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.