The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Silly Poem April 16, 2013

Silly Poem

a poem by Elihu, written today during a rainy recess period…

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I’m going on a trip to the center of the universe

What do you think I should pack?

A sack and some shoes and a cow that moos, and a plate and some milk and a snack

A yak for good measure, a couch for the pleasure of sitting right down to a rest

A lunch box, a brick, some balls and a stick and some chocolate that tastes just the best.

And maybe if you’re lucky I’ll take you along…

What do you think you will pack?

 

Up and Away November 22, 2012

Up at 3:30. Laundry’s in the dryer, Elihu’s bag is packed, including his carry-on, which is a large FAO Schwartz shopping bag from our summer trip to New York City. He’s bringing his Christmas gifts for his little brothers early, and one wouldn’t fit into the suitcase. I remind him several times that the book he’s brought to read is in the bag too – so when someone offers to stow the bag in the cabinets above his head, make sure to get the book out first. That’s all I can do. In the past, he’d most likely forget, and sit idle the whole trip, not wanting to make anyone get it down for him. This time, he’ll probably remember, he might even ask for help if he needs it. He’s getting older. He’s doing more for himself, but still, I advise, I remind, I worry…

I touch his soft, perfect face while he sleeps and behold this boy who’s fast changing… The other day he told me he really wanted to have a beard when he was older. Will a beard actually grow one day from his velvet-smooth cheeks? If I try, I can kind of imagine it, but secretly I’m a bit horrified. Yet is this not what parents aspire to? Raise our children to be healthy, happy autonomous adults who may live as they choose?  I’m far from ready. These days it seems he’s readier than I am. He’s been flying alone for four years. It’s no more eventful to him than a car ride to the grocery store. He’s smart, he’s funny and he’s got a natural savvy about life in general which far exceeds his years. But in the end, he is my little boy. And knowing that in a few hours he’ll be speeding through the sky away from me at hundreds of miles per hour, his plane becoming a mere speck in the sky… that thought has me feeling a little light-of-being, a little empty. It’s always in his leaving – and then again in his homecoming – in which I feel the passing of time most acutely.

But I’m excited for him. He is seeing his father at long last! And his baby brothers (for the most part I omit the word ‘half’ as a descriptor, depends on how equanimous I’m feeling at the moment). “They’re not babies” he reminds me. “It was a figure of speech, baby” I answer him. He smiles. We choose some paper to wrap their presents ahead of time. We finish, and they look nice. “I’d be happy to get one of these, wouldn’t you?” I ask him. Elihu waits for a minute. He’s looking down. For a second it looks like he’s thinking about something else. “Thanks,” he finally says, “I know this isn’t easy for you”. I tell him it’s all ok – I really am so happy for him – how excited I am too to know that his brothers will love the presents. He doesn’t stay in the sentiment long, it seems he believes me. All I can do is hope that he really does feel my support. He’s right. It’s not always easy, even now. But it does get easier. And knowing how excited he is helps motivate me to move past my own hurt.

He’s been hugging me a lot today, saying extra “I love yous”, getting ready in his heart to make the parting. To switch parents. We’re alternately easily frustrated with each other and needy of each other’s affection. It’s been just us for months now, and frankly, we could both use a little break from each other. And yet…

I move around the house getting ready. The kitchen cabinet handles are sticky with his clementine-wet hands. I see the charge lights on his toy helicopters blinking, ready. His drawing paper is out and waiting for a new bird sketch… signs of a nine year old boy living here. One minute they’re parts of the house as usual, the next, they’re strange, ghost-like suggestions of the absence all around me. I try not to let my mother’s mind wander to that unspeakable, remote possibility that my son may not come back… I leave the sticky door handles to remind me of him, just in case. I scold myself for being so morbid. I remind myself to stay positive, to cancel those thoughts immediately… This trip is nothing new or remarkable, he’ll be fine. A parent has to let go eventually, right? Maybe our time in practice will help when the time really does come for him to move out. Maybe.

I’ve just returned from the airport. It took a while for his Southwest flight to get going. The only person in the vast observation room at the Albany airport, I watched as the plane was de-iced, watched the plane taxi away and waited. And waited. Finally, as I began to despair that I must somehow have missed his plane take off, the morning sun crested over the hills just as his plane sped past, the wheels lifting off the ground precisely as the sun freed itself from the horizon. A movie moment. I watched it all the way as it got smaller and smaller… until it banked and headed west. Finally, the tiny dot was gone.

