Sunday, October 31, 2010

Freight Train Blues: Traveling Kids – Part VII

Freight Train Blues
Bob Dylan

I was born in Dixie in a boomer shed
Just a little shanty by the railroad track
Freight train was it taught me how to cry
The holler of the driver was my lullaby
I got the freight train blues
Oh Lord mama, I got them in the bottom of my rambling shoes
And when the whistle blows I gotta go baby, don't you know
Well, it looks like I'm never gonna lose the freight train blues.

Well, my daddy was a fireman and my mama-ha
She was the only daughter of an engineer
My sweetheart was a brakeman and it ain't no joke
Seems a waste to get a good man broke
I got the freight train blues
Oh Lord mama, I got them in the bottom of my rambling shoes
And when the whistle blows I gotta go mama, don't you know
Well, it looks like I'm never gonna lose the freight train blues.

Well, the only thing that makes me laugh again
Is a southbound whistle on a southbound train
Every place I wanna go I never can go
Because you know I got the freight train blues
Oh Lord mama, I got them in the bottom of my rambling shoes.

While Anna was reuniting with her Vermont friends at the Human Carnival and a large event – Gathering – I was learning about what she really meant by taking the train.  At first when she spoke to me on the telephone at the train station in Chicago, I imagined her sitting on a slightly cracked, worn leather seat watching the landscape as she rolled by. I remembered my own days traveling through Europe on the Euro rail. What a way to travel. I have always loved the romance of trains, in America I have a high regard for the Pullman cars and Buffalo china, which I collected over the years. Coffee tastes better in a thick diner china cup.

That whole idealistic image shattered when I heard from my older son that yes, Anna travels on trains, and no, she never purchases a ticket or sits on a passenger car. Up until that point, my father was off the hook, no bartering with God and I was down to a half of a 3 mg of melatonin to sleep, working towards sleeping on my own. The dosage shot back up to a full pill. Okay. She is hopping trains.

There was a little bit of fingernails left to bite, so I bit them all down thinking in awfulness that my hands looked like those of a nervous twelve-year-old. The thought of my daughter chasing after a train and hopping on brought me back to step one – the coping place. I imagined her be bopping around on crutches with one leg, or worse, I will spare you the details. What if there was some sort of disagreement or problem and she was thrown from the train or fell off in the middle of nowhere. Who would find her?

I fought the urge to pick up the phone that had become a permanent attachment, and call her. Instead, I buried myself in the book that I had been reading by Pema Chödrön. I was working hard on getting my life under my fingertips and eliminating the thoughts that were controlling and defining me. I could do this.

I waited until my next visit with Anna before discussing the train issue. As always, I eased into the conversation, enjoying the initial time that we would be spending together. We were sitting together sipping our morning coffee on the front porch when I asked her about the train. “Anna, when you take the train, you don’t buy a ticket and sit with the rest of the passengers, do you?”

She giggled and smirked the way she did when we both knew the answer. “No, not exactly.”

I gulped a huge mouthful of coffee. “Talk to me, Dottie.” Dottie is a nickname that I gave her when she was a baby, its short for daughter. I think I invented this in the middle of the night when she was a few months old and I was having one of those too tired to think straight, silly moments all to myself.

“Well.” She smiled. “We ride on grain cars.” She twirled her hair around her pinky.  "Grainers."

“Oh my God.” I thought that it would be as good a time as any to start smoking again. I thought about the disgusting taste of a cigarette, the possibility of passing out and opted for the fingernails.

“Mom. It’s not what you think.” She whined in a way indicating that we both knew it was exactly what I thought and more.

“Anna, you actually run after a train and jump on it? You risk life and limb for this?” I needed whiskey. That’s what I needed, plain and simple.

“No, it’s not like that at all. I never run and hop on a moving train.” She said it with such conviction, as if it were such a ludicrous statement. She set her coffee down so that she could really examine the curl that she had twisted around her finger.

“So you’re telling me that you hop on a parked train?” I stood up. “I’m getting more coffee; hold that thought.”

I went into the living room and cranked up the volume of the Grateful Dead satellite channel, poured myself another cup and returned to the porch. “Talk to me.”

I sat and watched the hummingbirds go back and forth above my head to the feeder while she explained her method of riding on trains. Apparently, she does not ever chase after a moving train, hop on it or take chances in that way. The first train that she took was from New Orleans heading north. She told me how beautiful it was on Easter morning when they got off a train in Alabama and there were wild cottontail rabbits in the field. A good sign, according to her still wonderful way of viewing certain things.

“What happens if you get caught?” The image of golden whiskey and ice clinking in a glass that had faded a few moments ago returned, only it was just the bottle this time.

“I haven’t gotten caught.” This time it was she who stood up to refill her cup.

“Not yet.” I called after her. “You haven’t gotten caught yet.” I did a power set of those breathing exercises that they teach you in childbirth class.

She returned and explained how it worked. She told me about the “bulls”- the guys who drive around in the yard in white SUV’s – they were the ones to avoid. She went on to say that the men who worked on the trains were actually helpful and showed them which cars would be more comfortable or better for their ride. She only knew of a few people who had told her about getting caught and the worst case scenario for them was to get booted off the train in the middle of nowhere. Yes, by law they could be prosecuted, but I am thinking that as long as they are not causing harm, or doing anything disruptive that they are generally left alone.

