The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Whirlwinds of March March 13, 2017

This past week we’ve experienced a good dose of dramatic and angry-sounding winds here in our corner of upstate New York; several mornings we’ve awoken to see fresh tree limbs scattered across the property. Daily the coop door bangs shut even after we’ve made an attempt to prop it open, and at night the wind through the forest that surrounds our house can sound like a swarm of enormous jet engines passing us on all sides. It’s been cold too, as in single-digit cold, which can make it feel like an all-out assault mounted against us by the elements. The snow is almost all gone now, due to a few unseasonably warm days, but the game is still on; winter is by no means done with us. Truly, we are exhausted by it, but at least we know that it won’t last much longer. Elihu’s birthday is on April 28th, and by then the snow will be gone for good. Each year at about this time, when our patience is at its very end, we remind ourselves of this definitive marker, which promises us unconditionally that there are just a few weeks left. !

Day before yesterday the air was a bit warmer, the wind had calmed down, and as I was outside fixing the fencing and making minor repairs to the coop I heard a new sound… At first it registered as familiar, but it took me a minute to really get it. The red-wing blackbirds were back! Every year our amazement at the turning of the seasons is refreshed; it’s nearly impossible to imagine how different things will feel in only a month’s time, and even harder to grasp that such a change will truly happen at all! Today it sure doesn’t seem as if anything will ever change, but before too long, a few early robins and a line of turtles sunning themselves on nearby pond banks will seal the deal for us. At the moment, however, I pray that all those dear creatures who presently remain suspended in winter’s torpor will stay there for just a little bit longer, as it is still bitter cold outside. (Also, our snow-less terrain will be changing again soon, as there is a winter storm warning for the next two days promising 12 – 18 inches of snowfall. Oh well.)

The recent weather in our interior lives has been a bit windy and dramatic too. A recent heated exchange with Elihu’s father over his attending the Waldorf School including some angry emails from him prompted me to pen a terse response. I knew, even as I posted my note to him on Facebook (polite, to-the-point and with a small degree of good humor), that it wasn’t likely to serve me in any productive way. Yeah, I knew it. But being told “Fuck you” by my son’s father as I tried to defend the importance of Elihu’s school, man, that was too much. Seriously not cool. In hindsight I can understand that he was stressed, and in no frame of mind to respond kindly. Lots on that guy’s plate: travelling internationally (and with a Muslim name no less in this crazy Trumped-up world), having his time with his son challenged (on account of reducing unexcused absences in high school), having to keep up with his financial commitments. Yeah, I get it. In future I think my own policy should be to wait at least 24 hours so I can cool down a bit before firing off a response to his angry communications. But regardless of the situation, regardless of how carefully I might intend to preserve what remains of our relationship, I will never get my props from that guy – and I think I understand that fully now. No well-written letter, no physical evidence, not even a happy and thriving child will get any witness – let alone gratitude – from him. But that’s OK. I have a full plate, and a happy kid. I had my life with Fareed, and in that wonderful life I made friends, I became part of a very unique family, I traveled, I became a better musician, and I learned things – and in the end I got a wonderful child out of it too. So that relationship fulfilled its role in our lives. Yes, it was a good chapter. (The transitional one that followed, er, uh… maybe not so much!) But I’ve been learning throughout the entire journey, so nothing has been lost. All is as it should be… OK. Next adventure?

Elihu himself has had a magical week. Yesterday he played an adjudicated tuba performance (NYSSMA – New York State School Music Association) and received a score of 97. As his teacher told him earlier today at his lesson, this is a pretty important accomplishment in that just over a year ago Elihu had only the most rudimentary reading skills. (Yes, he knew his bass clef, but finding the notes on the tuba made it a whole new ballgame.) The judge made some lovely comments about Elihu’s interpretation and musicality, and this, although perhaps not entirely surprising, still kind of shocked us both. We’d prepared for some level of disappointment, so this was a pretty thrilling conclusion.

Another magical element to the week was Elihu’s successful and short-lived GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy a collective pitch/3D RC heli. It’s been a while (in the helicopter world 1 year = 5 years of ‘normal’ time) since Elihu’s had a brand-new heli. He’s fixed up the old ones and done his best to keep everything in the air, but at the end of the day, many of his craft weren’t designed to be fixed, but rather simply replaced. And now that he’s got some skills, he really wanted a craft that could support him as he learned a new, more sophisticated technique of flying. But on a $5 weekly allowance, the $250 heli he wanted (by his 14th birthday) would take a loooong time to save for. I made the suggestion that he could start a campaign – but the content was on him. We posted a couple of pics and he wrote the text. It took about a half hour to create, and in a only few hours’ time after posting it he’d reached his goal. He was running around the house laughing and laughing and gleefully jumping over the furniture (well, he does that anyway, but still…).

He promptly ordered the heli, making sure the guy at Horizon Hobby knew of his past disappointments. And wouldn’t ya know, the box arrived FedEx like 2 days later… I missed the first delivery and had to cancel some appointments to make sure I was here to receive it the following day, but oh how worth it it was. !! A triumph, a moment, a rite of passage. Let’s just hope he goes slow and takes all the advice he’s given. This will take a whole new level of skill. I’m confident he’ll do fine, I just hope it doesn’t take him one broken-up craft to get there.

