The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Tribe November 14, 2015

Sousaphone

Elihu loves everything low – especially if it’s made of metal. There is no doubt about it, this kid’s found his tribe.


Elihu’s flight got in very late last night, but the kid, he’s a trooper. He’s traveled a lot more than many adults I know, and in spite of having to deal with some really draining hurry-up-and-wait situations, his spirits seldom flag. Last night was no exception; he passed through the exit hallway as nonchalantly as if he were merely getting off the school bus. He coolly walked up to me this time – for the first time ever – without being followed by an employee of the airline holding out a clipboard for my signature. No one checked for my ID to see that I really was his mother. Nope. None of that stuff anymore. Just a lone ‘young traveler’ (as Southwest now officially refers to him) returning home.

Our reunions are different these days, and I struggle to remember what it felt like to see that tiny boy coming around the corner and running into my open arms. Now we just sort of pair up and begin walking to the escalators as if no time had passed, and as if we were nothing more than casual acquaintances. Which is ok, cuz however brilliant I may think my child to be, he is still 12. And self-respecting 12-year-old boys, no matter how much they love their mothers, do not want to be seen running into open arms, being gushed-over and animatedly doted upon. It’s my deepest desire to hold him tight and have him return the embrace, but I check myself. And secretly, I congratulate myself for holding back; because I actually do think that I’m settling into my new role as mother of a pre-teen with some style and dignity. It’s not easy, but it’s important to adjust, to respect the change that’s taking place here. And it’s got me thinking.

The little boy chapter is coming to a close, this new teenage chapter is yet to begin, and what follows is almost too much for me to even contemplate. One day, in a mere minute or two at the rate things are moving, my son will move out. And away. The way things are looking now (with his growing love of all things German), it may well be very far away. Our airport reunions will be far fewer. They may one day become more joyful, animated events, but nonetheless, there will be less of them for sure. As I sit beside him at baggage claim, I can see in the super-bright overhead lighting that there is a darker and more obvious patch of hair above his lip, and my heart sighs heavily. It’s coming. This young man is changing right before me. And one day, he’ll be out in the world doing his thing, and by then… it’ll be just me. I don’t mention this observation of mine, but as I study his elongated fingers and note how he sits almost as tall as me now, my heart whimpers. This will not be easy. I’m definitely gonna need a plan.

As we chat on the walk back to the car Elihu asks what I did this evening. I tell him that a friend had come over, and we’d had dinner and hung for a bit. Elihu asked about the nature of my relationship, and I told him. Me, I don’t want another element in my life. Not romantic, an any rate. I’m just not interested. “Does he know that?” Elihu asked me, sounding more like a bestie than my young son. I told him that yeah, I’d made it clear. There was a pause. “So, then, what do you want?” Elihu asked. I thought about the wide-open expanse of life in front of me and considered it a bit more critically than usual.

Recently, I’d made digital copies of some ancient videos. They represented so many of my old worlds, and it blew my mind to see things that I never thought I’d see again… My son, a tiny baby, being given a bath in the kitchen sink in our old house in Evanston. A clip or two of me at the radio station getting ready to go on air. Seeing Elihu’s father and me, performing together, happy and doing what I’d loved so well, it had cheered my spirits and saddened me all at the same time. Seeing me as an even younger, huge-haired rocker was amusing, and remembering that world was like peering into a dream… Then there were the alt-country bands, the indie projects and a million little worlds in between. Bits and pieces. A haphazard mosaic of my young adult life.

And then even longer ago here were fuzzy clips transferred from my dad’s super 8 reels of us as a young family – back in the early 70s when the Studio was just being built. Clips of concerts and rehearsals, of harpsichords being loaded into old Volkswagons. family dogs running underfoot, too-long scenes of cherished family cats doing nothing much at all. Almost every adult was smoking, and all were laughing and happy in this world of their own creation. I was peering through a magical window to see my mom, dad, Frank and Martha, and the many musicians who’d spent time with us in summers past as young adults – most of them far younger than I am now. These people were my whole world when I was young, and now many were simply dead and gone.

I thought of all the friends and peers whom I’d loved who were now so far-flung across the globe and fully embedded in their contemporary lives… All these groups I’d also been a part of once. All of it – the distant past and even the not-so-distant past – seemed in stark contrast to our current life. We had friends, yes, we had wonderful neighbors and truly good people in our lives, but still, there was something still missing. “What do you really want?” Elihu asked me again as we finally reached the car in the airport parking lot. After another moment of thought, I answered him, happy to have finally identified it for myself: “A tribe.”

Everyone needs to belong. Groups – in whatever form they manifest – are for most of us, essential. And all of us belong to several groups at any one time. Even here and now, in my somewhat smaller life, we belong to certain populations. The Waldorf school is one. Elihu’s peers, another. And there are those who help to make up our family by virtue of their physical proximity to us. But in revisiting these videos and recordings from another era, I’m reminded of the bonds that are absent in our current life. I miss being part of a community – of musicians.