She filled me in on the logistics of train travel. Apparently there are maps and schedules in circulation for the purpose of hopping trains. Old road dogs, train bums, hobos or what have you, have gone to the trouble of making these available.

“I carry a compass.” She pulled another curl out of the mass and started in twirling. “I’m on top of my game; I don’t take chances and I assess all situations. When I arrive somewhere, the first thing I do is check my resources.”

“What do you do when you’re on the train?” I didn’t waver.

“I usually sleep.”

“What’s it like? I mean the train. Tell me everything.” I put my feet on the railing.

She told me about little cubbies and spaces to put their stuff. Which cars or grainers are better than others and why. She said that they bring a jar of peanut butter and bread and make sandwiches. According to her, the scenery has been beautiful. Sometimes it rained and it could be cold; another time one of her friends was very sick with a throat abscess.

“What if you have to pee?” I looked at her out of the corner of my eye.

She laughed. “You hold it until the next stop.”

I went through every possible scenario like an examiner making sure that all of her answers met my constantly changing standards. I covered things from what if you get to the station and the train is leaving and it’s the last train for the next 24 hours? To what if your friends hop on a moving train, would you do it too? My stern, not messing around, voice dropping an octave, self emerged. “You never ever drink on or around trains, right?”

She did a good job assuring me that she would never take any of those risks and that if she missed the train, she would wait.

We veered from our even keel. The seas were rough. We had both of our hands together on the rudder. We carried on in our new way of checks and balances, boundaries and having a right to know or not know. I wanted to scream at her and protect her at the same time. The vision of that little girl with apple blossoms in her French braids scolding our tiger cat, Chloe, haunted me; I kept it at a safe distance, embracing the new face of my daughter – the young woman – while quelling the fearful voice of my own inner child and embracing myself, the mother.
(To be continued).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chicago, New York, Detroit and It’s all On the Same Street: Traveling Kids – Part VI

Getting the text from Anna stating that she was going to a concert in Philly was a bit of a relief. What I didn’t know but soon found out, is that she was heading for Chicago, Detroit and Ann Arbor. I was grateful that she contacted me more than when she was in New Orleans, but then again…knowing that she was back in the traveling mode summoned the dreaded fear monster.

Once again, I was taking melatonin to sleep at night, relying on prayers and trying to avoid making those impossible deals with God. My father was a patient man, so I knew that he would understand if I asked him to watch over her for a few more months.

I found myself watching the weather channel every night to make sure that there were no tornadoes or other natural disasters making their way to her. As if I could do anything should one occur?

First there was the heat wave. Of course when we exchanged a few texts, I mentioned it, again, as if she didn’t know. When we talked on the phone she told me how annoying the heat was and assured me that she was drinking plenty of water.

Then came the rain. Flooding. Okay. The media was all over the flooding thing. I was pushing away images of my daughter sleeping who knows where while water raged through the streets, again, as if she didn’t know. She called me and said that the rain was wonderful and that she was enjoying the relief from the blistering heat. Flooding? Not where she had claimed her stakes.

When she was headed for Detroit was about the time that I started biting my nails, something I never did before except for at the last minute when playing the guitar back in the day. I was watching a documentary about Detroit, and how there are zoning boards and other committees poised to plow down all of the vacant buildings left from the collapsed auto industry that had fallen prey to gangs. That was when she happened to text me and tell me that she was on her way there.

Then I remembered that her destination was Ann Arbor Michigan for Punk Week. She told me this several months prior; it all came back to me. Ann Arbor seemed like a nice place.

I was thankful for the calls and texts. They were random, but anything was better than the previous winter of unknowing in New Orleans. I spent a great deal of time sitting on the porch steps by myself looking at the night sky and listening to the sounds of the woods, remembering when she was there with me, agreeing with me that the mysterious rustling in the trees was a good thing.

I was listening to NPR when the news came that a state of emergency had been declared in southwest Michigan's Kalamazoo County as more than 800,000 gallons of oil released into a creek began making its way downstream in the Kalamazoo River. People were being instructed to drink bottled water and avoid bathing or using the water source. Okay, out with the almanac. Where is Ann Arbor in relation to this?

My son, the violinist, was here for the month of August. I had to be mindful of the possibility of relying on him too much emotionally. I detest neediness and know how it can slip into your psyche almost undetected.

His presence was a positive head change for me. We spoke of Anna from time to time, but I didn’t want to be that desperate mother who was unable to live in the moment, my moment, unclouded with fear and doubt about a situation that was clearly beyond my control. I had an opportunity to enjoy my son, who I had mainly kept in touch with via the telephone while he was going to conservatory and performing in Boston. He visited now and then and I went to some of his performances when I was not on the Gulf of Mexico. Since returning to New Hampshire in a more permanent sense, visits were much easier.

I relished the fact that music filled the house, as it did for so many years raising a highly productive musical family in a home school setting, which means just about every waking hour there were sounds of the violin, cello, piano, guitar, and an assortment of brass. I missed the soundtrack of my life. My son was preparing for auditions and such. Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto saved me.

Then, Anna happened to hit a low point while out there somewhere and she called my oldest son. She was quite upset, and of course everyone wanted to protect me, so about a week after the dust settled, I got a text from my daughter telling me that her brother is buying her a bus ticket home. Not knowing that the ticket was a bail out rather than a generous offer out of the blue, I was elated on a few different levels. Then I got the call from my son saying that she called him in the wee hours of the morning in distress mode. She also texted my violinist son, who had kept the information confidential, feeling that it was not his place to tell me.

