu sits back and enjoys his work.

IMG_2817This structure used all 400 pieces.

IMG_2703The branches of this huge beech tree spread some 30′ out from the trunk. It’s slowly dying, and has lost most of the top branches. It so defines the space here; we’ll miss it one day. But we’re enjoying it now.

IMG_2719We got off easy this year – can you believe this is our first plow? Curious to see how March pans out…

IMG_2852Elihu continues to love his tuba lessons, although he doesn’t practice nearly as much as he should. I find that naturally talented kids often don’t work as hard as kids for whom things don’t come as easily. This is a point Mike and I both made loud and clear. It’s time for me to step up too and apply a little discipline.

IMG_2861Our friend Betty was kind to allow Elihu to sit in with her Wednesday afternoon chamber group. They’re playing much older music – from the 13th through the 17th century. (The string instruments they play here are in the viol family; similar to – but not the same as – modern violins and cellos.)

IMG_2890Betty plays tenor viol here, and Elihu plays his bass recorder. He took a spin on the soprano and turns out – he doesn’t know his treble clef! Who knew? Usually kids have a hard time with the bass clef – and this kid is so adept at playing that I had no idea. Ok. “Learn notes on treble clef” on next week’s to-do list.

IMG_2931Betty gave Elihu a little help on bow technique. The bow is held and used in a different way than on the string bass or violin. Whew. So much to learn…. (Btw – can you believe this woman is going to be 91 in less than a month? I saw her last week at an evening event. She dealt with biting cold, blowing wind and two flight of stairs without missing a beat. !!)

IMG_2934He’s getting it. Betty kindly offered to loan us her other tenor viol – but I told her we’d take a raincheck. We have more than enough on our plate!

IMG_2952Elihu had an early morning flight – and the wheel on his suitcase was busted. We made a quick stop at neighbor Zac’s miracle shop where he cobbled a new one in front of our eyes. Elihu and I absolutely cracked up at Zac’s nonchalance and impeccable skills. He has no idea how simply brilliant he is.

IMG_2956Spotted this on the belt right behind us at the airport. Having recently connected with John Kay of Steppenwolf (he has Achromatopsia, went to the Waldorf School and is a musician and nature lover. See any similarities?) I shared this pic with his wife, a nature photographer and fan of things wolf-related.

IMG_2979…and then, he’s gone. I suppose if I were to get sick, now would be a good time. No one needs me right now (except the chickens). What’s a couple of days out of the game? We’ve done a lot recently, I’m making some progress with the Studio, and things are pretty much chugging along as they should. Another day’s rest and I’ll be renewed and ready to jump back in. Not sure anyone will even know I’ve been gone.

 

Snowsick March 23, 2014

A week has passed since my last post, but it kinda feels like two. We’ve been so busy, and on top of it all, Elihu ended up getting sick too. (I’m still not entirely well over a week later; haven’t known congestion like this in a few years.) Last Wednesday night he came down with a blistering hot fever, and unable to move, he stayed overnight on the couch in his clothes. I stayed up most of the night watching over him. I knew he was benefiting from the ibuprofen, and as he slept at least he felt nothing at all, but still there was a fearful quality to the night. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more serious such an illness might have been a couple hundred years ago. What could an unchecked fever do to a child? I shuddered to imagine how things might once have been. To distract myself from worrying, I searched my shelves for something to read. Glad I hadn’t given away every single David Sedaris book I’d ever owned, because Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim was just what I needed. (I have a habit of giving away books to anyone who expresses an interest in them.) In general I don’t have a great memory, so re-reading a book is often just as good as reading it for the first time (it’s like that with me and jokes too – they sound like new material the first few times I hear em). I stayed up til well past two, reading, watching, checking, reading… Until, not wanting to truly screw up my schedule for days to come, I decided I’d stay and sleep on the couch with him. Just lucky that I wasn’t on the school schedule the next morning, and luckier still that I was able to beg out of my remaining commitments without too much stress. There are occasions where I can leave Elihu for a short time, but there was no way I was leaving him alone like this. Yeah, being a single mom can throw a logistic monkey wrench into things sometimes. But this time, thankfully, it all worked out.

Still with a sore throat and boogers obscuring his ‘n’s and ‘m’s, my kid got back on the horse and was belting out his lines as King Midas in the fifth grade play rehearsals on Thursday (man, has he got pipes – charisma too. And you can see how much he enjoys throwing out those lines and living large into those gestures. I couldn’t help smiling ear-to-ear watching him). And then there was the gentleman from the Philadelphia Orchestra who came to play cello and speak to his class on Friday. That afternoon in the car ride home Elihu couldn’t stop telling me about it, and how moved he was to hear this man’s stories and to hear him play. After supper he went to the living room and spent a long time with his bass, mostly working on his bowing. After a time he called to me in the kitchen, “Mama! I got it! I got it! I got that sound!” Then I heard him laugh, and overheard him say quietly to himself “I just love playing this bass.” After I finished tidying up I joined him at the piano, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t come up with some of the grooviest little patterns. We had a very musical jam. I began to think that if he’s playing like this after just a few months at it – and at the age of ten – he’ll be a musical peer of mine in very little time. And likely he’ll surpass me. Yeah, I think that’s pretty much a done deal. But I can definitely live with that.

