The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Fine Day September 14, 2014

Today Elihu and I made our annual trip to the picturesque village of Lake George, in the Adirondacks. Each year, just as school’s beginning and the summer is coming to a close, we head up north to enjoy a lakeside meal and a little adventure. On the docket for the day was watching an attempt to break the Guiness record for the longest parade of Ford Mustangs; they needed 621 to be successful. We saw but one Mustang on the way up, and when in town saw maybe two or three more. It surely didn’t seem a world record was about to be set. Elihu had wanted to earn some cash, and we’d thought busking for the crowd here might work, but when the cars – and the crowds – didn’t show up, and when we heard the sound of music coming from the bandshell, we knew it wasn’t the time. So we headed to the place we always eat, and enjoyed a lovely meal of steamed mussels and calamari instead.

After lunch, although Elihu was jonsin to play, I asked him to humor me and go hear the band first – from what we could pick out over the relentless onslaught of Jimmy Buffet covers from the duo on the neighboring restaurant’s deck – I thought I’d heard some real music. It had been way too long since I’d heard any good stuff (Saratoga is a town mainly of cover bands – in the summers the music that floats through the air sounds kinda like montage of never-ending wedding bands). The busking could wait. And frankly, when we got to the stage and learned this was the weekend of the Lake George Jazz Festival plus saw there was a tuba player – both busking and record-breaking lines of cars were forgotten. I admit that I tried Elihu’s patience when I insisted he meet the guy after the set – but Elihu was glad we hung around. The tuba player showed Elihu how he could play melodies on his mouthpiece, and that stuck with him. It was just the right inspiration at the right time, and he was psyched to have met the guy. The two of them chatted for a while, we took some pictures and then parted ways. Elihu felt Saratoga would be a better opportunity to make some cash, so after a couple more enjoyable and impromptu chats with folks en route to the car, we headed back.

Once on our turf, he had his plan. He hit both of his usual spots, and in between played for a bit with a fellow we’d not seen before on the street. I did my dutiful mom thing as he played, sitting off to the side, all but ignoring the kid (he’s eleven; he needs to retain his dignity. Who wants a hovering mom?) and waited. Elihu was playing well, and trying some new things. It made me smile to hear him playing well, and playing with such joy. I had a pleasant chat with a gentleman with whom I shared a bench, and shortly Elihu declared he was through for the day.

These days, Elihu and his classmates are rather consumed with the culture of Pokemon. I’d thought it might have passed by now, but no. Elihu gives a lot of mental energy to assembling his deck. He gets lost in thoughts of how he’ll battle his opponents, what powers he’ll use, what special EX cards he’ll need to win… I try to share in his excitement, or at least I try to show interest, but really, it’s hard to keep it up. My son is lost to me in the world of Japanese anime characters, and I can’t possibly understand. But I can support him, and when he’s worked hard all week, done the chores I’ve asked of him, finished his homework and practiced his bass, I feel it’s altogether fitting that he be allowed to buy himself a little treat. And especially when it’s with money he’s earned himself. In about forty minutes he’d made around thirty dollars, and so I took him to the store to get the newest release of Pokemon cards. He was beaming all the way home.

Elihu talked with his father on the phone for a bit as I made supper, and then afterward we watched a little ‘Simon’s Cat’ on YouTube for a quick nightcap of laughter, and then he was off to bed. “This was such a good day” he said as I turned out the light. Yes, it was, sweetie. It was a fine day, indeed.


IMG_3154Beautiful Lake George in upstate New York.

IMG_3162I’ve waited all week for a glass of wine. !

IMG_3156Here’s a gratuitous selfie with the same view.

IMG_3169Glad we brought these this year. Elihu really can’t see much detail beyond the deck without em.

IMG_3160And this is a shot of me, in the reflection of Elihu’s large, dark glasses. When I talk to him, I can’t see his eyes – all I ever see is myself – so I snapped a pic to kinda show him what it looks like.

IMG_3183This is the crowd…

IMG_3194And this is the event.

IMG_3243The view from the lawn. I grew up being part of really huge events, so this seems quaint by those standards. But hey, it’s been so long since I’ve heard any music at all that I’m thrilled to be here. You can’t beat the scenery, and a smaller venue is so much more pleasant in many ways.

IMG_3179The group? Billy Martin’s Wicked Knee. That’s Billy on the drums.

IMG_3184And that’s Elihu’s new pal Marcus Rojas on the tuba.

IMG_3202Showing Elihu how much you can play on a mouthpiece alone.

IMG_3218Elihu shows his djembe to Marcus’ little boy.

