The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Split July 30, 2017

For the first time in a year or more my son is resting in my bed on a Sunday morning as I sit in my favorite chair, writing. This had been our routine for most of his life until one day, it wasn’t. Last times are evasive; there is so seldom the awareness that one is experiencing something for a final time, but it has to happen sometime, right? I try to be as mindful and grateful of all the little everyday routines that bring joy to my life because there is always a tiny voice in my head which whispers “this may be the last time….”

I can remember the last time my father was downstairs in this house. It was a delicate procedure to get him down the steep cellar stairs in the first place, but I’d just painted the main room and installed a large carpet, making it truly habitable for the first time ever, and Elihu and I had wanted to share our triumph with his grandparents. I can remember watching dad’s laborious ascent of the stairs at the conclusion of our visit, and thinking distinctly “this is the last time dad will ever come down here”. It wasn’t a sad or overly nostalgic thought either, it simply was. In this case, the last time was pretty obvious to spot. But most of the time the ‘lasts’ are not always so clear.

With adolescence come many ‘lasts’. Elihu’s spending a weekend night in my bed was a routine event when he was small, but of course the dynamic between us has been changing this past year as he has become a young man and no longer a small boy. Things that felt effortless and natural just a year ago don’t feel quite the same these days. Late last night (I now retire before the kid, cuz he stays up til all hours fabricating airplane models) he came into my room saying a large bug had gotten into his bed and it freaked him out so he wanted to sleep with me. I was half asleep myself, but the significance of the moment wasn’t lost on me. I knew that it would mean one more lazy, sweet morning with my son next to me. One last morning in which he’d reach out to me and say ‘mama’ before falling back asleep, one last time when I’d rise early to let the chickens out and return to my chair with a hot cup of coffee. We would have one final morning the way it had been for so many years. As I sit here in my chair, my heart finding relief upon hearing the breath of deep sleep coming from my son, I am savoring this window in time, knowing that it may very well be the last of its kind.

Most times there are no single defining moments to mark the end of an era. Often last times aren’t known to us until we look back in time and identify them. We look backwards and can more clearly see where trends slowed and new ones replaced them, we can understand in hindsight how interests and passions waned and new ones emerged. In retrospect we may even find the dates and events that mark these changes. But for the most part, change is gradual, beginnings and endings are undetectable, invisible. But sometimes, they are not.

When I was eighteen, I broke my neck. In one split second the whole trajectory of my life changed. Many times I’ve reflected on how curious a mix of life events that near-tragedy provided me: I can surmise that without having broken my neck I never would have met certain dear friends, experienced the life of a musician, fallen in love with my ex-husband, given birth to my son. That was an obvious moment; and obvious ending of one era and start of another. Of course at the time none of these positive outcomes could be guessed, but certainly life as I may have envisioned it had been redirected in an instant.

When I was eleven or twelve I experienced a moment which also became a marker in my life. The smallest, most mundane thing had become transcendent. I will never forget that feeling, the enormousness of the revelation, the way I fairly weakened at the dawning, the way I knew, in that moment, that I was a changed person.

It was a summer evening, and I was walking home along the road on which I now again live, some forty years later. As usual, my glance fell just a few feet ahead of me on the gravel, keeping watch for my footing. In the damp of the June night a small red eft had crawled out of the grass and was heading perilously for the road. I carefully allowed the tiny creature to crawl to the safety of my hand, where I would inspect it, marvel at it and then return it to the wet overgrowth. I looked down at this creature and was smacked hard with a profound realization: we were related. I saw his four limbs, his tiny fingers, his eyes, his mouth… I marveled over the symmetry – in both of us – and was simply stunned. I guess I’d always known that each and every creature on this planet is of course in some fundamental way related, but this just got to me. I remember standing at the side of the road in the waning light and thinking “We are all related. We are all of the same family.” I remember standing there a little longer and literally thinking “We are all one.” It almost frightened me, but for some reason I remember laughing out loud. I can’t explain this moment any better. It was huge, it was tiny. Miraculous, mundane. And it was also a last. And a first, too. And I knew it.

