Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Birth of the Maiden Child

Nothing about you is ordinary, mediocre, or typical in any sense.

I awoke just after midnight with the unquestionable beginning pains of childbirth. Since this was the third time, I was fully prepared for the onslaught of God’s revenge against Eve. Damn her for eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. That thought alone is enough to cause any clear thinking person to run and never look back.

The little stuffed piggie – a gift from you for one of your brothers – snorted from inside of my suitcase as I scurried towards the admittance desk causing a stir amongst the janitors. I tightened my grip on the handle and took a cleansing breath as the swelling of another contraction gripped me. “It’s okay; it’s a toy.” I exhaled.

The receptionist glared over the top of her gold rimmed glasses and barked. “Can I help you?”

I wanted to laugh. I handed my suitcase to my husband. It snorted. “Yes. My labor has begun and I am here to have a baby.”

After the usual form filling extravaganza, I was finally admitted. It was curiously quiet in the maternity ward – no screaming moms or wailing babies. It was just before shift change, and the nurse was blatantly displeased to see me. I understand that feeling when nothing eventful has happened, you’ve had a long slow spell, and you’re about to go home when suddenly you are in serious demand. What a drag.

She did not hide her disappointment at having to work. After a quick assessment, she made the decision that I was experiencing false labor and needed to go home. End of discussion.

My husband had a dreadful cold and was more than happy to return to our warm bed. I, on the other hand, was horrified. My contractions were between twelve and fifteen minutes apart. I was returning home to my two and three year old sons, dragging my sniffling, drowsy husband behind me to have a baby? Without warning, I had that needing help in a town with a crooked sheriff sort of feeling.

No one believed me except for my neighbor, Judy, who had dashed over to stay with the boys. My seemingly unaffected, sick husband returned to bed while I sat in my kitchen counting and breathing. I tried to maintain my composure in the midst of knowing that I couldn’t have the baby in the hospital with my attending physician and that I was on my own.

It was after 4:00 in the morning when I was sent home. Within a few hours, I was back at the hospital in hard labor and you were born. As always, between the two of us, we figured it out. It was one of those situations where I had to roar, when in fact roaring is not my favorite thing. We returned to fresh faces, prepared to do the right thing, such as acknowledge a woman (patient) about to give birth.

I was expecting a third boy. I didn’t dare to hope for you. When the doctor told me that you were a girl, I asked him if he was sure.

“Don’t ever question an OB doctor about the sex of a baby.”  He tried unsuccessfully not to snap.

When I held you in my arms for the first time, your father leaned over us; his tears fell on my face. It was a miracle; you are a miracle.

Later that night, when I was in my room, I needed a fresh blanket for you. The nurse brought in a pink one. At that point, all of the hormones exploded into the reality that I really did have a daughter. I started sobbing. “It’s true. I have a daughter. I never used a pink blanket before.”

Somehow the pink blanket was the little nudge that I needed to fall off of that fierce cliff into an unending maternal abyss. My life has never been the same since I gave birth to you. I honor this day and celebrate you. You have proven to be that beautiful flower that thrives in the crack of a broken sidewalk. I anticipate the day when you decide to leave that broken sidewalk behind and honor who you really are. Follow the signs, Anna. I love you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Whittier and the Corporate Whore

I swore that I would never go back. When I had to go the first time, I cried. I traded in real frogs from the pond for a metal one that I got for a dollar from the huge yellow discount tent at the end of a gravel parking lot. It was a reminder of truth and where I must return.

The mutilated song played in the background and I turned my back on it and me. I had to cut open the tube and scrape out the last bit of toothpaste before I would surrender. Even though the kerosene did not stain, the stench lingered on my shoes; I couldn’t salvage the toes of my pantyhose though and the purple gauze dress didn’t matter anymore.

For three years, I wore a bracelet that had the words “CORPORATE WHORE” engraved on it. I never went there without it. No one ever noticed. No clients, no co-workers, no UPS man, no postal clerk…no one. The damn bracelet went unnoticed.