When Elihu told me at the age of six that he wanted to play tuba, I knew he meant it. But who coulda known just what that would mean a few years down the line? And when Elihu began his obsession with birds, and then in time aviation, how could I ever have known the adventures that would ensue as a result? When he was told he needed to play bass before he could play tuba, who woulda thunk he’d take care of business as he did? Me, I was always a path-of-least-resistance kind of person from the start. I did the bare minimum I had to in order to get by. My kid, he’s not like that. He’s one to face stuff head one, assess it, devise a strategy and then dive in. When Elihu does something, he fucking does it. And he does it with such deep interest, such integrity, and such modesty. And the thing is – he does things with true joy. Not the laugh-out-loud sort necessarily (although sometimes that is how it manifests – like when he’s flying a helicopter or playing his djembe and he just can’t stop grinning), but rather it’s something that’s deeper, more lasting. He spends a lot of time in thought, and a fair amount of time reflecting on all the things he’s learned. He’s a fun kid to have around, and many are the times I’ve thanked him for choosing me to be his mother. I’m learning right along side him, and I’m enjoying myself too.

It’s a good thing that things are going well on the kid front, because challenges abound regarding The Studio these days. Forget about updating the website (one can clearly see that I have indeed forgotten about that!), there are mechanical issues popping up as we pilot our way (we? Make that ‘me’) through our second winter. Pipes are freezing, despite my cranking the super-expensive baseboard electric heat, renters are still enjoying last year’s prices (oy, I started so low I cringe to think), the terrain is either too muddy, too icy or piled too high with snow, and mom is still essentially funding the balance. We had a productive board meeting recently, but until we have a larger board, and until I can start assigning people tasks (I suppose in the real world we’d call those ‘committees’) it’s going to remain just lil old me doing it all. But overall, things are so much better than last year at this time, and I have to constantly remind myself of that.

Over the past month I’ve experienced some personal exchanges with folks who’ve stepped up to tell me they think this Studio thing has been a big mistake, a personal detour of sorts, and that I should just let it go. Some folks have wondered why I don’t just work for someone else and give myself a break from all the stress. I myself had some similar thoughts recently, and it was my mother who quite angrily insisted that quitting wasn’t an option. I suppose an existential crisis is inevitable along the path to creating something new like this. All I need to do is read back over this blog through the past few years to see just how far I’ve come. It’s easy to miss in the thick of it. You know, forest for the trees. This weekend has been another in a series of challenges, and thankfully the renter was very kind about it. It’s all been a huge learning experience. From how to run a business to how to maintain a building – to learning how to deal with a variety of different personalities and expectations. Huge. Learning. Experience. (I’m not such a fan of that “word/period” technique, but it does kinda Make. The. Point.)

Now it’s late and I’m losing my recall for the events of the past few weeks. Now I need to summon the focus to wake bright and early tomorrow and start hittin it all again. Make lunch, breakfast, do the chickens, check in with renters at the Studio, get kid to school, hit the Y, do some fast grocery shopping, prepare for a new student, learn the new score for the kid’s musical, put the groceries away (sometimes that’s easy to overlook!). Then there’s the small matter of tweaking the Studio’s bylaws, CCing everyone on the changes, and a few other Studio-related items which are too mundane to list, but can easily eat up the hour I may (or may not) have left after all else is checked off the list. Not sure I’ll get to the website. My taxes and school tuition assistance forms and the monthly emailing will also have to wait another day or two. A girl can only do so much! Maybe after the kid’s in bed…

You too? Yeah, I kinda thought it wasn’t just me. Every last one of us in this contemporary world is busy, busy, busy. But what an adventure, huh? Just today Elihu remarked that neither one of us tended to do things by “half measure”. When I looked to him for his reasoning behind it, he swept his hand in an open gesture toward our small living room. “You don’t just have a piano, you also have a harpsichord. I don’t just have a tuba, I also have a bass. And I don’t just have an alto recorder – I have em all! And we play all of them, and we enjoy playing all of them. And I don’t just love aviation, I live aviation. You don’t just love meeting new people and experiencing new situations, you live for that. And we don’t just keep a couple of chickens – we actually hatch our own flocks right here in our own little incubator.” As I looked around the room with a fresh new perspective, I nodded in agreement. I told him I hadn’t thought of it like that, and I confessed that I often felt our simple life here had sometimes become way too complicated. “We just don’t do things by half-measure” Elihu repeated. We stood there together for a moment in silence, looking out at our cozy room. “But we love it that way, don’t we?”  Yup, I guess we do.

No, there’s nothing half-hearted or half-measured about our life here. And I’m sure my son is probably right. Neither one of us would truly enjoy a static, predictable life – even if it meant all the warmth and sunshine of Florida. And while we treasure our peaceful and quiet time at home, sometimes it’s still a lot of fun to live in the midst of a whirlwind.

The eighth grade class jokes and just kinda hangs out… Elihu, meanwhile is…

Teaching himself Japanese. Not a huge surprise. He’s got a handle on German, so it’s time to branch out.

Back home, Elihu brings Mr. Duck inside for a quick visit with Grandma.

Just look how this kid is growing! See how short both his pants and shirtsleeves have become!

We’ve finally discovered why hens like to park underneath Bald Moutain’s belly: he is covered with a huge number of poultry mites. No amount of topical treatments have rid him of these pests which cause him to itch all over, and without respite. Some hens like to crawl underneath him and pick off the mites as little snacks. I called the local vet and can you believe I have a $156 credit there?? That means that this coming Thursday Baldie will be getting the full-on salon treatment via some internal medication that will put an end to this 8 year old roo’s troubles.


