The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Blow Up May 25, 2013

father and sonit started out so sweetly…

The last item I remember on the table for consideration regarding ‘possible scenarios for this coming summer’ was that Fareed, his girlfriend and their two young boys were making tentative plans about driving out here for a visit at the Hillhouse (yes, you heard right) in the RV on their way to visit his extended family in Montreal. It would likely be the end of July. Wow – that was sooner than I could wrap my brain around. I’d always figured this would come one day, I guess I just didn’t figure on that day being so soon. Man, did that get me thinking. How would I deal with this? How should I deal with this? Need I even deal with this at all? This little bomb had me stopped in my tracks. Yes, we’ve all managed ok so far, but then again that was probably because we never saw each other. We knew about each other’s life to some extent, but that was it. Wait, was he honestly serious? Did he really feel comfortable with all of them driving here in that megalith, dropping anchor, plugging in… Having his girlfriend and their two small boys jump out and be cheerfully invited into our modest home for a casual visit? As in a ‘come on in, have some tea and see what we’ve done with the place oh look how well the boys all play together’ kind of thing? Really? Wow. Where to start? Really, where? I told him I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea. But I didn’t say no. Told him I’d have to think on it. And so I began to work on it…

Some four years ago I did in fact have short visions of welcoming Jill here… I realized that there would one day come a time when Charlie would be old enough to want to see for himself where exactly his half brother came from – and maybe even, become slightly curious as to who his brother’s mother was. And by ‘that time’ the mother of Elihu’s half brothers and I would have become somehow able to greet each other properly, civilly. In that first strange year after their son was born – some of you may gasp at this admission – I even had envisioned opening my arms to embrace her, and through that gesture letting her know that I no longer wished to hold all these bad feelings about what had happened… After all, didn’t we both know what it was to love – and live with – the same man? Were not our children siblings? I’m fairly sure that it was the antidepressants that enabled me to function in those early years, but more to the point the drugs were tempering my thoughts and making it possible for me to actually envision positive scenes like that unfolding so naturally… (They also helped with the mundane stuff too, like just plain getting out of bed.) It’s probably why I can no longer retrieve that same visualization these days; I weaned myself off of the medicine a couple of years ago. I’ve made attempts at reviving those first benevolent visions, but without the help of the antidepressants, I just can’t get there again. In fact just trying to makes me feel rather weak and ill. And sometimes quite angry, too.

I remember attending baby Charlie’s baptism, my five year old son sitting a pew ahead of me, next to his father, who sat beside his young girlfriend. I was in a heavy, heartbroken daze that day, but had decided to go to the service in order to show my son that all was ok. Yeah, right. I began sobbing within minutes, sitting there in that foreign church, knowing no one there save my in-laws (who have never shown me any compassion throughout this ordeal and continue to have a strangely ‘Stepford wives’ air about them) and staring with absolute disbelief at the back of my husband’s head. I saw him take his girlfriend’s hand and give it a squeeze. He put an arm around Elihu. Jill’s own mother must have seen this too, for strange as it might seem, at that moment she turned around and handed me a tissue. This tiny gesture told me a lot. She knew what torture this was for me. She got it. But her daughter seemed light years away from any similar comprehension. My tears fell uncontrollably throughout the ceremony. My son returned briefly to my side afterward, but then trotted off to be with the celebrating family. Not mine. Not his either, really. Or was it? Who the hell knew anything? For God’s sake her parents were our peers! Nothing felt right at all. In the church lobby, Jill’s dad agreed with me that he’d be up for breaking away for a sanity-restoring cigarette outside. Only time I’d ever spoken to him. But as kind a gesture as it was, it didn’t end up happening. Like his wife’s offering of a tissue – his loose invitation for a smoke also told me that he too got it. That he felt bad for me, for the situation. For the way things ended up. I remember both of us agreeing, as we looked towards our shoes and shook our heads, that it certainly wasn’t the baby’s fault, but still, just so not the way any of use would have wanted things to be.