Musically speaking, things appear somewhat fragmented in this area. I meet musicians who seem to know only folks whose genre they share. I inquire about folks outside their worlds, and they don’t really know much. Back in ‘the day’, in Chicago, while there were surely separate and distinct genres of musicians and scenes, there was often an overlap. Pop musicians would hire jazz guys to play on their tracks, jazz guys would stop in the dive country bars and marvel over the hidden talent there, hard rockers and R&B artists would mingle at the same parties. And me, I benefited from all of it. Me, I floated all over the place. As a result, I felt at home in many worlds. But the thing of it was, all these disparate musicians were aware of each other on some level. There was a commonality among all musicians, and one almost always felt an inherent sense of belonging. At least that’s how it felt to me. But here, in this small town, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Granted, I’m not working here as a musician, and I don’t get out a whole lot, but I’ve made some small inroads, and from what I can see, there are a lot of ‘micro scenes’, and no substantial cross-pollinisation between em. I’m not sure which population I might belong to. Honestly, I’m not convinced I belong in any of them.

Secretly, I’ve held the hope that one day I might bring the music to me; that I might create my own scene here, rather than searching for one out there. While the Studio is currently a bit too ambient and live a room in which to host anything but the most acoustic of musical ensembles, I hope to figure out a way to deaden it up a bit so I can begin to think of casting a wider net. As I imagine a future in which all things might be possible, I envision the room, once again full of people. Alive with music. A place in which people can meet each other. A place where a new tribe might assemble.

It is beginning to happen. Maybe not in a terribly obvious way, but things are starting to take shape. There is now a weekly yoga class. I see the looks on the faces of folks who are seeing the space for the first time. And just as in my father’s day, I hear people remark with surprise as they scan the room that they had ‘no idea’ a place like this existed here. But it does, and it calls for people to gather within its walls.

As the room fills with a dozen middle-aged moms in search of time for themselves, I begin to see more possibility growing… When Kristin dims the lights and begins to coach our bodies to move and our minds to relax, I begin to feel a future growing in this place. The way isn’t clear yet, but it isn’t as vague as it was a year ago. This is a time of transition, I remind myself again. I need to be patient. I also need to stick to my to-do lists and be vigilant about following through and keeping on the path. Things will get better, the way will get easier, and someday, oh I pray, I’ll find my new tribe along the way.

 

Chapter October 4, 2015

Sometimes they start and end with a defining moment, but mostly they overlap, fading in and out with such subtly that we don’t realize the times have changed until long after they have. Looking back one can see with clarity how and when the events and circumstances changed, we can note the point at which certain characters left or our joined our drama, we can remember ‘times’ as if they were distinct acts in a play, yet when we sit in the midst of our action, deeply embedded in our own scripts, it can be a challenge to see the bigger picture.

Recently I came upon a pile of fringe on the floor of my cellar clothing storage room, and recognized it to be from an antique dress that I loved well. Made in the 1920s, I’d worn it throughout my career with the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago. A deep ache began to grow in my chest. The dress was likely ruined, but I didn’t dare confirm it. Nor did I pickup the mess. Instead, I sat and felt the grief fill me. I wondered why it broke my heart so? I thought back on all that had happened in that dress… I remembered the stories, the scenes, the cast – the soundtrack. I tried to console myself; the dress was in tatters, but hadn’t I used it well in its time? Hadn’t I myself enjoyed those days as deeply as I ever could have? Yes, I had. I’d always enjoyed myself to the core. What bothered me so deeply now was not so much that that time in my life was over, but rather that I never actually understood when it was that it closed. I was never warned that there would be no more gigs, no more crowds, hands in the air singing ‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime’ in full voice, smiles all around – the whole thing was over before I knew it was over. And that’s what got me. In order to give myself some kind of closure, I stood there and let myself remember…

I’d been young, pretty, and fairly on top of my game. On stage, in front of that band, dressed in those one-of-a-kind vintage dresses, bedecked with bracelets and hip-length necklaces, kohl-eyed and as animated as ‘the it girl’ herself, I glowed. I emanated fun. I was always chatty with the audience, slightly inappropriate, slightly bawdy; camp enough to give the show some punch, self-deprecating enough to endear myself to fans. The tunes were those I loved best, and although the charts were mostly written for a man’s voice and had me splitting lines and finishing them an octave above or below, I loved them all. The music was charming, the guys and the gals in the band were charming – and our audience was charming, too. It was a cast of characters united in their deep love for the dusty songs of a time long-gone. I must have known the door to this time had closed when I moved away from Chicago to the corn fields of Dekalb. But no, even then I had an occasional job with them. Enough to make me think this band might slow its pace, but would always be there in my life, chugging along… It was only when the building in which the band enjoyed a steady engagement (at Bill’s Blues) burned to the ground a couple of years ago – long after I’d moved to New York – that my heart finally understood it was over. There was no going back now. And this poor dress, after nearly one hundred years of service, is done with its career of dance parties and concerts. This is not to say that its life is completely over; the dress may yet provide years of service as a costume – perhaps in a high school play, or in a little girl’s dress up trunk. But its show days are over. That chapter has closed.

