The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Bothering To April 1, 2014

“Ask yourself this,” Elihu suggested as he paused at his breakfast, “What wonderful thing or possible surprise am I excited about having happen today?” I let a moment go by as I took in his words, and then let him continue, “Just imagine for a minute, what things might happen today? Will there be surprises for you in your day? Things you couldn’t have expected?” He stopped talking for emphasis and let some silence pass. “I mean, if you don’t think so….” He shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands in the air,”Then why even bother?”

We were having one of our existential conversations at sunrise which had come about as a result of my morning mood. I was unusually tired upon waking and so was a fair bit grouchier than usual. Most times when I’m feeling a bit like pouting I keep the darker stuff to myself – or at least under my breath. Today I was shuffling around the kitchen talking to myself at full volume and just radiating doom and gloom over a day hardly yet begun. I felt put-upon, I felt alone in my plight, without peer to share my load, misunderstood and underappreciated. I was singing the self-sorry single mom song, and God bless that young boy, he took a moment to turn things around and rope me in. He repeated his coaching, “Really, Mommy, I mean it. Ask yourself this: Might some amazing things happen today? Think this way. Otherwise, seriously, why bother?”

I know he’s right. I also know that some days I am just plain out of steam, out of inspiration, out of reasons – other than that GD to-do list that never stops – to do things, to keep on going. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a passive-aggressive cry for help, this is not code for planned suicide – nothing so dire as any of that. It’s just life-business as usual. Chef, cleanup crew, administrator, counselor, taxi driver, instrument mover, musician, worker bee… all of it. Sometimes it’s just too fucking much. So sometimes it’s a wise question to ask myself: might amazing, surprising, unexpected things happen to me today? I have to believe they will, otherwise….

So what does keep me keeping on? I wonder that myself, the introspection inspired by this morning’s ministry… I suppose, at the end of the day, I might say that I do things for my son. I do things that I might make his life less stressful, more joyful. I also live because if I didn’t, it would break my mother’s heart. And yeah, it would break Elihu’s heart too. And honestly, aside from just sticking around for the sake of my mother and my son – I can’t just check out. I’ve got work to do here. I’m pretty sure of it. (Not entirely convinced, but fairly sure.) I have my father’s legacy to continue, I have love and compassion to contribute to the world through this vehicle of the Studio, and through teaching and playing…  Yeah, I guess. It’s just that there’s so much crap to slog through first… “Ya think I’d be happier (read here ‘less bitchy’) if I knew I was going to work at the Studio all day – doing things I really loved?” I’d innocently asked my son. “Oh yes” he answered most emphatically without missing a beat. “You’re going to be doing the things you love the very best. So of course.” No sooner had I asked the question I was feeling some shame over having even said it out loud: because not only do I really love my current job and appreciate it daily, but I realize it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I see my son each day, I’m around all those wonderful children, I get to play a variety of music which I enjoy, I learn new things daily. The very school itself is like a large family. It’s a joy to have it as a destination every day. So why the mood? The questions? The doubting?

It’s just that this school has become such a committment of time – both there and at home learning new music – that I haven’t any time at all to build this new dream of the Studio. Makes me wonder what my plan is. Or if I’ll ever get to that next chapter. But when I pull back and relax a bit into the moment, I can understand that even this very day – the chapter I’m living here and now – that this in of itself is important in the evolution of the subsequent one. Each builds upon the other. My son will be in this school for three more years (and then four more in the high school). These are the Waldorf years. I may as well just hunker down, learn all I can and savor the moments, because all too soon I’ll be looking back at it in nostalgia the way I do to my younger years as a musician in Chicago. I have to remember that each era has had its own time and place and its own gifts; each era of my life has served its own unique purpose.

So for now my time and place is here. It’ll shift again one day too, as everything shifts. And as I sit and watch my son’s fifth grade class rehearse their class play, I can feel the supreme loveliness of this window in time. The children still seem small to me; the boys still with voices to match the girls. Their limbs are all long and thin, and all of them are still shorter than me. But one look into the sixth grade class (which, as an added metaphor for leaving their youth, move into a downstairs classroom for the first time) will tell you how much will soon be changing. The sixth graders seem so different, so much older, bigger… Such a different sort of tension too between the boys and the girls. The qualities that these fifth graders yet possess become exquisite, precious; something to be savored, and remembered for always. While the truly tiny years – those of the tooth fairy and Santa – may be behind us now, somehow these children are still our babies. So there’s no doubt, I am savoring this precious time for sure.

It’s just the logistics of life, I suppose, that have me in a bit of a funk. Just plain living takes so much work. But when I stop to realize that I have a child wise enough to be so contemplative about things, a child who daily expresses his love for me, who sees the beauty in nature, who lives as gratefully and thoughtfully as he does – then I remember. Then I get it. This is why I put up with all that other crap. Because joy and hope live in my son, and with the right sort of thinking, joy and hope can live in me too. Thank goodness the kid takes the time to remind me. ! Ok. So the dishes still won’t wash themselves, but somehow, things look a little bit brighter now. Because at the very least, now I think I know why I’m bothering.