Fast forward to now. I had just spent several weeks in deep contemplation of the proposed visit by my ex’s ‘other family’. I’d been greatly stressed by it, greatly at odds. I spent morning quiet time thinking it over from all sides, trying to get myself into that moment when I finally saw her… and of all places on the planet…here. Why was it just so, hard? Why? I was just about to post something about the process itself, when I learned that it would turn out to be worry wasted: At dinner last night, Fareed casually said those plans were now not happening. Instead, he would be taking Elihu on a nearly six week (and nearly ten thousand mile!) tour in the middle of his summer – a trip that would take the local county fair off the summer’s list (a top priority item, year after year, but missed each year on account of dad’s plans). Things, once again, have changed radically – from the already radical plans they’d originally been. Without so much as a heads up. Or email. Or phone call.

So, imagine what’s going on inside me. First, I’m pissed that he posed this incredibly awkward possibility, had me agonize over it for a while, then just drops it. Granted, HUGE relief. But then instead, he has his time with his child occuring on a hippie jam band tour? Late nights, long boring drives, unknown babysitters, not to mention the partying that takes place along the line…. I’ve dealt with this culture since my son was 5, so it does not freak me out for the many and obvious reasons it might another mom… and at the age of 10 he’s certainly much more able to handle himself safely. But six weeks in a friggin RV with grown men? That’ll get old soon enough. I do get that he’s old enough to play music with them – he’s been doing that all his life, and that’s an amazing experience that will be with him always – but there’s a down side to this too: he misses summer vacation at home with his friends, his farm, his free time. The past three summers have ended in tears because Elihu felt he did not have enough time at home just to do nothing. Just to be a kid, agenda-free. And his days just to be a kid are fast coming to a close! Three times now he’s missed the county fair. (Tears always result.) His dad says to suck it up – and reminds me that the court says he should have two whole months with his father. What to do? Fareed tours much of summer. So if Elihu should visit his dad at his home, that will be interrupted by absences here and there – and they certainly won’t get two months of visiting in. And from what I understand, Jill doesn’t feel comfortable taking care of Elihu when his father’s gone. (Why, after five years and two sons of her own, she should feel this way – I don’t really understand. But as Elihu says, ‘she’s family, but she’s not family’.) So, in order for father and son to be together, the ‘best’ way to accomplish that is pack the kid on the bus and join the tour. Sigh.

I will admit that I should have researched the dates of the county fair and sent them to dad long before today’s conversation. I know Fareed’s priorities, and I should have carved out ours months ago and put them in black and white. Fareed is crazy busy, and I know he can’t just keep dates and overall objectives in his mind with all that’s going on in his world. He needs them on paper. I get that. But I will not retract my opinion that the way Fareed handled the summer plans sucked. Abruptly announcing the current plans have simply changed, and that they have been replaced by another new and challenging scenario is supremely lame and selfish. Look, I’m so much more sympathetic to his side of this than most can understand. I cannot imagine the heartbreak Fareed lives with, and while he may not know it (but my friends all do and think I’m crazy for it) I worry about him still. (As I write this I fret that he’s not sleeping well or isn’t comfortable enough on the train ride back.) I don’t want him separated from his son anymore than possible. It positively grieves me to know how deeply he misses Elihu, it does! But not to give any consideration to his son’s expectations of the summer, to think only of getting in his ‘court appointed time’ against all odds – that is a lame and selfish approach. I wish Fareed could try and imagine summer vacation from his son’s perspective: un-planned days on the farm, long days spent with friends… empty, sunny days expanding into the future… I know Fareed’s busy, I realize he misses his son terribly and that we must all make this work, but I just wish Fareed would think of his son before he thinks of himself. But that’s not the way he rolls.

