The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Lucky Eleven April 28, 2014

Eleven years ago this very minute I was standing in my bedroom in a mild state of confusion. Water was gushing out of me as if someone had turned on a faucet. Nearing two weeks past the due date in my pregnancy and this night truly unable to get comfortable, I’d only just fallen asleep minutes earlier. That night my husband and I had just finished a dinner of pasta and wine while watching The Producers before going to bed well after midnight, both of us figuring we’d be getting a good night’s sleep in before any action began. Wrong. Before long I was stuck in the middle of a searing, non-productive back labor at home, with no good end in sight. Some seventeen hours later, after giving it my best and ending up with blood spots all over the whites of my eyes from five hours of pushing to no avail, I was on Lake Shore Drive being driven through rush hour traffic to the hospital for an emergency C section. Nothing about my beloved son Elihu, from start to present, had been what I’d planned on. Including his gender. I was convinced I was having a girl. Wrong again. And so it was that my son was released from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Hospital as “Baby Boy Conant”, now over a decade ago.

And what an adventure has ensued… We love our little tradition of birthday parties here, from hatching out chicks to jamming in the basement (well, kind of) to silly string on the trampoline to poker-like pokemon action at the table to the ancient model T driving the neighbor kids back home. It all comes together one day in late April and nothing, not even a brief downpour, can dampen the joy of the day. (After all, our parties go to eleven.)

IMG_2206Some intense gaming at the top of the afternoon

IMG_2236then the action migrates downstairs to the music room for a bit… but still, kids are constantly on the move

IMG_2241they do stop long enough to try to get something together

IMG_2285let’s not forget the trampoline… it’s just getting going (pre-silly string, that is) Look who surprised us by coming! It’s the twins, Cora and Sophia! That absolutely made my kid’s day. And my mother just kept admiring all the red hair present.

IMG_2289Annabelle is daddy’s girl. That family’s a brainy, techie bunch.

IMG_2225our beloved Thumbs Up entertained everyone. She allowed herself to be picked up and set down anywhere. Here Sam and Eva get a good chicken-smoochin in.

IMG_2316And Miss Coco’s bringing the chicken back to the party

IMG_2296kinda fuzzy, but can you see? Babies and chickens in the kitchen. Fun!IMG_2210Recognized immediately by his Pokemon peers. Charizard. I think. ?

IMG_2248the closest we’re gonna get to having all twenty-something kids in one shot.

IMG_2303the little kids hear the frantic peeping coming from inside an egg in our incubator… this chick worked hard all afternoon

IMG_2325With mom watching over from the steps, our neighbors get ready to load up on Zac’s Doodlebug. Stephanie has three little ones to bundle up and get ready. Let me not forget our other neighbor mom Casey – she has three little ones too, only her oldest can do it pretty much all herself.

IMG_2332Loading up six little ones for a ride home

IMG_2335Good-bye! Thanks for coming!

IMG_2343Out of twenty-four eggs, this lil gal’s the only one to have hatched on her own so far….

IMG_2338This little one struggled valiantly for seven hours, and then I realized that like me, she too needed just a little help. We very carefully peeled her free of her shell and laid her there to dry and rest. A chicken C section!

IMG_2351The end of night selfie. Thanks everyone for coming to Elihu’s 11th birthday party!

A Happy Birthday Post Script: The little C section chick, although still a little scraggly-looking, is doing just fine in the brooder tank with her/his only other sibling. A third chick died mid-hatch, and no other eggs have shown signs of life. Such is the chance one takes when breeding your own chickens. 

 

Sunday Afternoon February 10, 2013

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It’s been a nice day at home. Thought I’d entice Elihu outside by suggesting we follow the resident fox’s tracks around the woods, but he was happier inside. I remind myself that a bright, snowy day for an Achromat can take a bit of energy and today he just wasn’t up to it. Instead he studied up on airplanes and engines, enjoyed some time flying his helicopters – and we had a nice surprise visit from our neighbors Stephanie and Zac and their two daughters, Annabelle and Bailey (they’re expecting baby number three in late April). They came by on their old model T, for which Zac had made a fine set of wooden skis to replace the front tires.