 

 

Scare January 10, 2014

“What happened to your fingers?” one of the eighth grade girls asked me today as we stood chatting and waiting for the teacher to arrive. It was more than the uncensored nature of youth that allowed her to ask me without first editing her thoughts (or her surprised tone) – I’d spent some time with this class accompanying them at several performances, so by now they felt pretty familiar with me. While her question initially stopped me in my tracks (I kept my cool in spite of it), I appreciated the candor of her question, because it confirmed for me that it wasn’t all in my head… I’d known it was bad, or at least not good, for a while now. In fact I’d even heard slight gasps from my adult students in class last year when showing them the hands that had just demonstrated something intricate on the piano. There had been a slight pause in the room as people began to reconcile the music they’d just heard with the hands they now saw before them…

The nodes on the distal joints of my fingers can’t be ignored anymore – certainly not be me, nor by folks I meet for the first time. They are large, they are painful, they get stuck in between the black notes – and they are not getting any smaller. Just this past week I had a painful day of great sensitivity on the fourth finger of my left hand, and the next day there it was: a fresh, new node. A newly deposited growth of bone, I suppose, from what I’ve seen and researched online. Just about a year ago I’d gone to an orthopedic doc, before it had gotten terribly bad, and I was more than disappointed to hear him tell me there was basically nothing I could do about it. There were some drugs I might take, but they had a lot of potential side effects which probably weren’t worth it, he advised. I’d been prepared to hear something like this, but it was quite disappointing even still. I mean, come on. Everybody and his brother has arthritis and has for as long as we can remember – and I still have so few options? Seriously??

As a young adult I can remember looking at my mother’s hands and thinking that the distortion in her fingers was almost unbelievable. As if she certainly must have done something to have earned them. Knuckles don’t just blow up like that unprovoked, do they? Well, no matter who or what was responsible, a fate like this was certainly this poor woman’s cross to bear, but thank goodness, I’d think confidently to myself, that’s not my future. I’d even had such smug thoughts knowing damn well that while I do get my musical talent from my father, I look not a thing like him. No. Rather, I look like my mom. So here I am, at the start of my fifties and my own beloved hands are blowing up like those of an old peasant granny. For heaven’s sake. This is so not me! Come on guys! I beg my hands. I love you guys! I appreciate you guys! Why are you doing this? Why? I plead with them, even kissing them like a mother would her child. But onward they go, their shapes morphing almost as I watch; the minute, intermittent stabbing sensations and dull, hot pain confirming for me that things are, in this very minute, continuing to get worse. I’ve cut out wine. I’ve cut out acidic foods. Dairy. Salt. I read, I Google, try something else. I drink water. I try to think positively. But my fingers respond to nothing. My disease is progressing without my consent, and I am sad. Scared, too.

It’s a dull, ever-present sort of scared, it’s one I can live with. But there are other insidious types of fear that I find have been making headway into my life of late, and I don’t like it. I might be able to live with them too, but I sure as hell don’t want to. I may strike people as a strong woman – and some days I might agree – but I can feel that it’s becoming a bigger challenge these days to keep it together. Panic has resurfaced over the past year, chronic concerns over money feel even more real as my own aged years loom closer (and I have not a penny saved), and then of course there is always the concern for my son. His vision, his ability to participate as fully as he can in the world, and of late, I worry about his having contracted Lyme disease. We’ve begun his treatment, and docs assure me that in a young and vigorous kid like him, he’ll have no worries later on. It helps, but angry emails from his father telling me that I “need to take this seriously” as if somehow I do not, and telling me I might have been more vigilant when I in fact had been worried but hadn’t had him checked yet, this all makes it much worse. I don’t know how my ex still has such power to hurt and frighten me…. I summon my focus and I stand up to him. Right after, I beg my son in my heart to forgive me for not knowing, for not doing something sooner…