IMG_3206

This is Will on the left, he plays accordion – and the yellow CD on the right is a brand-new project he and Marcus played on together (look for their group Musette Explosion). Will was going to be playing later on in the afternoon. It was a posse of NYC musicians there.

IMG_3196Peace out, Marcus! See you next time…

IMG_3247Back home in Saratoga Springs, Elihu stopped to leave a tip in this guy’s case, but instead, this man insisted that he tip Elihu, who he’d heard playing djembe across the street. How kind!

IMG_3253Then Warren invited Elihu to play with him for a bit.

Here’s what it sounded like.

IMG_3256In an alley on the way back to the car, we heard the most beautiful and plaintiff melodies from this harmonica player, and Elihu felt compelled to double-back and leave him a tip and a kind word.

IMG_3263Keepin it real. This is what all that cash was about! After pack upon pack of humdrum cards, Elihu lands a couple of good ones back-to-back. Love it.

IMG_3269A fine day – in so many ways.

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Lake Day September 3, 2013

We didn’t plan on it, but yesterday we found ourselves headed up north for our fourth annual end-of-summer day in Lake George. We’d planned on a final day in Saratoga, but en route changed our minds. We had a very lovely day – which ended just in time as a tremendous downpour started right after dark. We made it home through a raging rain, and after a brief recapping of our day and some last-minute, late-night roughhousing, we got into bed on the final non-school night of summer vacation.

Lake George Dept 2013 346Things started off in an interesting way as I saw a young man holding this sign at the side of the highway… (poor guy left his sign in our car. Oops.)

Lake George Dept 2013 003Here was some mother’s kid! And he needed a ride! I pulled over without thinking twice. Think what you will, he was smiling and just had a good feeling about him. What if this were my kid??

Lake George Dept 2013 007Elihu’s working his magic and cracking up our new friend Harrison (who by the way, was also a Waldorf kid. How crazy is that?) We had a short but very enjoyable ride with this young man. We wish him all the best and will be sending him our good thoughts as he continues his adventure (all the way to the west coast perhaps. !)

Lake George Dept 2013 008Good kid. I just hope he calls home to tell his supportive parents how things are going.

Lake George Dept 2013 020Didn’t feel quite right just leaving him there, but I guess that’s the idea. Good luck, Harrison!

Lake George Dept 2013 027We didn’t plan on this either, but a boat was just leaving, and the captain invited us along – why not?

Lake George Dept 2013 054Enjoying the northward view after a little picnic.

Lake George Dept 2013 061How the other half lives. The elegant Sagamore Hotel on Lake George.

Lake George Dept 2013 068Quite a spread. It resides on a small peninsula.

Lake George Dept 2013 092Perfect day for us. I love cloudy days, and they help Elihu to see better.

Lake George Dept 2013 079Dome Island. Public access. Maybe we’ll explore it one day. Never know.

Lake George Dept 2013 073More of the same, but it really gives a good feel for the day.

Lake George Dept 2013 072Parasailing – we’ll get to this one day too, I hope.

Lake George Dept 2013 096Cap’n Ed invited us into the wheelhouse. Once again, lil man is making em laugh.

Lake George Dept 2013 103I spent some time at the wheel too. Reminded me of the time I drove the multi-level tourist boat on Lake Como. Fareed grabbed the mic and began to announce the stops in Italian. A drunk captain just looked on and smiled. Another time, and another country to be sure. But this was fun and laid back too. (Probably a tad safer as well. !)

Lake George Dept 2013 112Now Elihu gets a turn. We both enjoyed telling Ed – after Elihu’s turn at the wheel – that he was legally blind. !!

Lake George Dept 2013 114He did really well. Yay!

Lake George Dept 2013 128We liked this scrolling map.

Lake George Dept 2013 139Ed took Elihu up to the private room on the top level for a look down below at the dance floor. Many weddings have happened here.  (And many drunken “Titanic” moments have happened on the bow, too.)

Lake George Dept 2013 144We shared the ride with very few people. It was a friendly bunch.

Lake George Dept 2013 154Passing the steam-powered, paddle wheel Minne Ha Ha. We rode on this last summer.

Lake George Dept 2013 169Pulling into the dock. Always interesting to watch. An impressive feat.

Lake George Dept 2013 184Now it’s on the the arcade. Funny, but this flying game blew Elihu’s mind last year and changed his life. Now, months after the introduction of Wii into our home, this is very old-school and he didn’t care to play it twice.

Lake George Dept 2013 187He ran outside when we ran out of cash. Made a little bit more, then dashed back inside….

