October 26, 2010

I am Crone, hear me sigh.

Several years ago, new to the city and state and feeling the need for an unbiased opinion on decisions concerning my eldest son, I was led to the office of a therapist, a woman I visited perhaps a dozen times for advice on navigating the transition of my special-needs child from childhood to adulthood. Her name was Edie. For all parents this is a tricky period, but for those whose children may never be capable of independent living, there are particular issues that arise. Being the only person responsible to make decisions on my son's behalf, the weight of my choices was feeling heavy indeed.

At that time, in my mid-forties, I'd already appreciated how my choices, as a woman and a mom, affected my children. Now that I was finally seeing the sprouts of wisdom in my garden of maternity, my children were ready to be transplanted elsewhere. Loss, regret, fear, apprehension, and anxiety swirled around me. Being in NYC on 9/11, moving 1000 miles away from my mother, and starting my own business were also challenges at the time. Looking up at my younger son, eleven inches taller than my 5'6", and seeing the wonderful potential in him, made every choice seem so important. I knew he would leave home soon and I already missed him. I wanted to make the right decisions for both of my children, but most of the time, honestly, I felt really tired.

Women in your forties, you know the kind of tired I mean, right? You're waving goodbye to your younger self because now she is not just a block away but really, almost too far away to see anymore. She's gone down the street and turned the corner and now you can't whisper to her. You can't converse with her. You have to yell pretty loud to get her attention, because she is a memory and your memory, due to age or stress or menopause or just too many things on your to-do list, is not as sharp as it was when you were thirty, or forty. You are officially "middle aged" and you don't quite believe what some older women have told you -- that your fifties and sixties and seventies can be wonderful, liberating, expanding, breathing-out decades. You feel like you are at the crest of a very steep hill and there's a lot of fog; you can't quite see the bottom of either side, but the past, well, at least it is familiar.

So, being at this particular place, I sought counsel and while my visits only lasted a few months, I took away advice that has stayed with me years later and one particular session with Edie came to mind this morning.

In my visit with Edie I related a dream I'd had. I opened a door and entered a bedroom. Just ahead was a large bed, a nightstand, no windows. It was almost dark. I got in bed with my love in the dream (a nondistinct male figure who seemed to have no relationship to anyone in real life). Dream-me noticed an old woman sitting in a rocking chair in the corner of the bedroom. I said something like, "She can't be in here with us." I then went upstairs to use a bathroom, and found that I was bleeding profusely. There were other details in the dream, but this is all I remember of it.

After listening to my dream, Edie began talking about crones and the various archetypes of women. I had read "The Wounded Woman" years earlier, but had forgotten most of it. When I began to look at my dream from the perspective of the women in the dream being myself at different ages (crone, my present age, menstrating girl), it all started to make sense.

Fast forward ten years to yesterday. I'm sitting in the waiting area of a very busy pharmacy where two mothers, who I soon realized did not know each other, were with their two small daughters. One looked to be 4, the other 5. Each with blonde hair; they were strikingly beautiful little girls. But, as everyone in the pharmacy began to realize, not the best behaved. Like small ponies, they wanted to run. Apparently they hadn't been hit with the cold and flu that have arrived in town with a vengence. Healthy, smiling, humming...they just needed to be in a big yard, like puppies. Like boys. The energy. I thought of the dog trainer on TV who puts dogs on a treadmill to get their energy out. (Warning, never try that at home, in your barefeet, with a Pekingese--you can get very very hurt!)

Anyway...The older girl delighted in her role of enticing the younger girl to leave her mother's side, exit the pharmacy door, and run around the big waiting room of the adjacent medical center. Smiling, bouncing, and with what some might call a "delightfully wicked" expression of girl power on her face. I'm sure I heard Mitch Miller singing "Don't fence me in..." (just give me room, let me straddle my old saddle underneath the Western sky...).

The older girl's guardian, Weary Mother #1, looked like she'd given up years ago and adjusted to the fact that now a person who wasn't very big at all would control her life for the next few decades. Like a well-behaved dog, she slowly walked from one area to another following her running daughter and then when all else failed kept her still for a few minutes with a large pink strip of candy.

Weary Mother #2 tried her best to keep her small daughter by her side, but she was not as powerful as the lure of the five-year-old potential friend. Her daughter would run out of the pharmacy, she'd call to her, her daughter would look in her direction, turn and go the other way, off to explore with her new pal-- elevators, the ATM, stairs, strangers in the lobby. Mother #2 would leave the pharmacy, go get daughter, pick her up and bring her back to Start. Daughter would whine, you could hear the whining and crying really well, but when I looked up to see the source I could see this child had perfected making crying sounds while slung over her mother's shoulder, all the while smiling over her back. Practically winking at me. This was a fun game!

And on and on it went. For the 45 minutes I sat there, the game continued. Girls ran out; Mother #1 slowly followed and corralled daughter back in, at times bringing older male child in on it to stand at the door and prevent daughter's exit. Poor boy, he'll never make the football team because his 14-year-old body, in too-big shoes, basketball shorts that were so huge they looked like a nylon skirt, and a gang-style T-shirt and sweatshirt (seriously, he'd be able to fit in these clothes well into his forties) was incapable of blocking a five-year-old from going through an open single door. Mother #2, would call, then hurry to her daughter, pick her up, and the game went on. The mothers never acknowledged each other in any way. No, "Boy, these girls are something aren't they?" Nothing.

This was almost more than my inner crone could stand and the severe headache I'd gotten from an antibiotic that I was there to replace was making keeping my mouth shut very difficult. But I remembered what it was to be a mother with a misbehaving child and feeling all eyes were upon you. Still, these mothers had given up, and their offspring were barely out of the gate. What would these girls be like at thirteen? Oh, Crone, shut up.