Elihu was with his father in Chicago for six weeks this summer, and I enjoyed a great stretch of useful, solo time. Determined that I would finally expunge my house of all the physical objects that we no longer needed, I embarked on the enormous task of sorting, culling, organizing, boxing and bagging. If my son had been home the project would have been impossible. Exhausting as the project was, midway through I could see a new life emerging on the other side. My very being was feeling light and changed; I sensed a fresh new life awaiting me upon completion…

On the fourth of July I closed the chickens in shortly after the sun went down, then got myself cleaned up before heading downtown to watch the fireworks (my goal this year was twofold: one, I would finally wear earplugs so that I could actually enjoy the visuals without the horrible explosive noise and two, I would plant myself downwind so that I could savor that uniquely summer smokey scent.) Recently I’d learned a new trick to accommodate my changing vision needs; I wore a contact in just my right eye, leaving each eye its own focal length. This made it possible to both see the road ahead as well as focus successfully on things at close range, without the need for reading or distance glasses. As I wound down the hilly dark country road, I felt that my contact needed adjusting, and so leaned in to the rear view mirror to take a look…

Crack! The car hit a boulder, a log, a tree – something – which made a sound as loud as any firework… My body was immediately flushed with the cold, electric sensation of adrenaline. What had happened? It was darker out than I’d thought, and as I pulled to the side of the road it was hard to see…. And when I did, everything changed. Instantly I felt nauseous. I’d done what I so many times had cursed other, more careless people for doing. Oh no. This was horrible. I couldn’t bear to look… My mind raced through the implications. I knew I’d done something terrible, but perhaps could something good come of it? Certainly, it would change the way in which I pointed an accusing finger at others. Now I was the selfish, insensitive human I’d blamed others for being. I had hit an ancient creature of the woods. I had caused immense pain and suffering to an innocent animal who was quietly doing what she had been doing for years and years. Not only that, but if she wasn’t dead already (which at this point I prayed she was) she would be soon, and therefore I had ceased the creation of more of her kind. I had ended her lineage. Maybe even ended the existence of her kind in our quiet woods. My car had struck a snapping turtle.

Many of us who live in the country have carefully re-directed a snapping turtle or two; we all know to keep well away from those frightening jaws, we all understand how lightning fast they can spin around, how easily they can break off a finger… And yet compassion moves many of us to pull over, search for a good sized stick and begin the process of saving the creature from the dangers of the open road. Mostly, these animals are mothers seeking to cross over to the adjacent pond (why in hell they can’t just stay put I’ll never understand) in order to lay their eggs. In my experience, turtles do this in the daylight. I had never thought to be on the lookout for such a migration at night. But then again, should I not be mindful after dark of bolting deer, lumbering porcupines and other occupants of the forest?

As it turned out, she was still alive. For a moment I considered running over her again in order to bring her a more swift and humane death. But then I considered her shell, and my tires. It could make for more trouble. And besides, there was no guarantee I could do the job as I intended. In the end, I chose to move her as carefully as possible to the side of the road to allow her to die. Her shell was, as I feared, completely split up the middle of her underside. I prayed that her body had gone into shock, and I prayed she didn’t hurt as badly as I believed she did. I placed her in the grass, and then drove into town.

The fireworks took on a whole different feel to me now. I walked through the crowds in a daze. I’d forgotten my earplugs and the shocks were loud. From where I stood in the wake of the smoke clouds, the fireworks appeared in the sky over the roof of the historic casino building. Instantly, these munitions were not entertainment; I saw and felt them to be the explosions they symbolically recalled. Each explosion birthed a wave of fear for my life, for the lives of those around me. War, I felt, must sound just like this. The experience was transformed by this new perspective. I imagined the casino itself to be hit, with bricks and stained glass crumbling to the ground. Deeply frightening as it was, I forced myself to stay in this experience for a few moments. I felt the need to grab the nearest humans and hold us all together in safety. How strange it was, I thought as the sky lit up the park like daylight, that this should be held as an entertainment for we of this modern, Western world. Easy, I supposed, as we here in this culture know nothing of war firsthand. I wondered how citizens of currently war-ravaged countries in the Middle East would feel about such a display. Would it bring on symptoms of PTSD? Would it throw children into tears, would it make mothers cry out for their babies and grown men shrink in terror? I thought it surely would. So strange, this mix. Triumphant and celebratory, menacing and evil. At every cracking sound I relived the moment when I’d hit the turtle. One moment I was thrilling to personal victory on a beautiful summer’s night, the next I was dumbfounded and heartsick. This time, I had known the precise moment when things changed.

These days my fingers are hurting more. Usually the first thing I’m aware of when I awake is that my fingers hurt. The irony of a musician losing her fingers to arthritis tempts me to indulge in self-pity. I lament that I haven’t played with other musicians since my son was born, and the way life is going at present, I’m not likely to again. I think of the ‘time before’ and my heart aches. When was the last time I played in a band? Who were the last people I played music with? It saddens me that I can’t recall. Just when did my decolletage become crepey looking like those other, older women (whom I was never supposed to become!)? This doesn’t just sadden me, it angers me. Just when did my left pinkie begin to bend out in a bizarre and unnatural way at the far joint? Just when did this trend towards jowls and sagging neck actually begin? Many of my thoughts these days are an effort to come to terms with aging. With the process of saying goodbye to the way things have been for so long… I tell myself that the process has always been molecule by molecule, cell by cell. That, thank God, it happens gradually. Kind of like pregnancy. You get a whole nine months to adjust to the new reality. But there’s also something silently disturbing about slow change: you can’t stop it, and you don’t quite know when it’s coming or how it’s happening. Your past splits away from you without your even realizing it. And then one day you get it as you didn’t get it before. Oh shit. It’s over. And there’s no going back.