Tonight Elihu asked me to please stay and read to him. He said he was feeling ‘needy’. I hadn’t given him a lot of one-on-one time lately as I’d had too much life to deal with. Music to learn, house to clean, food to fix and such. Tonight, we agreed on a trade. If he’d let me just organize the mess in the kitchen – get it squared away just a bit – then I’d come in and read to him. I did, and shortly after I began to read we both started to drop off. I turned off the light and soon fell deeply asleep. The next thing I know Elihu is feeling for me in the dark and muttering something. He, like me, is a sleep-talker. He can even hold some conversations in this state, so at first I wasn’t concerned. But this was different. He reached out to me with outstretched arms, which I took for a hug, but he shook his head. “Machine” he said, pointing to his nebulizer. Can you imagine the shot of adrenaline that flashed through my body? I immediately got a packet of medicine, poured it in and gave him the mouthpiece. He looked drunk. After a few puffs he laid back down. I yelled his name and shook him – “Are you ok?” He waited for a moment, then nodded no. “This is different” he said through closed eyes.  “Do you need to go to the emergency room?” I asked. He nodded yes. “Yes, emergency room” he said, again his head drooping to the side. Holy fucking shit. White hot fear coursed through me and my heart began immediately to beat as if I’d run a race…. I thought back to a panic attack I’d experienced earlier that day. It was a close second, for sure, but man, these stakes were mind-bendingly high… I ran through the house, pulling on clothes, locating his rescue inhaler, my boots, keys, a blanket to wrap him in…. I came back and tried to tug a sweatshirt over his head, but he fell limply to the side. Holy shit, holy shit, keep moving… I was thankful that the ER was just about five miles away, and we could be there in less than ten minutes. Lucky…. “Elihu!” I yelled at him. “What?” he finally responded. Then a look overtook him, and he sat up, eyes fully open, as I tugged the sweatshirt down around his neck. “What are you doing, Mommy?” he asked. “We’re going to the hospital – to the emergency room! You said you needed to! Can you breathe now? Are you ok??” He shook his head and fell back down on the pillow. “No, I wasn’t waiting to go to the emergency room. I just wanted a more comfortable pillow.” He lifted his head up and I inserted the down pillow underneath him. He plopped back down onto it. “Honey, are you ok? He nodded. My heart was still pumping loudly, and I wasn’t convinced. But I realized that he was still deeply asleep, and that while he may have needed help with his breathing, it wasn’t as dire as his sleep-talking self had said. Oh my God, I kept thinking over and over again, the prospect of a life without my beloved son flashing uncontrollably, nauseatingly, through my mind. My God, I think, and I my face sinks into my hands. Holy shit.

For the most part, I’d say I’m a glass half-full gal. Might not always have been, but I am now. Only I’m not sure if I could remain so if I were to lose my son. For that matter, how will I feel about that glass when I can no longer play the piano? Many times I have thanked the universe for all that I’ve been blessed with. Even the unexpected divorce and all the unforseen events that followed. It’s all been one unpredictable adventure from which I’ve learned so much more than I ever would have otherwise. If I hadn’t once been scared shitless, I wouldn’t be here now. I remind myself that fear has its place. But truly, I don’t think I need any more. I’m good. I don’t want to have to find out if I do or do not have it in me to live through a tragedy. Please, universe, don’t try me. I’m good with things the way they are. And I aim to make things better, too. I aim to get my son tinted contacts this year. I aim to teach him how to ride a bike, to make dinner on his own. We still have so much more to do, I have so much more to teach him. Let’s just get through this night, please, I beg anyone who might be listening. My right index finger hurts, my head hurts. I am emotionally weak just thinking of yesterday’s new run-in with panic. I am scared. But I remind myself: I might be scared, but I am strong too. Posturing though it might be in this moment, as the adrenaline begins finally to subside, I challenge my fear. I tell it we’re done for the night. Running in to check on my son every few minutes as I write this middle-of-the-night post and finding him in a comfortable sleep, breathing nice, even and deep breaths, I begin to take back what power I can. I tell fear to leave us alone.

Soon I think I’ll get to bed myself. One more check on Elihu, one more set of good, deep breaths and I’ll lie down.Man, I sure could use a rest after all of this… And I’m pretty sure being brave may well require a good night’s sleep.

 

Year Anew January 1, 2014

Some folks have been complaining about 2013, bidding it good riddance, speaking of it with various expletives and such. My first response is to think something like ‘damn right, this was a painful and terrible year, hell with it’…. but then I realize, bad things happen every year. Good things too, and if I take the glass half-full attitude, I realize that the old year wasn’t, in my own personal world, half bad. That my father died in 2013 doesn’t make it a bad year. It makes it a precious year. One in which I enjoyed all my final moments with him, one in which I had the honor of witnessing his death. That is no small gift. Yeah, the past year has been rich, full and good. (That being said, I’m still ready for a new one.)

It’s the weight loss season again, and so I begin to do a little review of 2013 and my advances – and retreats – on that front. I’d started last year on the crazy Atkins diet, and while it was successful, and I ended up looking pretty good for my 50th birthday and subsequent trip ‘back home’ to Chicago, by the time fall came, and with it home-made apple pies and fresh home-baked bread, I let it all go. I knew I was begging trouble, but it was a quality of life thing for me. I’d had it with eating nothing but meat, cheese and vegetables for the past six months and I meant to enjoy all I’d missed now. I realized I may have gone too far in ‘catching up’, but some little voice told me ‘screw it, you made your goal, now live’. And really, in that time and place I wanted to be there. Joining my son every night, sharing the same menu and this time having home-made dessert. I’d never baked bread before in my life, so the discovery in fall of 2013 that I could do so – and easily – without even so much as a loaf pan – that kinda blew my mind. And once you’ve made it, you feel you gotta eat it. There’s only so much that two people can eat though, and it’s hard to enforce portion control when there’s always more on hand. And so I ate. And then with the stress of a bigger work load, plus my dad’s decline and death, I ate to soothe myself. And while that tiny voice told me I needn’t eat quite so much to make myself feel better, I did. I knew full well it would come to this, and it has. I am back to exactly the same weight as I was one year ago today. Almost twenty pounds are back. Which means that I saw my body change by forty pounds. Yeeks. If I think too long about it, or catch a glance of my pudgy jaw line in a mirror, I want to weep, to sink into despair. Cuz I was there, goddamit, and now I’m back. But that’s ok. That is what New Years are for. Starting over.