The thing about chapters and books is that you know exactly where you stand with respect to the ending. You can clearly see how many pages are left. From that, you can figure out how to emotionally pace yourself. You might love the book so well you put it down for a few days, so as to make it last. You might love it so well you cannot put it down, and so you consume it immediately. Either way, it’s your choice. You control things. You can choose to skip to the end of each chapter and ease your mind by learning that things finally do come out ok, or you can simply take solace in knowing that ultimately it’s just a book, and as such, it has a finite life. And no matter what the outcome, good or bad, it will come to an end. And you know exactly when that will be. At any given time in your reading of that book you can tell precisely where you are in relation to the ending. Me, I like that feeling. That definite knowing. If only we could know how many days were in a life as well as we know the number of pages in a book. A pity we don’t, I say. How much more carefully we would write if we knew how many pages we’d yet to go.

It’s been said of me by friends that I tend to look backward more often than forward. And I suppose I agree. I get nostalgic and misty over past decades quite easily. In my defense I offer that it’s because I have had some very good and memorable times on this planet. It’s also been said of me by friends that I’ve lived half a dozen lives already. And I would agree with that too. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have lived this life. I’ve piloted a 40 foot sailboat through a storm on the Atlantic, I’ve jumped out of planes and hosted a radio show (not at the same time!) I’ve sung in front of thousands of people, I’ve played a sparkly accordion, I’ve traveled to unusual parts of the world, I’ve butchered a chicken, I’ve raised a child. I grew up in a house full of harpsichords, my summers were filled with New England lakes, Baroque concerts and life on a farm. From a young age my father took me to hear jazz, and my grandma showed me how to dance to Jelly Roll Morton. My Pakistani father-in-law and Chilean mother-in-law opened my world to a still-wider cache of experiences. I learned to make new kinds of food. I cooked food on a private boat as it motored down the Mississippi, I avoided day jobs by taking hundreds of temp jobs and doing singing telegrams, two tanks of helium in my trunk on the ready to blow up balloons en route to my hits.

My memories are jammed to the rafters. And as I recall some of them, I can almost pinpoint the times at which ‘mini eras’ came to be, and the times at which they came to a close. Funny thing is, when I was actually living these memories, I wasn’t necessarily aware of them as chapters. All I knew is that I was following the events as one prepared the way for the next. And when an era came to an end, it certainly didn’t feel like it. I may have sensed things were changing, but in the back of my mind I guess I always thought that things would continue on as they were… Maybe that’s because I am not good at goodbye. Change is relentless, and I know it’s not healthy to fight it, but still, it’s not something that sits easily with me. I like things steady and for the most part, unchanging. But to be fair, if life didn’t lead me to new experiences, I’d probably cry of boredom. I guess the trick to living happily in the balance is to be aware of things as they are happening. Perhaps this is a gift of aging. Even if I knew it before, I know it so much more keenly now: savor, savor, savor. You may not think so now, but chances are good that one day hence you’ll look back and miss the way things were this very day.

My son is in seventh grade. If ever there was a time in which things change, this is it. I know it was for me. My first real crush, the first time I ever shaved under my arms, the first time I realized how complicated it all was. Elihu comes up to my ears now, he might even a bit taller. His skin is still smooth, but the hair is coming in differently on his legs, his toes and feet don’t look like a young child’s anymore, and soon, very soon, he will become taller than me. And I’m ok with this, poignant though it may be to my sentimental heart, because now I know to be on the lookout for it. I will not be taken by surprise by the forthcoming chapter, dammit. Each day I note how subtly he is changing. I soak up our time together now because I know that one year from today we will have entered another era, and things will likely be very different. Being aware helps me in my process. I just wish I’d thought this way all those years ago – as I left the Aluminum Group days, as I left the sailing crew days, as I left my days of city living…. I guess I always thought I could return, effortlessly, to those experiences. I didn’t quite realize that each chapter requires a certain, magical alignment of the stars, and that that magical composition morphs and moves on just as surely as do the eddies in a river…