A few years back I played the music behind a student production of “Tuck Everlasting”. It’s the story of a family who is stuck in time; no one ages and life for them stretches on and on without end, while life and death continue on as usual around them. I’d never thought too deeply before then about life from the opposite perspective. But it certainly struck me as a hell in which I’d never care to live. It gave me consolation about the aging process: we all do it, and pretty much all at the same rate.

Troubled as I am by my mortality, I still continue to fully enjoy and participate in the experience. Admittedly I am vain, convinced that most of the time I am right, and often full of pluck and bravado. But at the same time I am also timid, unconvinced of my talents and deeply fearful about my future. I am a mix of these things all at once. These qualities all wrestle for power as the reflective side and the reactive side continue to fight each other for dominance. It’s fascinating how humans can be all of these seemingly contradicting things all at once. Yet truly, we are all things at the same time. Our lifetimes are spent swinging from one awareness to the next, from certainty to uncertainty in the blink of an eye. One minute we are whole, and the very next – we are split.

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Post Script: Feeling that this post was already verging on way-too-long I omitted these two recent incidents which further expand on the idea of life circumstances splitting in an instant: The happy day when Elihu returned home from his father’s, I tripped on the suitcase on his bedroom floor and broke a toe. A week before, lightning had struck The Studio and fried the just-out-of-warranty AC units, resulting in three thousand dollars worth of damage. Thankfully, the IRS just granted us our official status as a nonprofit entity after a three-year application process. Split indeed.

 

 

 

Sunrise January 5, 2014

We’re lucky here at the Hillhouse, to see the sun rise from our kitchen and living room windows. It’s interesting to track the changing spot on the horizon from which it lifts; just a week ago it was a tree or two to the left, but now it’s marched along the rim of the forest a surprising distance. It’s funny the way the heavenly bodies move, imperceptible as one watches, quite noticeable when one does nothing but turn away for a moment and then look back again. All day long the sun makes her progress just like this, slow, steady, never stopping. Like a willful, living creature, diligently keeping to her task, dedicated only to that one singular movement. What a contrast is the peace and stillness of a sunrise to the frenetic cauldron of action and emotion swirling around far below it on the surface of this globe. A sunrise is deceptive: it leads one to believe, if only for a second, that everything everywhere has taken a pause, that nothing at all stirs upon the earth… that all is, in this very moment, perfect and right with the world. 

Yeah, I like the sense of peace that I get from a sunrise. The sense of possibility. The best possible feeling of what it is to stand here, as a human, witnessing. But it doesn’t always play out that way. When I awoke today, the sorrow I’d forgotten in sleep had come to wrap itself around me again. As I looked out the window, I saw that all the trees were bathed on one side in a deep magenta, a sign that this was the moment. I went to the living room in time to watch the sun as it lifted free of the treetops and burst its rays over the countryside. This one particular moment of a sunrise is an interesting thing; it isn’t always the moment of joy and peace that one might think. For me, it seems to heighten whatever mood it is that I’m already feeling. On a brilliant summer morning, with the promise of a full and rich day before me, my chest fairly bursts at the sight. But today, a day on which I remember again the intense sorrow of losing my father, and with him all the questions I never thought to ask, the sun wrenches it all out of me all at once, and it hurts. Soon my face is covered in sunshine and tears.

It occurred to me shortly after waking that tomorrow is mom’s first birthday without dad in fifty-four years. They, as some readers will remember, shared the same birthday. My heart sinks to my feet. What can we possibly do to make it easier? See to it that she keeps busy, I suppose. Maybe we should go to that Weight Watchers meeting after Elihu’s bass lesson. Maybe that will help. Maybe we can stop by, maybe we can bring a bottle of champagne (that would’ve had my dad clapping his hands in happy approval). Maybe we can have her over here for supper. Hell, I don’t know. What to do? My heart breaks all on its own, and now it’s breaking for my mother. Crap. There is never a good time for goodbye, no matter how full and rich a life may have been.