My offspring have a strong bond, and will keep their word to each other. They will also spare me at times, although the truth is always there and comes out when appropriate. It’s all about trust and honor, and we live by that code as a tightly knit unit. At that point for me, the situation went from high to low.

I planned what I would and would not say to Anna, thinking about holding her captive, even though I knew that it was impossible. I thought that somehow I could talk her into staying home where she would be safe and loved. My sons both wanted me to do something, anything.

I couldn’t wait to see her. It took about 24 hours for her to get to Boston on the bus. I drove down in the pouring rain to get her from my older son’s apartment.

She looked okay. She had a deep tan and had lost a little weight. Her eyes were sad. I sat on the couch with my arm around her, her head resting on my chest. We visited my son and his fiancé for a bit and then headed home.

Because she was so happy to see me, I didn’t want to jump into the hard line of questioning right away. I wanted her to feel her joy at being home. We had plenty of time to talk. I had been through it before; we needed to find a comfort zone for our time to be meaningful.

She chatted all the way home. The sadness in her eyes transformed into an ember, soon to be a spark. Somehow I had to let my son who waited for us at home to know that she was truly happy at that moment, and that a tough love stance would be a disastrous mistake and backfire.

She hauled her huge backpack into the house and we entered. She hugged her brother and started talking and filling the room with her infectious laugh. When she went to the bunkroom to drop off her stuff, I quickly pulled my son aside to tell him that we needed to enjoy ourselves and avoid the deep stuff, he quickly agreed, knowing that there was no room in the moment for heavy lecturing and grilling.

This happiness went on for days. We went swimming, hung out by the bonfire, listened to good music and reminisced about days gone by.

The day came when my daughter confided in me. She faced some life altering experiences and shared them with me. I am truly blessed that she opens up to me, and that she knows that I will not judge or harm her in any way on any level. I will only give her love, guidance and maternal wisdom. It is up to her to sift through it and do as she will.

I re-emphasized the need to know of her whereabouts and my hopes for her to consider a different path. I also reinforced my love and all attempts of acceptance. I admire her courage, but believe that she does not have to live in a survival mode, which is how it appears to me.

We have an understanding that I acknowledge that it is her choice to travel around the country with her only belongings stuffed in the backpack. She understands that I need to hear from her with some regularity concerning her well-being and that she will be wise in her choices and carry on with integrity and honor. We both understand that we are not on the same page, but our love is indestructible.

I drove her back to Vermont, where she attended the “Human Powered Carnival” and reunited with her friends.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Talking, Singing, Trusting and Acceptance: Traveling Kids - Part V

After following Anna’s facebook status every few hours – rooting for her to get out of the cold rain in the woods somewhere in upstate New York – she finally arrived in Vermont. I fought the urge to jump in my car and fetch her, but it is all part of the deal.

She reunited with her friends and gathered her belongings that were scattered about Burlington. I drove to Vermont to get her. All the way there I listened to music and tried to organize my thoughts and file the questions inside of my head in some logical manner.

I drove down the street and immediately saw her standing in the middle of a parking lot filled with piles of various items of clothing that a generous friend had dragged out of his outbuilding. Everything was damp because there was a leak in the roof.

As I walked towards her, I was struck by her exquisite beauty. She approached me with a dazzling smile, a mass of rich curls piled loosely on top of her head, wearing a short corduroy skirt with leggings and hiking boots. She was a combination of an earthy gypsy and Greek Goddess.

When we hugged I wanted to absorb her into me. She felt thinner than I remember her ever being; her muscles were well defined and she had a deep bronze tan. Together we walked into the middle of the piles of stuff. I recognized a few familiar things. I bent over and picked up a sweater from the pavement, “Is this one of the boys’?”

She laughed. “Shelby gave it to me.”

After going around in circles for a bit, we rummaged through the piles, collected her things and stuffed them into the trunk of my car.

I kept looking at her, wanting to lock the car doors and never release her from my sight. She was so happy; I couldn’t start in bitching at her. I couldn’t spoil her joy, but I needed to be an advocate for myself, the mother who was worried sick for months, trying to piece it all together.

After buying coffee and getting on the highway, I decided that I could at least make my intentions known. I needed to get it. After rifling through my CD’s, we agreed on Ingrid Michaelson, O Brother Where Art Thou, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Brandi Carlile and Paul McCartney’s Ram.

I looked out the window at the puffy art clouds waiting to be identified. I swallowed and carefully chose my words. “Anna, I want you to make me understand. I don’t want to judge you; just make me understand.”

She smiled a half smile. “I know.” Her smile faded and she looked out the window. She hadn’t faced this straightforward line of questioning for a long time. She knew that I wasn’t going to whine and complain and get lost in my own agenda. She knew that I really expected the truth about her new lifestyle.

We shared intermittent episodes of dialogue. Usually I posed a gentle question; she paused and gave me a well thought out answer. We didn’t move too quickly. She truly wanted me to understand, and it took her a while to formulate her thoughts. The act of articulation was an act of owning. We made every word count.

A few times when we spoke on the telephone during her stay in New Orleans, she mentioned that there were many people who recognized ‘traveling kids’ and offered support and resources. I didn’t know at the time that the term ‘traveling kids’ was an actual name for such a huge and rapidly growing subculture. I didn’t know that she was one of them. I was about to find out who they where, what they stood for and how they lived their lives on a completely alternative plane.