More’s been going on in the background of our life here too; an unsure relationship with the mother of a beloved classmate has had us both very depressed. Elihu and I have carefully scrutinized the past six months of our shared history with his family, and we have a couple of guesses as to why she’s avoiding our invitations, but none we’re absolutely sure of. I think it may well have been my careless use of the either ‘white trash’ or ‘redneck’ – something I used to describe the population up in their mountain neighborhood way back when I was a kid (the implication being that it was before moneyed folk – like them – had moved in. Oops? Crap. It was said with a sense of humor, no offense to anyone intended.) Hey, I’m the first to admit that my own joint takes on a rather white trash sort of look at times – chicken poop on the front steps, an overflowing recycling bin and a number of retired tube tvs poking out of the melting snow… But I think the terms ‘white trash’ and ‘redneck’ are more about an attitude than a reliance on food stamps or backyard junk piles. (The piles eventually go – but getting rid of them costs money, something we ‘white trash’ folk don’t always have to spend on gratuitous garbage removal. !)

I’d also taken Elihu and his friend to a Subway for a quick snack once. Not the kind of place we go to more than a time or two a year – but yet Elihu’s concerned it was a bad move, and one his friend’s mother can’t forgive. Me, I wonder if it isn’t the blog – she’d told me once in a very curt way to remove any mention of her child from it, all images too, and so I did. I had felt horrible about the whole thing, apologized and later asked her – in person – if we were good. “Yes, of course” she’d answered. But maybe not. You can imagine as a mother how sick I feel for my child, who himself has literally wept over this in frustration. And her child often avoids eye contact with me too when I mention the topic of a playdate. He’s a very open and cheerful child, and the contrast in body language when I bring it up is a bit startling. I feel sad for him as well, can you imagine the inner conflict he must feel at the subject? I watch the two of them playing together so joyfully in school, and my heart hurts for the situation. They’re going to be classmates for almost another decade, so we must figure this out. The not knowing how or why we got here is simply grinding away at me. So too is the realization that it’s going to take a confrontation of the issue to see some resolution. No matter, I gotta figure it out. It’s weighing on both of us pretty heavily, and it’s not a nice way to live. If email number five on the subject of a playdate is ignored as the previous one was, or if a terse, cryptic reply comes back  as in earlier communications, I promised Elihu I’d ask her about it directly. Can’t wait til this chapter is in our past. It’s adding a good deal of stress on both of us and it has to be fixed, but I fairly dread the process.

Lately I’ve been jonsin for some Taco Bell. For me, it’s the kind of place I visit like once a year (kinda like Subway – only I don’t exactly ever jones for that place), and then I’m good. Sated. Got my fix, don’t need to feel guilty either cuz it’ll be a while til I’m back. Elihu and I had some errands in the Taco Bell part of town so I suggested we try it. As soon as we walked in and Elihu asked if they had ‘tacos al pastor’ I knew we were in trouble. I explained that it was ‘stylized’ Mexican food. “Oh”, he said, “You mean it’s not Mexican food at all. It’s the Amercian version of Mexican food.” Kinda. I guess. So we made our choices and took our seats. Off to a bad start when the iced teas they offered were not only syrupy-sweet but carried with them a perfumey essence which clung to the plastic cup after poured out… He tried mixing in some water to dilute the tea but gave up after a few sips and stuck with plain water, albeit perfumed with the aftertaste of mango-flavored iced tea. “Why are there advertisements everywhere in here?” he asked me with growing agitation, waving his arms at all the posters encouraging the clientel to supersize a drink or grab a new food creation. “I don’t even want to know what they’re telling me, but I can’t help but read them. It’s annoying!” “Yup, they got ya” I answered with a small amount of genuine sympathy, but let’s remember that this was my jones, and I was totally digging every bite. Elihu wrestled with his taco supreme for a moment then set it down. “You know the way you rode the Vertigo at the county fair – for me?” “Yeah” I answered. “Well this is me doing the same for you.” I looked up at him. “Thanks baby, I appreciate it.” He went on, “I don’t want to ruin it for you, I want you to enjoy it. And I’ll try to enjoy it too, but I don’t think I can.” He paused and looked down at his food. “I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can.” He worked at a few more bites but then stopped again. “And this music! How can I eat peacefully with all this energy coming at me? It’s like the cafeteria at Greenfield. I’m beginning to feel like that…” (The cafeteria at his old elementary school was in fact one of the final straws for him. Loud, chaotic and bright, the place would bring on panic attacks and have him sitting alone at the far end of a long table, hands over his ears, head down and doing his slow breathing exercises to calm down. No one could have been more sympathetic than me, and the remembrance of that scene also helped me in deciding that school as we knew it had to change.)