All morning I’ve been remembering my father’s friends that have gone before – and there are a good number of em. In fact, there were very few folks from my father’s world left – and in terms of a physical presence in his life, essentially there were none. I thought back to the last time dad had been to the farm. It was this past July, and it was Martha’s 86th birthday. I remember on that day dad had been speaking in a nonsensical way, that he had once again turned a corner. But that didn’t lessen his pleasure at being there; he was happy, a soft smile on his face the whole time (in spite of the temperature in the kitchen reaching up into the high 80s). I had known it even then; after nearly fifty years of sitting in this kitchen, after hours and hours of drinking, smoking, storytelling, cussing, shouting and laughing, this was the very last time dad would be sitting in this space. The last time he and Martha would be in the same room together. (As it turned out, they would have one final visit with each other in person. They were both patients at the ER at the same time in late summer, and I had thankfully snapped one picture then.) I watched them, both at the farm and at the hospital, knowing in my heart that these oldest of friends were saying their last goodbyes. I also realized neither one of them was even aware of it. I guess one just kinda tends to feel as if nothing will ever change. That things, somehow, will always be thus. Silly humans, we.

At the time of dad’s death his functioning life had long since ended.  Dad had no life outside of his home, no pressing endeavors to attend to, no ability to play the harpsichord – nor the piano, no ability to walk outside on his own, no car to drive, no ability to read, no social life, no old college chums to call and check on, no pals from his former lives to chat with…. He had nothing at all but mom, his cats, the opera on the weekends, and the tv. (Yes, he had Elihu and me too, but we were only there a few short visits a week.) And I suppose a few years of this life might eventually grow tedious, no matter one’s lack of abilities. Dad was still very much aware of his surroundings, and as familiar and comfortable as they may have been, at some point I guess there’s not a lot to hang around for anymore. I can’t help but remind myself that it’s really only us we’re sad for; a quick recounting of all that dad did not have in his most recent life helps set me straight. Wherever he is – or is not – is just fine for him. It’s us that’s the problem. Actually, it’s mom that I’m worried about. How must it feel? Seriously, how must it feel? I’m sad, Elihu is only sad in passing, but it’s mom I keep thinking of. Tomorrow, this first birthday in over half a century without her mate, this will be a landmark. She’s just gotta get through it.

Life marches on, enough distractions for us that dad’s death is somewhat tempered. I still have loads of new music to learn (and the arthritis in my fingers worsens almost daily). I still haven’t told Elihu that his beloved teacher is leaving. Waiting til the last possible moment, as not to spoil his final day of vacation. And thankfully the temperature outside is going up, so we won’t have to worry about bringing the goose into the kitchen overnight as we did on Friday, when outside temps were ten below. Ironically, shortly after we saved the goose from losing his little webbed feet to frostbite, we ourselves ran out of heating oil. ! Must remember that in terrible cold like this it takes a bunch more fuel than usual. See? Lots to keep us going, many new dramas appear on our horizon. Just like the sun on its  never-ending path, the events of our lives march tirelessly onward, sunrise to sunset and all the moments in between.

 

Day of Dads June 16, 2013

In my family we never celebrated Mother’s or Father’s day. In fact, we were discouraged from really talking much about it. My mother, the clear captain of our familial ship, would always tell us it was a Hallmark-created holiday (subtext: not real or worthy) and that she didn’t need a card on one particular day of the year because, as she would so enigmatically add, “everyday is mother’s day”. You can imagine how confusing this sounded to a young girl. I got her gist, that the holiday was somehow inferior and unnecessary, but what about that ‘every day is mother’s day‘ bit? Did that mean she knew we loved and appreciated her every day of the year? Because we were not a household that ever said ‘I love you’ to each other. And we certainly never thanked her for all the things she did for us – we were kids, after all. Her statement always felt a bit dark, even a bit angry. Young though I was, I was definitely aware of my mom going through life with a certain mother-as-martyr sort of attitude. (I too share this tendency at times, but hope that I counteract it by apologizing to my son when I do express a similar sentiment; I always assure him it’s my greatest joy – albeit exhausting sometimes – to provide him the things he needs.) So was she being sarcastic? Did she actually want some props on her day? Or did she truly feel contempt for the whole thing? Each year I’d feel a strange sort of dread at the two holidays. My father himself was simply silent on the subject of his own day. We never mentioned it, never uttered the words “Happy Father’s Day” to him, never gave him a card that I can remember. It just was not what we did. But in that it was what the rest of the world seemed to be doing, deep inside I was always very conflicted about these two holidays.