Elihu loves so many animals. This tiny, dime-sized poison dart frog lives with two others of another variety in a vivarium that is self-sustaining. Elihu spent months researching the construction of this sophisticated environment online before putting it together himself. All I can say is God bless the internet, and go YouTube!

Elihu and a new craft made entirely of his own design.

It’s a ‘scale’ paper model. Looks nice and flies surprisingly well. Who knew?

This is the constant state of our kitchen table. I’m ok with it now, but check back with me in a couple of months. !!

This is the super-blah looking time of year. Sigh. And still so cold!Ah, but Sunday morning breakfast makes it better.

So does a quick smooch with Alden, Bald Mountain’s son and the father of future flocks.

Sundays around here mean tuba lessons! In this pic Elihu’s magnificent teacher, Mike Meidenbauer, goes over some smaller points regarding the interpretive aspects of the tuba concerto Elihu will be playing at NYSSMA, an adjudicated performance which is graded and requires scales, sight reading and performance. We adore Mike for many reasons, and perhaps top on our list (although he is a highly regarded low brass instructor) is his joyful and humorous way of interjecting colorful language into a lesson. (He also has chickens!) Mike, Elihu and I are cut from much the same sort of cloth. We find his natural, humanistic way of teaching beyond refreshing.

Warming up, Elihu said he felt like “an elephant in an aviary”.

Kid did well, and he wore my dad’s shoes, too. That made us both happy. Hope it made grandpa smile, too.

Who woulda thunk? Neither of us! Wow!!! and Phew!!!

Proud Mama keeps on boasting…

Back at home, I’ve missed the Fed Ex driver once already, and knowing how precious his delivery is, I make double sure he doesn’t pass us by a second time.

I realize that sometimes our ‘doorbell’ confuses folks. The real bell is an actual bell that hangs on the side of the door. It came from my father’s childhood summer home on Paradox Lake in upstate New York, and it was likely used to call my dad and his brother up to the house for dinner. I just love that the same sound is now a familiar part of our life here. So far, however, very few folks have been brave enough to actually use it.

The package did arrive. !!

Here it is!

Suh- WEET!

Elihu has lamented for a while now that he doesn’t have a YouTube channel, but he has so much information to impart, and he thinks his input could be of value to someone out there. Finally, I sat down and got to work creating a channel. We took his first-ever formal “video” of his heli’s unboxing (which I’m told is definitely a “thing”) and uploaded it. He is now probably the happiest boy that ever walked the face of this earth.

Whew! What a whirlwind this March has been!

Link to Elihu’s new YouTube channel: Copterdude

(For some reason the link cuts off the start of the video – scroll back to catch it from the top.)

P.S. Even though you don’t need one more item in your inbox, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Elihu’s channel. Thanks for considering!

 

Grounded January 23, 2015

IMG_5897

Because Elihu missed four days of school from having the flu lately, he’d been a bit behind in his homework. He was staying on track, and we’d talked to his teacher, so I wasn’t worried. But he was. Poor kid’s been having a hell of a time getting to sleep over the past few months, and now, what with this school thing, it’s worse. Part of the reason is that in addition to school, there are a few other things weighing on his mind.

A few days ago he pulled his two oldest helicopters off the shelf and began an online quest for replacement parts. He misses seeing the giant one fly – it was his first, and we both have nice memories with it. “It isn’t right that it costs more to replace the broken parts than to buy a whole new one. It’s just a waste. It’s not right” he had lamented to me earlier that night. He’d admitted to me that he felt a deep sentiment towards this one particular heli – the big orange one he’d had since he was himself tiny – like the kind of feelings someone usually reserves for favorite stuffed animals. And I’d agreed. This machine was our friend, and we owed it to him to get him back in the air.

But it didn’t seem likely, from what we were learning. In fact, if we wanted to fly this one again, it just made economic sense to get a new one and use it for parts. Elihu resigned himself to this, but I could tell it disappointed him deeply. This was just another mild defeat which added to his sinking mood. I knew there was another piece too – one which he’d been keeping to himself because it was just too heartbreaking to speak aloud, and that was the absence of an old school chum from his life. The boy whose mother felt I made “bad parenting choices” by way of removing feathers from a dead owl or using a cuss word within earshot of my kid… She removed her son from the Waldorf School last year (no, I was not the reason for the change, although I’m sure it relieved her to be rid of me), and Elihu’s had a huge hole in his heart ever since. I emailed her recently about getting the boys together – completely on her terms, on her turf, whatever could work – but heard nothing back. That’s the way she handled the situation last time, and apparently it was still her method. Last year it took me three emails plus an intervention by the class teacher to get her to admit the reason she wouldn’t agree to our sons playing together. (Ironically she’s a psychologist and her job is to help people through communication. !) Plus the blog. She finds that to be the most dangerous of my bad parenting choices. Even after I removed every last image or mention of her son – and apologized profusely – even then it wasn’t enough to pacify her (when I apologized in person she had literally said “no worries”). And so my kid suffers. Many tears have fallen over this lost friendship, and we’ve spent hours parsing over the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might yets’. Elihu has learned to stuff it down, to forget it for now. But tonight, feeling the stress of being behind in his work, unable to fly his favorite toy and long out of touch with his old best friend, he succumbs.