Not sure how it happened, but I’m guessing the wine and beer musta helped loosen me up (don’t drink much these days). Cuz I was fuming. Fuming that he should once again just Lord His Way over us. Tell us the plan without any input from Elihu beforehand. I have been through enough tears from this child over summers in which he feels he has NO control, and NO audience with his dad. I have had it. Plus, I’ve had it with Fareed acting like this is all life as usual for a normal family. Acting as if nothing is wrong. Or different. He has never apologized to me for any of this new life – nor has Jill for that matter (as an olive branch of sorts I once emailed her to say thank you for taking good care of Elihu. Heard nothing back. Fareed said she was scared of me. Geez.). Only recently did Fareed offer a letter of apology to Elihu – and that was only in response to having read a blog post here! Instantly, things begin to tumble around in my head. In my mind I replay his words just before we married: “Remember, no matter WHAT happens, divorce is NOT an option”. I remember that so well. So well. They were words of true and lifelong committment and I took them seriously. I think of this and it makes me madder. Now my head is buzzing. I am livid and still gaining. In this moment I remember too my miscarriage, and how he’d knocked up his girlfriend shortly after… I remember that he did her on the same couch where I had once nursed our baby… I remember that he does voice and guitar duo gigs with her now too, the very sacred thing that he and I had shared for so many years… I remember that he pays his lawn guys the same money he pays in support… I thought of our days without heat, mixing powdered milk with water while his kids ate pricey gluten-free crap… All of this and more swirled about in my head in one hot, horrible, raging mess and as he left the room I screamed at him just to go home to his slut and her illegitimate kids and leave us alone. Although I’m sure there were moments before that had come close, I cannot remember feeling such acute betrayal and rage as I did in that moment. I walked outside looking for an outlet for my rage, but nothing felt right. I needed to keep busy. I was spinning. Inside the house again, I sunk my hands into the dishwater; at least I could use this surge of white-hot energy to get the stupid dishes done. I picked up a knife and paused; for an instant, I could see how good it would feel…. And I understood much better how crimes of passion come to be. I finished the dishes, and as my anger subsided I began to feel sick about what I’d said. Sick. God damn it – this whole fucking thing was sick. I so wish I could just escape from it, but there’s nothing to do but take a breath, exhale, then keep going.

Shortly before we dropped Fareed off at the train station tonite, we stopped in a little Indian restaurant because I’d had a taste for some gulab jamun. The owner had a small rack of kurtas there, and I made a beeline to them. After perusing the options, I settled on a turquoise blue choice, and Elihu found a handsome one in black – just his size and right for wearing on stage. Yeah, it was all pretty perfect. Then Fareed spied a gorgeous deep red kurta, one I too had thought of taking – but not wanting to be greedy had left it be… He looked it over once, then rolled it up. “I’ll take this one too” he said. It was bagged separately. Walking back to the station I laughed to myself. It just didn’t ever seem to end. He asked me what I was laughing about. I told him. “She gets to have the second baby, she does the duo gigs with you now, plus she gets a kurta.” I paused. Wasn’t sure if I should continue, but hey, he asked… “She’s got bigger boobs and she’s younger too – she’ll last you a lot longer. Yeah, you’ve done a good job in replacing me. You got yourself a pretty good deal.” Really, I was smiling. It just seemed so crazy. Scripted, almost. Kinda like Reba’s show, only not. Kinda, but… While he has a good sense of humor and will sometimes join me in acknowledging how insane this all is, he wasn’t joining me this time. In fact, I think he probably thought it was too much. Too insensitive or sarcastic maybe. Oh well. Still seems kinda funny to me. Hey, if I don’t laugh about it, I’ll cry. And when I cry, there’s a good chance I might just blow up.

sadbut it ended with a bang.

 

Young Man August 7, 2012

Just got off the phone with my son. He’s spending five consecutive weeks at his father’s home in Illinois. It’s the longest we’ve been apart from each other during his nine years on the planet. He can do it, I know, but it’s still kinda hard for him (me too.) Kid’s been feeling a bit voiceless in all this shuffling back and forth from household to household. I listen, and I tell him that I hear him. That I understand what he’s saying, that I respect his feelings about it all. I ask if he’s told his father what he’s just told me. He tells me no, because if he did, he knows his dad would just ‘yell and smack him’. Now I know that’s probably not exactly what Fareed would do, but I do know that he’s been known to smack Elihu a time or two, and that he’s done so in some pretty public places. I know what Elihu means. And I understand the impression his dad has created of his own fatherly might. I tell Elihu to let his dad know that he just wants to express his feelings – that he’s not asking for anything but his dad to simply listen and hear him. He answers “I just know he’d say ‘suck it up'”. And I agree. He would. When I explain to Elihu that both he and his father need time together, Elihu easily agrees, it’s just that he wonders if there isn’t another solution.