It was five years ago this week that my ex husband’s third child, and second son, was born. I had made plans to be here in New York around his girlfriend’s due date, as it was just too much to bear to remain in town for the birth. My ex was still living in our home then, staying some nights with me, some with her. By June he still had made no plans for his future living arrangements, so I began to make my own. I’d come here in part to escape the birthday of that new child, and also to convince myself that a move to this place was the next necessary step in my life. As planned, his son was born while we were here in Greenfield. I felt as if I were in some bizarre, waking dream when he called me moments after the birth and excitedly recounted all the details. (See “Birth and Baptism”, a post from June 13th of 2011.) I just sat there, in my car, cell phone to my ear, feeling almost dizzy. Almost in my body, almost floating. Adrenaline filled my veins and my body felt cold with shock. I had known it was coming, why did this hurt so much? Why didn’t I stop him from talking? Why was he saying all this to me? Was I truly hearing this? I don’t think I said much back to him. I just remember thinking, my husband has two sons now. And a daughter, older than our son. How could any of  this possibly be? This was my son’s father. My husband. Our Daddy. He belonged with us, his real family.

Father’s Day was a couple of days later. I was out doing some errands on that beautiful, sunny day when I pulled into the huge parking lot of a local box store. I had NPR on the radio, and some music came on. Not just some music, but nylon string guitar. I knew that sound immediately. Two decades with a guy who pretty much lives only for the ‘sound’ and you just know. I stopped driving. I remember pausing, looking up at the huge, white cumulus clouds. Thinking how small I was in the world, how far I’d run, and yet… here he was again, sharing my tiny bubble of personal space. But I couldn’t turn it off, I was curious. Was it just an anonymous sound bed? I held my breath… Then a familiar male voice, one of the regular NPR guys came on. Said who it was we’d been listening to. Said he was a dad, too. Then, in a smiling and warm tone wished Fareed a very happy Father’s Day. Again, that cold feeling shot through me. Would they have been so gushing if they knew? Fuck this! Fuck him! He’s just changed forever the life of his one, true son and here he is being lauded as a great dad! They forgot to say “father of three, but only one by his wife!”. It all still felt unreal. I was a thousand miles away from him and yet still – here he was, in my face, keeping the hurt as fresh as possible. It was the single hardest decision I have ever made, but in that moment I knew that Elihu and I could no longer live in Illinois. I finally knew on that Father’s Day that our lives had truly changed, and so had our home.

Back in Chicago we’d known a guy who’d had two families. At the same time. I never got how it worked. I had been told that he was not with the mother of his first four kids, but still, you’d see them together at his concerts – and their relationship wasn’t quite clear… He had two children with a younger gal, essentially the gal he was currently ‘with’, however there seemed to be an overlap in ages, or at least a very small window between the ages of the kids from the two families. Sometimes you’d see both families – all six kids and the two moms – sitting not very far from each other at one of dad’s shows. I’d watch them, looking for clues, for something… I couldn’t fathom how this was tolerable, especially when I’d heard that the first – and older – mother had not been part of the decision. Back then it was stuff of another world altogether, but now it’s my reality. I do understand that plenty of folks separate, divorce and then go on to make new families, but this overlapping thing still just feels creepy. I also know that mistakes happen, that we all lose our thinking selves when passion and physical desire overwhelm us – yeah, I know. I get it. And strangely, my heart goes out in some way to those poor guys who discover they’ve left an unexpected child behind – cuz that has got to suck. And also, I’m pleased to see these dads of multiple families try to step up as best they can. But seriously, how can one give oneself fully to more than one young family at a time? I can better understand having different families at different life stages – but having several sets of small kids at one time that all need their dad – I just don’t think anyone’s gonna win in that situation.

Thankfully, I think my son’s fared pretty well in spite of his less-than-favorable dad situation. As I write, they’re Skyping. (Dad had to take a break moments ago to Skype his daughter in London – it’s a busy holiday for him. !) I don’t flinch anymore though. It’s become our life. And while I’d still like to speak one day with that ‘other original mother’ of that Chicago fellow to better understand how she deals with it, I have enough of my own experience at this point to feel at home in our unique family situation.

As to my own father, he’s not even aware of what day it is. Doesn’t mean Elihu won’t make a card and we won’t stop by for a visit. But just yesterday dad greeted me with a “Happy Thanksgiving”, then cheerfully acquiesced when I told him it was actually a fine Spring day. He always easily adjusts to being corrected, then seems to forget all about it seconds later. But he still retains memories of his life, and he does know he’s my dad, and in spite of his having once called Elihu ‘his favorite nephew’, in spirit, at least, he recognizes Elihu with his heart. Yesterday I had my own sudden and unexpected memory of my father pop up… The wild roses had just burst into bloom and every breeze carried their scent. The perfume brought back a snapshot image of my dad from years ago… One Spring, when I was about twelve or so, I played Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose” as part of my end of year piano recital. When I rejoined my parents afterward, I saw that my father was crying. It stunned me, that my playing could move him so. It also shocked me because until that moment I’d never seen my father cry. Or show much emotion. I’d seen him happy or mad, but not much else. As I said before, we were not an ‘I love you’ sort of family. That was a moment that changed me in some way, and changed the way in which I saw my father. He was touched, and so was I. And I knew for sure then that he loved me.