He’s curled up into such a tight ball on his bed that I can’t lean in to kiss his forehead. Instead I kneel beside his bed and put my arms around him. “Mama, I’m really scared. I really am.” I hate to hear this from my brave, spirited and wise boy. But I can’t indulge in my own feelings of fear and uncertainty; I need to provide comfort. “What are you afraid of, sweetie?” I ask. “I’m just afraid,” he answers me. “Of everything.” I tell him that I am too, and that sometimes we just need to break things down and tackle them one at a time. He was behind, but still keeping to a schedule, so that was good. We’d found a website that sells his old helicopter, and that was good. And we’d sent an email to his friend, so we’d done all we could on that front. Until his friend was a teenager with his own ability to communicate with us, sadly that one would have to wait. But besides, wasn’t life sometimes magical for us? Didn’t the possibility exist that we might see him sometime when we were out and about in the world? After all, didn’t crazier, more serendipitous things happen to us from time to time? Elihu nodded his head a bit. I stroked his back and sat with him in silence for a moment. When he gradually straightened up, I could feel the bed was wet with tears where his head had been. I leaned in and kissed him. “It will be ok. It will.”

After our talk I’d left him to sleep, but even after two hours had passed he hadn’t been able to turn off his mind, to forget all that troubled him. Finally, he stormed into my room with Lenny, his favorite stuffed parrot, and harumphed as he dove into my bed. I didn’t say anything, I just turned off my computer and joined him. I understand so well the challenges of sleeping at night; my own thoughts race through the never-ending to-do lists and possible future scenarios, both hopeful – and frightening. Always just a couple steps ahead of a dire economic state, I live with a constant, low-level of stress which I’m afraid has somehow bled over into my son’s consciousness. I know our household is full of humor, music and nature. I know unquestionably that I have given Elihu the very best home life possible within my means. But I also know that he, like me, feels the edge on which we live. And he, like me, is physiologically prone to anxiety and panic. And he, like me, has no social life to distract or entertain him. He has but one friend with whom he meets outside of school, and those dates are too few, I know. He, like me, is for all intents and purposes, a loner. And that’s not a bad thing; for the most part we both enjoy living a quiet, isolated life in the country. Being a loner truly isn’t the same thing as being lonely, but tonight it really does feel just as bad as it sounds.

I realize that this will pass. Elihu’s an insightful kid, and so he knows this too. Things won’t always be thus. And no matter who or what it is that’s doing the flying – even his old favorite aviator, the tireless Wandering Albatross – not a one of them can keep on flying forever. Eventually everything must spend a little time on the ground.

 

Angels and Helis December 9, 2014

Over this past weekend the sixth graders held an event they call ‘The Angel Room’, a day in which they shepherd the Waldorf wee ones on a quest to purchase handmade gifts for their family members. The classroom is transformed into a magical winterscape, with the merchandise all laid out in the most enticing way… It tied in wonderfully with the sixth grade curriculum; Elihu’s class is currently studying economics, and this became a real-life exercise in learning how to conduct transactions, deduct expenses and realize a profit. (The proceeds from the sale go into the class fund for trips and special expenses.)

While the tiny children waited to be greeted and escorted by a sixth grade angel through the transformed classroom, they and their families spent some time in the large eurythmy room, enjoying music, puppet shows and home-baked treats. The two hours went by fast, and after so much setting up and tearing down, it’s hard to imagine it ever happened at all, because by Sunday afternoon the classroom looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had gone on. (The Waldorf school sets a great example of living life with a certain Zen-like attitude; routinely events like this are thoughtfully and lovingly prepared for – and then promptly packed away and cleaned up. The process becomes as much a reward as the goal activity itself.) The Angel Room is a relatively new tradition at the school, but I’m sure it will last for years. It brought out the very best in Elihu and his classmates and it was incredibly moving to watch their tenderness as they guided the little ones.

The day before the Angel Room was a wet and wintry day, and since Elihu was caught up with homework, and there was little to do inside, we decided to pack up his rc helicopters and head out to the mall to do a little flying. In the past we’ve used the generously sized open area outside the mall gym. With a good thirty foot ceiling and off to the side of the mall’s main corridor, the space is perfect for flying. Until one gets shut down by the mall cops, that is. I can’t help but wonder if the bored sales clerks in the neighboring jewelry store narked on us. It was quite a let down – Elihu had been waiting to practice flying his Blade heli for a while now with no luck (it requires some serious space). He took it well, and as a small consolation I arranged for him to fly some helis at one of the free-standing kiosks. Until another mall manager found him and asked him to stop. I racked my brain, where could we go now? Indoor ice rinks, nope. The Y? No. The auditorium at Skidmore College? No, probably not. And then it hit me – Lowe’s! With ginormously (that’s a sixth grade-sanctioned adjective) high ceilings and lots of airspace, it was certainly worth trying.

In minutes we were enjoying the lumber section of the home improvement store all to ourselves. Thankfully the inclement weather had kept builders away. The employees weren’t busy either, and they enjoyed watching Elihu fly and then chatting with him afterwards. One by one, Elihu exhausted the charge in each machine. We’ve never had such a golden opportunity before. It’s a great new resource and we’re thrilled to have discovered it. Maybe a little angel gave us the inspiration. One never knows.

IMG_2463Ready to fly.

IMG_2468Organization is key.

Elihu enjoys a long rc flight and tells us a little about the particulars of the craft.

IMG_2447He had a pretty good run before the mall cops shut him down.

IMG_2487Elihu got to demo the quadcopter at the kiosk. Again, until the cops caught up with him.

IMG_2623The sixth grade classroom before its transformation.

IMG_2277The short hallway into the room, before…

IMG_2499… and after.

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Mr. Esty gives the display some final consideration.

IMG_2374Everything looks so inviting.

