The Mother/Daughter Chronicles Post Amsterdam

It was research which brought me back to The Netherlands. It was research and possibly my mother. The jury was still out on whether or not this would actually materialize. My first call ended with a message on her voicemail to say that I would be coming and the gesture of meeting but I hadn’t heard back. I actually called, quite literally, every day for a month and was met only with her ringing cell phone. No voicemail, no busy signal. There was a moment when I considered that this trip might take on a somber and final note as my mind began spinning the possibility that some awful situation had taken my mother. She was getting up in age and lately it seemed I’d arrived at a stage again when people seemed to be meeting their demise swiftly and without warning. However, those vivid and unsettling imaginings came to an end once I’d heard from my brother that she’d reached out to him, as she always had. They hadn’t spoken but she had reached out. Meanwhile, each day her phone simply rang. And then, the day before my departure my mother answered her phone. Although I had secretly hoped that the phone would continue to go unanswered because meeting with her had never ended well, I had still committed to making the attempt. I wouldn’t have done it on my own. History had been quite clear that despite writing a book about her, actual contact would always throw me into an emotional tailspin. It was the repetition of friends and even my husband who kept chanting that it was something I should and something I needed to do. I’ve never typically responded well to things I should or need to do but since I’m a Libra and always in search of balance, fairness, and a general growing proximity to mortality I surrendered and chose bravery over certain increasing fatigue and anxiety. In my head I was asking am I being brave or stupid? Chances are good that if one continues to keep poking at a busy hornets nest, well… It often raises the question of my mental and emotional intelligence. Yet and still I would prove a worthy soldier and daughter and do, possibly, the right thing. All of this and before I’d even gotten on my flight.

Let me just make abundantly clear that my visit back to Holland was just what the doctor ordered. All in all, it was wonderful! It was also a lot, it was full and in a small nook of the experience remained confusing. My flights were all easy and thankfully uneventful. Norwegian is the way to fly. I finally untangled myself from the last lines in Schipol Airport to take the Metro to central station and walk out into the hustle and familiar bustle of Amsterdam. Like New York, although time changes much the larger spirit and intention of these cities remain intact and great. Although I’d only lived in Holland for a few years, after my first marriage, it still felt like a home to me. You can be born in a place and still not feel at home, in the same way you can end up in the most unexpected place and instantly feel as though you’ve always belonged. My two places that feel most familiar and easy to exist have been New York and Holland. The good memories were there waiting for me, the language found it’s way easily to my lips and I felt instantly able to exhale. I was excited and inspired to be there and begin my sweet journey.

The monarch notes are that I had the loveliest and nostalgic time with my friend Ubit and my former husband John. There were great and meaningful conversations with strong coffee or cocktails, there was reintroducing myself to a new and current no cash transit system which I managed to handily but miraculously conquer, reunions with the always impressive Rijks Museum, a renewed love affair with taking trains, eating patat (Belgian fries), a more souped up Bijenkorf (big department store), walking and shopping along the Negen Straatjes (a fun and trendy area of retail), eating lekker ijsje (yummy ice cream) and lunching on the panoramic rooftop restaurant of the Amsterdam Library. All of these things, each day, was a slice of heaven. It was heaven to simply be out of the crazy States and a gift to recall a pretty delicious past, a gratifying present and a bit of longing for more in the future. I felt clear, relaxed and re-energized all at the same time. I also spoke to my family back home at least once a day; wishing they could share in the moments but also greedy and appreciative for the time on my own.

One of the most exciting reasons for this particular trip was my meeting with The Dutch National Ballet, formerly The National Ballet of Holland, to visit with their brand new young archivist Henrik Iillin. I’d sent him a cold email weeks before hoping for a crumb and he instead went far beyond the call with complete lists of ballets both my parents performed in, folders of photos, spending close to two relaxed hours with me and ending with a tour of their incredible theatre, backstage and costume museum. The ballet and opera have been joined at the hip for some years now and housed together in what it boasts as having one of the largest stages in the world. It is phenomenal! An enormous thanks once again to Henrik who didn’t have to do any of that for me. A gift.