My son is lucky that he has his dad in his life, and that he absolutely knows his father loves him. I also feel lucky that I’m still able to see my own father and tell him that I love him too. And a little later today, that’s what we’ll do. Because no matter what some may feel about the artifice of the holiday, I think the idea of celebrating our parents on one special day out of the year is a good one. Happy Father’s day to all you dads.

Elihu plus kidsCharlie, Brigitta, Erie & Elihu

 

Flip Side May 8, 2013

Made it to the other side. I am now one of those ‘other’ people on the planet who walk around ‘being older’, as if they were completely unaware of it!  Naw, I suppose they’re aware. But what’s a person to do but march along the mortal path, make mistakes, learn the best one can… and grow older? Today, as I sit to create the quickest of posts, I have hit a particular grouping of keys which has just inverted the image on my monitor. !! Being a no-nonsense woman of action (and 50 years experience!) I simply picked the silly thing up and turned it upside down on my desk. And so there it will stay until I have some time to figure out how to ‘right’ it. Literally. But for now I will accept this as a metaphor for the second half of my life: it aint gonna be like the first half. Some shit’s gonna change. My world is gonna get turned on its rear… (and in a good way, I proclaim!) But until that time…

I’m here tonight to very quickly share some pictures from my birthday yesterday. It was a warm, breezy day, full of sunshine and without one single cloud in the sky. From my duties as recess monitor at my son’s school to a birthday gift to myself of an oil change and car vacuuming, some chicken smooching, a surprise visit from my childhood friend Sherry and her daughter Katy, and then a lovely birthday dinner with mom, dad and Elihu – complete with surprise new gas grill on the porch! – the day was about as perfect as a day could be. Let the photos commence…

May, 50th Birthday 2013 037My final portrait as a woman in her forties, thanks Elihu. Hey – I was pregnant with him in this same bathrobe!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 152A birthday tradition; I dig up perrennials from abandoned farms. How wonderful to share the beauty of these pink daffodils once enjoyed by old-time farmers Mr. and Mrs. Meunch, both now many decades gone. But their garden lives on here at the Hillhouse!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 138The girls are always close by to greet us

May, 50th Birthday 2013 144Elihu almost always has to get a proper smooching in before school

May, 50th Birthday 2013 066I just LOVE this fourth grade class. They’re making a fort. Lots of great ideas in this ambitious project.

May, 50th Birthday 2013 084They fight, yeah, but they work together really well too!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 079Dierdre’s got her own window!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 071Ok, one crazy shot allowed.

May, 50th Birthday 2013 098Sherry’s 50th is the 16th.  We’re next door neighbors and have known each other since we were 4. !! Sherry remembers all the crazy stuff we did together in the high school and college years. I don’t. I have to ask her to tell me the stories. !

May, 50th Birthday 2013 105We brought our own balloons – it was just lively enough

May, 50th Birthday 2013 120So few of us together, must you stick out your tounge, young man?

May, 50th Birthday 2013 110Mom was hell bent on actually lighting fifty candles. She did it!!!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 117No mean feat blowing em all out!

May, 50th Birthday 2013 128Elihu says goodnight to grandpa

May, 50th Birthday 2013 049We’re not sad or mad in this pic, just tired… plus the flash is hard on Elihu’s eyes. Goodnight all!

Thank you all for a wonderful day! We felt your love and good thoughts coming in from all over.

Sending you hugs and kisses right back. May each one of us know the love of friends and family on their birthday. !

 

Bunny Belief March 30, 2013

We’re at that time when I can’t be sure if the holiday magic will hold any longer, if my son will truly believe, one more time, that gifts have been magically delivered as he slept… My son is so thorough in his thinking, in his reasoning and internal deliberations, that it seems impossible to me that he can truly still believe. And yet he does. Yesterday, as we sat cuddled on the couch, I made the mistake of telling him not to get his hopes up for anything big on Easter. (My goal was to plant some doubt so that the appearance of the Easter bunny would have even more of an impact. Not a good choice.) He burst into tears and told me not to say such a thing. “I want to have hope, mommy. I’m just nine years old, don’t take away my hope!” he told me. I was instantly very sorry I’d said anything at all. I was also struck by how much his comment seemed to imply; there seemed some foreshadowing in his remark of the adult reality that lay just around the corner. He must know, I thought to myself, but he’s still holding on…