Then my son, who has been upset over missing his summer vacations ‘at home’ for the past several years, offers his idea: if he agrees to spend every last holiday and break with his father, he hopes he might earn a whole summer vacation here. Well, only problem is – he already has nearly every holiday – and every break – there in Illinois. Hmm. There must be an equitable solution here. I think for a minute. This is really important to Elihu, and our presentation of our case to his father is critical here. “How about,” I start, “we invite Daddy here for as long as he can visit – and any time he’d like, during the summer?” It feels possible. His father can come out for a week each month if he wants. Elihu notes that his dad will likely have gigs that interfere. “So tell him to block out those weeks and not take any gigs then” I add.  “Have him plan his visit into his calendar just like it was a gig.” There’s quiet on the other end for a couple seconds. “Yes” he finally says. “Yeah, that might work…”

And so we worked out our goal, our strategy. I realize it might not fly with Fareed – especially if it stands to eclipse a paying gig, but who knows. There’s also Fareed’s ‘other’ family to consider. I know he likes to have them all together there in Illinois – that way it doesn’t take him away from his other two sons, plus it gives him time with Elihu. It’s kind of a convenience for him. I understand. But still, it’s an option worth presenting. I’ll leave it to Elihu to pose it to his father. I’ve told him that I’m behind him on this, but he needs to get his father to listen. That’s not something I can do with much success, as Fareed might think I’m trying to interfere with their relationship, to strip away his time with his son. I’m certainly not – in fact I’m always encouraging it – yet I’m not sure Fareed sees it that way. (This really makes me sad. You’d think there’d be a bit of inherent trust of some sort after a quarter century of shared history… but it ain’t necessarily so.)

Elihu feels a bit more at ease after we navigate through that issue, something which I guess has contributed to his headache tonight. (Seriously, what nine year old should have a stress headache? Sometimes a tiny voice in the background worries if it might not be something more serious… I cannot be alone in my maternal worryings, can I?) Elihu seems to be a little lighter now, a little happier. He goes on to telling me about his two younger half-siblings, and how they’re kinda rowdy and will soon be going to Montessori School. Elihu talks about how Montessori will bring out the best in them “in spite of themselves” and uses phrases like “such that” and “in so doing” as he speaks, and oh how eloquently he speaks, this nine year old boy of mine. It seems he has turned a corner. Not simply for the mature use of language or the complexity of his thinking. There’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but something about him is changed. He himself asked me tonight if he might not attribute his recent sentimentality about things to his growing older. He noticed that he’d grown so tall that his head now brushed a bird ornament he had hanging in his room, when in the past he’d walked well underneath it. Noticing that had made him wistful. I told him I wasn’t sure, but it made sense to me that his emotions should be registering this change too. I also told him that I’d been sensing in these past two months that something about him was changing. (I’d recently had a moment of real panic in which I fully understood – maybe finally believed might be a better choice of words – that my son was no longer a cute little boy, a child I could lift up and carry on my hip, but rather he was now a young, capable boy very close to becoming a young man.) The chubby wrists were gone long ago, yes,  but even after that he had remained a ‘cute little boy’ for a good long while. But now, he wasn’t that boy anymore. I too, was wistful.

After nearly an hour on the phone, we agreed it was time to say good-bye. He parted as he does with family he loves (grandparents, parents, Martha): by saying “love you so much”. He emphasizes the “so much” in such a way that it sinks deep down; anyone listening gets it. His love comes through, his intention is strong. And yet there’s also a hint of sorrow present in his parting declaration of love. A sorrow that comes naturally of a family divided, a family that can no longer live under one roof. Sad though he may be, he sure is loved, that kid. From both sides. And he knows that, which is, as we all can agree, the most important thing.

Before we hang up, he asks me to come to him tonight in his dreams, and I ask him to do the same. So tonight I’ll be on the lookout for that familiar, fine, young man. Only he’ll probably be just a bit taller than the Elihu I remember.