Anna assured me that there was honor amongst them and that – like any culture – there were kids of many factions. As I explained in Part I of this series; they are diverse.

“Where do you fit in?” I sipped my lukewarm coffee.
“I’m not sure.” She smiled.
“Somewhere between the hippies and the old timey musicians?
I remembered that she detests labels and backed off.

She assured me that she never panhandled, that she always played her cello, busking for her money. She also explained that she had to be on top of her game, and that she did not use drugs or take chances that would cause her harm. She noted that there were kids who acted recklessly or in a way that was a vexation to her, and she chose not to be a part of them. She was almost insulted at some of the questions that I asked her.

I kept thinking about how Jack Kerouac was responsible for this. He was and still is one of her heroes, and she re-read his book On the Road when she was last at my house during the holidays. Thinking along those terms was a double edge sword. He lived in different times, yet he was a pioneer who left his distinguishable mark on society. I was all over the place, drifting between frustration, anger, enlightenment and pride for her courage. The fear seems to emerge as the winner every time.

We both knew enough to meter our discussion. We could only give and take so much; we sensed when one of us was drained, therefore we welcomed the silence. Every time one of our songs came on – Brandi Carlile’s The Story, Lucinda Williams’ Can’t Let Go, Carwheels on a Gravel Road, or You Are My Sunshine, I’ll Fly Away from O Brother Where Art Thou – we wailed together, relishing the fact that we still shared the magic of harmonizing. We loved our music so much that we hit replay over and over again as the sun slipped behind the craggy White Mountains.

Anna stayed with me for a little over a week. In between swimming at the Potholes, eating ice cream from ‘The Creamery’ and tickling her arm while watching movies, we sat on the steps of the front porch talking or watching fireflies and the moon in meaningful silence. Sometimes I detected a glimpse of Anna retreating into a world of shadows and solitude and I gauged when to back off and when to nudge her to open up to me.

She was restless at times, but mostly she relished her space in the corner of her bunkroom, curled up with Beatrix – her oversized, stuffed, childhood bunny – and soft pink down quilt. She actually confessed that although she enjoyed visiting with her old friends one night, she secretly regretted that she would be missing a night of sleeping in her own comfortable bed.

I cooked all of her favorite foods, did an insane amount of laundry and listened intently while she told me of her tales on the road, sparing me from some of the more difficult times. I refrained from lecturing her, yet I remained true to my beliefs and reinvented my role as her mother. When we tried to be of the same mind and yet I didn’t understand a particular piece of her story, we would leave it suspended and return to the conversation at a later time. Sometimes it worked and other times we left it as such.

I learned that the most important thing that I could do for both of us is to trust her, to reinforce my love for her and emphasize that I am always here for her under any and all circumstances. It is all reduced to acceptance, love and trust.

A critical lesson that emerged for me is to stop rewinding to the past and trying to find answers. We can learn from the past, but must not wallow in it, but use it as guidance. It is important to understand our history; we can only act in the present. Everyone makes mistakes; they were made once, to continue to dwell on them is empowering them to rule us. Not good. We are where we are now, and we are meant to be here. It is a classroom. Learn and go with it, not against it.

Mainly because of the way that I raised my children – to be strong willed, independent and to follow one’s own compass – Anna lives accordingly. Because of her upbringing, I knew that it was futile to expect that I could change her course. She is firm in her choices and if I reject her, refuse to listen or am hyper-critical, I will lose her. That is not part of the deal.

I promised her that I would not judge, that I would be honest in the way of offering wisdom and support. There are no secrets; what I know and what I will continue to learn is possibly up for debate, but probably will not change.

She spent a great deal of time writing lyrics and preparing for leaving her cello behind for a bit, since it is easier to carry a guitar on the road. She packed and unpacked her backpack and sorted out her things, agonizing over what she could or couldn’t live without.

We were both mentally exhausted, yet spiritually refreshed when I brought her back to Vermont. The sadness grew heavier with each mile, but I knew that it was vital for me to feel it so that I could release it – at least as much of it as possible. It was a combination of knowing, accepting, and separation anxiety.

I respect my daughter for being honest with me, for working so hard to help me to understand. I do and I don’t. I basically understand the lifestyle and the movement, how it works and doesn’t work. I understand why she wants to live on the road, but I don’t necessarily understand the willingness to take risks.

She possesses a different type of courage than I do. I feel safe in the woods and lived in the wild by choice for three months the summer before last. I am comfortable taking a solar shower under the trees, ditching all modern day comforts day in and day out, rain or shine. As Anna so appropriately stated, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. I wouldn’t want to head out into the unknown with a backpack and cello or guitar and play for my next hot meal. She said that it is liberating to get rid of “stuff” and to carry with you only what you need. I respect the hell out of that. We live in such a materialistic world where people are comforted by “things.” She is definitely on the right track.

When we arrived at her destination, I reluctantly helped her carry her stuff into the house where she was staying. When we hugged, I inhaled the sweetness of her hair. I had to let go. I drove away, looking at her in the rearview mirror until she was out of sight.

I cranked up the volume on the stereo and sang The Story as loud as I could to keep the tears from flowing, but gave in because I knew that it was the right thing to do. I turned my attention to the road and headed back through the White Mountains, hitting the replay button too many times.

When I got home, I avoided going into the bunk room. I was drawn to it, but the thought of sadness creeping in from the sight of Beatrix and all of Anna's things exactly as she left them, kept me away for a few days.