As I was leaving the garage I called his father to tell him Elihu was safely off. Strangely, we often talk for a while on these occasions. Fareed chats about things going on in his world, we catch each other up on our parents, we try to make sure we’re on the same page about Elihu. It’s all so strangely civil – more than civil actually, maybe, not sure if it’s the word, but it’s something close to friendly. In the past it’s thrown me off – it’s like I see a window to the man I used to love and share my life with, and it almost seems he’s still there, that this has all been a dream… But now, somehow, it’s easier. Easier to understand. After all, we both love our boy so.

I get home, have a snack. I smile to myself when I feel the sticky surfaces. I wipe them clean. I take a bath, and just as I get out and wrap myself in a towel, the phone rings. It’s Elihu, safe and sound. Father and son are together again and both so happy. And for now, I’m a free woman. Clean the house? Work out? Walk in the woods? Meditate? Go to hear some live jazz on the weekend? So much possibility! Wow. The sky is amazingly clear right now, I’d better fly while the flying’s good…

 

Increasing the Fold November 13, 2012

Big day here at the Hillhouse Coop. We acquired sixteen new laying hens from Elihu Farm. Bob and Mary Pratt run this lovely hillside farm which produces eggs, meat birds and lamb. Named for its homesteader/builder and Revolutionary War patriot (so fitting for this Veteran’s Day!) Elihu Gifford – who lies a few paces down the road in a family plot – we first found the place several years ago through a quick Google search for anything “Elihu” in our new neighborhood, and we soon came to learn that this farm is well-known in the culture of the area farmer’s markets. We’ve visited Mary at both her farm and her farm stand over the past few years, and she’s given us some very helpful information about the raising of hens. She’s been very kind to us as we fumble our way into the next level of chicken farming.

Today we learned how to tell the difference between a hen who’s currently laying eggs, and a hen who’s taking a short hiatus from the job. In the fall, with the loss of daylight, a hen’s system often switches gears; her system slows down a bit and among other changes, she often shuts down in the egg department. There are physical indications; her comb is dry-ish looking and more pink than red, her legs may be less colorful, she molts all over, and finally – and most importantly – her ‘vent’ – that is to say, the hole where everything (yes, everything) exits her body, is much more constricted during this phase. Mary showed us how to informally ‘measure’ the vent to see whether it was in shape for passing eggs or not. She flipped a gal on her back, and kinda held her fast between her knees, bird head up and back, vent end up and forward. Mary showed us how two of her fingers easily fit between the pelvic bones and how the vent itself was much larger on the gal who was currently laying. Another hen also so checked, showed a much smaller vent – quite easy to see at a glance – and the fit was much tighter between the pelvic bones. For now, this hen was considered a bit of a ‘free-loader’ as she was eating but not producing. (She’d most likely be a stewing chicken fairly soon.) I’d thought it would be some messy, wet-ish, esoteric, veterinarian kinda challenge to see the difference between the birds, but it was easy. Invert bird, inspect vent. Done. Give the gal a couple weeks to get back in the egg laying game, and if she can’t get it together, she’s retired. Retired gals will be thanked for having contributed their wonderful gift of eggs thus far, spoken to ever so gently as we box em up and drive them to the Amish farmer who’ll have em dispatched and bagged up half-frozen all in less than a half hour. (I must remember this time to have them quartered. And to save those giblets. !)

Elihu hasn’t been this thrilled, happy, nor deeply contented in a good, long while. The very essence of joy was all about my son this evening as he stood in the middle of his flock, stopping to handle each and every one of his birds, new and old, to look them over, talk to them in a low, reassuring tone before returning them to their roost. We have 48 birds. Four are grandfathered in; two roosters, one male guinea fowl, and one white gander (Ya only need one rooster. Our neighbor’s offered to lend out his Roo as a stud service in the spring, thereby making our old boys redundant and quite unnecessary. Elihu won’t have it. He’ll send the old gals off to the butcher, but he can’t see these boys gettin done in. Oh well.)

The sounds of a full house – a full coop, I should say – are gentle and pleasing sounds. I think they’d soften even the hardest of personalities. As you stand in the coop, rows upon rows of birds before you, sitting on their roosts, getting comfortable for a good night’s rest, they make all sorts of quiet little purring and cooing noises. It’s a peaceful place to be. Elihu can simply stand in the presence of his roosted flock for literally hours. Literally. There’s a spiritual quality to this quiet time; there’s a true communing with the birds that seems to take place. The coop is an oasis, separate and apart from the buzzing, high-energy output of human life.