Mom’s still in the hospital another day, so before long we need to stop by for a visit, and then we’ll head over to dad’s to bring him supper. It’s a school night, so we don’t want to make it a late one. It’s been a nice, relaxed day of aviation, friends, cooking and baking. A perfect Sunday. Here are a couple pics of Zac’s prize ride…

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Loading up the family…

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Crank starting the old engine…

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All aboard…

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They head off the long way ’round…

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Passing us to the East (Saratoga Lake near the horizon)

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Heading North towards the field…

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Snow is clearly no problem for this nearly 100 year old vehicle!

 

 

Frogs’ Legs and Helicopters May 4, 2012

A week has nearly elapsed since Elihu’s ninth birthday and the whole week has been a veritable whirlwind. Right now we two are still straddling two worlds; Elihu attends Waldorf, yet tomorrow he will and I will be performing at his former school’s talent show. I have had my hands full running the production and haven’t had a moment to spare. After a too-late bedtime I sit, sleepy at my computer, wondering how possibly to catch up.

His proper birthday was last Saturday. The birthday angel had left some lovely gifts as he slept, and he awoke to a kitchen table filled with flying contraptions, plus a few bird-related items for good measure. (This month the bills will have to wait, our priorities were elsewhere.) What a lovely day it was, sunny and just warm enough to try a few outdoor flights. With so many new toys to become familiar with, the day was passed with me sleepily watching him from the couch as he learned the intricacies of each one. A couple of our chicks hatched that day too, which added to the delight of the day. The soundtrack of that afternoon was the constant peeping of the baby chicks and the whirring of helicopter blades.

That evening we went to dinner at the local favorite restaurant called “The Wishing Well”. It was where we’d eaten the past year on his birthday, and although mom sponsored our trip there, she did not join us as the place is quite pricey and the tab might have been a bit too severe for all five of us Conants. It was a night I will always remember. As we sat at the low tables in the bar area listening to the piano player, we had drinks and he opened just a few special gifts I’d reserved for the occasion. When the waitress came to take our drink order Elihu told me to ‘go ahead and get something special’ and so I did. I enjoyed my first martini in several years (gin, straight up with olives thank you). He had taken such pride in dressing and looked to me as handsome as ever. I too had dressed up, and the two of us felt very good indeed as we sat in comfy leather chairs beneath the giant head of a taxidermed moose above the fireplace.

Elihu’s first gift was a lovely field guide of the birds of Europe and England – accompanied by some tasty caramels – sent by his sister, Brigitta, who lives outside of London. He entertained me by testing my knowledge of the birds. He covered up the names and smiled ear-to-ear as he watched me struggling for the name. He knew nearly every bird in that book. He laughed when I asked how that was possible. “I’ve been reading about them since I was four!” he laughed. Then I presented my own gifts to him. I watched as he opened the first, amazed that by the shape alone he hadn’t been able to figure out what they were. When he saw his very first, professional pair of brushes, he lit up. I have never heard that tone of his voice before as he thanked me ‘so much’. He was thrilled that he could finally “play like the real jazz drummers”! Immediately he took them out, opened up the metal fans and began playing on the table. “Like this?” he asked, as he practiced a circular movement. There wasn’t much room for me to improve on his intuitive technique; as he played he got the idea very naturally. After a bit I had to ask him to hold back, as it might be distracting to the table next to us. Thankfully he is still young enough (and yes, cute enough) that he’s easily forgiven. Plus he was actually playing along with the pianist and sounded pretty good. Our table in the dining room was still occupied and so the manager began to bring us little complimentary treats to help pass the time. First it was some asparagus and corn soup. Elihu loved it. I was so pleased to see him taste it – often he’ll pass on soup – but as it was his birthday and he was quite earnest about being grown up, he did what was polite. Turned out he dug it. As he did the escargot that followed. In fact, he like them so well I gave him my share. A sampling of crab meat then arrived just before I offered him my second gift; a treasured CD of polkas we’d once enjoyed (but which now only frustratingly skipped over the first few tracks.) He was thrilled! What joy in this mother’s heart to see her son so fully happy. (And that martini made me happy too.)

We were shown to our table, which was in a far corner of the farmhouse-turned restaurant, and there was both a crackling fire and a wall of bookshelves behind us. He pulled out an ancient cloth-bound book on aviation and amused himself with that as we waited for his much-anticipated frogs’ legs. Dinner was not too long in arriving, and soon we were eating and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I had the soft shell crab, and treasured each bite. The meal was perfect. We bagged what was left of our mashed potatoes for our chickens back home, and after paying the bill as carelessly as if it were something I did every day, we gathered our things and headed out into the night.

