The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Zen Limbo August 4, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 12:18 pm
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Sort of on hold. Sort of. I realize no one’s stopping me from ‘doing my thing’, yet as host to two guests in my home it’s just not the same as truly being alone alone. And while I realize that in short order I will be enjoying an empty house, I am finding this final stretch of their visit something of a personal challenge. I have so much work to do, and it won’t get done until their visit is over. So for now, I wait.

We’ve finished our supper, and now I read to little Lilas on the couch as her mother visits in the kitchen with a friend. I realize I’m feeling some anxiety. There’s tension in my body. I do a check to see where it’s hiding; it’s something I’ve begun doing the past couple of years. It’s surprising how often we’ll walk around with a part of our body tenser than it needs to be. And you often don’t even know it unless you look for it. Throughout the day I’ll do a little inventory of my body. Check to see that I’m not tight through the shoulders for no good reason. Check to see if my brow might be unintentionally furrowed. When I find the tension I let it go, relaxing my body to its natural resting state. I do my check, and find my shoulders pulled together a bit. I let them out. Better. But still. Not quite at peace. I tell myself to get on with it. I love reading to children, and I enjoy doing it now, once I’ve scolded myself to get back to the business at hand. For the duration of the book I’m content, the child beside me is too, and all is well. But we finish the book, and a vague nagging feeling sets in. I want to be alone.

I really do enjoy having the energy of others present in the house. It’s nice to have a little one here too. And it’s nice to know there’s other business going on while I’m quietly reading on the couch by myself. It feels different from being the only human in the place. There really is something different between knowing there are people present – even if I can’t see them behind a closed door – and knowing that I’m alone in the house. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and as I sit comfortable on my couch, book on my lap, looking out my big picture window at the full moon outside, I ponder why this is so. Now mom and child are in their room. I look at the closed bedroom door. I can’t even hear anything. So how is it different? I don’t know. It just is. I imagine to myself that there’s no one in Elihu’s room, and immediately it feels emptier. Interesting. But for now, there are two people there, and somehow, even if it may only be in my imaginings, I can feel their presence. While it gives the place a homey sort of energy, and while right now we are all cozy here in our little house on this fine summer night, I have a hard time staying in the perfection of the moment. I crave an empty house.

I pull myself back. I tell myself to enjoy it for what it is. Enjoy having people here because in all likelihood I’ll be feeling quite alone one week from today. I know all this, so I’m able to relax. I find a bit more tension hiding in my shoulders and then let it ease out. Ok. This is a good moment. And it’s nice to have a full house. Ok. I’m present. I’m here, now, and it feels good. There, that’s better.

Or is it? I wonder… does my experience of the ‘now’ lose its zen-like integrity if it’s motivated by my desire for future ‘nows’?? Ironically, it’s those far-off nows that keep me motivated to stay present. I realize I’m a sofa-sitting Buddhist at best. My present nows do their best to sustain me, while my future nows beckon me forward…


Homecoming July 16, 2012

I awoke Saturday morning, in my own bed, to the internal soundtrack of a searing Steve Lukather guitar solo, floating atop a lush bed of strings and majestic french horns, the music rising, rising, rising, lifting my soul far above the clouds into the expanse of sky… My own personal and deeply subconscious interpretation – albeit embarrassingly corny – of the bliss I felt at being home, at the triumphant conclusion of an epic journey.

I laughed when I realized the music I’d chosen. I laughed because my bed felt so good. I laughed because it felt so good to be home. I laughed because I felt I had more than come home; I had made it. Whatever that meant. And all that it meant. I’d put eight hundred miles on the car, introduced my son to the ocean, met long-lost relatives, visited the first house I’d ever lived in, rediscovered New York City. And made it back home. Not one hen lost in our absence. All was truly well. We’d been successful – and in ways we’d never even dreamed of. I lay in bed, thinking about home. What it was, how it felt, how I now identified it, how important it was to me.

On our trip folks would naturally ask me where I was from – and I was never quick with an answer. Initially my inclination was to say ‘Chicago’, but as that wasn’t quite true, and that answering so would require a little back story, I would hesitatingly offer that I was from “upstate New York”, and feel a little disappointed in my more truthful answer. Being from Chicago seemed to define who I was – what the better part of my life experiences had been to this point – but as things stood right now, I was in fact not from Chicago anymore. I thought of Army brats and how they usually chose to answer that question. “Oh, I grew up all over”. That would be that. But I didn’t grow up all over, and furthermore I was now a country gal and should probably represent myself as such. Throughout my trip I was given many opportunities to get used to the idea that yes, I was indeed from “about three hours north, in the country, just outside of Saratoga Springs.” If my questioner would look at me for more information I might add: “It’s equidistant to Montreal and New York.” And if another beat followed, I might add “I have chickens.” Ok. I could feel a small amount of pride in that I suppose, but as I didn’t feel it completed the picture accurately, mostly I’d close the conversation by saying that “in my last life I was a musician in Chicago”. That seemed to bring it all up to date with the most amount of truth.