I cursed the zebra print curtain that hung in front of the stairs that led to a mysterious place that did not interest me at all. I just wanted them to get rid of the curtain. Every time I walked into the lobby at the end of the day, I looked at the mountain and screamed in my head. I know you Whittier and you will set me free. Perhaps if I could see it too, I would set myself free. I saw the ugly side of that mountain with the broken down tramway, cell phone tower and golden arches at the base. I only went in there to pee. No Big Macs for me. I could have peed somewhere else, but it was appropriate to make some kind of connection.

It got dark too soon. I was burning daylight. Each step was a chore but I managed to find a way to walk. The bird’s nest showed up after the leaves fell off of the bush. I didn’t need to see it when the leaves were there, so it worked out well. The nest gave me enough energy to get to the next thing.

When I had to cut the tube again; I had to return. But it isn’t because of the toothpaste. It’s because there is something there beckoning my return. Apparently I missed something. The Zebra curtain still hangs in front of the stairs that lead to nowhere, it stinks in the lobby and even though we are not closed, they turn out the lights to save money on the electric bill. Some of the people are different and some are the same, but nothing has changed at all. I look up at Whittier in silent dismay. My heels echo on the gritty floor. I always wear patchouli and I don’t think I’ll ever go to McDonald's to pee. I didn’t start wearing the “Corporate Whore” bracelet until a few days ago. No one noticed.

I had to write this to liberate all of the words that have been waiting patiently in the sensible corner of my heart.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Too Long (but not really)...

I embrace her and try to focus; her scent is too strong. Pungent, sweet and earthy is the ancient wood from the Black Forest. When I draw the bow across the strings, the vibration flows from her body to mine, concentrating on my breast and just inside my knees. I wiggle towards the edge of the wooden chair and try again to focus on the music. The lion roars.

The light is dim, but not too dim; I can see if I want to. My head wants to do one thing and my heart another. It is natural until I look or think too much. I know it but it looks weird on the page. I waited too long, but not really. I thought of her often, maybe every day. I wanted to hold her close and have that long awaited reunion, but it was always there trying to make me stop. I hated it.

I made excuses and lied to myself. I dreamed of those times when nothing ever got in the way, and then the dreams did what dreams always do. Was that really me?

I ran away from the Bach Cello Suites. Sometimes I put the CD in the player in the car and quickly hit the next button, never hearing beyond the first measure. I refuse to look at what we played.

I found a folder of music today that had familiar handwritten notes penciled in. I remembered the logic, but forgot the reason. When I played, I remembered us playing so many times that we never believed it might not be.

I played until the breath of the memory brought life to the girl, the woman who never knew anything else.

Our essence lingers in fragments on the page. I struggle with the same notes and play the others so well. I quit and rejoin the orchestra every day, remembering faces I want to forget.

My favorite music was composed in the 17th Century, where I should be.
Tomorrow I will embrace her again, where no one will notice and the lion smiles.

Photo Courtesy of

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Circus Song: Traveling Kids – Part X

The internal conflict raged on as my daughter prepared once again to leave the nest. Because of our open dialogue, however, the conflict was not always internal; we brought everything to the table. For some reason it felt as if there was always unfinished business. It was mine. Perhaps it was my inability to honestly accept her way of life let alone embrace it.

It was obvious; I was a mess. But as always, the appearance of my ability to cope could win me an academy award. I did a great job talking, asking pointed questions, and knowing when to press and when to back off. I was handling it, but no one (including myself) was really handling me. I screamed inside of my head. I wanted her to say, “You’re right, Mom. This is crazy; I’m staying here and building my music career.” Or. “You know I was thinking that I would stay here after all and be still, and think about what lies ahead.” Or maybe even, “I think I like the idea of hot showers, meals and a roof over my head; a gentler way of life.”

