The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Grounded January 23, 2015

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Because Elihu missed four days of school from having the flu lately, he’d been a bit behind in his homework. He was staying on track, and we’d talked to his teacher, so I wasn’t worried. But he was. Poor kid’s been having a hell of a time getting to sleep over the past few months, and now, what with this school thing, it’s worse. Part of the reason is that in addition to school, there are a few other things weighing on his mind.

A few days ago he pulled his two oldest helicopters off the shelf and began an online quest for replacement parts. He misses seeing the giant one fly – it was his first, and we both have nice memories with it. “It isn’t right that it costs more to replace the broken parts than to buy a whole new one. It’s just a waste. It’s not right” he had lamented to me earlier that night. He’d admitted to me that he felt a deep sentiment towards this one particular heli – the big orange one he’d had since he was himself tiny – like the kind of feelings someone usually reserves for favorite stuffed animals. And I’d agreed. This machine was our friend, and we owed it to him to get him back in the air.

But it didn’t seem likely, from what we were learning. In fact, if we wanted to fly this one again, it just made economic sense to get a new one and use it for parts. Elihu resigned himself to this, but I could tell it disappointed him deeply. This was just another mild defeat which added to his sinking mood. I knew there was another piece too – one which he’d been keeping to himself because it was just too heartbreaking to speak aloud, and that was the absence of an old school chum from his life. The boy whose mother felt I made “bad parenting choices” by way of removing feathers from a dead owl or using a cuss word within earshot of my kid… She removed her son from the Waldorf School last year (no, I was not the reason for the change, although I’m sure it relieved her to be rid of me), and Elihu’s had a huge hole in his heart ever since. I emailed her recently about getting the boys together – completely on her terms, on her turf, whatever could work – but heard nothing back. That’s the way she handled the situation last time, and apparently it was still her method. Last year it took me three emails plus an intervention by the class teacher to get her to admit the reason she wouldn’t agree to our sons playing together. (Ironically she’s a psychologist and her job is to help people through communication. !) Plus the blog. She finds that to be the most dangerous of my bad parenting choices. Even after I removed every last image or mention of her son – and apologized profusely – even then it wasn’t enough to pacify her (when I apologized in person she had literally said “no worries”). And so my kid suffers. Many tears have fallen over this lost friendship, and we’ve spent hours parsing over the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might yets’. Elihu has learned to stuff it down, to forget it for now. But tonight, feeling the stress of being behind in his work, unable to fly his favorite toy and long out of touch with his old best friend, he succumbs.

He’s curled up into such a tight ball on his bed that I can’t lean in to kiss his forehead. Instead I kneel beside his bed and put my arms around him. “Mama, I’m really scared. I really am.” I hate to hear this from my brave, spirited and wise boy. But I can’t indulge in my own feelings of fear and uncertainty; I need to provide comfort. “What are you afraid of, sweetie?” I ask. “I’m just afraid,” he answers me. “Of everything.” I tell him that I am too, and that sometimes we just need to break things down and tackle them one at a time. He was behind, but still keeping to a schedule, so that was good. We’d found a website that sells his old helicopter, and that was good. And we’d sent an email to his friend, so we’d done all we could on that front. Until his friend was a teenager with his own ability to communicate with us, sadly that one would have to wait. But besides, wasn’t life sometimes magical for us? Didn’t the possibility exist that we might see him sometime when we were out and about in the world? After all, didn’t crazier, more serendipitous things happen to us from time to time? Elihu nodded his head a bit. I stroked his back and sat with him in silence for a moment. When he gradually straightened up, I could feel the bed was wet with tears where his head had been. I leaned in and kissed him. “It will be ok. It will.”