IMG_2370Elihu enjoys a laugh with his classmate’s little sister Cara.

IMG_2365Beautiful! We’re ready for tomorrow…

IMG_2494Mr. Esty goes over the duties of the sixth grade angels.

IMG_2496The room awaits its first little customers.

IMG_2542Elihu takes his first charge through the room.

Elihu, showing a young one around the room of gifts.

IMG_2554Adam and Sawyer are the right guys for this job!

IMG_2578There’s a lot going on in the eurythmy room as folks wait for their turn.

IMG_2531There’s a puppet show…

IMG_2565…and music

IMG_2506Angel Norah helps the little ones color their gift bags.

IMG_2592Elihu was excited to play a couple of solo pieces.

IMG_2605A couple of the sixth grade girls did a reading of their work – it was very funny!

IMG_2520The angels take a little break and watch the show.

IMG_2645Before long, all was quiet and things were made ready for school to begin again the next morning. Everyone pitched in and made the job go much faster than I would have expected. Can you believe this is what the main hallway of the school looks like? We both feel so lucky to be a part of this oasis in such a chaotic, fast-paced, over-stimulated world. We thank our angels we found this place.

 

Summer Flies August 31, 2014

If a picture says a thousand words, then this might just be my longest post ever. So much has happened in the past few weeks, I can hardly recount it all but to look back over my photos. These are our final days of summer, and we’re savoring them to be sure. This photo barrage may try the patience of some, and if that happens to be you, please skip on ahead and we’ll see you next time…

IMG_2394We’ve reached a first here at the Hillhouse… Not enough eggs for breakfast (all but three of our older gals have all died, and the new pullets aren’t laying yet). This is our first store-bought egg in a long, long time. Confirms for me the benefits of happy, free-range hens. Our gal’s egg is on the right. Could ya tell?

IMG_2128That crazy guinea fowl of ours, Austin, has just learned a new trick. I know it’s ‘bird’ seed, but we meant it for another kind of bird here…

IMG_2153Thumbs Up and me.

IMG_2175The ALS bucket challenge comes to Greenfield… Ken, right, videos his old pal Walter. Now retired, as state troopers they were once partners and shared some amazing stories together on the job.

IMG_2178Mid-ice bucket dump. The Greenfield Mamas are next, whenever our schedules will finally permit (my donation’s been made, so the challenge is additional, I realize, but still important.) We’re having a backhoe dump its massive bucket of ice water on us. No doubt we’ll need to plan it carefully for safety’s sake. The goal is to amplify our challenge by reaching a broader audience. Stay tuned.

IMG_2195Elihu enjoys a little RC heli time. What’s significant here is that it is the last photo ever to mark the driveway sans house at the end. Sigh.

IMG_2204Friend Ken’s also a pilot, and here he’s showing Elihu what the controls look like on a plane preparing to land.

IMG_1137 Hopefully, after we log the property this winter, we’ll restore a panoramic view closer to this than the one we currently enjoy (this spot is another hilltop property in Greenfield). When our house was built in 1970 it looked like this, now we see the horizon mostly in between the trees.)

IMG_1082This is our old family friend Ruth Lakeway’s house. She was a soprano who sang regularly in dad’s Baroque music festival, and she died some seven years ago now, but no one’s lived in the place since. As a child, I had many happy memories in that home. (I even had visions of living here when or if I returned to Greenfield one day.) As of this writing, only the barn and garage remain. We Conants speculate that the house may have been built atop a spring; it suffered from constant water in the cellar, a problem no professional could rectify. This spot will always be special to us, house or no house.

IMG_1984On to happier things…  Ah, the county fair. Pure America.

IMG_2081Ready, aim…

IMG_2085…and for the second year in a row, Elihu wins a goldfish!

IMG_1991Elihu and friend Roger have the swings all to themselves.

IMG_2078A word of caution…

IMG_2076…which neither one of us heeded. !

IMG_2074We know this Emu hen – she is twelve years old and in the pen with her mate of many years. See that white membrane over her eye? It’s her nictitating eyelid, and her closing it like that is an expression of trust and pure enjoyment. I’m smooching her neck and she’s actually leaning in to me. We love her so. For me, this is one of the highlights of my entire summer. Elihu’s too.

IMG_20140823_172017 Okay. It’s official. I am the crazy bird lady.

IMG_2019Elihu gets to hold a blue ribbon-winning hen. He’s kinda crazy for birds, too.

IMG_2064Talk about a sub-culture. So much to know. A bird can easily be disqualified for a poor comb. !

IMG_2007This guy looks well-qualified to me. IMHO.

IMG_2026I miss having homing pigeons. It’s on my list for future adventures.

IMG_1968Yes, Ken’s an equine artist, but ironically he’s very allergic to horses. This brief up-close visit resulted in tearing eyes all afternoon.

horsesHere’s a sample of Ken’s work. And yes, his art is for sale – plus he does commissions. If you want to immortalize your pet, Ken’s your man!

IMG_1136Here we’re passing the farm on which our old goose, Maximus lives. He’s one of the white dots just to the right of the two yaks and horse. Really. See for yourself.

IMG_1891We received a little emergency septic attention. When you live on your own – with no city sewer system – it’s your job to get rid of your waste. As the old saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’… It’s easy to forget to keep on top of such mundane business. (The guy who pumped the tank was thrilled to have me as an audience as 7:30 am and he gave me all his best material. He assured me that when it came to his job, he knew “his shit”.)

IMG_1959Look – that’s my foot! I’m actually making this thing move!