After a rainy day spent solo in my hotel room, which I live for, the following morning I was met with the uncertain trek to Arnhem to see my mother. Just a little backstory. My mother grew up in Arnhem, joined the ballet in her adolescence, became a baby ballerina with The Dutch National, met my father in the 50’s when he joined the company as a guest soloist, they fell in love, married and had me in Holland in ‘65, we came soon there after to the U.S. to live, they divorced in 1975, my brother and I moved from Boston to live with our father and Chip in Manhattan at which time my mother gave my father sole custody. I then heard from my mother seldom, spoke with her rarely and have seen her now (that I recall) four times in about forty years. She essentially disappeared from my life and when I did speak to her on the phone it almost always ended with her hanging up on me and in person it resulted in some devastating shortcoming or disappointment which reminded me never to see her again. All of this challenging history led me to the morning when I got on the train to the place of her upbringing and promising myself to expect nothing. The other thing I decided, was that I would do nothing to upset her and do everything to make her feel safe and agreeable. I opted to step into the metaphoric shell of my younger self to appear more meek and less confrontational because I knew we would never get through it unscathed or more broken otherwise. Our meeting time was for 1:30PM at her flat. I rose early due to nerves and suppressed misgivings to get myself busy with the journey. I couldn’t eat though considering, was feeling fairly calm and at peace. I would be meeting John at Central Station in A'dam from the metro then join him on the train to Arnhem. As fate would have it, it was one of the the places he would go to teach his dance classes during the week. Coincidence? Hmmm. It would seem the stars were ever-so gently aligning and I was receiving the offering gratefully. I arrived to central station very early, which is in my comfort zone to do, and found a pretty empty cafe where I sat down to write, force myself to eat a plain croissant and misguidedly order cappuccino. Caffeine never agrees with me when I’m nervous or emotionally wonky. I thought I was fine and then it came. All of a sudden a grey wall of heavy fatigue washed over me from my head over the whole of my body and I sank. My stomach started the steady slow gripping and twisting of an emotional state in growing doubt and fear and I started to feel ill. I wanted to call Byron but I didn’t want to wake him back home in the middle of his REM. Then the words pulled themselves from inside my brain to reveal themselves to form a sentence, a question: why did I say I would do this?! Everything moved in slow motion now. Picking up my head was like pulling some big heavy rope. I looked out at the busy station in front of me and knew that I would need to make my way to a bathroom. Somehow through a veil of immobilizing fatigue I would need to get from the I was to where it was if I had any hope of shaking this off. Splashing water on my face would help but what would I do? Would I go through with this “visit” as planned or save myself and back out of it? Just then I got a txt from John, he would be arriving soon but what would I choose to do?

to be continued…

The Mother/Daughter Chronicles Continue...

So once again I found myself, three days ago, sitting on the tarmac via Norwegian Air breathing deeply as I recalled a similar “unknown” some seven years earlier en route to my birthplace of The Netherlands. What will be waiting for me there and what will I bring back? Seven years ago I was less than a year away from publishing my first book (NOT SO BLACK AND WHITE) doing a bit of damage control upon stumbling onto a You Tube clip of a Dutch touring company using my father’s choreography without permission. I made an impromptu purchase for a flight to the Netherlands to make my presence known and revisit many old memories. I returned home with some small sense of accomplishment, long overdue emotional closure with my former husband and a new beginning & ending to the book I was about to publish. I didn’t make that trip with any writing-related agenda but an important edit and approach to my book found me. Life does that sometimes. You think you are in search of it but instead it finds you with a different plan and often a more interesting challenge.

This time around, I am beginning work on my second memoir which is the story about my mother and our strange lives together; a mother I’ve never really known and has never seemed very interested in knowing me. And since writing that first book much has also shifted, opened up and offered new pathways to my story and my truth. For one thing, although it is still me in search of answers, it is fast becoming-and absolutely more interesting-my mother’s story. It will still remain partly mine as well because I remain the daughter in search of unanswered questions but even the questions have already changed. Initially, I always had the intention to go back to The Netherlands to do research for this book but with no determined wish to see my own mother there. This might sounds strange or counter intuitive, seeing as it is after all a mother/daughter story but there has never been any instance (not one) where I have seen my mother (around four times in forty years) when it has ended anywhere close to positive. I expected nothing would change, other than being disappointed and having another piece of my heart broken yet again. However, once people got wind of my trip, I got a clamoring of “You should see your mother!” I have been getting this response from the best intentioned, my whole life so why was this different? Because we’re both older and just a little closer to the reality of mortality. So, I surrendered and said “Yes” to seeing her while in Holland for quite possibly the last time. When I’d made this decision, I called her and left a message telling her when I’d be there and would she like to meet. I got no response and no more voice mail. I called every day (with few exceptions) and she never picked up until…the day before I got on the plane.

Fast forward. The mother who disappeared from my life since age ten. whom I spoke to on the phone once in a blue sun ending in her hanging up on me and whom I saw equally infrequently ending in more salt in the old open wound actually WANTED to see me. In her own twisted and confusing way this seemed to be what I was meant to decipher. She had called and chewed me out for not yet calling while I was with a friend at the Rijks Museum and called again the next day. I have no idea what to expect but I will be seeing her-tomorrow.

And so it really does seem that this mother/daughter chronicle is on its way. Stay tuned as this story continues to unfold.

xo

AW