Lake George Dept 2013 190to the kid-friendly gambling device. ! Elihu has new appreciation for the power of an addiction.

Lake George Dept 2013 213The sun came out and we were able to get a good look at the Adirondac – the boat we’d just been in (and driven.) The glass enclosure at the top right is the room from which Elihu and Ed were looking down onto to the dance floor.

Lake George Dept 2013 201Here’s where we passed the next hour. A beautiful, densely-planted garden in its late-summer glory. (The boat behind.)

Lake George Dept 2013 196Elihu was following the sound of grasshoppers and crickets.

Lake George Dept 2013 195He did find an insect making its sound – he described in detail the movements it was making, but when he tried his luck with the camera, it didn’t appear. Easy to hear – a real challenge to locate visually – by anyone, sighted or low-vision.

Lake George Dept 2013 200Elihu’s world is mostly an up-close one. Nice shot sweetie!

Lake George Dept 2013 258We love this door.

Lake George Dept 2013 255Elihu is showing the ‘Peace Officer’ how he can keep the peace with his Ben 10 omnitrix watch. He surprised them when he shot out a flying disc.

Lake George Dept 2013 268Now on to supper. We follow a cozy, European-esque alley way to our favorite place.

Lake George Dept 2013 266Here we are! Even got our favorite corner table on the railing!

Lake George Dept 2013 284Tomorrow it might be ramen again, but one night a year it’s lobster and clams! (We learned a very important and expensive lesson this meal: always ask if the lobster is fresh. And it it’s a tail, it’s likely been frozen. Never before have we ever tasted such bad lobster. A great disappointment. But Elihu was good about it. Poopie!)

Lake George Dept 2013 300So much for a serious picture.

Lake George Dept 2013 274So we hit the bathroom. I’m thinking about a post that’s been making the FB rounds… Handwritten on a wall is a picture of this message: Things I Hate 1) Vandalism 2) Irony 3) Lists. No sooner had I thought of it, when I thought that Elihu and I should add our names to the ones on the wall in a commemoration of sorts to our day. My eyes landed – at that very thought – on this spot on the wall. It was our mark from last year’s trip. !! I told Elihu about the Facebook post, and naturally he cracked up.  Then I showed him this. Be both knew what we had to do…

Lake George Dept 2013 281Add to it!  (That’s a jumping frog. Elihu says it was hard to draw on the wall surface, plus I used a flash once and it screwed him up. So if the frog is off, it’s my bad. That soured the mood for a bit. Yeeps.)

Lake George Dept 2013 312But not to worry, the mood will soon be a happy one. It starts like this – just one dinner roll does the trick. (That, and a certain, special gift.)

Lake George Dept 2013 318He got her! But she’s a wild duck, and very strong. She knocked the glasses clear off his head.

Lake George Dept 2013 324Calmed down now. Aah.

Lake George Dept 2013 335Now to share the experience.

Lake George Dept 2013 345We drove home in a hard-pouring rain. Usually the road is covered in frogs. We hardly saw one the whole trip (maybe too much rain!) We made an extra detour down a country road and found this guy. He’s in our pond now. For Elihu, this was just the very best end possible to a very wonderful day.

 

Wheels, Wings and Water September 10, 2012

Elihu’s father had a bad experience with a bike once. It was early enough in his bicycling career and frightening enough to cause him to put the bike down for good. Once, in our early twenties, I’d tried to take up the campaign to re-acquaint him with riding, to remind him of the pure joy he would experience, to show him the sense of freedom it might bring to his life. Instead of seeing joy as I rode behind Fareed, I saw stress in every square inch of his body. He white-knuckled the handles and his torso remained one stiff, unbending unit. He was one big lump of fear. He wasn’t joyful, and clearly, he wasn’t experiencing anything similar to freedom. This, for me, was profoundly disappointing. As a young adult whose living was made pretty much with his hands alone, it became clear in a single afternoon that we would probably not be riding bikes together in our relationship. It just wasn’t a priority for him, and yes, it was quite possibly dangerous to his career (so was washing dishes – oh, that coveted right hand thumbnail. !). And I understood it, but I can’t say that I didn’t mourn it (as in for all twenty-two years of our relationship). I suppose I shoulda given that first, tiny rift a bit more consideration when I chose to make my life with him…