IMG_1962Al, our friendly local excavator (pilot, nature-lover and bicyclist), gave me a little lesson at the controls.

IMG_1912The Studio’s last summer program. (Mom’s house is on the right – she’s just up the driveway.)

IMG_1919They’re wrapping things up…

IMG_1936…and taking home their work.

IMG_1927So beautiful.

IMG_1926This one too.

IMG_2242After Al did some work on our septic system (I accidentally deleted the cute shot of Al and Elihu standing over the open septic tank and holding their noses – but I think you get the picture without, well, getting the actual picture) he let Elihu ride on the tractor down the long driveway and back to the road.

IMG_2276Look what awaits us at the driveway’s end. Ich.

IMG_2230The guy building the spec house has kindly agreed to give us some leftover cement for our front step. Getting the huge cement truck back here without hurting our great maple tree was a feat. The driver was good about taking care not to break any tree limbs.

IMG_2231Nick helps skooch the cement into the frame. Afterwards, we two screed it (yes, ‘scree’ is a verb; a ‘scree’ is a tool one uses to settle the cement into place), and then I put a broom’s brush finish on it. Always more stuff to learn how to do. Nothing is as simple as it seems. !

IMG_2287Now we visit the sight and take a look at the plans. I’m relieved to know the house will be finished in dark, natural tones.

IMG_2289A view down the old farmer’s road on our property…

IMG_2295..and a gorgeous study in light and dark. So much beauty in our little corner.

IMG_2357We visited grandma’s house (the Studio’s on the same property), just a driveway down the road to the west. See the house taking shape down the road? My heart positively sinks.

IMG_2387Ich. It’s getting taller.

IMG_2334But at least we have a nice new front step.

IMG_2417Elihu has a friend over. They’re happy to sit, side-by-side in a virtual culture. (Don’t worry, I got em outside too.)

IMG_2306We’ve brought out the country in our city friend!

IMG_0852Elihu loves those amphibians. This is a particularly robust specimen. Cute, too.

IMG_1000Neighbor Chad gives Elihu a spin on the zero turn. All that RC piloting has given him a usable skill!

IMG_0515We brought mom to the animal auction. This is where our avian adventures all start.

IMG_0547 A donkey was up for bidding when we arrived. Sold for $25. No kidding.

IMG_0521Next up, a Llama.

IMG_0538One of the regulars.

IMG_0582“Backstage”, mom talks with another regular at the auction house. He’s a nice guy, always helpful, and very knowledgeable about the animals.

IMG_0585At these bargain-basement prices, it’s easy to talk yourself into taking home a new friend. It’s the morning after when the real adventure ensues.

IMG_1068A little inside fun…

IMG_2438…a little American Gothic humor…

IMG_0813…and finally, a new view on things. This is the first photo ever of Elihu outside with his eyes wide open, no sunglasses. He’s wearing his new, tinted contacts here. But the story’s not over… He got home, put them in for the first time, and they RIPPED! He was so good about it, and even though I wanted to cry, I didn’t. If he can be strong, then so can I. The new contacts will be in soon…

To finish, here’s a little video of Elihu’s first moments in our home with his new contacts…

There will be more to come, no doubt, on Elihu’s new life with contacts as our adventures continue…


 

New Normal February 25, 2013

Dad, Elihu and planes

Met Elihu and his dad at the train last night. We three had a nice, leisurely supper. The guys made some paper airplane models at our table while I enjoyed my very first experience with Angry Birds and was easily sucked into more than a few games on dad’s Iphone. At some point during dinner Fareed and I got to talking about my cable bill, and how I might get creative about changing up my house systems, and how I might save some money. Our tones must have become much more serious, because I looked over at Elihu to see his face beginning to scrunch up… “Hey, what’s the matter?” I asked him, and no sooner had I shown my concern than he began to sob. “It just feels like you guys are not happy with each other. Like you’re fighting. You both sound angry.” True, I suppose the tone was perhaps a bit more business-like than conversational-friendly, but we were not fighting. Far from it. Fareed and both I jumped in and assured him that we were not arguing – that we were just talking about a problem we needed to solve… “Sweetie” Fareed began, “your mother and I are best friends. We will always be best friends.” Then he looked up at me for confirmation. I met his eyes only briefly, as this was the first such declaration of this kind I’d ever heard from him since this whole thing began years ago. It caught me off guard, and I had to assess how this felt in a mere nanosecond. I felt I needed to answer positively, for the sake of my son. In an instant, as I considered the way this statement resonated with me, I could feel my  heart softening towards him, yielding to him… and yet there was reservation, maybe even a faint sense of being deceived… “Yes, of course” I confirmed, so that Elihu might feel some solidarity here. The gravity of the moment quickly disappeared as Fareed and I attempted to lighten the mood in a manner that had come to us naturally for decades… we smilingly morphed into a Monty Python-esque sort of bit along the lines of ‘oh you think that’s an argument, I’ll give you something to really get upset about…’ and Elihu smiled too. Soon he was laughing along with us, but his tears took a little longer to stop altogether. Can’t say this was surprising. I sensed that once again he was feeling the stress of the ‘handoff’, and this was just another natural expression of the transition taking place. An expression of the evidence before him that he lived, ultimately, in a family divided by half a country. A one-parent-at-a-time family.