One week ago today, when the Studio’s last guest was gone and I stood alone in the space, a clipboard full of new email addresses under my arm, I knew then that we’d experienced a beginning. The beginning of the preceding chapter was easy enough to define; six inches of standing water covering the Studio’s floor left me nowhere to turn. The moment my eyes first looked upon the flood I knew things had shifted. I just wasn’t sure how things would pan out…What followed was a chapter full of incremental changes, movement at a snail’s pace that could hardly be detected from up close. Yet things had changed. In a big way. And finally, we were here. I’d spent a lot of emotional energy coming to terms with the idea of my father’s era truly being done now, and it was a good thing the process has been slow – otherwise I might not have had the heart to go through with it. I needed the time to find emotional closure to the old days before I could step across the threshold into the new ones. Looking out on this empty hall, it occurred to me that one day this time will be looked upon with some nostalgia and interest, too. When my son takes over, or the board votes me out, or a theater company buys the whole shebang and puts a new wing on…. This will be the era that came before, upon which people wax nostalgic…

I may not know how many pages are left in my book, but at least I know to write more carefully as I go, being ever mindful of my surroundings as the chapters unfold. One day I hope to leave behind a fine book, with a fine ending too. But for now, it’s just one sentence at a time.

 

Preparation April 25, 2015

Such a strange mix of life and death going on here in Greenfield. Elders passing, babies expected, pets dying, chicks hatching…. And yet not for a moment does it slow. Every day life presents its obligations without fail; students must be taught, supper must be made, rehearsals must be prepared for, and dust bunnies nestled comfortably in the corners of my house grow steadily in size, reminding me that they aren’t going to vacuum themselves. The wind blew the porch door open this morning and the entire flock decided to take shelter there for a few hours, leaving generous-sized poops all over a formerly clean-swept floor. I could cry, but at least it’s a sunny day, and good for starting all over again.

Tomorrow is Elihu’s twelfth birthday party, and there’s so much to do before then. Meanwhile, Martha lies in the hospital, getting nearer to her death. She’s certainly fooled us all before, rallying from her hospital bed to her post in the farm’s kitchen, but it won’t be happening this time. We who love her have even finally conceded that she will not be dying at home as we’d all very much hoped for. It’s simply not possible; Martha is far too weak. This time there will be no rehab. A bad UTI has had her in and out of reality the last few days, and that was a shocker for all of us. We had never seen the indomitable Martha like this. Signs of fear and agitation reminded me of my dad in his final days. I knew it was mostly due to the infection, but still. We’d turned a corner.

Last night, after Elihu’s school spring assembly, we’d gone to visit Martha. We were relieved to see her much restored to her old self. Elihu sang for her, and mom and I made small talk and related news of the day. (I’d been to see her earlier that day and enjoyed the privilege of singing her to sleep with “April Showers”.) When we left, Elihu leaned in to kiss her, and he told her he loved her. “I love you too,” she answered, and then offered “You are one unusual child.” We knew what she meant. I myself had been honored the day before – in the midst of an infection-induced episode – with the only open acknowledgement of affection I would likely ever hear from Martha… I told her I loved her, and she responded “I should hope so!” She’d also told me to ‘stop being a sissy’ and help her out of the bed. When I told her it just wasn’t possible she’d scolded me, telling me I’d better help her because she’d known me since I was ‘one young girl’. Even in her altered state, she was all Martha.

When we left her last night, she was still all Martha. When I asked how she’d felt, she admitted to me that she was tired. Very tired, all the time. On this bright and sunny morning when a new chick has begun to peep from inside its shell and a new life is ready to appear at any moment, I’m so keenly aware that just a few miles away, Martha lies in her bed, waiting for her own transformation.

IMG_7945This little gal/guy came a few days early. (Each year we time it such that the eggs in our incubator hatch on the day of Elihu’s birthday party.)

IMG_7801Mom shows Elihu the grave in which she and Andrew buried their cat only moments earlier. Ginger had to be put down without warning in the wake of a cardiovascular trauma. Such a shock. Mom doesn’t need more loss at this time. Neither does my emotionally fragile brother.

IMG_7803Little Annie, now at least sixteen, follows Elihu and Mom. We’ve all told Annie she’s not allowed to die. ! She acts like a kitten; those who don’t know her all assume she is. She’s a precious spot of joy in mom’s world.

IMG_7581Mom, Martha and Elihu, a few days before she took a turn for the worse. She was very present at the time of this photo, and very much herself. Even got a little vid of her reciting a poem she’d written years ago for a childhood friend (who died just last month. This life/death stuff is getting intense. Ich.)

Martha used to write little ditties like this for special occasions. Here’s her poem:

It was May 1st, 1922, now that you’ve come to ask it

That Mrs. James of Chatham, Mass

Got Viv in her May basket.

IMG_7898Not the selfie I’d like to see, but I had to take it.

IMG_7889Can’t remember ever holding Martha’s hand in my adult life. She even told me she was afraid. This is a woman who has never, ever shown vulnerability. I assured her things would be ok. And they will.