I wanted her to be packed, but hated seeing her pack. I wanted them to go; I needed her to stay. She and her traveling partner, Colby, spent a great deal of time sewing, or at least talking about sewing. Did you know that dental floss is better than thread? Anna has always been an industrious seamstress, even more so after becoming a ‘Traveling Kid’. I learned that although she has three times more clothes than the average young woman – many designed and crafted by herself – she prefers to patch and mend the same few items of clothing to take with her.

There is something “bankie-ish” about this. Although, Anna didn’t really have a bankie to speak of. She twisted a curl around her finger and held it over her eye like a monocle while sucking her thumb, or she snuggled with Beatrix, a huge stuffed bunny dressed in a pink floral outfit with lace around the cuffs.

The day before Anna was scheduled to leave; my friends Lisa and Jim came to New Hampshire for a visit. They hadn’t seen Anna for several years, so it was almost as if they were meeting for the first time. We share a strong connection dating back to my original college days where Lisa was my first friend.  Her husband Jim is a music enthusiast. He had his flip camera with him and asked Anna to play or sing for him. She grabbed her guitar and wailed on it singing one of her original pieces, “The Circus Song.” Of course she blew him and everyone else within earshot away. Then she played a Celtic fiddle tune on my cello, simply because she can.

It was beyond difficult to know that she would be leaving the next day without a musical instrument. In my family, leaving your instrument behind is like leaving your head behind; it doesn’t work. I suggested that she call me from New Orleans at Christmastime and I would buy her a used guitar from a pawn shop or something. But it’s all so iffy, blurred and random. She has access to a guitar here, but she can’t take it with her. Colby has a guitar somewhere but it’s really belongs to his brother who might have sold it to his mother who doesn't really play but would need to hang onto it. Her cello is here, well not exactly, it is in a string shop in Northern Vermont waiting for me to finish making payments from recent repairs so that I can bring it home.  It was my cello originally, and I can't let it go. Loose ends are everywhere. Some people live for them. They get tangled and plague me.

I posted her video on facebook. No question that her signature voice, lyrics, guitar playing and look is marketable. She has it. I have not posted the cello video yet. In time.

People’s reaction to her caused a stir. She was used to a different audience from the perspective of a street musician. I have played on many street corners; I honor buskers, minstrels and troubadours. I know how it feels to have your ass frozen to a metal chair, or your toes numb in your boots while you continue to play one more song for the clinking coins in the red metal pot. I remember hoping a gust of wind wouldn’t blow dollar bills out of my black velvet lined case and I carried a silver flask filled with blackberry brandy in my garter under my skirt. Once I laughed and somehow continued playing my horn while a dog barked because he wanted me to throw a hunk of asphalt and play fetch. I have played outdoors for a lifetime. I didn’t play for my supper or a pack of cigarettes.  Not really. It doesn’t matter who plays for what. It matters that the music does not perish.

I could tell that she was wondering about the possibilities, something she must always do. She was getting offers from various agents and promoters to play in Boston. But the reality is that she chose to travel south and whatever happens happens.

The night before her departure, we snuggled. I buried my head into her mass of curls and imprinted her scent. She was different this time. I wasn’t the only one fighting the urge to cling; she was reluctant too. I don’t know if it was because we talked about every possible thing and held it up to the light, her heightened awareness of my unconditional love, or if it was the new recognition of her music at the last moment. Everyone in this part of her world knows her as an accomplished cellist beginning at a very young age; the singer songwriter is new.

I think optimistically that maybe she is beginning to understand that she deserves more than living in survival mode and has a great deal to offer herself and the world.  No need to run.

Brown eyes to brown eyes never lie. I sensed a part of her that wanted to stay. But she wasn’t really there yet.

Photo Compliments of:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November Aches

In the heart of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, November is not a month; it is a feeling. Raw. Death. I write this with conviction, drawing upon a lifetime of enduring long, gray Novembers – a time when the final curtain falls on splendid, boastful October.