I finally walked into the room. She tidied up quite well, leaving me with nothing to dwell on or hang onto. I found a hair scrunchie and a pen. I didn’t touch them and left the room, satisfied that I didn’t have to straighten it out or fall into the perpetual and fruitless trap of longing for her.

About a week later, I got a text message telling me that she was on her way to a concert in Philly. Relieved that she was keeping me informed, I chased away all of the possible scenarios that my writer’s imagination tempted to create and carried on with my life. Sleep came easier, although I did rely on brief prayers and a request here and there from my father to keep her safe.

We are on this journey together, learning the boundaries of love and trust between a mother and daughter, knowing that whatever comes up on the road, that we are always together across the miles.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where the Earth Remembers Me

There are many reasons to come home. The clues are everywhere; in crisp blue skies, lush grassy hills, cool shady woods, clean clear water and the blissful twilight chorus. When I inhale; the sweetness of all that grows wild makes me a bit lightheaded.

Last summer, I spent many nights sitting on the front porch watching fireflies and rapidly floating clouds against a dazzling moon. Now, bundled in a warm fleece jacket, I sit on the steps and wait for winter. Trees creak and sigh in the north wind. Branches – no longer cloaked in soft leaves – click against the other, while remnants of last years garden rattle. Throaty owls and barking coyotes remind me of the plentiful wildlife surrounding me and how I am at ease in their elusive presence.

As I plant, nurture and harvest many flowers, herbs, berries and ground nuts, I am filled with unending gratitude, validating my Abenaki roots. I celebrate each time I spread one of my homemade jams on an English muffin or when I burn candles adorned with vibrant leaves and delicate petals. There is nothing more satisfying than sipping tea made from red clover, rose and mint that I plucked daily and hung from the kitchen beam to dry.

Today, I walked down the footpath in the woods. As the multihued leaves swished beneath my feet, it suddenly occurred to me how significant it is to return to where the earth remembers me. As a child I played and wandered through these woods, playing house within a cluster of tall pine trees and navigating the ‘big rock’ – my ship. Many times I dug my heel into the fresh earth to make a hole for playing marbles, picked daisies for making chains and climbed into the thick, crooked arms of a timeless apple tree, resting and daring to dream while taking bittersweet nourishment.

Until I returned home, I didn’t know that the wild pleasures of my childhood, wonders of keeping it simple, and ways of Our Mother imprinted in my DNA, were lost somewhere deep inside of me. The stillness inside is enough to quiet the chatter, remove me from the chaos and reclaim all that matters then and now. It is so quiet here. Rejoice.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thinking Inside the Backpack: Traveling Kids Part IV

After a period of desperate silence, I attempted to contact people who may know the whereabouts and state of my daughter. I sent a message to a young man who I had met the previous summer in Vermont. I expressed my worries and asked what he knew.

He responded immediately and told me that he heard that she had gotten the medicine that she needed for a throat abscess, and that she was doing better. He also said that every person from her original circle of Vermont friends had returned home.

The previous summer I raced (3.5 hours one way) to Vermont to pick her up from the hospital after she had an abscess on her tonsils lanced and drained.

This young man and I wrote back and forth a few times and we finally spoke on the telephone after his last message stated that he wanted to meet me in Florida and go get her. He warned me that there was a strong possibility that she didn’t ‘want’ to be found.

I had such a difficult time with that statement and thought. We were so close. Even during the teenage years when communication was a little sparse at times, we maintained a high level of mutual respect and a certain openness that I believed would carry us through a lifetime.

Meanwhile, another friend of Anna’s heard that I was trying to contact her, and she picked up her cell phone and called me. She had a job and an apartment in New Orleans; she was from Vermont and knew Anna. She mentioned that she had a very close relationship with her own mother and could not imagine how upset her mother would be if their communication ended abruptly with no explanation.

Without asking, she told me that she would find Anna and offer the use of her cell phone to call me. She also gave me her mailing address so that I could send a cell phone or money or whatever a desperate mother thinks that she can send at a time like that.

Then random messages started trickling in on my facebook from people who assured me that they knew that Anna was fine and that they spotted her here and there playing her cello. It reminded me of a “Where’s Waldo” book, or back in the days when we used to stand on the sea wall in front of our house in Maine, listening to WRKO for the updates of where “Andre” the seal was on his journey from Rockport to the Aquarium in Boston. Only this wasn’t exciting or fun in any way.

Anna’s friend sent me text messages indicating that she had ‘just missed her’. One night my cell phone – which had become a physical attachment by then – rang. It was her earthy yet melodic voice on the other end of the phone as if nothing was different or unusual. She immediately burst into laughter as she explained how she walked into her favorite bar and the bartender hollered, “Anna, call your mother!”

I told her that I was deeply concerned about her. I asked her many questions, such as where are you staying? Who are you staying with? Are you eating? Warm? Dry? I wanted to scream, but I maintained a level of outer calm while tears streamed down my cheeks. Was this really my daughter, the beautiful little girl who was so innocent, creative and bright who had turned into a fearless young woman who cares so little about the basic comforts and gentleness of life, who cares so little about the chaotic society that we live in, that she has made a deliberate choice to take risks by living on the edge, shedding any and all possessions to take to the road without a care other than her next meal? Of course I ask myself where I went wrong.