Over the past year I’d been very intrigued with death and dying, too. Scared shitless of losing my father, and wondering what exactly it was that a person’s natural death looked like, I’d gone on YouTube binges that would freak many people out. I watched embalmings, assisted suicides, cremations, interviews with people who knew they were dying. Anything and everything so that I might better get what it was to witness a loved one die, and then make those after-life decisions none of us ever really talks about. I meant to demystify death. I’d read my share of Elizabeth Kubler Ross years ago, but never did click with her old-school language. ‘Yack, yack, yack’, I remember thinking. Let’s get down to it, lady! So in 2013 I began to read more on near death experiences – something I’d known about for years, but had begun to read now from a new perspective. And when my own father began to point towards the corner of the room, asking me who all those people were, and when he told me he saw my cousin, and that he missed his mommy, I was glad I’d re-read the literature on this experience. I do get that many folks think these end-of-life occurrences are merely the brain playing tricks on itself in the final moments of life, however I certainly do not. Me, I know that a soul is what animates a body, and quite simply, it has a separation process to undergo at the end. And while I would never had dared to speak my opinion on this subject so candidly in the past, now I feel I can. I’m off that hook – I’ve experienced it myself, I know. And I’m not quite as afraid of death as I was. The loss is still so very sad, and I can see it will continue on…. But having been with my beloved father during his transition has helped confirm for me what I already believed. So now I go into my own future, and move closer to my own death, with some important questions resolved.

My son’s now approaching an age in which his entire outlook on the world will change and mature. Ten now, eleven in a few months, 2014 will likely be the year in which the true magic of childhood ends. Santa, the birthday angel and the Easter Bunny won’t be visiting after long. Even in the cocoon of Waldorf, he will soon know for sure. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve savored his small years, even documented a few of them here on this blog, so I can’t feel that I wasn’t present for them, or appreciative. I was. As I write this, he’s sleeping in, catching up after a whirlwind visit to Chicago and dramatic return. Over his visit, and while I was sitting vigil with dad, Elihu was going through a pretty big health scare, having visited the emergency room for knees that had blown up so they’d awoken him in the night – he said it felt like knives – and being told it might possibly be juvenile onset arthritis. Or Lyme disease. And in that I myself had fretted all fall over the Lyme v. growing pains debate – only to be told by nurses and moms alike not to worry (!!) – I kinda knew. And what relief that it was Lyme and not arthritis. So we’re dealing now with that, and the stock regimin of antibiotics to follow. (I am just kicking myself because I really did suspect it but caved to everyone else’s opinion.) Mom, Andrew, Elihu and I went out to dinner late last night (he had his favorite escargot and frogs’ legs) and we were very late to bed. Now he’s sleeping like a teenager, and deservedly so. But what he doesn’t know is that Santa made one final visit to us here at the Hillhouse last night. He even knocked some of the ashes out of the fireplace as he’s done before. Santa knows that it’s the eighth day of Christmas. He knows Elihu is back home. As I sit here and write, I’m keeping an ear out for his bedroom door, for the footsteps, that momentary pause…. He’ll run in to get me, and I’ll be sitting here in my chair, unawares, and then he’ll tell me, with a look of amazement on his face, that Santa has come! Yesterday, when Elihu asked me if I though Santa might come here, I took on a somber tone and cautioned him not to be disappointed, after all Santa had already been to Illinois. But look! He made it here after all! This is a Christmas I will savor, because by next year it will be brand new territory.

Ah, such ambivalence I feel for brand new territory. I listened as my elderly father expressed his longing to be back in his childhood home and wondered to myself, where exactly, do our hearts consider to be true home? Is it the home and hearth of our tender years – or the home we made as young parents to our own tiny ones? I suppose there’s no one answer. But there is one truth for us here on earth; time continues to move forward, and our situations, though they may appear to pause in time at different stages of our life, continue to evolve and change. A sorrow and a blessing. A missed memory and the happy anticipation of a new experience. They exist so closely, these disparate conditions, and they tug our hearts in such different directions. I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the march of time, but I also can’t say that I don’t want to watch my son grow up and one day create a family of his own. I admit it, at my age, and having seen what the end of life looks like and knowing I’m closer to it than I am to my youth, I’m not moving into the future with the zeal that I once did. I’m moving toward it with a more measured approach. It’s coming no matter what, but I’m not running to meet it anymore. It’ll be here – and gone – soon enough.

