The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Blind Eye December 31, 2020

Dear readers, did you know that my son Elihu is considered to be legally blind?

Hard to believe when one watches him skillfully guide his hand-built aircraft around in the sky, sometimes a hundred or more feet away, and certainly no longer visible to him as to those of us normally-sighted folks. How does he do this? Simple. His desire has superseded his limitations. He can see his planes as they move about in the air, if only gesturally, yet somehow, this is all he needs. My son once said to me as a young boy “I will not let my excuse be my excuse”. And he has not. He has turned a blind eye to his ‘disability’, and he has gone on to become one of the most remarkably accomplished people I have ever met. His minimal vision has not prevented him from achieving the maximum benefit of his talents. (Have I said how much I’m going to miss his daily companionship when he goes off to college next year?)

It’s funny how we humans interpret the world around us in such highly selective ways. I’m as guilty as anyone, and find it fascinating to muse at the ways in which I might be skewing my own perception of the world… Egos are such fragile things, and each of us filters data so as to preserve our dignity, to keep our own self-image as tarnish-free as possible, and to keep injured feelings to a minimum. I try to keep an eye on myself when it comes to interpersonal relations; I often make tiny, real-time inventories of my exchanges with people, friends, students, even passersby. Am I acting with respect and candor? Am I truly listening, or am I just waiting for my turn to talk? (I admit to struggling with interrupting. I’m too eager, and it’s a very bad habit, I’m well aware. Also, when it comes to my mother, all bets are off. I can’t seem to turn off the triggers. This continues to be a challenge.) I ask myself, am I being the best person I can possibly be? Or am I living a self-selected experience, ignoring the truths around me which I’d rather not see?

I fully admit that in order to cover my emotional ass, so to speak, my default way of behaving in the world is to kill ’em with kindness. I understand so well our mutual frailty as humans that I try to act in love most of the time. If you’ve ever walked down the street with me (in non-covid times) or accompanied me to the store, you’ll know that I speak to most everyone I can, and it’s my goal to offer as many small kindnesses as I’m able. They’re sincere acts of love, for sure, but it’s also an emotional insurance of sorts; how can you condemn the woman who has just told you how beautiful your hair is today? When slights aimed at me do arrive, although they are truly seldom, I try my best to listen, and to wonder at the motivation behind them. Maybe the woman who gave me that nasty aside is herself unhappy, conflicted, emotionally undernourished. Who knows? I choose to ignore the sting, and instead look to the core issue. It helps deflect the discomfort at the very least. In some way I’m choosing to give less traction to that which causes pain. My own kind of filter I suppose, showing me the things I’d prefer to see…

And then when life presents you with affairs of the heart, it can sometimes be even easier to turn a blind eye to certain things which you’d rather not see…

This past year I became involved with a man whom I’d known for over four decades. During that long span of time apart we’d each been married, raised kids, and had become divorced. In high school we’d each had an eye for the other, but circumstances weren’t in our favor at the time, so we were happy to reconnect, if only virtually, several years ago. In all that time we remained in each other’s minds as the person we’d thought the other to be all those years ago. It’s funny how you really cling to the ideals and visions that support your own fantasies about other people…

He had likely thought me to be far more demure and measured than I am. Choosing to refer to me as Lady Elizabeth, I’m sure this further romanticized me, putting me, in his self-imposed fantasy, into the realm of an emotionally inaccessible woman. For my part, remembering the pot-smoking, Led Zeppelin-listening intellectual I’d known back then, I admit that I’d harbored a vision of him having grown into an easy-going, chill older version of that attractive young man. I’d thought he’d have a relaxed nature, the kind that lends itself to snuggling up with his lady on the couch on a Sunday morning, legs resting on the coffee table, offering up casual kisses and passing touches of affection to his woman while lazily perusing the New York Times. Ha! Was I wrong. He is fairly the polar opposite of that. His seemingly mild-mannered outward appearance belies his true character; there’s not a laid-back bone in this man’s body (anyone remember that commercial from the ’70s where a lady scolds an uptight customer saying “Relax, Mr. Dillon, you’re on a cruise!“? Many were the times I so wanted to say that aloud to him). I’m fairly sure he had the wrong assumptions about me too. I suppose for the first few months we each were guilty of turning that proverbial blind eye to so many surprising, and, on some level, mutually disappointing aspects of each other.

