The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

We Are Three! March 1, 2014

The Hillhouse turns 3 today! Wow, what a lotta stuff here… Some 440 posts, over a thousand subscribers, visitors from over 100 countries… Sitting here in this tiny room, just the two of us, it’s almost impossible to imagine it.

I can hardly remember so much of our past three years (especially the first one), as it all seems so far away now… It kinda feels as if these days we’re living a completely new chapter. I guess we are. My fiftieth year is nearly behind me now, I have a regular job, my father is gone and the Studio is emerging as the new adventure… We’ve learned how to raise and butcher our own chickens and grow our own food. My son has braces, he’s becoming more capable and independent every day, and he has discovered a passion for upright bass…. Yeah, things these days are indeed new and different.

As I pass casually over the old posts I’m reminded of our three-year ride here; in the beginning, Elihu was baby-toothed, had an adorable lisp and his passion for birds – as well as his collection of books on the subject – was just beginning to grow. We shared our life with avian friends of all sorts – from homing pigeons to exotic pheasants and much in between (I particularly loved our button quail, King George, who, along with our cat, lived free-range in our house and made strange, espresso machine-like sounds in the dead of night in his vain search for a mate). The bird adventures still amaze me. We’ve tamed our current bird experiences a bit; having sent our goose Maximus away, we’ve nothing left but some chickens (one of them is in the kitchen recuperating on sick leave from the coop as I write this).

While this blog officially started three years ago today, we’d already lived here for two years. I think of those first two as the lost years, as I was still fairly reeling from the loss of my husband and old life in Chicago. This blog came about as a means to express myself, to free myself from the ceaseless internal turmoil. My ruminations circulated, around and around in my head without resolution, without any sounding board, any witness… And the whole thing had felt very unfair (let’s be honest, it still kinda does). There was no legal justice coming my way, so at the very least I though perhaps I might glean some emotional justice if I could only share my story. So it started as a therapeutic device – but ended up being so much more.

What an amazing world this is in which we live; even when separated by half a globe, we can participate in each other’s lives, give each other support and continue to grow and learn from each other in ways we never could have anticipated. The world in which Elihu will grow up both thrills and frightens me. I can’t being to imagine the challenges his and future generations face, but at the same time I marvel over the potential before them… The planet will continue to shrink as social media and platforms like ours help to bring us all together – so that we may unite in our common goals as one human family. I’m convinced there’s enough on the planet to go around – and I pray that in the not-too-distant future the distribution of wealth and resources will begin to level out. Hopefully the better our ability to express ourselves and communicate, the happier and healthier our futures will all be.

While we haven’t ever known true hardship, Elihu and I have experienced enough challenges here at The Hillhouse to have learned a few important things. May I share them with you? As we see it, here are the top three ‘things’ to have in your bag of tricks as you go along: 1) A sense of humor (cannot be overstated); 2) A sense of adventure (life is a game, be bold and take chances, play as hard and creatively as you’re able) and 3) in the end, act in love as often as possible (for us, gratitude goes into this pot too). Look at that! Three years here, three little pearls to share.

Having said that, I think at this juncture it might be a healthy energetic move to wish my ex, his wife and their two boys, Elihu’s sister and her mother too, my love and good wishes for their futures… I don’t wish any of them ill. Not saying my heart’s not still recovering, or that it doesn’t pose a challenge for me going forward… This whole process – this very blog – has been driven by my discomfort with that situation. But I can say that I’m working on it. I don’t harbor bad feelings for my ex’s new family, and I wish it publicly known. All I wish for is that everyone here on this globe get a fair shake at a good life. And that includes people who’ve hurt me, intentionally or not. I guess we’re all just doing our best. So on with the adventure, and peace to us all.

To all of our dear readers, thanks for being part of our global family of friends; your love and energetic support means so much to us, and we send it back to you too.

E & E

 

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

 

Near and Far June 30, 2012

This moment feels very surreal. Fareed and Elihu sit at the kitchen island, small computer before them, skyping with Elihu’s sister in England. Her mother and I are friends, we’ve many times compared notes on the sometimes outrageous behavior of our childrens’ father, and I know her to read the blog. I have no bad feelings towards her or her daughter, but nonetheless, it is a strange feeling to be in the next room of this tiny house listening to Fareed, Elihu and his sister talk. I don’t need to pretend I’m not hearing them, nor do I need to tiptoe around and pretend I’m not here. To tell the truth, I’m not sure this girl even has any real concept of me existing at all. I wonder sometimes, does she wonder? Does she ever wonder about her brother’s own mom? She is a few months older than Elihu, it can’t be too long before she begins to ponder this. But I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter I guess. For me, I cannot imagine being in her shoes – or those of Fareed’s other sons’. Hmm – are they in turn her little baby brothers?? Man, I guess so. But I’m not even sure she knows about them at all! Strange. I know that in the real world there are many such twisted familial relationships throughout many cultures – and that there have been all through history, it’s just that I myself never in a million years could have envisioned being personally involved in such a tangle.

Elihu’s baby brothers can’t have understood yet – in any meaningful way – that their brother has a different mother. I often wonder at the years yet ahead and how these relationships will evolve. Elihu loves his siblings very much, and he’s said many times to me that he hopes I can meet them one day. Just how will that work? I can, in fact, imagine seeing his sister and her mom. That would actually be enjoyable, I think. But how will it be to see Fareed’s ‘other’ woman and their two sons? I did send her an email last summer, thanking her for taking care of Elihu; an olive branch of sorts. But she didn’t respond. I simply can’t know how she thinks of me. The spin Fareed might be putting on our story. Does he paint me to be a shrew? A selfish bitch? I don’t know. And I can’t do much about it. But I will, no doubt, one day come face-to-face with the lot of them, and I want to weather it with as much grace as possible. Even today I think I would cry if I should see them in person. I don’t even know what the boys look like – although Fareed does tell me stories about them. I try to smile, try to listen without taking it personally. And I think I’m doing better at that. I know these kids have nothing to do with what went on between their mother, their father and me. So that helps. But it’s still bittersweet.

Elihu comes over to me and whispers ‘do you hear that, Mommy? She’s got a British accent!’ I listen for a moment, and yes, I hear the sweet little voice of a girl who no longer sounds like she’s from Denver. I almost want to say hello, but there’s no reason. I hear her mother, and I might say hello to her too, but for what? This is their call, and really, it’s not my business. Again, this moment just feels strange.

They are so far away, yet they are so intimately a part of our own lives. They seem as unrelated as strangers, and yet they clearly aren’t. Life sure is unpredictable and full of contradictions…