 

Done November 20, 2013

Yesterday was one long day. When I awoke early, it was pitch black outside with a full moon in the western sky. The winds were so strong – and loud – that I opened the door to see if was just the wind and not a truck mistakenly roaring down my driveway. The dark, combined with the roaring winds, made me feel just a bit uneasy. A quick peek out the window showed the coop dark for the first time since the warmer months. Whether the heat bulb had burned out or the wind had somehow had a hand in it, it didn’t matter – the scene was eery. The timing, ironic. Not much freaks me out in my life these days, and I don’t fear for much, even if we do live a bit off the road. But for some reason, with the combination of darkness, violent weather, the full moon and the task at hand, I was not feeling my full confidence. But we had a date at 7:30 with the Amish farmer. On we went…

To make things even a bit more harsh, when I opened the door I noticed we’d had our first snow. Not much, but enough to cast a slight white over the frosty leaves. It was so cold, and I just wasn’t ready for it. We had work to do, and this would make it less pleasant still. I handled the boxes in thick gloves, but Elihu’s job required bare hands. His job was to vent the hens to find the non-layers. It was easy pickins; they were still on the roosting bars tucked up into fluffy breasts and resting when we entered. A couple of the new roosters insisted on crowing (very loud in such a small space) and it helped further my resolve in getting them gone. But getting Shirley Nelson? And Judson? He was named after my beloved home in Evanston. One of our first guys. And all the rest, too. Each had some story. Jessie was our very first-ever hatched chicken. Man, for me this was hard stuff. But Elihu honestly didn’t seem to feel the same. In fact, he was light hearted as he plucked the hens from the bars and checked their vents. “Nope” he said, brightly, “She’s a non-layer. Goodbye, Gabriella. Goodbye, Inca. Sorry girls. But thanks.” he handed them down to me, and I proceeded to shove them, protesting and squawking, into a box.

We took the longer but less winding road. We wanted to give them as stress-free a ride as possible. I got into the groove, and began to get myself mentally ready. About halfway through the thirty mile drive the car began to smell of fresh chicken poop, and it helped motivate me to stay the course. When we arrived at the farm, Ben was just starting up. He was in a good mood and amenable to my chat. I always had questions, and thankfully, he was happy to answer them. A lot had changed since my first visit to his place almost five years ago. I remembered the adrenaline that pumped through my system the first time. It was still a sad place, it still had me a bit on edge as I listened to the mad flapping of the protesting birds, the clack-clack-clack of their legs kicking against the metal cones as they bled out. Ich. I tried to be a professional farmer this time, I tried to keep my focus on our end goal here. I distracted myself by sharing some of our experiences with him. I laughed casually at the two of us from a few years back. I tried to act like this was nothing at all to me now. Like this stuff was natural to us, like we were now somehow peers of this man. As if. He commended us on how far we’d come, how much we’d learned. “Some folks come in here and kiss the birds one last time”, he laughed to me. “And some of em even cry.”  I just shook my head with him in shared amazement. Some people…

The birds came back home in the same boxes they left in. Only this time they were in plastic bags and covered in ice. As I hauled the boxes off to the car, I was impressed with how much heavier they seemed now. Of course they were almost all in one box, and there was the ice, but nonetheless they felt different. We all know the phenomenon of living weight being easier to lift, the animal in question – whether human or not – always helps out a bit. Whether it’s in the form of a struggle or a simple willingness to be lifted, the animation of life just seems to lessen the weight. Wow. It was a lot of bird. Let’s see, if we were walking away with over fifty pounds of chicken, we should be eating for quite a few months. If I could actually eat these guys. I wasn’t still convinced. Even after all this. Yeah, I was still a little sad, and this was harder than I’d thought it would be.

Just an hour ago I made peace with cutting up and roasting our first bird. I inspected the legs and saw the few feathers that were left were dark. Cora? Choco? Missy? Forget it. Just forget it, I told myself again and again. Keep going… Although these were all old birds, and they’d probably be better made into soup, I still wanted to try and see just how tender or tough these old birds were. I went online and watched a quick tutorial on cutting up a whole chicken. I sharpened my knife. And I began. Oh boy. Some of the goop inside was still there. And so too was a tract full of tiny, undeveloped eggs. Oh dear. What to do? I googled for answers but none came. Anyway, what exactly does one google for in this case? “Lungs and bits of intestine left inside chicken, ok to bake as is?” Yeeps. Ok, keep going. I fairly mangled this poor dear. All this progress, and now it comes to a clunky halt at the hands of the chef? Julia Child would freak out if she saw what I was doing to this poor bird! I did my best, however, and decided to make up for the lack of butchering skill with a tasty rub. I created an impromptu, Pakistani-inspired mix of spices, mixed it with butter (fat always improves things, doesn’t it?) and I spread the pieces in a pan. Rubbed and smothered them as best I could, put them in the oven and hoped for the best.

