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.

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