Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dancing With My Mother – A Story of Mothers, Daughters, Love and Music

I fought back tears and tried to focus on the scenery as we drove down Route 4 in New Hampshire, also known as Antique Alley. I did not embrace ‘having a day off’ as my husband put it. I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day with my children. The most fantastic omelet in the world and a day of antiquing didn’t make up for their absence.

Based on choices – a career as a professional trumpet player and with my husband’s support – I was able to stay at home with my children. In fact, I was able to home educate them and eventually have a small farm. I was blessed. But like everything in life, there are plusses and minuses. Unfortunately, I was divorced from my children’s father. This proved to be a great hardship.

That weekend in 1995 – like too many other weekends – overflowed with worry and sadness while my children were on visitation with their father. My husband and my ex-husband were all for sticking with the schedule, not making an exception for Mother’s Day. It really didn’t matter what they thought; it was about my children and me. I wanted to be with them on Mother’s Day (everyday for that matter) and they wished the same. However, at that time we did not have a voice like we do now.

I was listening to NPR when the amazing sound of a woman’s earthy and pure voice captured my attention.

My mother stands in the kitchen of my childhood
Slicing and dicing, stirring, white apron on
Drinking cold coffee
Mixing, baking, serving, caring, listening…

She instantly resonated with me. I turned up the volume. Her narrative segued into a beautiful folk song about dancing with her mother. Where are you? Dancing, with my mother… The last line blew me away when a little girl sang sweetly to her mother.

I lost it. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I scrambled for a pen to write down the name of the artist. Rachel Bissex. My pen didn’t work so I recited her name repeatedly in my head until we arrived at the next antiques shop. I rifled through the glove box and found another pen, scribbled her name on a piece of scrap paper and tucked it into my pocketbook.

My mother rocks in the bedroom of my childhood
Her guitar a silhouette against the window
Where the white sheer curtains hang
And the headlights come
And she’s singing to me
And she’s singing to the moon
And she’s singing about lost love…

The words could have come from my own pen. I sang to my children day and night…it was all about the moon and love and longing. We always played music together; it fed our hungry souls.

When I finally purchased a copy of the CD, I listened to it over and over again. I connected with Rachel and especially that song. I took my daughter Anna into my arms and danced. It became a tradition. When I had that maternal melancholy or deep need to bathe in the love shared with my only daughter, we danced. Our dancing was not restricted to this one song; we also enjoyed boogying to the songs of the Andrews Sisters and Lady Marmalade to name a few. However, Dancing with my Mother was “our” song. It defined us, indeed.

My brothers embarrassed
But we didn’t care
Emotions were meant to be shared…

When we danced together my sons also watched and wondered. Sometimes they thought it was silly or trivial but they knew to honor and respect our feminine rituals, which continue to evolve magnificently.

Our bond strengthened through our cello playing; we shared many years of duets and eventually sat side by side in the symphony.  Music forms a powerful union, when added to the strength of the umbilical cord, it is unsurpassable.

A few years later, Anna and I decided that we would dance to this song at her wedding; we would have a mother / daughter dance.

Anna is now a traveling, busking musician and I do not see her as often as I would like, but she is living her life accordingly and I have practiced letting go. We stay in touch via cell phone at least once or twice a week. I watch her music videos on You Tube and peek at her facebook page to follow the steps of her journey (I have sworn to keep concerns and opinions in check, a common rule for many parents and their offspring on facebook).

One day last year when I was missing Anna, I decided to post Dancing with my Mother on her facebook page. I went onto You Tube to search. I was disappointed because I couldn’t find it. I then googled Rachel Bissex and was saddened to read that she passed away. It was such a devastating loss for someone who I had never met.

Last night, well after midnight, I got a text message from Anna, “I know it’s ridiculously late right now, but I have really exciting news for you tomorrow! It has to do with ‘Dancing with my Mother’

Thunder rumbled and shook the house. The rain was coming down so hard that I could hear it over the fan that I had set on high. I thought it couldn’t rain harder, but it did. I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Oh my God. Anna’s getting married. I panicked and played a series of wedding videos written and directed by me through my head. I texted her: “Do not get married yet, please? We need to talk…You are so young to make a lifetime commitment. I am awake if you want to call. Love you.”

Awake? I was buzzing. Anna is twenty two-years-old with her life ahead of her. She clearly indicated that she wasn’t interested in getting married until she was older. What happened? My mind started to fill in the blanks. I glanced at my cell phone on the bedside table in hopes that it would light up, vibrate, or make some sort of annoying sound. Nothing.

I grabbed it and started typing, “I have some really good ideas that honor your love and union…some insight from a wise woman who loves her daughter…all positive and full of love for you both…xx”

I fluffed the pillows and tried to get comfortable. I stared into the darkness and did what I always did when I knew that some things were going to happen whether I liked them or not. I started to pray for strength, clarity and acceptance. I prayed for the ability to let go of that which is not mine. I refused to panic, yet I could not sleep.

How can she text me something like that at 2:00 AM and then leave me hanging? My way of not panicking sometimes includes driving the point home, at least initially. I texted her one more time: “Long engagements are good…I would like that a lot…am smiling…call me in the morning and share…I am glad that you are happy…goodnight sweetheart…”

I didn’t want to be anticipating a response, so the goodnight part was my own license to sleep. Fat chance. I was careful to let Anna know that I loved her and I kept it positive when it was in fact not at all what I hope for her right now. It was a blow.

The rain slowed to a steady rhythm. I finally relaxed and found a comfortable position when my cell phone lit up the room, vibrated and chimed. I reached for it and read the message from Anna: “Ha ha, nooooooo, just wait til morning, its something you would never guess.”

Sigh. I responded: “Okay…xo”

I passed out.

In the morning I sat on the front porch watching humming birds, sipping coffee and wondering what on earth Anna was talking about. She specifically mentioned the song that we have known will be our dance song on her wedding day. What else could it be?

She finally called me at 11:30 and told me the story.

She was sitting at a table at her favorite spot in Burlington, Vermont – the Radio Bean Café. A girl approached her and complimented her necklace, which is a violin bridge. Anna told her that she was a cellist and someone had given her the bridge and she had no use for it so she crafted it into a necklace.

The girl then told her that she was a violinist. Her name is Emma and she and Anna shared an extraordinary list of all that they had in common. They are both classically trained and have discovered new genres of music. Both have strong maternal connections. Their mothers instilled such a passion for music that they have tattooed symbols of this passion on their bodies, which is what sparked their connection. Emma’s father is a trumpet player. They both have two brothers. Synchronicity.

Anna showed Emma the tattoo of “F holes” on her back, giving the illusion that she is a human cello. Emma then showed Anna the tattoo on her back. It was the music and lyrics of Dancing with my Mother.

Anna started to read it and then realized that it was our song. She exclaimed, “I know that song, that’s my mother’s and my song!”

Emma told her that her mother wrote it. Anna was ecstatic and asked if she was the little girl who sang in the piece. Emma said that she was; she was seven years old at the time. They embraced. Anna told her that she could not believe she was sitting with the little girl whose voice she listened to throughout her life whilst dancing with her own mother.

Emma shared her love and the sorrow of losing her mother to breast cancer six years earlier. The two young women – daughters – shared their stories and both comprehend the significance of their meeting. They plan to stay connected and honor their unique bond which encompasses the profound love that encircles mothers and daughters illuminated in the light of music.

Lyrics - Rachel Bissex, Don't Look Down, 'Dancing with my Mother', alcazar productions, Waterbury VT, 1995.

From Journal: “Periwinkle” [Maternal]

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