Finally, Mother #2 holds up a bag of Skittles. "If you'll stay here, I'll get you these." Small girl looks at her and ... runs out the door. From my front row seat, I close my eyes and lean my head against the wall, thanking heaven for little boys. In a few minutes, I open my eyes and Mother #2 is paying for her purchases, handing the bag of Skittles to the cashier. Soon, she and her daughter leave the pharmacy, small hands clutching the bag of candy. The princess has left the building, I think, but not so fast. As the mother makes her way to the parking lot, daughter breaks away one more time, and runs back into the pharmacy. She wasn't ready for the game to be over, I guess.

It seemed so clear to me what these mothers "should" have done. How they should have handled their daughters. And all this shoulda, coulda, woulda made me feel so cronish and sad, too, because where was all this knowing when I needed it? When I was the one with a boy who picked up a can of soup and threw it at his brother's head in the shopping cart in the grocery store. Who was tired all the time and seemed to always be reacting to events others put into place. I felt powerless, but I wasn't. I just didn't know anything about where a mother's power could be found. I was floating on a carpet of submissiveness and passivity, and I must say that is no way to live. The only counterbalance I had when my children were young was an over-reacting male presence to my submissive female presence and, well, the ying-yang thing did not work as well as I'd been led to believe. But now I've passed 50 and know everything.

It's not easy sitting in the crone's rocking chair and I am feeling particularly appreciative this morning of my mother, Dora, and former mother-in-law, Dorothy, as well as a good older friend, Grace. Grace was 50 when she met me, a very pregnant young woman who'd just moved to Florida, far from her parents. She took me under her wing, and a comforting wing it was. (Yes, then I lived in FL and my mother lived in Ohio. Now it is the other way around.)


These women were so supportive of me and I can only hope that Mothers #1 and #2 have a helpful crone or two waiting nearby for them as well.

8 comments:

florence said...

Oh, do I remember those days!! and I had 3 boys! I used to carry a wooden spoon in my purse when we went to the store...today, I would probably be thrown in jail. I had passivity down to a fine art..but I don't feel too awfully bad about that woman I used to be..she tried..she didn't give up, but the fight was most often up hill..a BIG hill. From the position in life of a crone who is older than you are, I can attest that there are a lot of rewards to be found at this stage in life..the thing is, you learn to balance them against the times when there are no rewards on the horizon as far as you can see; this is where your memory comes into play..you must remember that a day or 2 ago you felt wonderful, your stomach didn't stick out too much and your favorite jeans fastened at the waist. In my case, I look at the kitchen table overflowing with art projects in various stages of completion, stacks of bills to be sorted and paid (or not), poems and quotations lovingly copied from wherever I find them, a favorite book in some stage of being enjoyed..and I know that if I spend 1/2 hour earnestly working on cleaning up the mess, it will look like it did yesterday, but then I wouldn't know where everything is..my treasures..and I count my blessings..no one but me will see the mess, or perhaps one of the people who really love and accept me will drop by and it won't really matter to them about the table..and I realize that the one person whose opinion matters is me..and I can honestly say..I am content with who I am, and I am happier with myself than at any other stage in life. Yes, I know that song.."give me land, lots of land..", and the rowdy boys that I raised, but today, I am happy ..and I thank God for every minute of every day and every breath I take...what a great time in life..and I'm just a bit past 70..and going ..well..just going. Love to you...you are one of the greatest blessing in my life..

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Flo, what a wonderful comment, your description of the past and the present, and your attitude. I can so relate to the signs of creativity, the treasures, being strewn through-out the house. Sometimes our home resembles my mind! Fortunately, like you said, those who love me don't seem to mind. And I love it. I'm a "piler" not a "filer."
Your friendship is a blessing to me too and I am thankful we connected through your curiousity about Artist Trading Cards. Now, that has blossomed and your art is bursting with potential. I feel fortunate to be able to see the results when you visit Ohio!

Jessica Bell said...

What a beautiful post. What a treat to read 'your' writing. I can't say I have ever experienced this, as I am not a mother, and as a child I wasn't misbehaved like that. Of course I misbehaved, but never to that extent. I can speculate, though, how it might feel to 'know' about these things and to have to keep your mouth shut. I have also taught very young children at an English school, which was an amazing experience and taught me a lot about handling young children. I guess we all learn from experience though, and that's exactly what these mothers are getting - experience. And one day they'll be you, observing other mothers, and thinking back to times like this. It's one massive circle, isn't it! The circle of life. :o)

Lucky Press, LLC said...

Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" (or maybe it was Judy Collins?) is one of my favorite songs.

Jessica Bell said...

So you're a Joni fan too? Unbelievable ... :o)

Ethan said...

Your writing is really inspiring. It gives the younger people including me to act more careful. Of course when we are getting old, we want to have best memories for our life. Reading your writing makes me want to become better and best parents for my children. Thank you so much for sharing.

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Ethan, Thank you so much for leaving this comment. Your kind words mean more to me than you know.

Never underestimate how important you are to your child as you do your best and, with your family, create the memories that will bring you happiness and peace in later years. Live consciously in every day, be thankful for every blessing and your children will receive the best gift and best start anyone could ever have.

All the best to you and yours!
Janice

Graham said...

Nice article! I am happy to visit this site and read the information that you post. I just can speculate, though, how it might feel to 'know' about these things and to have to keep your mouth shut. I guess we all learn from experience though, and that's exactly what these mothers are getting - experience.

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