To be honest, I don’t know why it should freak me out that the tiny eggs were still there. Nor that some of the intestine was still there either. Really, I love chicken liver. And I eat their eggs. And the meat, of course. It’s all the same stuff really. Most important, there’s no poop here. That’s the only real potential problem I guess. My hope is that the smell of the roasting bird will help me overcome my ambivalence about dinner. And as I sit here now and write, that scent is now filling the house. While most often it’s a welcome thing, I cannot say that I’m feeling the same tonight. If only we hadn’t named them. If only the cavity had been entirely clean. If only. But what on earth am I whining about? Half of the world eats birds like this. I’m gonna guess not every cook in every corner of the world cleans the bird as perfectly as possible. And many a grandmother has wrung the neck of her own dinner.

I’m clearly still a beginner at all of this, and I have a long way to go til this feels completely right. I know unquestionably that this is the way to go, but there’s a lot of cultural stuff to overcome. My bird might be done soon, but it’ll take me just a little bit longer.

 

Costume Mama October 20, 2013

It’s that time of year again. While many experience a peak of stress around December, or perhaps around the end of the school year with exams, graduations and such, my personal crunch time is always mid October. I’ve always put a good deal of thought and effort into Elihu’s costumes (see my post “Halloweens Past“), beginning with simple stuff in his first few years and gradually evolving over time into elaborate affairs involving many hours of late-night labor. With Elihu’s love of birds at age six came his desire for an Eagle costume, the next year it was a Turkey Vulture, followed by an Anchiornus, and last year he was a Quetzalcoatles. (Here are some images from last year – choose images 20 and 21 – Elihu’s wings were on a pulley system and expanded out for a ten foot wingspan. The Eagle head on Cally (right) was his mask from a few years back). This year Elihu has entered into a new age; he has discovered video games and pop culture and has held a nearly year-long affection for action hero “Ben 10”, a ten year old boy who finds a mysterious watch, dons it and suddenly acquires the ability to morph into ten different alien characters, each one of which is responsible for helping to save planet Earth. In spite of being an exceptionally rational and sometimes very grown-up thinking kid, Elihu is nonetheless absolutely smitten with this fictional boy and has been asking me since late last winter if he might be Wild Vine for Halloween this year (one of the aforementioned alien personas of Ben 10.) And so, being a mother who having but one child can actually endeavor to spend so much time on such a costume, I agreed. I will also admit that I am personally very excited each year about the prospect of making his vision come to physical fruition. Yeah, I can’t complain about the extra work load as I take it on in love and I really do enjoy the whole process.

And as if bringing this Wild Vine fellow to life wasn’t enough, somehow I also committed myself to a second costume, one more school-friendly, and one that Elihu and a few fellow classmates could share for their school’s costume parade. The fifth grade has just concluded their study of Monarch butterflies, and so I suggested some of them go as a caterpillar. Then I myself started to get the vision, and I unintentionally stirred up a bit of enthusiasm for the idea. I gave it a day or two of thought, and then, after working out some design details in my head, announced to the boys that I would do it. The witness of some five or six kids left me no way out. After all, they had a parade to plan for, so I had to come through. Good thing my kid’s out of town this weekend, it’s been the perfect time to cover some ground.

Our process begins by collecting images. I let Elihu guide me; he chooses the pictures that most closely resemble his vision, and then we begin to talk engineering. This is where it can get tricky; when he was much younger we’d get to butting heads when it came to the ‘hows’ of the process. But thankfully as he’s gotten older he’s deferred to my wisdom and concentrated his efforts on pointing out cosmetic details I don’t always get. He’s got a great eye and the two of us make a pretty good team. I’m proud of our skills at collaboration; they’ve gotten much better and we can even now get through the construction of a costume without one single argument. More than I can say for how many adults might behave in the same situation. !

The architecture of the piece is always the first hurdle, and once I’ve completed that part I can rest for a bit. And frankly, if I hadn’t nearly completed Wild Vine I might not have offered my time for this new project. But Wild Vine is now completely finished (whew! Never been done with time to spare – it feels really good!) and so today I began the Monarch caterpillar. In fact, when I awoke this morning I realized that I was actually very excited to get started. It was a good hour before I thought to eat because I was already off and running. Unfortunately my PC is so full it no longer runs, and it’s hard enough just making a post on this ancient G4, so I can’t download – or upload – any pictures of my progress. But I’ve been so entrenched in the flow of my work, and so focused that I haven’t taken the time to even find my camera, let alone take photographs. That’s ok, I just gotta get it all done. I’ll post pics when I’m over this hump and can then turn my attention to my over-burdened hard drive downstairs.