But here’s the kicker – his high school girlfriend had strongly cautioned my against seeing him. But me, I thought that for sure I must’ve seen things in him that she never had. And so, I chose to ignore the warning.

She said that he had berated her, he’d made her feel like shit in public, but then used that charm and that smile (he’s got stunning hazel eyes and a smile that can melt butter – and don’t even get me started on that dimple/crease thing he’s got goin’ in his right cheek…) and they’d be back to that good place again – and then the cycle just kept going. Hot then cold, kind then mean. She said it was the single worst year of her life. Surely she had been exaggerating… I’d thought that this was likely due to his immaturity back then – plus, even if she was correct and this had been the nature of their relationship – I was certainly smarter than to allow him to behave like this with me! After all, he and I had a thing. Turns out if only I had listened instead of turning a deaf ear to her advice, I might’ve saved myself the heartache – which sadly continues to linger even at this writing (in spite of my better judgement), in addition to some disconcerting physical symptoms which will likely be my new normal. Yes, the old high school girlfriend had been right. Some forty-two years later and this man had behaved in exactly the same way with me. Took me a while to see it for myself, cuz I really didn’t want to.

After having said all of this about the man, let me offer that he is no way a bad person. In fact, there are so many good traits and admirable qualities about him that it’s all the harder to understand how one aspect of his personality can be so deeply disconnected and dysfunctional. Truly, the lovely qualities that this man possesses make it all the harder to come to terms with the reality of the matter.

[As something of a public service, I’d like to offer some insight into misogyny. In spite of his intelligence, his laudable career and devotion to his faith, my former boyfriend is a textbook misogynist (yes, there is a spectrum, but there are flagship markers in every man so afflicted). I had no idea what misogyny was when I was first warned – was it not just a casual form of chauvinism? No. Misogyny is a definable and real neurosis, something which develops very early in life, and without any recognition of it or desire for self-reflection on the part of the man, it is not something which will ever change. Misognynists objectify women to some extent, they remain emotionally distant, and they will berate and/or correct the women in their lives in an effort to establish their superiority and control. I experienced it for myself, yet I’d chosen to ignore it – thinking that I was somehow misinterpreting his behavior, or perhaps it was an aberration – and as a result I suffered injury, both emotional and physical. (I appreciate that the staff at urgent care was obliged to ask if I felt safe at home. Difficult as it was to even admit, albeit passively, that a man had inflicted excessive force on me, I am reassured to know these safeguards and protocols exist.) Women, if you see any of these behaviors in your partner, please know you cannot change them. Sadly, you must walk away, even if your partner offers a hundred other compelling reasons to stay. Turning a blind eye to the truth may result in harm to you.]

But on the other hand, sometimes throwing caution to the wind can have unexpectedly good results. In some cases, it’s best just to do something without looking at the pros and cons too carefully. (Again, think of Elihu refusing to see his blindness as an impediment and look how well that’s turned out).

As my new relationship began to emerge as potentially toxic – or at the very least suspiciously unsettling – I made a choice to invite another man into my life. I’d also known him for years, albeit only casually through the music scene back in Chicago, before the chapter of motherhood had begun. Even though he was something of an unknown to me, I extended an invitation. I asked him to join me in the context of a musical project, so naturally this added greatly to the appeal of his visit for both of us. As it turns out, it seems we’re probably best suited to a platonic relationship, but I have a hunch that this new friend will be in my life for years to come, and for that I’m grateful. He is intelligent and talented. Completely endearing and utterly human. Honest. He’s got a huge, loving heart. And my son really likes him (in my eyes that speaks volumes). Plus he has a dog. Honestly, what’s not to like about a man who has a dog? I’ve lost a romance but I’ve gained a friendship. Good thing I invited my new pal to visit even when I knew so little about him. I chose to ignore a few internal cautionary signals (granted I think it was more about a visiting dog and the safety of my chickens rather than my human guest!) and in this case it worked in my favor.