After our talk I’d left him to sleep, but even after two hours had passed he hadn’t been able to turn off his mind, to forget all that troubled him. Finally, he stormed into my room with Lenny, his favorite stuffed parrot, and harumphed as he dove into my bed. I didn’t say anything, I just turned off my computer and joined him. I understand so well the challenges of sleeping at night; my own thoughts race through the never-ending to-do lists and possible future scenarios, both hopeful – and frightening. Always just a couple steps ahead of a dire economic state, I live with a constant, low-level of stress which I’m afraid has somehow bled over into my son’s consciousness. I know our household is full of humor, music and nature. I know unquestionably that I have given Elihu the very best home life possible within my means. But I also know that he, like me, feels the edge on which we live. And he, like me, is physiologically prone to anxiety and panic. And he, like me, has no social life to distract or entertain him. He has but one friend with whom he meets outside of school, and those dates are too few, I know. He, like me, is for all intents and purposes, a loner. And that’s not a bad thing; for the most part we both enjoy living a quiet, isolated life in the country. Being a loner truly isn’t the same thing as being lonely, but tonight it really does feel just as bad as it sounds.

I realize that this will pass. Elihu’s an insightful kid, and so he knows this too. Things won’t always be thus. And no matter who or what it is that’s doing the flying – even his old favorite aviator, the tireless Wandering Albatross – not a one of them can keep on flying forever. Eventually everything must spend a little time on the ground.

 

Suddenly Sad May 20, 2014

We didn’t quite finish the Burgess Bird Book for Children tonight. Instead, we chose to save the final chapter for tomorrow. Both of us have a strange melancholy hanging about us tonight, contributed to in part perhaps by the knowledge that this will be the last time we read this book together as mother and young child. Sure, I may read it aloud to him again next year, but will it be the same? I don’t know, maybe it will be, but each of us has our doubts. Next year he will be twelve. It seems very likely this will be the last year of the truly young years. Ironic, isn’t it, that such a young child should even be aware of his own maturing, of how precious his current moments as a child may be? Ah, but then again I am his mother, and he no doubt gets some of it from me. It sometimes seems that I myself was born into a continuous state of intense introspection and mild melancholy; isn’t it natural that he might very well be wired in a similar way? Yeah, maybe it’s in his genes.

I also suspect he can read me pretty well, even though for the most part I can hide my moody predisposition from people. I kinda have to, in order to maintain appearances and keep at the everyday business of life. Yeah, for the most part I keep my mood under cover, and I can distract myself long enough to forget its persistent companionship for good stretches of time. Mostly. But apparently, not tonight. I can’t hide my mood, my unease, my sorrow; furthermore my mood seems equally natural and organic to my young son. Although we don’t say as much in so many words, we both know well: it won’t always be thus.

I set the book on the night table and then said to him “and now a kiss”, to which he cried out “No! Because ‘now a kiss’ means that you will leave. And I don’t want you to leave.” Most nights I’d have had half a prescription sleeping pill in me and would be almost out at this point, so joining him would be easy. But tonight I’m hoping to sleep without an aid – maybe even pick myself up and go do something useful while I have the window – and as I lay in bed beside Elihu, my wheels are turning to such an extent that I could swear my energy is keeping him up. He tosses, changes positions, holds Lenny his big stuffed parrot closer, he snuggles into my neck, he swings his boy arms over my shoulder. We both search for that perfect spot, but none is right. His mind is racing too, with endless, obsessive ruminations on various Pokemon characters, their powers, their abilities…. I give up and tell him I really need to go, but again he protests, and his soft cheek pressed to mine is enough to have me try again to relax, to sleep. But I cannot wind down, and I cannot soften this dull, unending sense of sorrow that hangs about me.

