The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

May Bird May 7, 2018

Today is my birthday. Spent most of it in the windowless basement, at my desk, bravely muscling my way down the to-do list. But I know that it’s sunny outside. It is a fine spring day. The pic at the top of this post will attest to it. (Our late friend Ace, a Vietnam vet who returned from the war with a distant look in his eye and a ceaseless need to create art, he made this lovely bird. It’s a fine piece, and easily overlooked as its rusty patina blends in so well with the woodland setting. Today however, I sure did notice it. And how lovely a thing it is! I feel so lucky to have such a piece of work.)

It’s in my nature to bitch and moan about all the crap before me, all the stuff I never seem to get done, all the events that happen as if they were scripted by some omnipotent prankster… But my wise young son would remind me that all of this stuff – good and bad – is in and of itself the very essence of life. The serendipity, the monotony, the endless to-dos, the hitches and pitfalls, the windfalls. It is no one’s spiteful creation, it is no one’s gift, it simply is. My taking anything personally – the challenges, even the rewards – is as unwarranted as are the curses my mother directs towards her iPad; none of it is personal. It just is. Perhaps energy and intention can help to guide events, but I can’t think of life as actually having it out for me. Yeah, some unpleasant shit has come down on me, but at the end of the day I am not working twelve hour days in a sweat shop making clothes I could never myself dream of owning… For the most part, I have it good.

And although I know it was serendipity at its finest, it still feels like I got a little knowing nod from the heavens just now…

Having accomplished more administrative tasks in one day than I can remember, I treated myself to a quick walk outside in the sunshine. As we do often around here, I heard a small plane in the air above the house. Sometimes we run for the binoculars, but it was approaching too fast. I stood and watched… It banked, more sharply than I’m accustomed to seeing small planes turn, and it intrigued me. The plane got closer and closer, and then, when the plane was directly above my head, the engine noise changed and – the nose of the plane turned completely downward! What? I’d experienced stalls in small planes, but I guess I just didn’t expect it, and it truly frightened me, until I realized the pilot was crafting a lovely, controlled corkscrew pattern. I gasped. It was so thrilling and beautiful… Then the plane pulled out of the fall and turned west again, out and over the woods, leaving me there on the ground, full of adrenaline and joy.

A few months ago the Studio’s underground power line broke. Everything stopped. For a moment I freaked out, I wanted to just run away from the whole thing. Then one day I pulled myself up and I created a GoFundMe page. It was deeply humbling to see such love and support from friends and community, near and far. What had seemed like a targeted assault on my good intentions was now transformed into an expression of support and hope.  After a good deal of post-construction red tape, we will be hooked up again this week. What a ride. The last year has been rife with good news/bad news scenarios, and it has been exhausting, but it’s also helped toughen me up. OK, so now someone is suing me for a fall on the ice this past winter, but hey, it doesn’t scare me. Well, maybe a little, but seriously, this whole life thing is just one crazy illusion. One crazy game. You hope it goes well, but in the end, you can’t take it personally. You just gotta get through.

My oldest childhood friend lost her father this past week. Paul meant a lot to me, and to Elihu too. I always called him my second father. Thankfully Elihu and I both had some very lovely visits with him over the past few months, so we don’t feel too many regrets gnawing at us over things unspoken. (In fact, Paul called Elihu “one of his special people” on our last visit, and that meant a lot to my son.) This man, dearly beloved by his large family and the community in which he lived, had enjoyed a productive, long and full life. His death is something that shocks me when I remember it all over again, but what helps bring me ease is knowing how beautiful a life he led. He lived simply, he played the cards life dealt him (some of them would seem quite unfair indeed), and he did it all with gratitude, a sense of humor and lots of love. This is the way I wish to live out the rest of my game here on earth.

Whether it’s serendipity or divine providence, I dunno, but something about double fives feels lucky to me today.

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Dear readers, would you please consider subscribing to Elihu’s YouTube channel? He has put such a lot of work into both building the aircraft and the filming an editing the videos; what a wonderful birthday present it would be to his mother if you would just tick that subscribe box…

 

Overwhelm July 17, 2012

I don’t know when ‘overwhelm’ became a noun, but it’s probably a useful thing. I could just as easily say “I feel overwhelmed”, but I will defer to the cultural climate of the day and say instead “I feel overwhelm”. I’m not besieged with some clinical sort of ADD, but I may as well be today. I am faced with the post-vacation, post-big dump project of sorting all the detritus of our trip and putting it away.

The first day back it was nearly 90 degrees in our little house, the humidity was just as high, but I was too. High on our success, high on the fact that we’d pulled it off and returned home safely. Like a robot I waded through laundry – that from before our trip and that from after – sheets towels, clothes, the gamut. And I’d sorted paper from stuff, toiletries from mementos, books from books on tape. All table space has been occupied the past two days with endless piles. Now… to put it all away.

My birds needed food this morning. Six a.m. I lay in bed, still tired, but my mind swimming with things to be done. The chickens were hungry and depended on me. As if sleepwalking, I rose from my bed and went to the car. Gone are the days when I can carry a 40 pound bag of feed to the bins – now I must drive them. I discover both the feed bin and lid have been covered in fresh, goopy chicken poop. Really? I douse them as best I can in the water left from Max’s pond. I do my best to get things squared away. The shell collection from the Cape gets unceremoniously dumped on the floor of the car and I use that bin for the bird’s calcium. Mental note to transfer it later to the correct bin. Mental note to fill water bins, replace nesting box perch. Ich. It’s this little shit that zaps me of my forward movement. I am ready for bed and I haven’t been up ten minutes.