Damp, blackened leaves – once crisp and artful – curl together in a slimy clump that sticks to the bottom of my hiking boots. The orangey hue that accompanied fresh apple cider, firm pumpkins waiting to be carved and the smell of burning wood, has become grayish and flat. Knowing what lies ahead, jack-o-lanterns stare with menacing distorted smiles on their caved in faces as they rot on the stone wall. The wind and rain rip the remaining, stubborn leaves from the trees, triggering my nesting instincts, making me think that I should have a gray tiger cat to curl up with, but I don’t.

I wonder why the leaves on the ash trees are the last to go and I wonder if the frogs in the little pond have buried themselves in the mud yet, so I look for them beneath the still water. It is too dark to really see anything except for the reflection of bent cat-o-nine-tails.

November aches. Bare trees fade into more bare trees. Shivering dead skeletons of last year’s gardens remind me that I never found out which ones to pull and which ones to cut, so I left them in the disarray of certain death.

I expect the pigs to snort at my presence, but it is eerily silent now that they have been slaughtered. I avoid looking there. I don’t want to see what it looks like with them gone. I curse myself for liking them even though I promised that I would not make eye contact with them. I did make eye contact with them, but only for a few seconds at a time. Does that count? They had blue eyes, which made me look away.

The whey buckets were too heavy; about 50 pounds each when full. Sometimes I carried two at a time. They liked the whey more than the grain. It was sticky, smelled sour and splashed on my feet, but I knew that it was good. I always threw handfuls of mint and mugwort into their pen because I could. Every time I went outside I sang silly songs that I created just for them, improvising on the spot; they were my new audience.

The feasting ends. No more piggie songs. Now they are wrapped up in neat bundles in the freezer. Peanut butter and elderberry jam is my new favorite thing. That’s what happens in November.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wild Roots, Cheesecake and Flaming Trees: Traveling Kids – Part IX

According to Colby, his mother loves him but doesn’t understand his lifestyle. He called her a few times while he was here and it was apparent that communicating was difficult. I did not eavesdrop nor did I ask questions; he was clearly stressed out after conversing with his mom.

He told me that his brother, one year younger, was also a ‘traveling kid.’ No mother should have to endure that. Her only sons are out there and all she has is that damn school of fish. Why?

Colby told me that his brother planned on living the rest of his life as a traveler and that he told his mother this, which did not go over well. His younger brother also got married a few months ago. Missing the wedding was the least of her problems.

Why should she be okay with this?

Talk of Colby’s brother opened a new line of questioning, nudging our conversation into the realm of the future. Of course no one knows what the future holds. Live in the present.

Would they come in for a landing some day?  How did they feel about being houseless (not homeless); say two, five or ten years down the road? Did they see themselves hopping trains and thumbing around the country indefinitely? I painted images with words like, toothless, wrinkled, prone to disease, etc. Anna quickly told me that she wants to travel now while she is young, before she settles into a career and family. Colby said that he planned on turning an old camper that he had at his mother’s house into a bus, a traveling art studio. He just needs to come up with money somehow for a pick-up truck. After he transforms the pop-up camper into a studio, he will go to festivals and sell his art. He is very talented. I hope that this works.

When Anna was a little girl, I used to keep a large, hot pink, beach pail stocked with craft items – popsicle sticks, glue, pompoms, thread, pipe cleaners, buttons, etc. – her ‘bucket of junk’. She simply made things all the time. She is a creative whirlwind. She also sews and knits. She used to hand make all of her clothes, I am talking stunning dresses, skirts and hats. If she is part of the traveling studio, she will not be at a loss for what to make, however, I hope that she stays on her musical path. If you have heard her music, you will understand.

Enough talk of welding old pop-up campers. My goal at the moment was to enjoy the gift of time that I had with my daughter. I was not thrilled to share her with her traveling buddy for the entire week, but it is what it is. Colby is a nice kid who somehow ended up coming out the other side of things the way my daughter did and they were traveling together. I had to go with it.

In maintaining my true nature, my nesting instincts took over as we did things like carve jack-o- lanterns, sip apple cider and cocoa, snuggle (Anna and I), stack firewood and bake chocolate chip cookies.

