The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Present for Good Night August 30, 2013

I’d come in to Elihu’s room to say goodnight. Although I hadn’t planned on reading to him (the night before I’d read Oscar Wilde’s very amusing “The Canterville Ghost”), I had a feeling there’d be no short goodnight. There almost never is. Elihu always has something on his mind. And tonite, I must say, he surprised me. He was lying on his side in the dark room, facing the wall. ‘You know, I just don’t get it. It seems most people miss the very reason for their lives.’ Huh? I thought. Where is this one going? I put my hand on his shoulder and asked if he could tell me what he meant by that. He responded in a slightly agitated tone. ‘One should always acknowledge the present before moving on to the future’. I waited. Did I just hear him correctly? Elihu often came up with things that had me second guessing what I’d thought I’d heard him saying. ‘What do you mean, honey?’ I asked. ‘I’m not going to repeat it’ he said in frustration. ‘You heard me.’ Ok. He wasn’t in a great mood, but clearly he had something weighing heavy on his mind that he wanted expressed and out before he could sleep. So I waited.

‘Why is everyone so modest?’ he asked, but before I could ask what it was that he meant by that, he continued…. ‘If someone is good at something, then why don’t they just admit it? Why does everyone seem to feel they can’t be successful at something? They’re missing the lessons they’re supposed to learn if they don’t just admit when they succeed!’ He sounded almost angry. Now I was able to ask him to help me understand him better. He went on to explain that he thought that before someone gave up on a hobby or a field of study he should pause first to assess all that he’s learned thus far. He said that he though everyone ‘in this culture’ was always in a hurry to move onto something new. He lamented that people seemed to be hard-pressed to celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy them. He wanted to know why it wasn’t accepted in our culture to admit that you were good at something. He cited this phenom kid banjo player he’d jammed with on the street the other night. Clearly this kid was more than just good. But when Elihu’d told Nathan he was good, Nathan just replied ‘I’m alright’. I offered that it’s never been – as far as I’d known – accepted in polite culture to flat out accept such praise without some degree of modesty. I also explained the idea of false modesty, and how that wasn’t really a great alternative either. ‘I think most people have a hard time admitting when they’re good at something.’ I offered. ‘Maybe the best way to accept a compliment and be polite too is just to say ‘thank you’. That way you’re accepting the truth, you’re enjoying your success, but at the same time you’re not being too full of yourself. I think Nathan will be more comfortable simply saying ‘thanks’ when he’s a bit older.’ Elihu was quiet for a moment. ‘Yeah. Guess saying thank you is the best thing to do.’ More quiet. ‘But I still think it’s very important to acknowledge when you’re good at something. To accept when you’ve done something well. Because if you don’t, you’re missing the lesson.’

Goodnight had become an occasion for pause and reflection to be sure. As we lay there in the dark, just staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on his bedroom ceiling, I think we both found a tiny bit of closure to the day. I was lost in my own thoughts, trying to make mental notes in order to recall our conversation later, so that his bedtime wisdom might not be lost, but he was clearly still following the trajectory of his initial musing. ‘Ok, please don’t get mad with me, but can you repeat what it was that you first said just now?’ I asked him. He sighed, but he obliged me: ‘If you don’t acknowledge the present before moving on to the future – you miss the whole point of things. And that’s all I’m going to say.’ I repeated it several times over in my head before leaning in to kiss him. ‘I love you so, Mommy’ he said, looking into my eyes by the dim closet light. We hugged again, tightly, and in my heart I thanked him for choosing me. ‘I really love my present. Don’t you?’ I asked. ‘Yeah. I do.’

I got up to leave the room. As I shut the door I saw him turn to the wall again. He put his arms around his giant stuffed macaw, and he sighed.

Post Script – here’s a link to some video shot this past weekend on Travers Day in Saratoga Spring, NY, of Elihu sitting in with tenor guitarist Jesse Rock and banjo player Nathan Hanna… so much fun!

 

Life So Far October 29, 2012

Dictated to me tonight. Wish we’d done more of this over the past two years, but it just never happened. So glad we got this one down…

October 29th, 2012   by Elihu Scott Conant-Haque

You know, as I look back at all the years I was in Greenfield School, I realized that although I’ve had so many experiences at other schools, I really have had most of my life there. Even though I’d had five years at other places, I really became aware of where I was at age five, so that’s why I say my “whole life” was there.

Greenfield School had been a good school. I mean, I’d been famous at the place, not that I’d had many friends. And it was true, I didn’t have many friends, though it varied; sometimes I’d have a lot, maybe for a week or two, and then they’d remember that they played sports and that they were “cool” kids, so they couldn’t hang out with me. And then it would go back to just Keithie and me, and maybe Carter. Keith is a tall boy, a fast runner (unlike me) and he plays sports. He’s an outdoorsy type, he rides motorbikes – he even has his own – and can do huge bicycle jumps. Not that I’m not cool, I am, just in my own way. I guess Keith had been the only kid in my class to realize that maybe I was cool – in my own way – and that’s why he was friends with me. Cause usually, a kid is friends with you only if you’re cool – and you have to be cool in his way.

Anyway, the years at Greenfield seemed to pass quickly, as I look back at them now, a fourth-grader going to Waldorf, with many, many friends (not that I’m popular.) Greenfield was a good school, it’s just that, I guess my eyes sort of contributed to the way I acted, I don’t know. Because the school seemed really chaotic to me, but not to others; they could deal with it. Ha, they wouldn’t have even cared even if it was chaotic for them – they would have just kept on going. But that was then. Now is now.

I guess you probably want to know more about what I’m doing at the moment than what I did a couple of years ago – though all this seems interesting to me, because it’s funny to look back on my own life now, and see all the things I never would have realized then.

At Waldorf, things are going pretty good. I mean maybe it’s not true that I’m totally loaded with friends. A friend is sort of a different thing than a classmate that really cares about you. A friend is someone who’s willing to play with you at recess rather than doing their own silly sport that you can’t understand. Now friends are nice to have, and there are two real good friends I have at Waldorf. Cora and Sophia are their names. They’re twins. They have freckles and short, rusty-colored hair. They’re both a little taller than me; Sophia’s about an inch taller and Cora is about two and a half inches taller. Mostly everyone is my class is taller than me. I’m the second shortest, next to Phoenix.

It’s a good school, this new school, Waldorf. I mean, I’ve been here for about six months, it’s not like it’s really new. I’ve mostly set into the things I have to do. They’re different from Greenfield, though there is homework. I have to do spelling. But the thing I like most about Waldorf is that it’s not as chaotic as Greenfield, it really isn’t. It’s a gentle school. And singing is a big part of the day. Since I’m a very good singer, that was obviously a nice little surprise that I didn’t know of when I first came to the school. There are many beautiful songs we sing. One we’ve been practicing especially hard on is a song called “the Goose Song”. It’s a beautiful song, with a melody and harmony part. We have a class of 22, so when we sing both parts together it sounds amazing. But it might not sound quite so amazing, because sadly, Sophia and Cora are moving soon.

Well that’s about all I have to tell you about Waldorf and Greenfield. I’m really happy to have this written down. It makes me feel good to know that somewhere in all these files, in our little Mac computer, tucked away under a little stool, in a little bedroom, in a little country cottage, where live a little boy and his mother, is a whole story of that little boy, looking back. And to know, that somewhere in that little boy, he feels happy.