On most most holidays and school breaks Elihu stays with his father. This past year was my first Christmas here at home with Elihu, and tomorrow will only be my second Easter here with him. I had wondered about the Easter bunny’s visits to Dekalb. I want to have some consistency, and it seems that the Easter bunny keeps many different methods and traditions in different households, so as we made our weekly drive to deliver eggs yesterday I asked him about it. Seemed fairly similar to my experience growing up. There were some differences, but I was relieved to know the bunny wasn’t in the habit of delivering handsomely wrapped birthday-worthy gifts because the Greenfield bunny had made no such preparations. (The Greenfield bunny is quite satisfied with several finds; a hand-crafted, dark chocolate bunny from the local candy shop, some wooden airplane models and a small bird puppet. The eggs, on the other hand, proved challenging as Master Elihu knows his eggs by shape – each hen has her signature style – plus dying an already dark egg is tricky. I couldn’t use the few white eggs we have, as Cora’s eggs are also very distinctive. A dilemma. Ended up drawing designs with sharpie on the most generic-looking medium brown eggs I could find. Since Elihu sees no color at all this seemed a good choice.)

A little anxious that everything be in order, I arose early today and went to my secret hiding spot in the basement to do an Easter basket inventory. Because of Elihu’s vision, he’s not good at spotting things. I’m continually surprised at how quickly and easily visiting kids will see things that I’ve stashed ‘out of sight’. Because color offers Elihu no clues (bright green plastic grass for the basket, for example) and since things beyond ten feet don’t register much, my job is made much easier. As I retrieved my goodies I felt completely satisfied that it was all still perfectly secret. I was happily surprised to see that I’d saved a few more things in the months leading up to the holiday (when on a budget one must plan ahead) and was very satisfied to see that it made a tidy looking cache of loot. Pretty too. I even got myself a single hyacinth bulb and a nice new ceramic vase for it at the dollar store – just to show the bunny had something for me too. That would further support the case that I had nothing to do with it. Might be over thinking it, but it’s probably the last such time I’ll have to do so.

Yeah. He’ll be ten in a month. It’ll be over soon. At least it can’t last too much longer. So, as with Christmas this year, I approach Easter with the same emotions, the same tender nostalgia. I will savor it all. Every surprise, every laugh, every egg. And Elihu’s right, having hope is important – especially at this time of year. After all, isn’t that what Easter itself represents – apart from any religious significance? The renewed life of springtime and with it, hope… And belief, yes, that’s important too, cuz I know this Easter bunny sure is happy that one certain little boy still believes.

 

Household Help March 12, 2013

It can’t just be me. Each morning, after I’ve been washing dishes for about a half an hour and remember the laundry that still waits after the dishes are done, I wonder. Am I being grumpier about this than I ought? Course I know the answer; most likely. I know that I ought to be joyful as I go about my daily domestic work. That would be the good, Godly way in which to behave. But crap, it just seems like I spend an awful lot of time doing, well, just plain stuff. Not stuff that adds in any quantifiable way to the quality of my life, not stuff that makes me better fit, smarter or necessarily happier. I’m just doing crap that needs to get done – just so that I can exist. Some days this really pisses me off. But although I might get crabby about it, I’m not ignorant; I realize that I do not have it bad by any stretch of the imagination.

I remember visiting my family by marriage in Pakistan – middle class folks by their standards – and witnessing how some two dozen people lived in a four room house devoid of anything aside from the basic necessities and who were, in their experience, all quite happy. I also saw how the women worked tirelessly both day and night to keep the brood in clean clothes and fed (their kitchen was hardly six by ten feet, and they only had two burners!). I’m not so sure those women were themselves too crazy about their never-ending workload, but sadly, in that culture they weren’t exactly in a position to question it. At least I can pause for reflection. Yeah. I know that folks all around the globe work a hell of a lot harder than I do, and they have less to work with too. I get it. But still…

I wonder to myself, do other people really spend an hour or more a day just dealing with the silly dishes? Really? It kinda feels like I’m the only one. It feels like I’m always cleaning up or putting things away. It seems like it takes me so much more time and effort to feed just two people than it should. Am I being incredibly inefficient here? Am I missing something? I can’t help but feel like I am. But I know it’s an illusion born of my isolation. I really do know I can’t be the only one putting in the time. I know it. At least intellectually. Just doesn’t feel like it. Living in such a way as we privileged Westerners do, each of is our own island and it’s easy to feel like we’re each on our own, unique treadmill. That we are each one of us alone in our toil. That’s certainly how I feel most days after Elihu’s at school and our days begin in earnest. It takes me a good two hours – if not more – just to get the laundry done, the dishes done, the house picked up, the birds fed, the eggs collected, washed and put away… And God help me that I might need to actually clean – as in wipe away the little boy smell around the toilet, or maybe vacuum the forgotten corners… there goes another hour. Was it always thus?