We passed a couple of hours, chatting, goofing around, making planes. Then finally, especially as it was a school night, it was snowing and we had chickens to get in (not to mention a long drive ahead), our visit was winding to a close. Sometimes our visits end happily, easily. And while it seemed all the elements were in place for it to end so now, I felt the vaguest current of something unresolved, a tenuous energy unready for the final goodbye that lingered in the air… We drove daddy to the train station and got out for last hugs and kisses. We three stood in the snow, our arms around each other. Elihu clung to us both as we exchanged our ‘double smooches’… Elihu told his father one last time that he loved him, and Fareed responded in a low voice, “I love you too, more than you’ll ever know…” We waved til the car turned and his father disappeared into the darkness. Elihu began sobbing as soon as he was out of sight.

What happened over the next half hour I cannot repeat with the complete, word-for-work accuracy that I’d like. What Elihu had to say, and the way in which he expressed himself, was simply beautiful. His words would have been impressive had they come from an adult in a state of deep reflection, but that they came from the mouth of a nine year old boy, who spoke without any prior consideration of his words – that made it even more mind-blowing to witness. My boy, finally, was letting me know exactly how he felt about this whole divorce thing. Until last night, I’d thought I knew how he felt. But I had only part of the picture.

I knew transitions were tricky, but I’d always thought on the whole he was much less affected by our split family than I came to learn. He started to express himself by telling me that he deeply wished “the essence of ‘what happened’ could say it was sorry to him. He explained that he didn’t mean me, or daddy, or any one person in particular. He repeated that he just wanted the essence of the experience to say it was sorry.  Furthermore, he wished this ‘essence’ would acknowledge that Elihu did not deserve to be treated like this. A few moments of silence passed. During most of the ride, in fact, I said very little. I just listened as Elihu poured his heart out to the world.

“Why were you talking to each other like that?” he asked, and I was confused. “Like what?” “Like drones… you weren’t talking with each other. You were just talking… not like people who used to be married. Not like a family. Just like drones…” Wow. He did pick up on it – that restrained sort of vibe that’s always there when I’m with Fareed. I do know that I put up an emotional wall – it just feels safer that way – and I’ll be damned if the kid didn’t feel it. “Honey, I just need to be that way with daddy. If I weren’t, I’d probably end up crying and begging him to come back… I know it’s stupid, but I think that part of me still feels like that…” Was I admitting too much? Giving my son false hope? Hell, was this even really the way I felt about things? Even I surprised myself with this admission. This was a very honest moment between us, and I didn’t feel like modifying the truth for him, I didn’t feel like censoring what came out of me. I owed him that much. I’d helped screw up his life by not honoring my intuition and examining my marriage before it was too late. I had to be honest, there’d been enough deceit.

“I feel like I only just realized when I was eight that we were never going back.”  “Never going back, sweetie?” I asked, “what do you mean?” He hardly paused before he explained; ” I feel like it was you and me and daddy in our house in Evanston and then we took a little trip away. But somehow I always thought we’d go back to that life. I really did.”  I asked him how he could possibly remember Judson – he was hardly more than a toddler when we left – yet he protested that he remembered the feeling of that place, and that was the feeling he wanted to return to. “I guess I just kind of thought that we were just going to be here for a little while, and somehow, we’d go back to being our regular family.” More road, more darkness and snow. “And I’d have a sister too.” I thought back on my miscarriage. “By this July, your little sister or brother would have been eight.” I mused. “Yeah,” he answered, “that would have been perfect”. And we rode in silence for a while more, the windshield wipers smoothing away the big, wet flakes.

“It seems like everybody is always doing things with their fathers. They get both a mother and a father at the same time. And it makes me so sad to hear them talking at school about their family ski trips. It’s not fair. We can’t even do things together as a family. ” He mentioned one of his classmates, whose dad is my mom’s cardiologist. Even my own heart felt a tad bit of jealousy. They had three kids – and money. (I scolded myself for indulging in the thought and returned my attention to Elihu.) “It’s not fair that I don’t get my own daddy.” I asked Elihu if he’d ever talked to Fareed about all of this. He said no, because he was afraid of what he might say in response. “You need to speak to daddy about this, even if you are afraid. I was afraid too, sweetie, and I think that’s partly why we’re here now. If only I’d been brave and asked daddy where his heart was, maybe I could have saved our marriage. Maybe.” I was trying to show Elihu by example how important it was to face your fears and communicate, but I may have inadvertently given him hope… “Yeah, and maybe then we’d still be in Judson and I’d have a sister.” “Oh but sweetie,” I tried to comfort him, “honestly, there’s no way of knowing if it would have changed anything. It might not have changed anything at all.” Silence. This was a difficult situation. No one answer, no one perspective. “You can’t imagine your life without Charlie and Erie, can you?” I asked of his little brothers. “No” he said. “But I wouldn’t have known them, so I wouldn’t have known the difference. And I would have had a regular sister from you.” More road, more sadness. More unending what-ifs….

After a while he spoke up again. ” I don’t like the way Jill asks how my mother’s doing, like nothing’s wrong. It bothers me the way she does that.” What could I say? I have no idea what I would say to him if I were her… “Honey, all of us say the things we need to. None of us wants to hurt anyone, or to say too much, so grown-ups usually just say the littlest, most polite things we can.” Another pause. “She’s doing her best, I know” Elihu said quietly. There wasn’t much relief from the sadness that hung heavily about us both. But finally tonight there was anger too. “I feel like I’m on a huge string in between you and daddy. I’m in the middle of you two… and I’m just hanging there. And I don’t think daddy even knows or cares!” There was anger in his voice now, and I was rooting for him. Get mad, baby, I thought. “Daddy has never apologized.” Really? I thought. Honestly, he’s never apologized? My heart was breaking over and over for my son and now I was beginning to get angry too. Did Fareed have any fucking clue just what damage he’d done? Really? Did he? A moment of rage passed over me, and I let it go… I’ve learned how fruitless it is to get angrier and angrier… But I hoped that Elihu might remember this fire, and that he might finally speak to his father about it. “You do know the only way you’ll ever know for sure how he feels about all this, don’t you?” I asked. Good boy, he knew all right. He agreed that he finally needed to have that conversation with his father. And he would. Not just quite yet though, because he was still afraid. But soon. I didn’t say anything more. I hoped he’d get his father’s apology at the very least.