I threw a small party for Anna because she would be away on her birthday. No Thanksgiving or Christmas with her either. I’m the kind of Momma who likes to wrap a 24 pound turkey in bacon and roast it in a wood kitchen cook stove. We are not of the Christian faith, however we celebrate Christmas with a traditional family gathering; a time for sharing and celebrating the Yuletide. It’s all about family, music, food (never fail fudge, anatomically correct gingerbread people and tiger butter), twinkling lights and coziness. I am sad that she will not be home.

My sister and her family came over for the birthday party. I placed a few candles on a decadent cheesecake surrounded by cupcakes and we gave her gifts. I told my family that gift cards were good for her, because of the being inside of the backpack thing.

I gave her a charm necklace, seizing the opportunity to express myself on something that she will wear close to her heart. The charm in the middle is a beautiful “A” in calligraphy. There are four silver rings – two on each side of the A – each engraved with a word; Integrity, Wisdom, Remember and Mother. Of course she loved it and put it on immediately.

Later on we sat around the bonfire – a brush pile that seemed like it might burn down the entire forest. It didn’t thanks to my son, the violinist, who came for a short visit before Anna’s departure. With a garden hose, he sprayed the leaves on the trees that had not yet changed color and dropped. Flames and sparks threatened. A chipmunk darted out from beneath the burning brush into the woods. Anna sat on a stump with her guitar and sang her “Circus Song” along with many others.

I love harmonizing with her. Our voices are different, yet there is core equivalence. The roots that run deep, that are twisted and firm and sometimes even frenzied; grow together with a fierceness that is wild and aware as they merge into one.

The last I heard, she was on a Chinatown Bus somewhere between NYC and Philly.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The School of Fish Around Your Head: Traveling Kids – Part VIII

Anna and I have always danced. From pure sweet lullabies to wailing songs like CCR's Bad Moon Rising by cello rocking Rasputina; we connect. When she was four we started dancing wildly to the Andrews Sisters’ Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Rum and Coca Cola and Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Me. It was more of a conviction when we danced to Rachel Bisex’s, Dancing with My Mother.

With our cellos, our words, in the moonfield…We danced. We still do. She left. She returned. She left. I heard from her and didn’t hear from her. We talked and didn’t talk. I accepted and didn’t accept both the truth and untruth of her world. Our dance is unique, passionate, filled with intrigue, irony and frustration. Today, however, I long for an old fashioned waltz.

My mind wandered to that program on MSNBC – Runaways. Why did they refer to them as ‘runaways’? Many of them were in their twenties. I tossed the question around and decided that the show was not authentic. Too much focus on too few people giving only a slice of the whole pie. Everyone knows that runaways are minors, well, except for those who have been on the streets since they were minors.

The question drifted back into focus. But they are runaways in some way. At least there is the fact that many of these young people are in fact running. From what? Each has his or her own story. Some, like my daughter, will say that they simply want to travel around and see the country. Fair enough. They do not want to be part of this warped out society. But they are. They are whatever piece of it that they choose to be. They are the ones walking along the highway with a large frame backpack, hopping on trains, spanging or busking on the street, bumming cigarettes and washing up in the restroom at a truck stop. They are the ones who cannot imagine stopping and taking stock of where they are and finding a way to contribute to a society that has wronged them in a multitude of ways. Many of them are in survival mode and have been from early childhood, so that is their comfort zone.

I had never shared my feelings with another person who really comprehended my angst. I am thankful for the support that I get from those I honor greatly. These people offer encouragement, but I had not met another mother of a ‘traveling kid’. One can imagine how it feels but must actually walk in my shoes to fully grasp the experience. I presumed that most of the parents of these kids didn’t know or care, or had let their kid go years before. It is convenient to touch up the rough spots and pretend that the package is tidy or erase any and all possible underlying clues that might lead to self blame and loathing.