Tonight I’m missing my father. And I’m remembering once again that he’s not coming back. That I won’t be seeing him again. Not at least in this particular lifetime. And once again, it stings my heart to come to that same conclusion for the umpteenth time. I think about how fast my child is growing – how precious is this very night even. The contrast of my father being gone and my son yet to grow up is killing me. I feel pulled in two different emotional directions. I feel time pulling me forward, then tugging me back… I can’t count on my small child throwing his arms around my neck and begging me ‘never to leave him’ for much longer, can I? – hell, I certainly can’t count on my small child staying small. And one day, like my father, my own mother will also be gone. (Can you even imagine Grandma Nancy will ever die? I asked Elihu tonight. He answered most emphatically “No.”) One day I myself will be the ancient grandma and it will be my turn to be slow and misunderstood by my child and grandchildren. It’s all coming to me in one gut-heavy moment, and I am brimming with heartbreak. I have always been prone to such feelings, but these days they’re so much more of what they used to be.

Could be my age I guess. Or maybe our little spot back here in the woods. Living far from the road definitely does something to a person. If a person wasn’t already of a melancholic, poignant-leaning mind, they’d likely begin to form something of a more wistful, far-off attitude after living here for a while. The glow of the setting sun through the trees casts a sad, lost-to-the-world sort of feeling. The cars passing at night are altogether unaware that there’s a tiny house far down the lane with just two people dwelling within. For me in particular, the sounds of the cars on the far-off road, the scents of the seasonal blooms and the long shadows of evening send me back to my childhood. I feel the ending of another day; my mother, father and brother all just being… all just living, doing, being, all somewhere close by in the same small cottage. Doing nothing in particular that I can remember, but just existing, side by side in those tiny rooms. I remember too the quality of the light. The end of the day, a faint aftertaste of regret of a day not spent as well as it might have been; of another day gone, done, another sun now set… And the sorrowful feeling I got from it all even as a young one. It’s the same sorrowful feeling I get now. I recognize it so well. Only how did I know anything of such sadness way back then? Now I’ve earned it; now I get how it works. How did I come to feel that way as a child? I realize there’s likely still more of it to come in this life, but at the same time, I also realize all too well how little of it there is left. Hard to describe, natural to feel.

Finally, I kiss Elihu and get up to leave. He takes my hand – and kisses it. “Love you so very much” he says in a small, sleepy voice. I leave and close the door with a click, the way he always requests that I do.

It’s not just about my dad, or the setting sun, or aging, or my son’s growing up. It’s also the way things are all turning out in my family. I guess as a child I never could have guessed that one day we would be so off track, so broken and different from how we once were, years ago. I may never have paid much mental energy to envisioning the future at large, but I know I would never have guessed it to look a whole lot like it does today. Never mind my own divorce, a strange and unforseen thing unto itself, but the bizarre, dysfunctional way in which we hobble along is still hard for me understand. It’s a foreign place to find myself in, and a sad one too.

My brother is going to court tomorrow to contest our even, three-way split of the very (and I do mean very) modest sum that dad had left for we three remaining Conants. I mean, it’s virtually nothing in the bigger scheme of things. But each portion is, for Andrew and me, being of such little means, enough to help out quite a bit. It’s enough cash to get over a life hump, but not enough to sustain a person for even a year. In the recent reading of the will, Andrew learned that his equal share – of the ‘big’ estate of mom’s house and land – will come to him in monthly payments made by the executor to the Trust – that being our cousin (dad’s nephew) rather than in one lump sum. I can understand how this could piss Andrew off, but even in his illness he should be able to see that he doesn’t function in any way that demonstrates that he could handle it otherwise. Hasn’t had a job in over twenty years. Hasn’t had a girlfriend in just as long. Hasn’t made a new friend since high school. And he’s almost 50. Mom and dad knew ten years ago that he was not healthy, and they took a proactive approach to making sure he would be given his equal share by a stable, outside party. (We haven’t seen my dear cousin the executor in decades; that would show him to be a sound, objective agent for the job. Plus he manages a classical radio station in a major US market; he’s no slouch.) But Andrew is a victim of his illness, and he is unable to maintain his state assistance. He languishes in a house full of garbage and finds everyone else in the world (me at the top of the list) responsible for his inability to get a job or make  a change in his life of any kind. While it’s tempting to take it personally, I have to continually remind myself to pray for him rather than become angry with him for such crazy behavior. He feels hurt, betrayed, unsupported. It’s his illness feeling this way, not him. Never mind that all his bills are paid by mom, that I’ve made sure he has Food Stamps and heating assistance, never mind that – because illness removes all logic. I know this well from my experience with panic attacks. So I go easy on him. I get it. But still, it’s not always easy. Good Lord I’d like to pound some fucking sense into his paranoid, sick brain, but it would do more harm than good. And so we Conants wait it out. And again I remind myself: it won’t always be thus.