IMG_7902Elihu played Simple Gifts on his alto recorder. It’s her favorite song.

At first he was reluctant to play, as Martha shares a room, but he did – and see how Martha enjoys it. Glad he played.

IMG_7899And then he says goodbye and tells her he loves her.

IMG_7973Ending the night with a very fine performance by Mr. Esty’s sixth grade class at the Waldorf School’s spring assembly. They sang a song from Schoolhouse Rock about interjections. Wow! A big hit.

Here’s the performance. Worth a listen. Some may remember this from Saturday mornings long ago.

IMG_7375I’m crazy-sentimental about everything, and this turning twelve stuff has me – and my lil man too – a little nervous. This relentless marching forward of time is certainly a mixed bag. It’s easy to get nostalgic and long for earlier days, no matter what age you are, and yet there’s still so much ahead to be excited about. I think the best way to prepare for the future is simply to enjoy the present day to its fullest, for one day many years hence, these too will be the good old days.

 

Off Balance June 15, 2014

Since Madeline’s been gone, it’s just felt different around here. Elihu’s noticed it too. The small flock that remains is a rather dull bunch, as something about the attack on the coop the other night has the birds behaving a bit less like themselves – and ironically, perhaps in some cases, a bit more like themselves – than before.  For the most part the gals all meander about as they’ve always done, only we notice they’re not quite as brave as they used to be. They don’t take over the porch (a frustrating but endearing activity), they don’t seem to make it as far as their once-favorite flowering quince bush, and in general they stay uncharacteristically close to the house most of the day. Austin, our slightly neurotic guinea fowl, deprived the past few months of his best pal Maximus, has been acting quite nasty to his coop mates, challenging poor Baldy, pulling every last feather from his royal rear end, as well as running after the hens in fruitless circles as they cluck in distress. And since Madeline – the one rather calming element in the the group – has been gone, he has become something of a bully. Elihu and I both know we need to get him some hens, but emails to local chicken friends turn up no prospects. He’s becoming a drag on the flock, and his bursts of incredibly loud calls of  ‘chank chank chank’ (I suppose him to be expressing some inner conflict – at least he can get it out, good for him in that regard) that sometimes last for five minutes at a stretch and permeate every closed window with ease – well, this is becoming much more than an occasional nuisance.

The absence of our goose Maximus has changed things too. We hadn’t lost any hens to predators over the past two years, the time since we’d had him. But with the coming of warm weather, we’ve had a handful of losses. No coincidence. I guess a two foot tall white gander made an impression on the neighborhood fox and raccoon. With that imposing figure no longer standing guard in the door of the coop at sunset, the critters have nothing to dissuade them. And no one to slow them down, either. Poor Bald Mountain did his regal best the night we lost Madeline; he had put up something of a fight with the attacker, and was covered in new, open scratches and was limping even more than before (in the past he’s lost a spur and returned home quite beaten up after fending off potential invaders). The back half of Baldy’s comb had been bitten off, and though the wound was beginning to clot, he was covered in fresh blood when we first saw him.

We came home shortly after dark to a message on our phone machine from our neighbor. He had discovered Bald Mountain on his front door step. Putting the story together it seems that after the confusion of the attack, he’d ended up fleeing, running through the woods and across the field to our neighbor’s house, where they found him on the stairs of their front door, seeking safety. Neighbor Chad was more than a hero, and wrestled the rooster onto his lap, driving him home on his four wheeler. But by then the damage was done. Madeline had been lost in the skirmish, and Azalea, as we later came to learn, had hunkered down in the darkness for her survival. What a good boy is our Bald Mountain, what a fight he must have  given. How stunned and impressed we were at how far he’d traveled to save himself (it is quite a distance). And that he sought out a house, a light, something he clearly recognized to represent the safety of home – it all has us even more grateful for our poor old fellow. Now, if only Austin, that damned nuisance of a guinea, would let poor Baldy alone.

It occurs to me, as I look about at my tail-less rooster, my psycho guinea fowl and my frantic hens, that this is no longer a harmonious homestead.

It’s also becoming a drag to go out these days. To get dressed, to make myself presentable enough to go before people. Somehow I made it through the last few weeks of school, but these days, like a blossom bursting forth overnight from a tiny bud, I too seem to have expanded my own previous dimensions in a very short time. Regret mounts when I think back to last summer; I inhabited a body of a sexy size 10 (for me this was a huge personal victory) and yet now I find I’m surfing Ebay at 2 am searching for fat shirts with empire waists and stretch waist pants, some even size 16. Sixteen? When the fuck did this happen? I ask myself over and over as I find myself unable to button the waist on the few remaining ‘fat’ pants I find in some long-forgotten storage bins. Seriously, how did I get here? Oh, I know how. The stress of this past year really got to me – the new music I’ve needed to learn and play, the unpredictable and horrific panic attacks I’ve suffered with (yes, they are no mere annoyance, they are irrational yet real experiences of pure terror) and the relentless nature of single motherhood have called for a deep soothing, one that only entire tubs of hummus and double portions of curry chicken with a half bottle of red wine can provide. Yeah, I’ve been riding this train for a while now, and now it’s finally arriving at its destination.