That question brings me around and around on the great mother – daughter wheel of intense parallel opposites. Are we so much alike that she could not stand it? Does society suck so much that she wants nothing to do with the status quo? Is it because loving her as hard as I could did not make up for those who hurt her? Or are all of these questions simply mute?

I envisioned myself driving around New Orleans asking vagrants and street performers if they had seen my daughter. I shuddered at the thought of not finding her, finding her, or having to sit within the dingy pale yellow cement walls of a tired police station. I imagined seeing her – a flash of youthful sweetness wearing blue and purple silk faerie wings – running up to kiss my cheek. I dreamt of embracing her and whisking her off the streets and taking her back into the safe, gentle cocoon woven of a mother’s love.

She apologized for causing worries. ‘Worries’; such a lame word for what I have experienced. It was traumatic. Not knowing what your daughter is doing, if she is even alive, if she has a roof over her head, has been taken into a sex slave operation, or whatever other scenarios a terrified mother creates while laying in bed every night staring into the darkness, trying to pray her way to sleep.

I wavered between relief and scolding while being cautious, letting her know that I deserved sleep. She said that she understood. We had agreed that she would call or text weekly just to let me know that she was okay. I learned quickly that weekly was way too much to expect, so bi-weekly would do. I needed something.

I felt an odd sense of calm after we hung up. I pushed away “my dreams” for her…dashed away thoughts of Julliard and the long elegant black dresses that she wore on stage when performing Paganini, Haydn, Bach and the others since she was five-years-old and deemed a gifted cellist. I squeezed my eyes shut and embraced the beautiful young woman sitting on the street corner wearing a patched flannel shirt, cut off jean skirt that she made herself, with hiking boots, playing a mixed bag of music with a jar half full of change and a few dollar bills beside her cello case. The roaring applause from the concert hall faded into the crackling fire that burned in the rusted barrel in the alley.

It’s weird how a mother’s mind works under this sort of pressure. I had a short window of time to send a small package to her at her friend’s apartment. Because the only belongings that she has she carries in her backpack, I had to think ‘inside the backpack’. It’s instinctive to want to give her everything that I think she needs; toiletries, food, vitamins, new underwear, socks, and cute hair scrunchies. I loved shopping for her – my only daughter. If I could have crammed homemade cookies and a week’s worth of food in the small Priority Box, I would have.

I sent her money to buy a new cell phone and a few very small tee-shirts (Pink Floyd and something else), underwear and socks all rolled up. I hand wrote a personal card and planted lipstick kisses on the envelope.

At that time I was not meant to completely understand her need to separate dramatically from society, old friends, a gentler, safer world, family and most importantly, from me.

I cannot and will not speak for fathers; I have a lifetime of trying to be both. I had a hunch then – but did not stop loving as hard as I could for two people to actually accept that it does not work. Well, not completely. Believe me when I say that it is entirely possible to raise a child or children as a single parent, I have done so with success. Like I said earlier in this series, my daughter is not doing something wrong. She is gutsy, creative and smart; she is reacting to the world in a way that suits her. I would be excited to learn about this if it were someone else’s daughter. It is a complex statement at this point, but will fall into place as the writing unfolds.

The optimum situation is for a child to have love and guidance from both the feminine and masculine in their equally important ways – role models, self esteem, validation and the complete package (so rare).

Some of these kids on the road have mothers who don’t care, or mothers who do not love them or do but don’t know how, or have never been there, have addictions, are abusive and other very sad stories. Anna is loved, always has been and always will be. She knows this. Is it enough?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sleepless Nights – Traveling Kids – Part III

Anna told me that all she wanted for Christmas was a soft cello case. Not common, but easy. I tried to stall her. First she was scheduled to leave in November, and then December; I think she finally left some time in January.

Every time she called and told me about the latest flaw in the plan, I cheered secretly in my head. I found that the more I asked, the less I got. I went over and over all of the events and times in her life that would give me clues as to why she was doing this. I mean I can understand so much of it. She is ‘my daughter’. I instilled individuality, strong will and standing up for your beliefs. I provided my kids with a classical home education, exposed them to a vast cultural world and made sure that they were aware of global affairs, politics, environmental accountability and social justice; they were not sheltered. She is the only one of my three who did not home school all the way through. She went to an alternative private (day) school. I wrote about this in a previous blog, but as her mother, I will say that this experience catapulted her into a world of extreme rebellion, anti-disestablishmentism, as the severing of communication between us suffered greatly for some time, although we always maintained a deep level of love for one another.

Anna is following her free spirit code to the letter. It is frightening to think that she is doing exactly what she was taught to do; only I never imagined that this would be the end result, so extreme, so appropriate yet inappropriate, so secretive yet transparent, so brave yet so frightening, so painfully difficult for me to accept. I came up with a few theories, but it does no good to root around in the past; you cannot change it. However, you can understand, have some reasonable explanation for the present and vow to refuse to own guilt that has no place in the present. That seems easy on paper, to read or write, but to actually let go of past mistakes (in child rearing in this case) is challenging.

I found myself thinking that if I had done this or that, or listened to my inner voice, or stood my ground in certain situations, that everything would have gone according to the blueprint that I had crafted in my head, starting from her birth. I drove myself crazy piecing together the past and rearranging the possible outcomes. I know my mistakes, my weaknesses and my imperfections, but there is not a damn thing I can do about what has already happened and in my own defense, I am pleased with the majority of my actions and intentions. Yes, I am wildly imperfect, understanding the beauty in it and leading an organic life.