Time’s been a-passing, and I’ve been getting a bit concerned that Elihu himself might grow up not knowing how to ride a bike. Now Fareed’s parents didn’t themselves ride, so he didn’t have any backup, anyone motivating him. So when he gave up, it wasn’t considered a real loss. But to that I say: how does one grow up not riding a friggin bicycle?? To grow up not knowing the joy of exploring new neighborhoods and the independence and adventure that comes with it, never to experience the exhilaration of a fine, down-hill coast, never to know the incredible sense of freedom of that first, hands-free ride? This is all part and parcel of what it is to be a human being growing up on this planet – in virtually any country you might choose! Unless, of course, you live in the Australian outback, or perhaps on the frozen tundra – ok, then, maybe, a bike’s not a plus. But anywhere else – no, make that everywhere else – on this silly planet? Come on! It’s the single most ubiquitous form of transportation on the globe! Period. Not to ever ride a bike and know its freedoms and pleasures would be a heartbreaking loss. And if, as a mother, I did not teach my child how to ride a bike, I would be committing an inexcusable crime in parenting. So today, I took action. We will be a family who rides. We will!

It so happens that my family’s extended minivan (the Conants always needed an extra long vehicle for the transportation of harpsichords) needed to be driven a few miles before the guys at the garage could re-test it for the state emissions tests. So I threw our bikes into its cavernous interior and we headed out for the local middle school parking lot. I have never before found such a perfect place for learning to ride. Absolutely perfect. First, the place is huge. Like a high school, really. Second, it’s so close to level that riding in any direction is easy. There’s a bit of a grade here and there, imperceptible when going up (that’s nice), but a nice bit of assistance when going down. Lots of opportunity for easy forward movement. And aside from the couple we met who were walking their golden retriever, we were truly alone. The sky was blue with fast-moving clouds from horizon to horizon. A majestic day. Not hot, not cool. Perfect for riding bikes.

(Taking in the expanse of the parking lot, I remembered a story I’d heard many years ago: I once knew a man who’d played guitar in Ray Charles’ band, and it had been his job to take Ray out to the salt flats where Ray could put pedal to the metal and send his Buick flying at top speed in any direction. Yup, blind Ray loved to drive. And with all that wide open space, the salt flats were the only place he could really let loose. I can’t imagine riding shotgun in that car. Yikes.)

At first I nearly forget the helmets. Helmets are still rather a ‘new’ thing in my world; most of my bike-riding life has been without one. (Although I did bring mine along, I was a bad mom and neglected to wear it as a good example.) But I had Elihu well-prepared; in addition to his helmet he had on my old sailing gloves. If he went down, at least his hands wouldn’t end up scraped and bleeding. He is nine this year, and truthfully I’d thought he would have been riding by now, but each summer so far has been full of just so much stuff there’s never been an opportunity like this. Plus, Elihu just wasn’t interested, psyched. And you can only force so much. Especially on a gravelly, bumpy old driveway like ours. But today something was different. On the short drive there, I tried to sell him a bit on the way in which his world would simply open up when he could finally ride. Not sure if he needed it or not; by the time we got there, his face was all smiles and he darted away from me as if he had not one single forethought of a nasty fall (it was forefront in my mind for the first hour). My child does not have a natural aptitude for things physical; sports – games especially – things that involve either speed, balance or tracking of moving objects. Much of this is due to his having Achromatopsia, but then again, much of it is simply do to with, well, being my and Fareed’s kid.

I let it all go. Occasionally I shout out some of the briefest advice – but no coaching, no matter how understated and succinct it may be is really going to help him. What he needs is simply time. Did we not all learn by having all those summer hours to while away on our bikes? At first we tried to keep pace with the big kids, our training wheels allowing us to go just about anywhere they did (only much slower, and it certainly did not look very cool). So then maybe dad takes off one side. Three wheels. It’s still comforting. But hey, look, you’ve spent hours doing this now – and have you noticed how you’re not really even using that third wheel? You hardly touch it to the ground now. Hey – it really does seem like you’re ready. Yeah. Think so. So you come out one morning and dad’s already done it for you. No more little wheels. But you know in your tummy how it feels to ride, to balance moving forward, to roll upright. It feels just so, it feels right. Now you  know. Finally, you can ride.

But it took hours around the neighborhood to get to that point. Or at least hours around a better driveway than ours. So we will simply have to artificially enhance the hours spent on the pavement by driving here each weekend and just riding around. Til he gets it. And given his enthusiasm and sheer delight today, I think he’ll be riding before too long. I am very happy about this. Cuz I too had a wonderful day, riding in lazy circles, standing on my pedals, feeling the wind, imagining myself flying, flying…. I’d told Elihu (as a means to entice him) that riding a bike was probably the closest thing to flying he would ever get to experience. Today he told me he thought he just might agree. Happy boy was he. !