The kid”ll be gone on Tuesday for a good month and a half stretch, and finally I won’t have to concern myself with the preparation of three meals plus snacks all day long. I have no new music to learn, no one to perform for. ‘Me’ time is finally here. But then there’s that catch – the one my astute child himself brings up when I talk about how much ‘progress’ I intend to make in his absence. “I know what you’ll end up doing, Mommy” he says, his voice dripping with cynicism, “You’ll say how fat you are, you’ll look at all the work you have to do at the Studio and all the stuff to do around here, you’ll feel sorry for yourself and then drive to Stewart’s and get a bag of chips and a bottle of wine. Then you’ll tell yourself it’s just for tonight. But it won’t be.” Really? Am I that bad? I wonder. Am I that obvious? Crap. With a month to myself stretching before me, I feel hope and despair rising up inside of me all at once. Ich.

I haven’t done my taxes yet this year either. Filed for an extension. But I’ll need to file for another soon. Plus I need to re-apply for food stamps, something which in of itself is very much like filing taxes. This is support we desperately need at this point; living these past three months without that help has been pretty brutal. Between having to eat and wanting things such as a bike, a bike rack to carry said bike, orthodontics and bass lessons, it’s been tough. Time’s been at a premium too, as with all the outside work my new job requires, I just haven’t had the time to sift through a year’s financial information. So this too is something I have on my growing to-do list for the time ahead. And then I remember the bag of chips, the bottle of wine… Yeah, this kind of a desk-bound project is likely to inspire a desire to consume empty calories. When you’re at this end of the spectrum, it’s kinda hard to remember what it was to live at the other end of it – it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to be the super diet-conscious, portion-conscious, yoga class-attending person that you once were long ago. But I’ll find my way back, eventually. I hope.

There is also the garage to deal with. Looks like a bomb went off inside. The detritus of a long, unforgiving winter. My office is filled with bins marked ‘to file’, ‘to archive/scan’, ‘to do, medium importance’, ‘to-do, urgent’ (now that’s kinda funny, the bin’s been sitting there for months, untended), piles of Elihu’s art need to find a home, piles of clothing I can no longer fit into sit, waiting, while mice leave tiny turds all over them and begin to pull at the threads… Water continues to seep into my basement, and a white, fluffy mold has burst through my paint job of a couple years ago, sending a funky smell (and millions of funky-smelling spores too, no doubt) into the air. Piles of hand-me-downs sit, waiting to be put away, as well as do a thousand other tiny artifacts of our life. I know that my situation is not so far from most folks, and certainly I am not the only single parent with an extra heaping of life on their plate. But still… I just shake my head in deepest wonder…. How does everyone else do it?

Elihu and I spend a fair amount of time on the streets of Saratoga, watching the people walk past. He busks, I sit on a bench, read and watch. And I wonder about each one of these people. They all look so well-tended, so healthy. They wear trendy clothes, they sit outside at the hip restaurants and spend $200 on dinner without batting an eye. How do they do it? What do they do for a living? Do they have bins of un-filed crap at home like me? Yes, they’re out strolling the boulevard, looking fine, but are they happy? What kind of thoughts do they have? What motivates them? Do they feel fulfilled? Empty? Searching? If one didn’t ask these questions, it would seem that everyone is doing just fine, doing exceptionally well, thank you. I search their eyes for answers, I lean in to overhear bits of conversations in hopes of finding answers. They give no clues away. Perhaps their basements are moldy and full of piles too. Maybe not. They just look so good on the outside, there’s no telling.

I think back on the chapters of my life in which I felt the most promise, the most fulfilled, the most in balance. And, ironically, for all the moaning I’d done last year about turning 50, I can in retrospect say that for about half that year I felt the best that I had in a long time. And the time before that in which I remember feeling really good about things was when Elihu was a toddler – I’d successfully lost 55 post-baby pounds, I had a husband, a child and a home I loved, I was singing regularly in front of a top-notch, swinging big band, and life felt wonderful. Before that, it was a time in Chicago when I was playing in tons of bands, on the move all the time, making music I loved and being nearly constantly in the company of dear friends. These were the times I felt things to be most balanced in my life, and thank goodness I have those memories – they remind me of how it felt, how it might feel once again, if all goes well. It may take a little alone time to consider the new recipe I need these days to find myself living a balanced life once again; it’s my hope that a little reflection will re-invigorate my quest and bring some answers to light.

