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.

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