I’d thought he was merely making an observation, but he really did seem to be growing more uneasy the longer we sat there. I hustled to get my annual fill of that Taco Bell thing over and done. I’d secretly hoped to have turned my kid onto a new guilty pleasure of pop culture, but I could tell that I hadn’t come close by a long shot. ‘Hm’, I though to myself hopefully as I slurped up the last of my Pepsi, ‘maybe he’ll get it when he reaches his drinking days…’ We wrapped up our mess, apologized to the universe for creating such waste, thanked the woman at the counter for our meal, and left the bright lights, loud music and super-sweet soda behind.

Snow began to fall yesterday morning, and while we it didn’t have us screaming in frustration the way it did even a week ago, I can’t say that it wasn’t a bit disappointing. The only good thing about it was that it served to temporarily cover up the awkward, pre-Spring phase of our property. Because this is an ugly time of year for our immediate surrounds; wind-strewn items from the recycling bin begin to poke up through the snow across the yard, great swaths of driveway gravel pushed by long-gone plow trucks top off the crusty snow banks, various cages and animal toters used throughout the winter to nurse house-bound birds remain half-embedded in the ice along the driveway, and fresh chicken poops litter the trampled snow pathways through the yard. Yeah, it’s a fairly depressing sight, but made tolerable by both a dusting of fresh snow – and also by knowing that before terribly long it will all be different. Soon we can rake the gravel back to the driveway and stash that bird paraphernalia in the garage where it belongs. And hopefully soon we’ll discover our shovel again, which fell over somewhere before the last big storm and lies ironically under a foot of snow.

While we yearn for Spring, Elihu also years for his father. For a break from me. Because it’s just the two of us, all the time. And while it’s a precious thing, it can reach its limits. I take my breaks here in my chair at my computer, I have my virtual community of friends on Facebook, but Elihu, he is isolated. He’s very good at being an only child, he can pass hours drawing, reading, practicing or even playing with blocks. But he’s kind of fed up lately. And I get it. And of course, my heart can sometimes break for it. He’s called his father several times recently, but there hasn’t been much time to connect. Dad’s either arriving or departing – or he’s at a restaurant and his food’s just come, or it’s too loud, or he has to sound check… I feel the disappointment in my son as he clicks the phone off. I ache for him. I wish that he could just see his daddy already. He’s been good about it all; many are the times he’s begun to cry and wish aloud that he had a mommy and a daddy at the same time. But these days he seems to be taking it more in stride, if there is such a thing. Maybe it’s all inward now, maybe it’s because he’s maturing, I don’t know. At least the countdown to his Easter visit with dad has begun. It’s given him some hope, something to look forward to (plus his sister’s visiting from England and that’s got him very happy indeed). So we limp through this long stretch, our eyes on the path ahead…

Making our load just a little lighter (scratch that, make that a lot lighter!) was the news we received just yesterday that the house at the end of our driveway will not be built this Spring, in fact the whole deal fell through. Hooray! As our neighbor casually said, it’s merely ‘a respite’, but hell, we’ll take it. Elihu and I high-fived each other and shrieked in delight. He later followed up by expressing a thought aloud: “Thank you universe for keeping the field as it is. We are so grateful that it is a field and is continuing as a field.” He’s big on stating the ‘isness’ of things; not that we are hopeful that something might be, but grateful that it already is. He will often correct me when I use finite terms, as he insists that I need to see the desired outcome as already existing – or continuing to exist. While I can admit first introducing these ideas to him, I’ve long gone out of the habit of living them – it’s he who’s taken up the charge of visualizing things as he’d like them and remaining grateful in advance of receiving them. Lucky to have my own personal life coach in the house. !

And I just may need a little life-coaching to get through this last, snowy stretch. It’s been an exceptionally long haul. May the memories of warm, scented breezes and the buzzing of bees keep our spirits aloft as we await the end of winter. Because we are as tired of the snow as we are of being sick. Oh please, come Spring, come soon and heal us….

 

To Do, To Be December 7, 2012

I feel a little guilty because it’s the middle of the afternoon and I’m still in bed. I’m in my son’s bed, actually, lying beside him as he drifts in and out of a fevered sleep. Poor kid has got a stomach bug and he’s riding it out the best he can. I’ve done a few things today – had a phone interview, scheduled a new piano student, finished the dishes, responded to some emails and tended to some office work – yet I’m still in my pajamas too, and I’m feeling like I should be doing something more.