I know it’s important that I use my time wisely and get stuff done – but I also know it’s important to find peace in doing simply nothing at all. And, somewhere in between, lies that perfect balance. Here’s hoping I can come close.

 

Turning Tween May 2, 2014

Maybe it’s because of the landmark birthday. Maybe it’s because he himself feels that something should be different by now. Maybe it’s the recent onslaught of the relentless Pokemon sub-culture that has created a divide between us. Maybe it’s because his very physiology is changing. It could be any one of those things or more that have us in a new place in our relationship. It’s pretty clear to me now, we’re entering into new territory; my son and I are entering into the world of the pre-teen.

Yeah, my heart sinks a bit to admit it, but I know for sure that something here is new. It still feels foreign – really wrong, in fact – when I think about such a change occurring between the two of us. We have always been a team, but it doesn’t quite feel like that right now. I’d have expected some sort of mysterious change in our relationship had he been a girl, but I guess I’d thought the mom-son thing might be immune. No matter, something present in our relationship is changing, and I need to adjust. And I need to help make this transition smooth. I need to treat him gently, and with love and understanding. I need to remember how I myself once felt to be on the verge of that kind of change. To be at the doorstep of sixth grade, with its first heavy heart breaks, the complex web of communication and misunderstanding between friends and classmates, and not lastly those strange physical changes that just add to the insecurities of the age. I need to honor what it is that he’s going through. And most of all, I need to give him more space.

We two, like-souled and blessed with uncanny communication have become subtly divided over the past few months without my even realizing it. We have begun to become what our peers have already long been: parent and child. No longer are we somewhat parent and child, mostly peer and friend (I know, I know, folks will chide that this is unhealthy, unrealistic, impractical and more. Say what you will, so far it’s worked very well.) Now our relationship feels just a bit different. There’s nothing wrong here, and we still laugh and play together, but a definite shift of sorts is taking place. And it’s all ok – it’s to be expected. Elihu is growing into a healthy individual, I get that. It certainly helps to keep that in mind when bedroom doors are all of a sudden closed, bathroom doors too, when normal conversation is embarrassing, when my previous silly antics – while still entertaining to his classmates – have now become horrifying for him to witness… Keeping this big, pre-adolescent change in mind helps me to ignore my slightly injured ego when he recoils, tells me angrily to “please stop” or even worse, begins to tear up in embarrassed frustration. I have to remind myself that I too am shifting gears here; what’s worked for the past few years no longer does, so I’ll need to figure out the new boundaries. I’m just beginning to get a handle on it, and I hope that until I do my dear son can trust that I have his back, and that it is not my goal to embarrass or horrify him in front of his peers. I may not edit as much as he’d like, but I will do my best to demonstrate to him that I’m still on his side. (And I hope I can do so without making him into a spoiled brat. It’s tempting to want to acquiesce and buy him that coveted Pokemon card to show him what a pal I can be…)

This new place is not a bad place to be, really. As soon as I begin to lament the passing of my tender young child, I find myself enjoying a bit of relief as Elihu takes on new jobs around the house. In fact, he’s responded resolutely to my requests. I can sense (not just a hunch, we two have discussed it) that he needs more responsiblity around here. He sincerely wants to have more regular duties in our household. And I gotta say, after years of doing every blessed last thing myself, I am more than ready to delegate a couple of jobs.

It’s still a bittersweet place to be; from this day I can remember well what it was to hold my small child only a few years ago, and yet at the same time I can picture a young man preparing to leave home. So many nights I’ve nearly wept with exhaustion at the unending job of motherhood – the baths, the meals, the laundry, the cajoling – the usual stuff. Some days my dearest wish has been that my son not need so much of my goddam help anymore. When, I think, fed up and simply aching for a moment to myself, when will this kid grow up already?

I’d thought we were probably past it, and wondered if I hadn’t been doing it more for me than for him this time ’round, but tonight Elihu asked me to please read to him from our beloved Burgess Bird Book for Children. A rare, first edition copy nearing a hundred years old, we both love the quaint language and thorough accounting of birds that the main character, Peter Rabbit, encounters as they return to the Old Orchard with the coming of Spring. We first read it the Spring he turned six, and I’ve read it aloud to him each year since. Feeling a bit grouchy at the end of a long day and possibly on the verge of another self-sorry rant, I asked if we might want to skip the book tonight. In response, Elihu got kinda quiet, smiled up at me and shook his head ‘no’. My heart thusly softened, we cozied up together in bed to enjoy a couple of chapters.