 

Kaboom! June 4, 2012

Well. Everything had settled nicely, in spite of Fareed’s having put ‘summer shit’ in the subject line of his emails. I understand his frustration. I do. But finally it seemed we’d hit upon a win-win. Elihu would remain in Saratoga for the 4th of July, and then he would spend a good, long vacation in Dekalb with Fareed later in the summer. Then, in looking more closely at Fareed’s open-ended, still-not- defined-by-exact-dates proposed visit, I realized that he might well be here with us on the 4th. While his visiting is always welcome, and we usually have a fine time (I make a nice dinner or two, we have a little family excursion, etc.) I knew that for some reason, Elihu had liked spending the holiday just me and him. So in the spirit of this full-disclosure, give-the-kid-his-voice sort of debate we’d entered into since last night, I thought it better to address it now than later. So I did. Guess I should have prefaced it with some explanation, because the response was anything but friendly. Really. And I was stopped. It’s stuff like this that has my heart racing whenever I see an email from Fareed. I hate this stuff. Man I do. Guess I need thicker skin.

I, of course, will not copy his email here, but suffice to say that his main points were these: 1) I am deeply selfish 2) Waldorf is selfish 3) I have lots of bad karma coming my way because of points 1 and 2. Man. Seriously??  I’m not good with this kind of crap. Plus he says it all in a facetious tone, which makes it even sicker to hear. Am I so selfish?? I honestly don’t think so. But he does, which has me wondering – what would he have me do to think otherwise? I know him pretty well, so I can guess… He’s told me before to get a job. Ok, a job between 8 and 1:30. Hmm. That I don’t have to work nights or weekends. No place will accept those terms, I know, I’ve applied to them all! Hmm, maybe I should think outside the box… I know! I can teach piano lessons! That way I can be home with my child, plus  make some income! Obviously, that’s not good enough for him. Hey, if I weren’t a single, full-time mom, there are lots of things I might do. But for now, they’re not options. But tell that to Fareed. He will not hear it.

What else might I do to change Fareed’s seeing me as a selfish, mean bitch? Letting him stay with us on the 4th? I really don’t care that much if he does or not. If that’s all it takes to calm this fire, maybe I’ll just tell Elihu it ain’t worth making a fuss over. I think he’ll understand.

Fireworks, indeed. Blew up in my face, they did. Can’t wait for the 4th…

______________________________________________________________

Here is the response I sent to his nasty email. Sigh. Are my feelings clear?? Hope so.

Look, Elihu and I have our thing – and you and Elihu have yours. !  I’m not being mean – come on – give me a break!! You’re always welcome when you’re here – I always make sure to have good food and make you comfortable. Where is this coming from??? Elihu expects it will be the two of us here on the 4th – he’s talked about that before. I’ll talk with him again about it if you want – all you have to do is ask nicely!! Why this venom?? I’m just speaking up for our son! There’s no personal attack on you here, I assure you!

That you still can’t see the incredible opportunity and gift that Waldorf is (I do realize you’re not here to witness it) and continue to bring it up as if it were some horrible mistake or selfish move on my part (?!) – that itself shows inherent selfishness. I am Elihu’s advocate, so I had to get him into that school. Plus I also encourage his relationship with you. It blows my mind that you don’t appreciate either one of those things.

After all the heartbreak and shit you’ve put on me, that you can even get angry at me is evidence that you’re lost to reason.  And I thought we were all three finding a happy balance. I was thrilled we’d finally found a happy solution for this summer. Had we not?? Damn. I couldn’t be more surprised by your venom.

Karma? I think I’m doing a good job of playing nice, building a good life for our son, and respecting your needs as a father. I look forward to my ‘karmic payback’ – because I’ll reap love and kindness. I know you will too, when you’re free of all this hate vision and can see that none of my actions are about anything but creating a good life for me and our son. My needs are modest, my requests of life are few. My objective is not to break anyone’s heart, but to see everyone feel respected and satisfied.

Can’t you please be nice? I’m trying my best, I hope you can do the same.