But if I leave the room for long, I hear Elihu faintly cry ‘Mama’… He just wants me near. And honestly, if I can shush that silly voice that keeps beckoning me to ‘get something done’, this is exactly where I want to be. And I understand that just by being here I’m doing my job. I know it, but it’s just that we’re all so conditioned to do, do, do, that simply being can feel unimportant and unproductive.

So for now, I’ll just stay here, next to my son. I’ll listen to him breathe, I’ll feel relief when he sleeps and I’ll be here to stroke his head when he wakes. Today, my job is just to be… right here.

 

Bad Bug February 27, 2012

Was really sick yesterday. Really sick. Good timing, though. I’d just finished organizing and cleaning out the basement the night before. I’m a tad embarrassed to admit that after I was finished, as a reward for my dozens of hours at the thankless and grueling challenge, I took myself to the movies. To see ‘Wanderlust’ of all things. I was in the mood for some white bread, some frivolity. Nothing else that was playing appealed. I knew that it wouldn’t be worth the ticket price and that I’d probably regret it halfway through. But in fact, having gone with the assumption that the script would be kinda lame and it would undoubtedly pander to the lowest common denominator (and learning later that my assumption for the most part was true), I was in the end happily surprised if, for no other reason, than to see Alan Alda and Linda Lavin (peers, remember the 70s sitcom ‘Alice’?). I also dug a scene in which the very pretty Paul Rudd has a pep talk with himself in a mirror – something I’m guessing was probably him just blowing. It was refreshing to see some improv make it into a movie. The scene even made me actually laugh out loud. Something I realized – mid laugh – that I hadn’t done in a long time. Thanks Paul.

Got home, into bed and realized I wasn’t right. I’d been battling a persistent, pill-resistant headache for hours and was now getting flushed. I considered anaphylactic attack but no, it wasn’t a match, so I just went to sleep hoping it would right itself overnight. I awoke in the middle of the night with a miserable nausea. I don’t like discomfort – who does? – but I’ve always cited nausea and sore throats the worst. I don’t know why – but a sick gut has always trumped everything else. And I’ve broken my neck as well as several other bones so I do have something to compare it to (oh, yeah, and childbirth too). So what to do? Pepto seemed the only proactive thing. I downed some and waited. Discomfort grabbed me no matter what position I took; all I could do was wait for the inevitable. And it came. Throughout the next twelve hours my system rid itself of everything and then some. My diaphragm wrung itself like a mad sponge until my eyes were bloodshot, my head wet with sweat, and my temples pounding with headache.

This was also the day that my son was coming home, and he and Fareed were at the train station several towns away needing to be picked up. I could hardly move much less get in a car and drive. To make things worse, Elihu had left his precious dark glasses in Chicago and was without any protection. I was too out of it to dwell on it. I took the glass half full attitude. It would be really hard for him to manage being out in the world nearly blind, but it might well be a good, hard lesson for him – of how all-important his glasses are and of how important it is to always, always make sure to have them. I let this one go, and had to let Fareed figure the rest out himself. It cost him some change (the taxi alone from town was $27, to say nothing of the bus tickets here from the Amtrak station) but in the end it was ok.

Shortly after they got in (or maybe a week later, I was out of it and couldn’t tell) I smelled food cooking in the kitchen and pulled a pillow over my head to block it out. As I felt then, it smelled simply atrocious. But my next thought was one of comfort, of relief. Dare I say it? I was relieved that my ‘husband’ and son were home. The smell of food being cooked in my home said love, it said caring, it said ‘don’t worry, I got this one’… I know it isn’t logical given the reality of the situation, but our tiny house felt more like a home with Fareed there. With someone other than me keeping it together. I love my life here with Elihu, but man, when someone else is here it kinda highlights how lonely it can be sometimes.

I’m glad that my body still ached with flu when my brother came to pick Fareed up and drive him to the airport late last night. It softened the mood. The reality. How seventh grade girl of me is this? – it took the edge off knowing that this was the last time Fareed and I would be together as ‘legal’ spouses. The deal closes on March 7th, so technically, we’re still a ‘we’ til then. We hugged, and then I stood in the open door a moment watching him and Andrew walk off into the darkness. He turned around and nodded goodbye.

Fareed is back in his routine, Elihu is back in school, I am well. And my basement is both organized and clean. I mean clean. Not only do I now know where everything is, but also there is no more grunge on the floor, no more damp, decomposing old boxes, mouse turds or soggy piles of pink insulation laying about. The whole place is well-lit and inviting. I even have a work space for my new sewing machine! My goodness, seems yet another metaphor of transition. Fits and starts is this life’s progress, and most gratefully I’m feeling fit to start it all over yet again.