The next day was Sunday, the day of his birthday party. To sum up the day, I might simply say it was “off the hook” and I believe you’ll get the idea. It was a day in which his two worlds came together; there were children from his old elementary school there along with new classmates and friends from Waldorf. As usual, we invited and encouraged siblings and parents to come and stay, so before long our tiny house was filled to the rafters with bodies of all sizes. The eggs in the incubator began peeping and cracking open as planned, yet in spite of all the plans I’d had for keeping on top of the presents, they flew open at a rate I could not keep up with. Water guns (pre-loaded) were the party favors, and before the cake was out kids were running in and out of doors and everywhere outside in a great chase. The trampoline was well beyond my ‘rule of 3’ capacity, but the many adults sitting close by didn’t seem to mind. Chickens were being chased, eggs were being collected, and yes, the drums in the basement – plus an electric guitar and my wurlitzer too – were being played. And all at the same time. Our neighbor showed up with his two week old baby, wife and other young daughter; they’d ridden over in their 1925 model T. Soon he was giving party guests rides around the field in his ancient car. The day was spirited, joyful chaos. As soon as I turned my attention to someone, I was shortly pulled in another direction. I finally managed to take one moment at the top of the steps to pause. I stood there by the kitchen door just looking out at it all in wonder. Wow. Such a contrast to the way things started for us here. To see this, you’d never know the darkness in which we’d lived for those first few years. This new life was simply miraculous.

That day we met many new friends. This week Elihu’s discovered that along with friends and their generosity comes the task of letter-writing. Since he is not given homework at Waldorf these days, his homework this week has been to write thank-you notes. Not a small task, but one he sees the value of. He is well aware how blessed he is to have so many people in his life, and he himself feels compelled to let his friends know that he appreciates them. Yes, Elihu is growing up. He’s growing up to be a good young man. I am so proud of him, I am so in love with him. I am a mother with a full heart.

He’s a good kid, and he’s one tired kid, too. Tomorrow his school will hold a May day celebration in the park, and tomorrow night he will be the rim shot guy at the talent show, hitting his snare and crash cymbal after all the corny jokes. And I’ve been told there will be a lot of them. One more long day, one more long night. Then our transition is underway in earnest.

Welcome Spring! Welcome new life! Another year, another year’s adventures await…

 

Model T Visit April 22, 2012

We like to spend Sundays at home. I spend the first half of the day cooking large quantities of food thereby lessening the amount of time I need to spend cooking throughout the week. Now that Elihu is bringing his lunch to school it makes even more sense to cook ahead. Some Thai-inspired coconut curry sauce with lots of vegetables, brown rice, baked Greek style chicken, peppery beef and some bow tie pasta. All I need to do is heat it up for future suppers. We always have a bag of arugula on hand for salad. Makes me feel good to have this chore out of the way. I wash the dishes and wipe the counter top and derive a good amount of satisfaction at seeing my kitchen look pristine once again.

Elihu has waited patiently all morning as I chopped, cooked and cleaned. Finally my attention is all his, and we sit in the living room harvesting parts from past airplane projects in order to make something new and improved. We’re puttering about like this when we hear a loud rapping on the kitchen door. It’s our neighbor Zac with his almost two year old daughter, Annabelle. It’s a good thing it’s just them because Elihu and I are still in our pajamas. Last summer Zac and I had pulled an old harrower out of the fallen leaves here in our yard – it had belonged to Ralph, the man who built this place. Ralph had used it on his gardens here, and it lay where he last unhooked it from the tractor so many decades ago. It was still perfectly good, so Zac took it back to his place, fixed it up and returned a few days later to till our garden with it. I was especially pleased that Ralph’s old harrower was enjoying a second life. Today it enjoys a third incarnation.

Zac and his dad are tinkerers, fixers, assemblers of parts, solvers of problems. And they’re so damned laid back about it too. I’m in awe. Today Zac has come over to show us how he’s re-purposed a few of the tines from Ralph’s old harrower. He’s used them as springs for the seat on his 1925 model T. As the tires are the original rubber on wooden wheels, the bounce of the seat’s new-made suspension system really helps cushion the ride. Zac cranks the handle on the front of the engine and fires it up. It sounds just like you’d think, sputtering and coughing as it revs up to speed. Elihu hops on and Zac gives him a ride down the driveway and back through the old farm road alongside the stone wall.

Once again, I feel so lucky to be here, now.