Ok, so while I’m dishing, dig this… I offer this story as a foundation to the one that follows right after…

My ex would latch onto passing comments on my Facebook threads and simply stew over them. I could never have anticipated such a thing. Truly, it was a new experience. It completely blindsided me.

Once, a man whom I hadn’t seen in person for over twenty-five years had said “nighty-night, dovie” to me on Facebook, and this resulted in my ex losing a night’s sleep as he struggled with his jealous feelings over this FB pal and fretted over the nature of our relationship. (This FB friend lives three thousand miles away and I haven’t seen him in over two decades – a quick perusal of his page would clue anyone in as to how unrelated our lives are.) Not too long after this incident, the same friend made a complimentary remark about a pic I’d posted of a mid-century baking dish. This too set my ex off into a tailspin…

Who was this man, this admirer? my ex had wanted to know. What exactly had that comment meant? he’d demanded of me. When he asked me, I had no idea what he was even talking about. Admirer? Who? What man? What comment?! (I have hundreds and hundreds of friends, ya know?) I paged back until I found the ‘offending’ comment and, when realizing just how trivial a remark it had been, I got upset. This was simply ridiculous. I proceeded to tell my ex that he really needed to keep his jealousy in check if he wanted this thing between us to work. He needed to rope it back. The ex then responded angrily to me – and the next day, when I was feeling emotionally walloped and said to him as much – he acted as if nothing at all had happened. It was crazy. Almost surreal. That man sure could compartmentalize! Honestly, it was one of the most bizarre interpersonal occurrences I have ever experienced.

And talk about turning a blind eye to things – my ex let my plans for a recording session in my home go unscrutinized. He said nothing when I told him I was going to spend a week making music. With whom exactly was I working? Just how much time would I be spending with these unknown people? Just might there be another man working alongside me? The jealous beau never even asked. Strangely, no potential red flags emerged for him. But he sure gave me hell for the guy in Seattle who liked my baking dish. (I know, right?)

Sure, the visit wasn’t ideally timed; when the musician fellow and I had originally made the plans (and booked the flights) I had no idea that I’d be in a relationship a few months down the road. Anyhow, by the time the musician fellow arrived, my blind eye was starting to see the writing on the wall regarding the high school crush. I had tried hard to believe that things were gonna be ok, but the stark contrast between these two men helped illuminate the situation; the old flame seemed doomed to burn out.

What else might I be ignoring that I oughtn’t? There are a few things. I know. I know my demons and I’m mounting a campaign to deal with them in due time. I’ve put the focus on my health now, and am working to get myself into a leaner and stronger body. This is requiring my full-on forward vision.

Ironic, isn’t it, that in the year 2020 – the number by which we define optimal visual acuity – the whole planet was so blind-sided? Not a one of us could’ve seen the catastrophic year that was coming. And personally speaking, how could I ever have suspected the injuries, romance and heartbreak that would play out in my own life alongside this global tragedy? Of course I couldn’t have… Not a one of us can see into the future. But we can stay on the lookout for healthy opportunities and better outcomes. So me, I’m going to move into this post-2020 world with hope in my heart, and both of my eyes wide open.

Here’s to better vision for us all in 2021.

Visit Elihu’s YouTube channel ‘AeroCraft’, see pics of our life here at the Hillhouse, find us both on social media, hear our music and more thru our clearinghouse website:

https://elizabethconant.com

 