This time when I reached for the ancient book my heart skipped a beat. A dim awareness had been growing lately, but I had been to afraid to name it. My hunch would no longer allow itself to be ignored, and my heart sank deeply when the question finally spoke itself to me: might this be the last year I’d ever read this book to my son? “Very possibly” was my answer. Oh-oh. All of a sudden I wasn’t so sure I really wanted to be over and done with my job. And when I located the bookmark and opened the book, I noticed that we were halfway through. And you might even say I panicked ever so slightly when another thought then occurred to me… We were halfway through our beloved children’s book, and we ourselves were halfway through Elihu’s childhood. The day that I’d prayed for on so many mother-worn nights was finally within sight. Oh dear friends, do be careful what you wish for…

I know how the remaining chapters of Mr. Burgess’ book will go, but I don’t have the same clear vision for our own story. I am, however, fairly sure that it too will end happily, while setting the stage for many more beautiful seasons yet to come.

 

Too Big September 10, 2013

So while I may have been feeling a little small and insignificant just two days ago, this evening I find my world so full that I’m hard-pressed to indulge myself in such concerns. I have gone from having virtually no work (perhaps contributing to the feeling of being a bit useless and small) to having almost more than I can handle. It’s kind of a shame that the work doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot of income (not saying it’s not appreciated, but it’s a small wage after taxes), but at the very least the work requires I use my brain, fingers and talent once again, and that certainly has value in of itself. I also get to be near my son, and become more involved with his school. That too is a good thing. My new job is essentially my old one; I’m playing piano for the movement classes at my son’s school. But now I’m playing for the high school as well as the lower school, plus accompanying a folk dance class, monitoring recess and playing for after school chorus too. It’s a position that just opened up all of a sudden, as the gal I’m replacing had family concerns she could no longer put off. And to think just days ago I was swimming in my own time. Not any more. While I’m a bit concerned about how I’ll how manage to get all the ‘regular life’ stuff done now that I’m working (not to mention make an elaborate Halloween costume over the next several weeks), I remember that old adage ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’. Today it seems I’ve lived up to it.

I’m almost done. I’ve been through a lot since I got up at six-thirty this morning. In addition to a full day of work (which in these first days ‘back’ is quite challenging for me as I’ve never been great at reading music – especially not to tempo and ready to go without much prep) I’ve taken my son to the dentist, dropped some donations off at a shelter, done the usual run of housework (dishes in particular are going to be tricky to stay on top of with a ‘real’ work schedule), practiced the piano for a good hour, assisted with homework, made supper plus picked apples from our trees, baked a pie with em, got the chickens in, eggs collected, washed and put in cartons. Makin a gun with my fingers and blowing away the imaginary smoke… Now one final pile of laundry sits on the bed. I got enough in me to see that through. Cuz I aint gonna to be this close and not finish the job. Yeah, my life suddenly got a whole lot bigger, and my personal sphere of influence is definitely larger than it was the day before yesterday.

On Sunday, Elihu and I went on a tour of some local water gardens. Having just added a little pond to our own homestead, we thought it might be fun to see what other folks had done. The tour was self-directed; we started at a neighboring town’s historical society and were given a map. We then made our way to the ponds and watergardens on the list at our own pace. The weather was of that lovely late summer, early fall sort…. sunny and warm with a chill at the end of the breeze. We lingered at each site, chatting with the owners, admiring their gardens, asking them questions and just enjoying the company of people. The tour culminated in a barbecue. It was a fun day, but as Elihu’d had a sleepover the night before (and therefore had not truly slept), he was more than tired at the end of our day. We came home and sat on the couch. He got onto my lap and laid his head on my shoulder. He was wiped out. “Carry me into the bedroom?” he asked, in a small voice. I considered it for only the briefest moment, but then realized that I could not. He was too big. Just when did this happen? I can never remember a time when I couldn’t just pick him up and carry him. Hadn’t I been doing this all of his life? I thought back over the past half year or so… I couldn’t put my finger on the last time it was that I carried him. Just which time, I wondered, was the final time? It was hard to believe. We were here at last. Kinda thought it would never come. My son had grown too much for me to carry anymore. He was just too big.

Things change all the time, and all around us, although we can’t always percieve it happening.  Situations weave in and out of each other, resulting in still more change and unforseen consequences… Things that once seemed bad now appear to open up opportunities for good, lean times morph into eras of bounty. The cold of winter becomes the heat of summer in imperceptible increments. You look up one day and wonder where you were while all this change was going on, cuz you don’t quite remember it happening. Yet all of a sudden, you notice that things are different. But that’s ok, you get it. You adjust. Life is just doing what it does, after all. Moving along… And you know that more change is coming, because it always does, at some point. Sometimes the impending change makes you nostalgic, sometimes it can give you the happiest sort of anticipation which nearly bursts from your chest… Either way, and no matter how contrary it may seem in the still of this very moment, you can be sure that things will one day be different. Things once too small will one day become things too big.