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.

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