Bright Eyes August 13, 2014

When Elihu was teeny – just barely a toddler – I’d take him to a home daycare in the northern Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park for one day a week so that I could catch up on domestic chores and in general have a couple of hours off (his father wasn’t around a lot as his teaching job took him out of town nearly half the week, and gigs often took up the remaining days). Miss Loretta, the gal who ran the place, was a tall, grand black woman who appeared a little daunting at first; her large ponytail and huge frame towering over us as she stood at the top of the stairs to her front porch waiting for her charges to arrive. Although she could be all business at times, she could also be the sweetest, most caring woman. She had nicknames for some of her favorites; babies whom for some reason or another stood out from the rest. What with Elihu’s eyes and bizarre vision issues, you can be sure he was in that population. And I’d always kinda liked that Miss Loretta had called him “Bright Eyes”; it had a charming, hopeful quality to it. It wasn’t derogatory, it didn’t sound sinister, yet it recognized both Elihu’s challenge and his beautiful spirit all at the same time. I liked it. “Well hel-lo, Bright Eyes!” she’d greet us each Wednesday morning in the open porch door. Once inside, in the dark wood paneled interior of her living room, he must have felt safe – I know that as a mother, my heart filled with relief the first time I saw it. With a child as light-sensitive as mine, it just wasn’t possible to leave him – much less bring him – to many places. (Another reason for the weekly visits; we two hardly ever got out – the world was just too bright.)

Bright Eyes passed a year of his life visiting Miss Loretta, and I think about her from time to time; I wonder if she’s still in the business of tending to a house full of tiny children and babies. I wonder if she ever thinks about her kids, and where they are these many years later. Next time we’re in Chicago, we’ll have to pay her a visit, because’ Bright Eyes’ now has a whole new meaning, and I think she’d be very pleased to see it for herself.

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Here we go… off into a brand-new era. No kidding. The world has opened up to my son. Hope begins to grow, as does a new realm of possibility. It’s just the very beginning of the journey. Ironic that through Elihu’s dark tinted contacts he can now see a brighter future. ! You go, my beloved Bright Eyes!

Before our visit to the eye doc.

These might help Elihu’s vision to shake less. Jury’s still out on them, but they do offer something worth checking into more thoughtfully at a later date.

The BIGGEST moment of his life so far.

Back inside with the contacts in and the shades wide open. He can’t get over it. I can’t either.

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 Our most heartfelt thanks go to everyone at Family Vision Care Center in Saratoga Springs. They had no ego issues, there was no battle for control, they simply rose to the challenge and helped us out. They’ve listened to our needs and responded to them. We couldn’t find anyone else in the area to be so cooperative, proactive and upbeat about it all. We love everyone there!

 

Summer Winding August 12, 2014

It’s been a minor challenge to get back into the swing of having another person around; someone who shares my space and requires extra attention and has his own special needs, you know, like eating. ! And this kid likes real food, too! How this skinny waif of a kid can eat as much as he does has been an eye-opener for me. Plus my son eats very differently from the way in which I’ve been noshing my way thru the summer; in fact he eats something very close to the Atkins diet. Paleo maybe? The mostly-protein-and-vegetable thing. That’s in part why he’s able to eat so much,  I guess. (That and the constant running around after frogs and chickens). For him, it’s natural, it’s what he’s always preferred. While other kids were content with pizza and mac and cheese, those were seldom acceptable options for my kid. He’d have asked for grilled (definitely not breaded or fried) calamari and arugula salad if he had his druthers. And what’s even more remarkable than his palate, is that he knows when he’s full. He’ll eat well; not fast, not slow, but with a steady, measured pace, and then he’ll often finish before his food is gone. He’ll say simply “I’m done,” and push his plate away. Only thing is, he’s hungry again in a couple of hours. Unlike me, he’s not content to satisfy his hunger with a bag of jalapeno-cheddar kettle-cooked potato chips eaten on the run. Having to come up with a menu for him has been challenging (plus it turns me into something of a minor bitch several times a day. I clearly need to formulate a plan and make a run to the grocery store in earnest). Hey, it might try my patience, but deep down I just think I’m jealous. I passed the whole summer, productive as it was, making little more than a handful of ‘real’ meals for myself. Instead I snacked on the go, ingesting thousands of thoroughly enjoyable though hardly useful calories. I’ve packed on eleven pounds since the last week of school (a result of 3,500 extra, un-needed calories each week), but my kid’s as fit as a fiddle. Oh well. I did what I needed to do then, and going forward I’ll do what still needs to be done with regard to eating a more responsible diet.