I explained as best I could that in the grand, planet-wise scheme of things we were very, very fortunate people. And he agreed. He listed all the many things that made our lives easy and made us happy. He even understood that he was lucky to have both his parents, loving and present in his life. He knew it all, yet still… I went on to explain to him the idea of a ‘new normal’. That this life – with his chickens, his helicopters and Waldorf – all of this was his life. No, it wasn’t a home with a father and a mother, a sister and a dog, no; it wasn’t in Chicago where all our old friends lived, no… But it was our life. And as everything stood, right now in this moment, this was our normal. Our new normal. And fighting it would only cause heartbreak. He made a ‘mm-hmm’ from the backseat. Nothing more was said until we got home.

Since then the air has lightened, and Elihu and I are back into our groove. But he seemed a little clingier than usual tonight after I turned out the light, and he asked me to please hold him. There are no more touching words that a mother can hear from a child… I held him until his breathing became deep and the sweet relief of sleep overtook him. Brave, insightful, loving boy. Welcome to your new normal.

Feb 2013 nose eggs dad 012

 

Sunday Afternoon February 10, 2013

IMG_5509

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…

IMG_5517

Loading up the family…

IMG_5518

Crank starting the old engine…

IMG_5524

All aboard…

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They head off the long way ’round…

IMG_5528

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

IMG_5529

Heading North towards the field…

IMG_5530

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

 

 

Departure February 1, 2013

My heart sunk down to my knees and my body went cold. The kiosk where our Turkish friends sold helicopters at the mall was gone. Gone. In its place a wide expanse of hallway. As if it had never even been there at all. For almost the past two years this place had been mecca for my son. His young life has revolved around his chickens and his helicopters. This is the place he learned to fly. This is the place where he’d test pilot a variety of machines for hours on end while I waited nearby, reading. The two young men who ran the stand always showed Elihu such kindness. At Christmas one even gave him his choice of helicopter – just like that. “Which one do you like?” the man asked. Elihu showed him, and the man handed it over with a smile. No doubt Elihu had probably been responsible for a handful of sales – even so, this was truly an unexpected and sweet gesture. The men would share snacks with Elihu, they’d even leave the stand for a few minutes, trusting Elihu to keep watch in their absence. Truly, this had become an important part of our lives. The kind of place we kinda always thought would be there. And now, it wasn’t.

Thankfully, we’d been there just a few days before. We knew they were concluding their seven year business and moving on. The mall overall wasn’t doing well, their numbers were declining – plus they were getting burnt out on it. We understood. And yet somehow, we couldn’t really believe it. “Come back Friday” they told us, as they’d been working on getting one of Elihu’s helicopters fixed. Not sure why I gave them our info the last time we saw them, but I’m glad I did. It gives us both hope that they might stay in touch… Still, there’s no real closure here, and it’s upsetting. Elihu was so excited about getting his old helicopter back fixed too. Each morning the past two weeks he would count down the days until he picked it up. (I myself was never so confident that they’d been able to help – it seemed to me they were stalling because they didn’t want to disappoint him!) But it wasn’t the loss of his toy that saddened him. It was the loss of his friends, of this joyful oasis in his life for which there was no substitute. But they were just one day short… why? We couldn’t understand it, so I began to search for the story. 

We visited a shopkeeper across the way who I knew to be a fan of Elihu’s. He would stand outside his store, watching Elihu fly, smiling the whole time. He knew us by sight, and thankfully, he was able to fill us in. It seems he’d been witness to their final moments there. Turns out they’d planned on being here Friday. We were not stood up (I didn’t think so, but it was still nice to hear.) There’d been a fight with the mall manager. They’d asked for three extra days, but the manager wouldn’t let them pay a prorated rent, and instead challenged them to pay him half a month’s rent for three more days. Our friends had no choice but to leave. I can imagine they were disappointed to know that Elihu would be let down, that they would not be here for him – either to return his toy or to say goodbye. It wasn’t the ending either party would have chosen. But little we could do. 

I’m proud of Elihu. He didn’t cry, even though it would have been entirely understandable. (Hell, I wanted to!) But he did keep staring at the space, walking back and forth over the spot again and again and repeating “I just can’t believe it…” In the end, we ended up making friends with the store owner, and he said he thought he had the Turkish fellows’ number at home – that he’d bring it in for us. So that made us feel a little better. And we both reminded ourselves that we never know what’s ahead. That sometimes big – and often sad – changes have to happen before something new and different and good can happen. Yeah, we both know that stuff. But it didn’t really make it any less sad. Just a bit more tolerable. 

Time will take the edge off our loss. We’ve both learned a lot from this chapter in our lives, we’re grateful for it, and now it’s reached its conclusion. Some new chapter will begin soon and we’ll learn new things and meet new friends. In time it’ll all sort itself out. After all we both know it’s true; every arrival depends upon a departure…