Not sure if Elihu will want another costume again next year. I’m not sure just when this magic time of childhood comes to an end. I have memories from my own childhood of sixth grade boys being too cool to dress up, but not too cool for trick-or-treating. I remember their distinct lack of costumes, their plastic shopping bags, the voices from doorways telling them they were too old, but giving out candy anyway… My son’s world is different for sure, so I can’t really guess. I’m just making sure to enjoy this process while it’s here, because I do know for certain that one of these years I won’t be on costume duty anymore.

I’m done for the night. Haven’t been up this late in a long time. At a good stopping point, and have a full day’s work ahead tomorrow, plus several sessions after that. Nice to have this window of time to myself, nice to know that my son will come home in a few days to a killer costume. And to a mama who’s happy to have made it possible.

 

Raking It In October 14, 2013

Ah, such bounty in our lives these recent days. Too much to recount each sweet detail. Suffice to say we’ve been visited by friends, we ourselves have trapsed through the woods and across fields to call on our neighbors, we’ve enjoyed time outdoors in the finest fall weather we could ever hope for, and we haven’t encountered a truly bad mood all week.

Today we spent the whole day outside in the warm air, under a brilliant blue and cloudless sky which was framed by intense yellows and reds. Our birds freely roamed the woods and fields as they usually do, adding to a certain picturesque quality to the property. Once or twice Elihu and I have had a conversation about doing away with the whole chicken thing altogether, but we simply could never do it. We both agree that our avian companions add more than just charm to the place; they give it a certain energy, and they bestow a certain gentleness upon our small farmstead and soften the hearts of all who visit. And then there are the eggs. It’s nice to be able to have our pick of ‘free’ eggs each morning. Of course when the male-to-female, layer-to-non-layer ratios are off, the chicken thing begins to become a bit more of a burden that I’m comfortable with – as we must continue to buy feed for them with nothing to show for the investment. If it weren’t for my suddenly very busy work schedule I’d take em to the Amish farmer and bring em back in a cooler. (Yes, for this year we’ve put our lofty goals of butchering them ourselves on hold – just too much going on right now for one woman to handle!) But I can’t get it scheduled in for another week yet, so til then I must continue to feed the whole loud gang of crowers. It’s ok. I might even miss the ruckus when they’re gone. Maybe. I do know this: the chicken stock will be off-the-hook good, and it will feel very good to eat nothing but happy birds for the next coupla months. No more turning our consciences the other way when we eat our grocery store-bought meat. Not a huge step, but a step nonetheless.

Today was a day of leaf piles. Thank goodness that at ten my son still finds great joy being buried in great mounds of em. It’s one of those eras of youth that goes by too quickly – yet the memories stay with you forever. And when you’re in the middle of an afternoon of leaf pile play, it’s just the sweetest time. Playing in the leaves has been a two-day activity here, and while my ultimate goal was to make a tiny dent in the fall cleanup, Elihu’s was to remain hidden in the largest pile on the property as long as he could possibly hold out. I can’t finish my cleanup til that last pile goes… And as of tonight, one final (and enormous) pile is still there. He was so joyful all afternoon. Every now and then he’d bring a chicken in with him to his cozy nest in the leaves. (His nest-building was very determined and ‘Bower bird-esque’ we decided. ) I took pictures and more pictures, some worth sharing now, some only worth sharing twenty-five years from now when his own children want to see what he did when he was little… In the end, it’s enough to remember the way we laughed and laughed, the bright blue sky above us….

In the late morning we decided to embark on a little local adventure and find our way up a small mountain to a long-abandoned graphite mine. It was opened in the first decade of the 1900s and closed only a few decades later as a cheaper source of graphite was discovered in India. Crazy, huh? We did a little sleuthing online and saw a picture of the men at this graphite mine posed around a train bridge over a river, saw some buildings around them and a few barrels here and there. A small operation, it had from 50 – 100 men employed there and who lived on location. Hardly a handful of decades have gone by since then, and yet through the natural degradation that’s taken place it’s hard to even imagine such an endeavor thrived there once. It really does blow the mind how fragile and temporary we are, both man and machine. When we came to the foundation that looked much like the place they might have lived, we found some enamel food bowls, and while no barrels, we did see pairs of barrel stays, trees now growing tall up and through them. Another sixty years and I’m not sure anything will be visible. It was most fascinating to see the right angles and footprints of the former buildings and their tall walls built down the many feet of the mountainside to the ravine below. The place was once big and rockin, with a small guage train running up and down the mountain to carry the haul and the supplies. Lots of industry took place here once, but in the quiet woods of fall, all of it now softly covered in leaves and lichen, it just seems like something from a dream. We took a shortcut back to the trail, and as I grabbed for a root to pull myself up by, I saw something shiny and black, picked it up and – whaddya know, it was graphite! Sweet! When we got home, Elihu drew a picture with it. It chips fairly easily, so we’ve decided to keep it in a small plastic bag. Nice to have a real, ‘working’ memento of our impromptu hike. Btw – the place is only four miles on the odometer from our house (woulda been less had we just trekked directly through the woods from our place), and the whole thing took less than an hour. We experienced some impressive elevation and some dramatic scenery as we walked the edge of a very steep ravine and had some lovely views to Vermont on the way back. A fine, easy hike. Just right for my current fitness level. !