School starts in less than three weeks, yet it may as well be a year off for the way in which we’ve sunk into summer. Elihu’s on a teenager’s schedule, going to bed around midnight and often sleeping til eleven. This morning he roused early because he’s in the middle of a good book. I had been looking forward to ‘having the house to myself’ while he slept, but his reading is just as fine. I get my space, he gets his. If it weren’t for the having to come up with something healthy and decent to eat every two hours, this would be the easiest gig in the world. Yeah, we’re having a good end of summer time.

Yesterday it was hot and sunny – not a cloud in the sky – and we went out to Crow Field to fly his glider rc airplane. Although he complained that the controls were rudimentary and made real, controlled flight impossible, some gentle wafts of moving air kept the craft aloft for some stunningly-long and beautiful flights. My heart soared even more that my son could actually track and see the plane. He’d lose it in the sky when it reached a good distance, but then it would flip over or circle back, making a pass over our heads, thrilling us both. I’d thought about going back to get my camera, but even if I’d had it, I wouldn’t be able to catch the moment. Just being there, watching my still-young son, standing just above the goldenrod and tall field grasses, remote in hand, eyes on the vast blue sky, white bird soaring above, the heavy, hot air, scented with blooms and all things growing… that was enough. It was an island in our summer that I’d likely return to in my mind many times.

Covered in sweat, I peeled off my shorts and shirt when we got back home and slipped into my kiddie wading pool. Many a guest has laughed at that thing – shaking a head in disbelief that I, a grown woman, counted this as such an important possession. But truly, it is. I am a water person. I am lost in a landlocked community, and sometimes I think the only thing that preserves my sanity here is the small pond I’ve made for myself outside the kitchen door. In the morning it reflects a lovely pattern of waves onto the walls and ceiling inside, and that alone restores my soul. So my little rigid plastic pool is all-important to my summer. After a hard day pruning fruit trees or fixing fences, off come the clothes (usually all of them) and into the pool I go. Longer than a bathtub, it’s the perfect size for immersing an adult body. And this time, a rare one, Elihu joined me. He was dripping with sweat and ready to get in, although he did go and change into swimming trunks first. (Me, underwear was just fine.) It was here that we two passed the next hour and a half – I kid you not – doing nothing at all. The chickens would occasionally walk by, and we’d entice them into a couple of investigatory pecks on the side of the pool, we’d watch the birds fly by and identify them by their flight or call, we’d notice the leaves falling from the apple tree prematurely and lament what it represented, we chatted about all sorts of things. He caught me up on his summer, most notably the wonderful waterscapes he visited while in Florida, both natural and man-made, and all of the glorious water birds he was able to see up close. In my book, this had been a very fine summer’s afternoon.

Last night Elihu busked a bit and netted enough cash to buy some heating lamps for his frog terrarium. That’s the new thing now. He can hardly sleep but for thinking about the Golden Tree Frogs he’s been preparing for these past three months. He’s paid for everything himself, all that’s left to do is to order the little amphibians. The other night I caught him sleep walking; he was in his bed, on his knees, plucking tiny frogs from imagined branches above his head, cautioning ‘be careful, be careful…’

Before we can order these new members of the family and add another adventure to the list, we’re going to make a quick trip to visit my Uncle Paul – my mother’s only sibling – and his family. If you can imagine it, my mom hasn’t seen her brother in over twenty years. ! They exchange Christmas cards, but that’s about it. I don’t think there are any hard feelings, it’s just that uptight, dysfunctional non-communication thing that my family seems to suffer from (me, however, not so much. !) My cousin Rusty is much like my brother Andrew, sans the drinking problem. He lives in a dark bedroom off of the living room to which he retreats most of the day unless asked to make an appearance. He takes seasonal work in the local cranberry bogs, and although I know him to smoke those skinny cherry-flavored cigars, I’m not sure how he pays for them, as he doesn’t seem to be employed anymore than Andrew. But Rusty is a very friendly and affable guy (unlike my brother in his current state – update on that situation to follow in a future post) and he has made such an impression on Elihu. The last time we visited, the two of them spent hours exploring the inlets and tidal pools. Elihu is more than excited about another such visit with his cousin.