I’ll wait it out under cover of sleep for now. In fact I await unconsciousness with such happy anticipation. I cannot wait to fall asleep, to arrive at the fanciful and disparate situations that await me on that other side… My only respite from the relentless pace of the single mom, the planner, the feeder, the organizer, the learner of music, the transporter…. In sleep I experience things in which I can no longer take part of here in this world. I see my ex-husband fairly regularly in my dreams, my father too, as well as many friends from my previous life. Happily, in dreams I seem to live in a world that is altogether different from this one; it is an amalgamation of all of my previous, beloved or successful mini-worlds…. I play music in bands, wear beautiful costumes, engage in deep friendships and travel to so many places… In one night I may experience three or four different scenarios. Each dream becomes a new place I remember having been once upon a time; in a way, it truly becomes a new memory… At the very least, the memories of past dreams and the promise of dreams yet to come give me the motivation to get out of bed each day. This earthly life is just too heartbreaking sometimes, and so I thank God for my dream life – it’s sometimes the very thing that makes my waking life possible. Because really, doesn’t a lot of this life seem rather a waste, a bore, a drudgery to be endured? Hey, I’m always on the lookout for a good, restorative laugh, but I still can’t help but feel that this life is just one big pain in the ass, however many good laughs there may be in a day. This life is hard, unfair, complicated by the death of loved ones, and way too full of mosquitoes. Enough, already. !

Ok. Maybe not quite yet. But some days, I swear….

That wistful, sad and distant feeling hit me hard once again as I made my way through our lily of the valley patch today, picking a bouquet of my most cherished flower. (One which blooms for less than one week of the year. Talk about a setup for sorrow. !!) The scent overtook me, and I was twelve again, in love with the world, with the promise of a boy’s affection, with the promise of the world’s affection and my power to reciprocate…. Everything, absolutely everything is possible with that first, magical inhalation of the lilies of the valley… Nothing can come close to that magical May moment. Not one thing in this world. And yet, for all its promise, it carries deep within itself the very essence of melancholy. The threat of its own passing. The flowers only carry their fresh scent for a few days, and then they, like us, begin to decline. From the intoxicating promise of a magical future to come – to a rotting, mildewed scent that wonders what the hell just happened, and did that promising future ever end up really happening? Did we miss it? Was it that short, that fleeting, that we never even realized that it was on its way out?

All I know is that I need to look in on my son several times through the night as he sleeps to find the reassurance I need to be here. And during the day, if I should chance to pass him in the hall, it is my greatest treasure that he should lean over close and whisper “I love you” as he walks by. I am trying as best I can to live hard into these tiny moments. I am trying hard to soften the grip of sorrow, to let it know that I know it’s there. I know. I just don’t always need to pay attention to it. Yeah, I know that things won’t always be thus. They might be worse. Or better. Never know. Gotta hang in there until the end, and just find a way to accept the shifts as they happen. Yeah, no matter how much you know, you don’t ever know what’s coming next. What’s become suddenly sad may just as easily become suddenly serendipitous; just the right thing at the right moment. One just never knows.

Guess that’s partly what has me so sad tonite. Ya just never know what you’re about to get – or sometimes even what you’ve already got. Not at least not until it’s gone and you’ve begun to miss it. So seize it, friends. Seize it. Tell sorrow you’re sorry. This isn’t a good time… Come back later, if you must, because right now, you’ve got plans…