We’d hoped for a ride through the local wooded trails in neighbors Zac and Stephanie’s ‘Doodlebug’, their old model T with wagon in tow for mom and kids, but the motor started smokin a bit too much as they headed out over the field and so sadly they had to turn back. A slight disappointment, but in that our garden needed to be cleaned up for winter and we were still of a mind to remain outdoors, we put the change in plans behind us and meandered down the hill. Seeing all the devastation from our local wildlife population again was disheartening, but it doubled our resolve to learn from our mostly failed year and make the necessary fixes next year. Live and learn. We removed the rocks and threw em back onto the stone wall, picked off seed pods to save, rolled up remay and pulled the already ripped landscape fabric up and exposed the garden once again. We clipped back the tenacious arms of the ubiquitous privet plants and gave the place a much tidier look. Ready for next spring’s tilling and grand start-over.

We got our birds in and collected eggs, and stopped for a moment at the hammock on the way in. We both lay back, me with eight eggs on my chest (see where this is going, right?) and wondered aloud to each other if this old hammock could still take two of us. I said I’d never known a hammock to break – and no sooner had I said that then WHOOMPH it broke, and with it, several eggs all over me. ! Thankfully we weren’t hurt, so were able to get quite a chuckle out it. It was dark before we realized, and so without the need for Elihu’s dark glasses now, we enjoyed another hour on the trampoline. After snapping dozens of frames of mid-jump poses we finally went in. Not yet done with our day, once inside I went to the piano and began to practice Schumann and Beethoven while Elihu took a refreshing dip into the world of his Nintendo DS. If ever my son has had me worried he might be a bit too nature-loving and earnest about things like practicing and doing his homework, thankfully I have the video games to even things out. Whew. ! Nice to have a kid who’s got it good either way. (Once a school chum came over to visit and saw that our living room had only a piano, a harpsichord and some hand drums. “Why don’t you guys have a tv?” the kid asked. “Are you poor?” ) Wasn’t that interesting that the first thing he noticed to be missing in our house was a tv. Hm. Just have to add that that particular boy – and every other kid who’s ever spend an afternoon here – has never, ever lacked for something to do. But all that good old-fashioned nature type stuff aside, I am actually happy that my son has a video game of his own to retreat into. Hey, I like a bit of brainless FB surfing every now and then. Keeps things in balance. Right?

We did learn one not-so-pleasant piece of news earlier this weekend… and while it hasn’t spoiled our time, it had gotten us thinking about our small paradise here with a renewed sense of gratitude… Elihu and I had intended to walk to grandma and grandpa’s through the woods, but stopped at our neighbor’s en route. Our other young neighbors were there too – a nice surprise, and of course the grown ups ended up sitting down for a chat while the kids played. We never made it to our original destination. I’d turned down my neighbor’s invitation for a glass of wine – but changed my mind and accepted when I heard the news. Someone’s bought the tiny spit of land – the field that our driveway runs through – and is going to build on it and flip it. Don’t even know who will end up living there. Likely, given the numbers we knew, it would be a crap house too. I suppose better than one of those inappropriately huge McMansions, but still. Likely they’ll take down the island of woods that buffers us from the road. Very likely. That sure threw a downer into our day. Into our life, really, as pretty soon things will be much different. Our dark and quiet corner of Greenfield will soon be brighter and louder. If this were the suburbs it might be easier to take. But it’s not, and so all our hearts begin to break. As the two of us walked home through the field Elihu cried when we passed the stand of trees. “But that’s where the oven bird nests!” he protested, asking if we couldn’t perhaps reason with them on this account. But he knew better, and so did I. At least Crow Field – the much bigger area to the East where the Woodcocks nest and where we fly our kites and witness butterfly migrations – at least that’s untouched for now. But we all know it’s just a matter of time.

Since I’ve heard the news I’ve spent a lot of time just looking down our driveway towards its idyllic end at a pair of ancient wooden gates, permanently opened with wear and age. The driveway then takes a sharp left at the stone wall, revealing a vast, golden field beyond. This is the spot where a new house will soon stand. And I can’t stop thinking about it. I just can’t. While I’ve always known during our five years here that it wouldn’t always be thus – it simply kills me inside to understand that the change is finally coming. But for now I manage to shake it off, and throw myself back into the present, because it is, after all, such a beautiful one. And for now we have everything we need. Including an abundance of leaves for the most amazing leaf piles ever.