When I first opened the door to our house upon returning, I was hit with the scent of our home. This is something I think all travelers notice first after a long journey. The smell that is unique to their home. I can almost recall the particular ways in which my other homes smelled, the emotional memories that those scents retrieved for me, but had no idea what a fresh return would tell me about this particular house. What hit my nostrils first was a slight smell of, well, ‘funk’. The air told me that this was a summer camp in need of a good airing out. It smelled like a house used only seasonally; a slight hint of must, a shadow of damp linoleum… When I told this to my mom, she agreed that she too had noticed that my house had a particular smell. Not even bad really, just kind of different. She’d wondered if after all my improvements (removal of linoleum and shag carpet, new floors and paint) it might not change the scent. But it didn’t. It smells like a 70s house. Must be in the bones. Cuz I clean it, I maintain it, I open the windows and use fans to keep the inside air fresh. “So this is what my house smells like” I thought to myself upon returning. Crazy. Sometimes visitors have told me it reminds them of a cabin… guess this is at the root of it. Ah well, 70s, slightly funky cabin though it may be, it’s home. My own personal epicenter. Didn’t feel it a week ago, but I felt it for sure now.

We hit the ground running on our first day back as we had a wedding to attend – an early one too, the ceremony was at noon. Elihu kept saying that he was excited as it was his “very first wedding”. (Maybe not entirely true – I was sure he’d been to others, but as a very young one he had likely been playing with his Thomas trains while things had been going on.) But for this wedding – of two people who live just down the road from us and whom we’ve grown to love very much these past few years – he would truly be present. When I told him that it this wedding was significant in another way – that they, as women, were only allowed very recently by law to even marry each other at all – he responded that that sounded ‘hard to believe’ and then added that nobody should be allowed to tell you who you can’t marry. Amazing how things have changed. And how deeply pleased I was that in my son’s eyes it wasn’t even an issue in the first place. As the father of one of the women said that day, “We live in interesting times”. Inspiring times, too.

I mention this wedding because it too was a symbol for me of home. As I met guests from different parts of the country, even from different countries, I began to feel a growing certainty of my being from this place, this small country town. The wedding was at the couple’s home which they had decorated with brilliantly colored gerber daisies and hundreds of brightly colored oragami cranes. The place looked simply stunning. The joy, the love, the sense of family was deeply felt by everyone there. I couldn’t think of a better occasion on which to return home. For me the event helped me feel more deeply my own sense of center. My own family lives here, I now have friends here, I now have a new life here – and for my son it’s really the only home he’s ever known.  In some way, both trip and wedding helped confirm for me that this place really is the center of our physical world; this is where we come from.

For the past four years I’ve had a flower on the antenna of my car. It is a subdued green, now weathered and frayed from thousands of miles on the move. I put it there before I left Chicago as a symbol of hope for the future and cheer for my aching, uncertain heart. (It also makes my run-of-the-mill gold Honda CRV much easier to locate in large parking lots.) I’ve many times thought of replacing it with something that might symbolize the future I’m moving into. I’d bought a bright, deep orange artificial gerber daisy months with the intention of affixing it to my antenna, but it never felt the right time. I realize my putting this much thought into such a thing – simply doing such a thing – may seem a bit immature (admitting it here in print makes me doubly self-conscious of that), but strangely, having that flower go before me in the world as I drive about has helped me to feel lighter. As if while all this heavy shit was going on I was still able to convey a certain lightheartedness in the world.

After leaving the party last night well past dark and then getting up this morning to go back over and help with the cleanup, it hit me. I spotted an orange oragami crane on my dashboard, a memento of the wedding. I remembered the colorful gerber daisies, the cheer they gave to the party. Then, in a flash of inspiration, I remembered the flower I’d bought months ago. I ran inside, found it, and with hardly more than one swipe with a knife brought the ratty, old flower down. In minutes the new one was up. I felt somehow refreshed. My whole spirit had been renewed; in the trip, in the wedding of friends, in the discovery of home.