Unfortunately, many of us allow the negatives to overshadow the positives when assessing the past, especially in times like these. That seems to be prevalent in times of trouble. Maybe these unsavory events are offshoots of the negative elements and emotions from the past; the roots of a gnarly, weedy, unattended garden. So if a person dwells on and sows those little toxic seeds, they become the foundation of the future. I shifted from the damaging events and recalled the numerous positive, healthy and genuinely good experiences that unfolded yet somehow diminished from the big picture of my daughter.

A few years ago, I did something quite significant. I acknowledged my misjudgments that resulted from some challenging circumstances and apologized to my three grown children. I didn’t whip myself into submission; I let them know that I understood how my decisions affected them and gave them an opportunity to address them ‘after the fact.’ We transitioned together – my three children and me – and we learned and grew from negative life altering situations. We all agree that it made us strong and enhanced our character development. I simply wanted them to know that I honored and respected them a few years down the road and in retrospect offered them a chance to iron out any wrinkles left in the fold. We had a ‘stronger than usual’ tie that bound us because of our meaningful home education experience.

I had three kids in three and a half years. I did the diaper thing for a long time; home educated them for nine years, performed together as a musical family, farmed chickens, goats and (heaven help us) bunnies and I experienced three teenagers for a while. So far, they were the best years of my life. Because of our honest communication and my willingness to be open to their process of blossoming from acorns to mighty oaks, it was positive and enlightening.

When I talked to my daughter on the cell phone before she left, she assured me that she was traveling with a male friend and a girlfriend. They were in a vehicle, stopping in Asheville, NC first. Each time I considered calling her, I was like a smoker trying to quit, reaching for a cigarette, and I had to have restraint and fight the urge. Sometimes I even hit “send” and “end” quickly before it rang. If I called her too much, it would create more distance. I could not be desperate. It was sort of like being in high school and staying cool, not answering the telephone on the first ring, when you knew that the cute guy on the other end was calling.

I relied on her facebook status to make sure that she had made it from one point to another. The problem with that is that you are only getting a glimpse or fraction of the whole. Snippets from her reality; a line from a Grateful Dead song or one of her own songs or poems, which left me in a detective mode with my vivid imagination filling in the gaping holes.

While in Asheville, she played in café’s and stayed with another friend I had never heard of. I was relieved when she called me. She told me about a “weird” dream that she had. The main strand was about me dying. I’ve studied enough about dreams (Jung) to know that in her unconscious she was balancing the breaking away from me and all that I taught her in the way of maintaining a certain level of groundedness. She was asserting her independence on yet another level.

By the time she reached New Orleans, I too was in the Deep South in the Gulf of Mexico. Last winter on the Gulf of Mexico was colder than usual with freezing temperatures killing tropical fruit trees, vegetation and sea life such as manatees and fish. New Orleans was damp and raw and 10 hours north. I had no real idea where my daughter was staying. I knew that she was using the term “with friends” loosely. I continued to read her facebook status, look with horror at photos that she was tagged in and lay awake every night. I gave up on making deals with God many years ago when my children used to fly every weekend with their dad in his private plane. Making deals with God is exhausting and unreliable, there has to be another way.

I have discovered that the other way to cope with being gripped by fear in situations, in which you have absolutely no control, is to let go. I have been trying to apply this practice now for some time, not only with Anna, but with my son in the military and my other son who was then struggling to stay in graduate school on a shoestring (I am happy to report that they are both doing well).

The past year has been the most dramatic for me in the way of letting go. I knew that I had to take my hands off the wheel or be willing to accept the oncoming suffering of my health and the complete deterioration of even a shred of inner peace. I wrote a blog about letting go a few weeks ago; I guess I am still in the process and honestly may never be able to completely let go, because of the workings of my heart and the wiring of my soul.

The few times that I talked with Anna afforded me one or two nights of semi-peaceful sleep when I reveled in a sense of false security. In the gentlest way, I asked questions pertaining to her well-being, careful to avoid alienation. Sometimes I caved in and reminded her of all of the dangers that lurked amongst many desperate lonely souls roaming the dark streets of New Orleans. She assured me that she was aware and in fact she was having a wonderful time and that New Orleans was busker friendly; she was making good money. Intuition told me otherwise.

After a few weeks, she called using someone else’s cell phone to tell me that she lost hers. That break in communication was the beginning of a long, dark period of nothingness. She stopped her facebook postings. Silence. I watched the news during Mardigras, hoping to catch a random glimpse of her or gain insight to her world. I texted the phone number that she used to call me, “Please tell Anna to call home.” No response. This is when carrying my cell phone with me at all times became a panic situation. I didn’t hear from her for well over a month.

I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake and prayed every night for God to keep her safe. I even asked my father’s spirit to watch over her and protect her. I had never done anything like that before. In life, I didn’t ask a great deal from Dad, so requesting his services after his death was over the top. I didn’t want to become addicted to sleeping pills but was beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation; I took a small dose of melatonin every night so that I could sleep.

I continued to fill in the blanks with my imagination, coming up with dreadful scenarios concerning the whereabouts and state of my daughter. I had nowhere to turn, because I didn’t know any of her friends.

I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when I read posts on her walls from friends who were pleading with her to contact them and when I saw that the girl who she traveled with had returned to Vermont without her. One post stated that everyone had returned home except for Anna; she wanted to stay. The young man who originally accompanied them on the journey took a detour and went to another state after Asheville. Poppa N. and his infamous raft project were never mentioned.