Today’s acquisition was not an impulse; we took a look at some numbers before we made our move to increase the flock. Our prices are far too low, our egg output lately has been the worst ever, and it’s been a while since we’ve donated to Heifer International (one of the founding principals of Eggs of Hope), so we had planned this addition for a while. We’d added a few hens here and there over the past few months, but hadn’t found a true solution until Mary told us she was selling hers. So, calculator in hand, we ran by some different scenarios til we arrived at what we think will be a profitable number of birds. We will have to step things up a bit; get some new customers, announce our new price for a dozen ($3.50 – still a steal!) and work our way up to our new price for Spring of $4 a dozen. At that point we’ll be solidly in the black, and perhaps able to save. Whew.

(Now if only folks wanted piano lessons like they do fresh eggs!)

 

Life So Far October 29, 2012

Dictated to me tonight. Wish we’d done more of this over the past two years, but it just never happened. So glad we got this one down…

October 29th, 2012   by Elihu Scott Conant-Haque

You know, as I look back at all the years I was in Greenfield School, I realized that although I’ve had so many experiences at other schools, I really have had most of my life there. Even though I’d had five years at other places, I really became aware of where I was at age five, so that’s why I say my “whole life” was there.

Greenfield School had been a good school. I mean, I’d been famous at the place, not that I’d had many friends. And it was true, I didn’t have many friends, though it varied; sometimes I’d have a lot, maybe for a week or two, and then they’d remember that they played sports and that they were “cool” kids, so they couldn’t hang out with me. And then it would go back to just Keithie and me, and maybe Carter. Keith is a tall boy, a fast runner (unlike me) and he plays sports. He’s an outdoorsy type, he rides motorbikes – he even has his own – and can do huge bicycle jumps. Not that I’m not cool, I am, just in my own way. I guess Keith had been the only kid in my class to realize that maybe I was cool – in my own way – and that’s why he was friends with me. Cause usually, a kid is friends with you only if you’re cool – and you have to be cool in his way.

Anyway, the years at Greenfield seemed to pass quickly, as I look back at them now, a fourth-grader going to Waldorf, with many, many friends (not that I’m popular.) Greenfield was a good school, it’s just that, I guess my eyes sort of contributed to the way I acted, I don’t know. Because the school seemed really chaotic to me, but not to others; they could deal with it. Ha, they wouldn’t have even cared even if it was chaotic for them – they would have just kept on going. But that was then. Now is now.

I guess you probably want to know more about what I’m doing at the moment than what I did a couple of years ago – though all this seems interesting to me, because it’s funny to look back on my own life now, and see all the things I never would have realized then.

At Waldorf, things are going pretty good. I mean maybe it’s not true that I’m totally loaded with friends. A friend is sort of a different thing than a classmate that really cares about you. A friend is someone who’s willing to play with you at recess rather than doing their own silly sport that you can’t understand. Now friends are nice to have, and there are two real good friends I have at Waldorf. Cora and Sophia are their names. They’re twins. They have freckles and short, rusty-colored hair. They’re both a little taller than me; Sophia’s about an inch taller and Cora is about two and a half inches taller. Mostly everyone is my class is taller than me. I’m the second shortest, next to Phoenix.

It’s a good school, this new school, Waldorf. I mean, I’ve been here for about six months, it’s not like it’s really new. I’ve mostly set into the things I have to do. They’re different from Greenfield, though there is homework. I have to do spelling. But the thing I like most about Waldorf is that it’s not as chaotic as Greenfield, it really isn’t. It’s a gentle school. And singing is a big part of the day. Since I’m a very good singer, that was obviously a nice little surprise that I didn’t know of when I first came to the school. There are many beautiful songs we sing. One we’ve been practicing especially hard on is a song called “the Goose Song”. It’s a beautiful song, with a melody and harmony part. We have a class of 22, so when we sing both parts together it sounds amazing. But it might not sound quite so amazing, because sadly, Sophia and Cora are moving soon.

Well that’s about all I have to tell you about Waldorf and Greenfield. I’m really happy to have this written down. It makes me feel good to know that somewhere in all these files, in our little Mac computer, tucked away under a little stool, in a little bedroom, in a little country cottage, where live a little boy and his mother, is a whole story of that little boy, looking back. And to know, that somewhere in that little boy, he feels happy.