I can’t complain – I mean, how can I? You, my friends, have just made this amazing trip possible. There’s no way I could have gone without your help. I am a lucky, cared-for woman. And yet, in moments like this, I’m tending toward a smidgen of self pity. I mean how can one person deal with all this? My son needs something to do – and it’s just me. Not only am I pooped at the thought of all yet before me, but then I have to tend to him on top of it all. I wish he had a friend. In the end it really is just the two of us, and there’s so much grownup work to be done. Guess it’s another day for the great babysitter of YouTube.

See, I have other things besides just the crap to put away. (Btw – the laundry’s done, yes, and most of it folded – but put away? Hardly…) I was the unlucky recipient of some little surprises while I was away which I need to deal with as well: I’d bought us some ice cream cones the day before we left – before the donation money had cleared and was safely in my account – and that little charge of $4.50 caused an overdraft that cost me $25. Guess I should be glad it wasn’t $35 as it usually is with my credit union. Then a few more hit too after that – my chiropractor deposited the check I’d asked them to hold for a week – and boom. Another fee. Ok. Guess that’s ok. Keep your chin up, I tell myself. It’s just money.

Then there’s the ticket thing. So there I am, literally seven blocks from the Holland tunnel, following the car ahead of me through a green light when it stops in front of me. I try to inch forward as much as possible, for the cars on either side of me slid through with no problem. My lane’s not moving. Oh well. I inch forward as best I can and watch as the commuters snake through between our bumpers. Ugh. I notice the truck I’d asked for directions that was next to me seconds before is now halfway up the next block. That’s ok. We’ll be out of here in minutes. Then there’s a tapping on my window. It’s a young cop. I roll down the window. “Can’t block the box”, he says. ?? The only other use for the word ‘box’ I know of is an off-color reference to a certain part of a woman’s body, and instantly my mind races back to the 80s on the west side of Chicago. (Anyone remember the south side’s ‘Copherbox’ II Lounge??) I look at him quizzically. He repeats. “You can’t block the box.” I finally get his meaning. “I’m not trying to block the intersection” I offer. “I’m trying to get through. The lanes on either side of me did, I naturally thought I would too. This is not intentional.” I’m not sassy. I’m not even pleading. A passerby, carrying a large light fixture under his arm, stops to assist me. The cop asks if the man is ‘trying to tell him how to do his job’ and tells him to move on. I try to convey my thanks to the man as he leaves. The young cop has already written my ticket and points some beepie thing at the sticker on my windshield. My heart sinks. “How much?” I ask. “You can read the ticket,” he tells me, then adds how lucky I am that he didn’t put any points on my record. (This business of points in New York is still new to me.) Thanks for the big favor, I think. He leaves me with this floppy scrap of paper that will cost me $115. My heart sinks again. But I will not let it get to me; we’re almost out of the city.

Or not. It literally took us three and one quarter hours to get to and through the tunnel. Seriously. Now – now – I’ve seen everything. And I’m proud of us – we didn’t fight, we didn’t get cranky, and thankfully neither one of us had to pee. Rather than let it ruin us, we stayed merry, listening a second time to a book on tape, playing the alphabet game (Inside the car, that is. Elihu can’t see the signs outside. Clever, huh.) and doing our best to keep things light. Our family mantra is that everything happens as it is supposed to. Hours later a heron flew over our car. “See Mommy, this is why we had to get stuck in traffic! To see this heron!” Lemons into a sweet, summery beverage indeed. Good boy.

Ok. So we’re home. Then I check the mail. I’d forgotten about the speeding ticket I’d gotten last month on the way to pick Fareed up at the airport. (Don’t those just bother you? Everyone is going ten over – but you get pulled over. Sheesh.) There’s another $150 shot. Man, I’m working hard just to stay afloat, then this. Will there be a second leg to our trip? Will we get to Philadelphia at all? Doesn’t look it from here. I try to set it aside emotionally, and I wonder deep down what the hell it is that I’m supposed to learn from this. Seriously, I must have some deep-seated, karmically installed money issues. Keep goin, I think to myself. Although I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in years, the Aerosoles catalogue has a particular sting this time. Can’t even rationalize fantasizing about getting a pair. I don’t even bother to find the recycling bin. Into the trash it goes.

So I guess that brings me to this moment, as I sit in my chair, wondering if I might be able to lie down again for a few minutes before the kid wakes up. The piles are everywhere. I can’t help but wonder how everyone else does it. Families with more than one kid – how is it possible? I can understand how my childless friends deal with physical crap – I managed my own for years. Daunting before and after a gig (women have not only gear and charts to deal with – but makeup and clothes and jewelry – that adds a whole nother layer to the potential chaos) but I could still stay on top of it. But right now I think I’ve lost it. Unless I can find Elihu a playdate I don’t know where I’ll get the resolve.

Wait. I remembered something. When we stopped at the convenient store our first day back I got one of those little energy shot thingees. Yes. Yes? Was that what fueled my insane initial cleanup? I think so… Seems like it. Wow, and I’d never had one before. Can’t make it a crutch, but sounds good right now. I begin to see some possibility here. Ok. Kid’s still out. I think I know what I need to do… I need to overwhelm my overwhelm. Back in five minutes. I’ll let you know…

 

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.