For the first time in motherhood, I was completely helpless and defeated. Tears constantly threatened to spill, and I was afraid that if I let them surface, they would become a raging waterfall with no end in sight. I could not erase images of my sweet daughter with her radiant smile, rosy cheeks, thick French braids adorned with apple blossoms and wearing her simple blue checked dress. I had difficulty conjuring an image of her at her present age. I refused to watch movies or documentaries that might remind me of the violent society in which we lived. I became reliant on long walks on the beach and collecting shells for solitude. Sadness and despair mingled with fear and then anger. How could she do this to me? I made her promise that she would text or call me weekly to let me know that she was okay and in return I would not keep her tied up on the telephone for long. She broke her promise, or she was not okay.

I started planning my trip to New Orleans to find her. Unimaginable questions started to bombard me; what if I couldn’t find her, what if she was hurt of worse, what if I found her and she didn’t want to come with me? I took a melatonin and went to bed to have my conversations with God and eek out a request to Dad to watch over her one night at a time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Traveling Kids – The First Leg of the Journey Part II

Last year around this time, my daughter told me that she was going to spend the winter in New Orleans busking on street corners. I felt a jolt in my solar plexus; the same jolt that I experienced a year before when I went to New Orleans and witnessed the deep collective grief, depression and PTSD from Hurricane Katrina as it hung in the sultry air like a heavy, anguished fog.

Even if one did not feel that heavy hand pressing down, the obvious physical signs were everywhere; buildings with watermarks up to the roofs, boarded up windows and doors, dead body counts painted on buildings, piles of rubble and cemeteries with heavy chains on the gates to keep grave robbers out.

After a lengthy career as a successful trumpet player, I felt flat in the wake of the storm. Signs of death and destruction littered the city as far as the eye could see. Crowded tent cities were jammed under highway bridges, but as soon as you turned the corner onto Bourbon Street, it was business as usual. Outrageous Jazz and Dixie riffs that I spent countless hours either listening to or perfecting on my own trumpet drifted out of bars and shops. It was mid afternoon and for the first time in many years I felt like I truly ‘needed’ a drink.

My head pounded. Was it the swirling frozen drink machines or the fact that it was May of 2008 and very little had been done to rebuild this city? I don’t know. I ordered a too big, wonderfully pink and white ‘frozen hurricane’. Was I mad? I don’t know. What I do know is that I felt the rum in short order, and after looking beyond the fallen bricks on the streets other than Bourbon Street, I too got used to NOLA being in ruins. It was Jazz fest and although I did not make it there with one of my own bands, I was there at that time and needed to shake off whatever was freaking me out and enjoy the music and heritage that lingered about.

The partying goes on and on and on in New Orleans. People puke and urinate wherever; business owners must hose down the sidewalks every morning, sort of like Paris without the attitude. The murder rate in New Orleans is one of the highest in the country. Why on earth would I be happy to hear that my beautiful, talented – still wet behind the ears – daughter would be going there without a true plan, with other traveling kids, with her cello and backpack to spend the winter?

When she set out for NOLA, I had never heard the term, ‘traveling kid’. I only knew that some old man who goes by the name, Poppa Neutrino* was encouraging young people to go to New Orleans for the winter to help him build his next raft. I met Poppa N. the previous June when I dropped in to visit my daughter after a writing conference in northern Vermont. He was sitting in front of his old beater van in the driveway of her house in Burlington. I thought it odd to see someone of his age just hanging around with a bunch of college age kids. I didn’t hesitate to get as much information as possible from my daughter regarding this old man. I figured out that he was a guru of sorts. He rejected the status quo back in the sixties by taking a stand against paying rent or mortgage and being a part of the system. He built rafts / houseboats out of recycled trash and raised his family as gypsies – sometimes living in cars – and entertaining people from town to town in a circus type fashion.

His method is to scoop up young, disenchanted people and teach them his ways of dropping out of the system. He is a hero to them; someone who has successfully traded in a lifetime of working tirelessly to make ends meet, while only keeping a corrupt government in place for a life of owning and owing nothing. How wonderful is that?

I can see where this way of thinking is appealing to many, especially in these times, however, there is an extreme aspect of this lifestyle that is not at all as glamorous as it seems. When people are out hopping trains, sleeping in abandoned buildings and eating from the dumpster behind Applebee’s, they are susceptible to diseases, long term health issues and likely victims of crime. (Not to mention that they are not living to their fullest potential).

Of course, as one young man firmly pointed out to me one night as we sat in an outdoor café, “Don’t knock dumpster diving until you try it.”

That shut me up. He is right. How can I say how horrible something is, if I have not even tried it? Many establishments throw away unopened cases of food the same day as the expiration date. Okay, so yes I agree that there is a pitiful amount of waste in this country. We could be using some of this stuff for soup kitchens which brings me to my next point.

These young travelers rely on soup kitchens. One of the first things that they do when they arrive in a new place is check out their resources. So the scenario is that there are wonderful, young, brilliant minded college age kids who have so given up that they rely on dumpsters and soup kitchens. They claim to be happy and unaffected by their families’ objections. I suppose that there are many families who do not know the truth of their grown child’s lifestyle; ignorance is bliss.

To be continued...

*If you wish to learn more about this man, google him; he has made a name for himself.  I am not going into detail of how I feel or what I believe concerning him or his efforts.