I wondered about the other parents. Did they worry? Did they play the role of cool friend rather than wise parent? Did they wire them money? Did they call the other (absent) parent and leave messages that went unanswered – a perpetual root of things – and face their fears alone? Did they yell and scream and give ultimatums? Did they lay awake at night, cry and make deals with God? All of the above.

Anna befriended a young man I will call Colby. I have a terrible habit of recognizing the child within a person almost instantly upon meeting. Colby was no exception; his little boy was so present in his face, mannerisms and his eyes mostly, that it was difficult to think of him as a man nearing his mid twenties. Perhaps it is because I have two sons about his age, so it was natural to think in those terms. I wanted to say, “Why are you doing this? Let’s return to the days of Lego’s, trucks and dinosaurs and figure this out.”

Instead, I nurtured him along with my daughter, thinking that there might be a spark reminding him of a gentler life that once was and still is possible. I thought about all of the things that I wanted and needed to discuss with my daughter before she set out on her journey to New Orleans. At first I hesitated because he was there. Then I thought, no way. He is here now and he is going to be my daughter’s traveling partner, he gets the hard questions too.

It worked. I asked him how he thought that his life as a ‘traveling kid’ made his parents feel? He was quite candid. I know from our conversation that his father has cut him off (although he loves me, Colby interjected) and his mother loves him as well, but she cannot relate.

I had to walk a fine line here. What does it mean not relating to your child being a ‘traveling kid?’ Is it so awful to want something else for your child? Such as knowing that she/he has a roof over her head, even a mundane job (as horrible as it might sound to a Bohemian Artist who has learned to busk for meals) would work now and then.

How much of this parental unrest is self centered – “what about me” – stuff and how much of it is genuine worry about the safety of your grown child? It’s all real, bubbling in the pot. The worry, coping, fear, anger and relief are all just swimming around your head like a school of fish with each emotion taking turns being the leader.

You learn to live with the fish as they become a part of your world, shedding new light on Jacques Cousteau. You’re in a store deciding whether you need coffee cream or not and the fish are right there swimming around you. You pat your pocket, feeling for your cell phone because you can’t hear it in the store if it’s in your pocketbook. When you find it, the anxious fish quickly passes the lead over to the relief fish.

You watch a movie, while the coping fish leads the school when suddenly a change in the scene reminds you (the imaginative creature who fills in the blanks) that your daughter could be in that sort of street alley with the menacing guy closing in on her. The fear fish moves to the front when you recall that the last time you spoke with her she said that she lost her pepper spray.

Colby and I talked freely about his family. I inquired with nurturing confidence, careful not to pry or put him in too tight a spot. Someone has to put aside all of the weirdness and place the appropriate significance on asking these young people how, what, where and why? A vital element in this dilemma stems from elders not taking the time or the initiative to place emphasis on the lives of our children. It might be uncomfortable, unpleasant and even heart wrenching, but we must peel back the layers and get to the core. Looking the other way and bitching or grieving in silence is not beneficial. They need us to have a voice; they need to have a voice; we all need to pay attention and hear. It is important.

I asked him questions pertaining to how his parents would feel should he have an accident on a train and die. I asked him if he considered the toll that his death would take on his family. You may not regard your life in the way of those who gave life to you, yet should it be lost, have you considered how their lives would be changed forever?

He looked down. My daughter and I locked eyes. Brown eyes to brown eyes. No truth hides. My voice was lower pitched than usual and firm, almost as if someone else were speaking. I would never be the same. I cannot describe how difficult it would be to continue living.

He told me that he did think about it. I was not convinced. Really? Truly? You have thought enough about your actions and risk taking that you have imagined what their lives would be like if they found out that you were dead?

He continued looking down at his feet and nodded yes. I knew at that point that if he never really pondered the effect that a possible careless death would have on his family that he did then. Even if he pushes caution to the wind along with thoughts of surviving parents, I know that once, in my presence, both he and my daughter clearly faced that possibility and responsibility to life itself.