We found a natural conclusion to the day, a consensus that we were done for now. We loaded our bikes into the van, then sat in its open side door, taking in the vista of the wide, wide sky above. “Lake George?” I asked him, inspired by the sky and craving even more of it. “Yes, definitely” he answered. I knew he loved our last visit there, now two years ago. We’d heard my old friend David Amram play, he’d caught ducks and we’d eaten at a restaurant over the water. The memory, for some reason, lived larger than so many others in his mind. We still needed to put another 50 or so miles on the engine before it could be re-tested, so this was perfect. After dropping off our bikes and a quick change of clothes, we headed north.

The sky continued to uplift our spirits, and seeing the lake from its southernmost point, framed on either side by mountains, that was a sight that impressed even my low-vision child. We first drove around town, taking it all in, getting a feel for where things were. There’s really not much to it. It’s a tiny tourist town. The draw for us is the lake, the sky, the seagulls and ducks. We found our way to the restaurant we’d been to last visit, and had high hopes for a lobster dinner over the water. Turns out they’d downsized the menu a bit recently, which was just as well. I was feeling a bit ill about spending so much when we had so very little. We settled on some lobster bisque instead. And some clams. Perfect. We have a lovely little meal during which neither of us can stop tapping our hands or feet on account of the too-loud music they’ve pointed at our table. My thing is my right foot. Been playing an imaginary kick drum for half my life now. Hardly know I’m doing it. My kid – he’s just plain playing any surface just about all the time. We groove, we laugh. We have so much fun. We watch the parasailors float by in front of the pine forest mountains behind. We learn to say ‘thank you’ in Slovakian from our waitress. We have a pink plastic pig which we have decided we will now take places with us and have photos taken of him on location, much like Flat Stanley (his went to Cairo!). We snap a pic of pig on the roof of the marina’s tarp, looking out over the majestic body of water. We laugh. We pay our bill, stash some extra oyster crackers in our bag, and head to the docks.

We’re able to bring the gulls in close with our modest cache of crackers. I try to snap some pictures, then, frustrated with the delay time of the silly shutter, I put it away and choose to enjoy the moment instead. The sun is going down behind the mountains, and we are bathing in its final orange glow. Elihu has been smiling almost the whole day, I notice. We finish our close encounter with the gulls and head up to ‘the strip’. We discover the town is slowing down. Summer is over and shops will be closing soon. We find an arcade open and walk in to explore. The prices are good; we enjoy a few fast-paced games of air hockey, then Elihu wins not one but two prizes (and not lame ones either) in the nearly-impossible-to-win game in which the claw drops and then lifts up, hopefully bringing with it a trinket in its clasp. Two prizes. He was so pleased with himself, and I commenced to fan the flame of his pride with my continued exclamations of “No one does that! How’d you do that? No one does that!”. Finally Elihu plays a winner of an airplane game which moves him up, down, left and right, in a surprisingly thrilling simulation of actual flight. No topping that one. Time to go. Besides, we’re almost out of cash. Almost.

We cross the street and head for the car. We’re a savory-over-sweet family on most days, but a fudge shop whose lights were still on just drew us in. They had a wall of nostalgic candy items, many of which I had to explain to Elihu. (I also added that we rode our bikes to the stores that sold them…) He got some gold miners gum nuggets in a little cloth bag – just  like the stuff my brother and I use to get at Leo’s, and then, as I was paying Elihu spied two remaining boxes of crickets. Salt and Vinegar flavored, to be exact. We threw em in, much to the disgust of the young five year old watching, who covered his  mouth in earnest, and finally we headed on our way.

The ride home seemed to take but fifteen minutes. Mighta been closer to twenty, but sure was quick. We went to Grandma and Grandpa’s to swap out cars and recap our day’s adventures, then we were off to get the birds in and get to bed.

Getting to sleep wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it might be in the wake of a full day of outdoor air. But there was so much to go over. So many sights to re-see in the mind’s eye. I read an old Swedish Fairytale to Elihu, then after feeling the night set in, I spied a favorite stuffed parrot on his shelf. “What’s his name?” I asked. “Lenny” he responded, quietly. “Would you like Lenny tonight?” I asked, feeling that he really would. He nodded. I brought the big parrot down and Eilhu took him tightly in his arms. Maybe this would help me to leave sooner. Maybe it would be just the reassurance he needed before he set sail into his night of dreams.

Good night, my beloved son. Thank you for another blessed day. I love you as much as the skies are wide…