No, not always. For many years I had help. I, like my mother in ‘her day’, had a cleaning lady. At first it seemed a crazy-pretentious thing to do, but I acclimated without too much trouble. Not hard to get used to someone helping you, especially if it’s well within your budget and you’re faced with a lot of house. Sometimes I like to joke that I went from having a cleaning lady to being one. Not really a joke. I have cleaned a few houses for cash since moving here. A bit humbling, yes. But then again, I was never the kind of gal to sit idly by as my cleaning lady was working; nay, I worked right alongside Marianna as she helped to keep my fine Evanston home looking fine. I never took her for granted. Nope. And now, as I face the task of keeping on top of it all (ok, so there is a lot less indoor real estate now) I look back with even still more gratitude. Oh, to have Marianna’s help now.

Thankfully, my son is getting older and much more able to help. I’ve probably let him off the hook more than most moms would. But then again, having only one child – one baby – and knowing there will never be another one coming along, I think that’s contributed to my going soft on Elihu til now. But I’ve relaxed lately. It’s good for him to do things for himself. And also – it’s good for me. I’m happy to have the help. (I can see why folks used to have so many kids! Built-in work force and life insurance. !) No longer do I tell my son that I’ll put the water on for tea, that I’ll empty the dryer…  And if I ask him, he generally jumps with enthusiasm to help. Thankfully, I have a child who very much appreciates the work it takes to keep a household. And thankfully, he is beginning to participate in its upkeep. And no longer do I feel badly – or guilty – about that. Instead, I feel good. Elihu is feeling empowered, and finally, once again, I have a little help around the house.

 

Hospital Stay February 8, 2013

It was probably inevitable, I suppose, that one of my parents should find themselves in the hospital. Even though dad’s situation doesn’t seem like it would require such treatment, it had nonetheless been him who I’d pictured going in first. But no. Instead, my mother, the woman who still captains the ship, who still feeds my brother and dad, who takes care of the five cats, who shops, cleans the house as she can, works two days a week, pays for Elihu’s Waldorf education as well as the mortgage on our house – it is she who must stay for four days and four nights in the hospital. She’s been increasingly out of breath the last couple of months and learned she has Atrial Fibrillation (otherwise known as Afib). They tried to zap her heart to make the top and bottom valves get beating in sycn again, but it didn’t take. So now she’ll need some new meds – and she’ll have to stay in the hospital as they monitor her progress. Naturally, upon learning this, I was worried about her, but then a new reality came to me: I was now in charge. Crap. Good thing I only have one kid. Good thing I have an automatic coop door opener. Good thing my schedule isn’t over booked. Here it is, finally. I’d wondered how I’d deal with something like this for a while now, but I hand’t taken the train of thought and gone very far with it. I had a vague idea, but thought it still somewhere far off in my future. And really, even now I’m not overly concerned; things aren’t dire, not really. Mom’s being well cared for and I think dad’s ok too, and Elihu and I will enjoy being with grandpa and making him supper over the next few nights. It’s ok for the short term, but I can’t imagine living like this. Yeah, I think a one parent household is a ways off yet – but still, this is a good little wake-up call. I realize that things won’t always be thus.

It’s weird. The way we’ve all prepared the docs and sat around the table with a lawyer; on paper we’re ‘ready’ – yet still I have no idea what I’ll actually need to do when the first parent passes. I know, I know… I shouldn’t talk like this. But hey, my mom’s a 78 year old woman with a heart condition. My dad can’t even remember if he’s eaten lunch, much less operate a phone or a microwave, and his condition will only get worse as time passes. Things are changing, and I need to consider some game plans. But for now I can’t, I gotta run. Accidents at night still necessitate loads and loads of laundry (I really need to invest in a second pair of sheets and another mattress pad!), the birds still need tending, eggs need to be washed and packed, food needs to be prepared…. Plus dad needs a bunch of meds twice a day, mom needs some things brought to her in the hospital, and guess what? I’m out of gas and low on cash. And it’s a snow day, so I’ve got the kid tagging along. Sheesh. !

One thing I will do today. Mom doesn’t own a light bathrobe. She’d never in a million years think to buy herself one, because it’s a luxury, not a necessity. So, armed with a Kohl’s gift card I’m going to get her one. So she can get out of that bed and walk down the hall with some dignity. She hasn’t asked me to bring much, just the last issue of the New Yorker, some deodorant and floss. I’ll try to do better than that. I’ll pack her a little weekend getaway bag. Cuz this really is the closest thing my mother has probably ever had in her life to a real vacation. Hopefully she’ll find some rest and relaxation over the next few days, and she’ll find her heart beating normally again. Then maybe she won’t need another hospital vacation again for a long time.