What is interesting about this side of mom’s family is this: mom’s own father left her and her mother as a result of an affair he’d had with a much younger woman across town. My grandfather had knocked up his young girlfriend, and then chose to leave my grandmother to be with his new family. Hm. Sound familiar? The big difference was that back in those times, it was customary for the mother to retain custody of the girls, and for the father to retain custody of the boys. So off older brother Paul went with his dad and his new family. I have a strong feeling that I’ve been placed in this strikingly similar situation in order to bring better closure to it. Not sure I’m being very successful at present; I know I have far more resentment than I’d like to think. It’s definitely a life’s work in progress. As for my mother, it’s amazing how much hurt and resentment she’s carried with her all her life on account of her father leaving in this way. When, as a child, I’d ask her about my grandfather, in a tone dripping with anger and a queer sort of sarcasm (uncharacteristic of her) she’d often respond “you don’t have a grandfather.” She was nothing short of cryptic in her answers to my inquiries as a child, and it wasn’t until I’d pieced things together for myself as a teenager that I got what had happened. To be more accurate, I hand’t truly understood what my grandmother’s (and my mother’s) experience had been until the moment that Fareed told me he was leaving. Then the shit hit me like the biggest aha moment ever.

So we’ll be making a two-day trip to this family at the northerly end of Buzzard’s Bay, a sort of low-rent version of the Cape. There are no waves at the small neighborhood beach, it sits at the mouth of a river and it’s waters are a bit murky, there’s lots of grass and marsh, and the houses on the water’s perimeter are small and very close to each other. That’s alright, I crave that certain smell of the air that always comes with saltwater and I don’t care what it takes to experience that once again. I do envy those for whom lakes, pools or oceans are but a short walk from their doors, but I cling to the opinion that I enjoy these rare water moments even more for having been deprived of them for such long stretches of time. (Sour grapes? Maybe.) I cannot wait…

Today may turn out to be a great landmark in not only our summer, but also in our lives. Elihu will try on tinted contacts for the first time later today. I myself have not given much emotional energy to this because I don’t want to be too excited, nor do I want to be too let down. I am choosing instead to simply not think about it, because if I did, I’d do something, like, I dunno, maybe, explode?? Cry?? We’re not there yet, just a couple of hours to go… This is a far bigger thing than I’d thought, and its implications in my son’s life are e-fucking-normous. Can you imagine? My son must wear huge, dark glasses that cling to his head with a gasket – they must be held fast to his head with straps, and there can be no light at all allowed to penetrate. He lives with a perennial raccoon’s mask of a tan line, and he absolutely cannot leave the house without protection. It’s not as if he ‘kinda’ needs them; he cannot even open his eyes outside. At all. So the freedom this could potentially afford him is huge. Huge. As I write this I begin to get butterflies in my chest. I’ve been downplaying it the last few days, as Elihu’s said a time or two that he’s a little scared. It represents a whole new world. It brings up new questions too: how will he adjust for indoor and outdoor lighting? Have a supplemental pair of ‘regular’ sunglasses? Remove the contacts for long indoor stays? I’ve set up our house so that it’s quite dark, perhaps I can just remove the window tint and open the shades in order to enable him to keep the contacts on all day. The rest of the world is a very bright place (light increases exponentially as it gets brighter, it does not simply ‘double’) and for the most part, I think these contacts will do the trick. They’re expensive too (almost $400!! Not fair I say) and so how about a second pair? How will we swing that? One thing at a time… I need to relax here.

Time’s almost getting away from me now, I need to wrap things up and see how lil man is doing. That must be a pretty good book; he hasn’t told me he’s hungry yet. I’ve been writing on borrowed time! Later today we’re going to a local Indian buffet with mom, after his contacts appointment. I am trying to stay myself; all I can do is imagine him laughing at his new ability, assessing with new eyes what it is to read, to look out a window (that’s a big deal!), to do all sorts of things. But at the same time, I can foresee frustrations, tears even… Only a few hours away, and yet a lifetime away. Amazing what awaits us. Ok. I think it’s time to rouse ourselves from our tasks and take in some tea and farm-fresh eggs for a late breakfast. Our summer ride clearly isn’t over yet… there’s still more road ahead, winding off into a brand-new countryside.