The daisy goes before me in the world letting folks know (at least I hope) that I’m moving through my world with a certain good humor and lightness of heart. And at the very least, the daisy ensures that my home away from home is distinct from all others; I’m never unsure as to which car is mine. And at the end of my travels, the daisy leads me back down the long driveway to the little red chicken coop and the plain white house. I may not have believed it before, but I do now. That little white house in Greenfield Center is where we come from. Just look for the daisy…


End of the Beginning July 13, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 10:02 am
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Although Elihu still answers “No” when asked if he might wish one day to return to New York City, my suspicion is that the seed has been planted and germinates already. It took me a 24 hour cycle to truly ‘get it’ again myself. Just now I parked my car safely in a garage (as on Friday it seems there’s no street parking to be had), and I enjoyed a moment alone in the eye of it all. A corner joint, an outside table, a coffee, a high-cholesterol breakfast sandwich and one, just one, bummed cigarette. Alone and not alone. As we’d gone to bed long after 2 am last night I know Elihu sleeps soundly a block away at our friends’ place. Finally, I am without camera, without destination, my only objective to take it all in one last time.

Private viewing of the bird house at the Bronx Zoo, feeding pigeons from the hand in Washington Square Park, front row seats at the Blue Note last night as Paquito’s guest, rooftop drum playing and merrymaking at night’s end with every tiny space in between peppered with the kinds of magic it would take chapters to convey – yesterday was a perfect New York City day.

There’s never enough time. But for now, I’m sated. And reminded, once again, that yes, there is still a big and bold world beyond our little homestead. Here’s to our safe homecoming. And here’s to many more bright and beautiful voyages beyond our driveway’s end…


Bug at Home April 6, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 9:10 pm
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Guess I have today whatever bug Elihu had yesterday. In an uncomfortable sort of limbo. Not quite sick enough to throw up, but I feel each minute as if I should. Have had a constant headache since the morning. As evening falls I realize I’m quite hungry, but nothing appeals. For a brief window popcorn sounds ok. So I made a bag. Huge mistake. Not only did it not work (the chickens will thank me) but it made the whole house smell like popcorn. Yukk. I mean really yukk. I’d opened all the windows earlier today to air out the place and so I’ve kept them open to get rid of the smell. It’s getting pretty chilly now as it’s dropped to the lower forties outside again, so I need to close them up again. In what feels like a good measure of decadence, I turn the heat in the bedroom up to seventy. Usually I cut corners on the heat, but not tonite.

So here I am, hunkering down in my comfy chair, feeling a lot less than comfy, but at least I’m toasty now. Think I’ll give in and take something for this headache. If I had a bit more oomph I’d drive out to get some ginger ale, but I’ll forgo it now, as I’m dug in. I’m watching House Hunters International on HGTV, following the maps of each property search on my laptop. Thankfully, this is something that can pull me in enough to distract me from my discomfort.

I’ve always marveled at how many different ways there are in which to live. From my own travels – from Indonesia to Italy, I’ve seen so many corners of the world. But rather than give me a better idea of what my ideal home should be, it’s in fact done the opposite. I can never seem to identify what might feel like the perfect home. Really, for me, there is no such thing. This afternoon, as I felt so physically uncomfortable, I found myself longing for home. Silly, I know – I am home, right? Aside from the fact that I’ve been wrestling with the idea of this tiny, rural, upstate New York house feeling like home for the past three years (since I came here) there is yet another conflict inside me regarding true home. In that one moment today where I yearned for ‘home’, I paused to consider all the homes I’ve known. Which one was ‘the’ one? I played them all in my head, from the first I remember in New Haven, Connecticut to the Wilmette, Illinois home in which I lived in most of my life – and really, none was definitively home. (The closest one to my heart was still my beloved mid-century home in Evanston.)

I have nothing to complain about. Visitors take a breath when they first see the view here. There’s virtually nothing to be seen for a full three hundred and sixty degrees but trees, sky or field. And the house itself, while small, is just perfect for the two of us. My complaints might be that it’s drafty (there’s virtually no R rating to any of these fifty year old windows) and the obvious lack of landscaping in the immediate vicinity of the house (thanks to mud season, a lack of a driveway and the chickens) makes the place a little sketchy looking at first glance. And I like beautiful, not sketchy. Also, having lived all my life within spitting distance of other humans, I’m still just not used to being so alone. I’m thankful for my piano students and the families they bring along with them.

I wouldn’t mind being able to see my neighbors through the windows right now. But I think I feel like this because I’m sick. Feeling a little adrift, too, without Elihu. And since he’s with Jill and the boys in some hotel room in Indianapolis while Fareed plays a gig there (I only just learned these plans last night) it’s likely he won’t be calling me tonight. So that’s part of it.

Tomorrow this bug will be gone, and I’m sure I’ll feel more at home then.