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In-Between: Mother becoming Crone

I've always loved summer. As a child, it represented the time of freedom — freedom from schedules, freedom from school, freedom to adventure and discover the world around me. It was hard for me to imagine any shadows blocking that sunny view, except for those cast by storm clouds which dampened my fun and exploration.

As a middle-aged woman, I know the hazards of summer in my bones. Lammas is the time of first fruits, when the tomatoes begin to ripen as well as the raspberries, the beans, the corn and even the early summer squashes. We see abundance everywhere. But many of those early crops still cling to the vine or continue to ripen on the branch. Hail or violent thunderstorms could easily damage or destroy them. As a result, Lammas is a time of profusion, but also a time of peril. It's the season when the Goddess begins to transform from Mother to Crone.

My experience of the dangers that arrive with Lammas comes more from life than from planting and reaping. College graduation might have been the first time I learned this lesson. I know the expectation I felt when I approached graduation, but also the fear that I wouldn't make it, because of my physical education requirement (but that's another story entirely). I remember my delight and concern before my spouse Mark and I bought our first house, wondering if we should put that much of our money in one place. And I remember my joy at discovering I was pregnant, but my anxiety that becoming a mother would change me into MY mother.

The most telling of these experiences occurred when I, like the goddess at this time of year, was beginning to transform from Mother to Crone. I was still the Mother, although at 50 my role was beginning to shift. At 15, my daughter had not yet grown up, despite her protestations to the contrary. Linnea certainly declared herself independent — often and vociferously — but her father and I had yet to relinquish our authority. She concocted great plans for herself, plans that we sometimes had to squash, because she wasn't old enough to steer her own course yet. The Sturm und Drang (uproar) surrounding these sessions made me realize that soon the big "letting go" would occur. She would be on her own, making her own mistakes, taking her own risks, and I would just have to surrender to that reality, and become the Crone, both in terms of a new life stage — the wise woman after her childbearing years — and in terms of letting go, one of the main activities of Crones.

Letting go has always been hard for me, but even more difficult was being in-between. And that's where I found myself at this period in my life. I was still the Mother, but each day I had to let go of more and more of my responsibility until Linnea was finally out the door. It was so tempting for me — but it would have been irresponsible — to let go of my parental authority immediately. Then it would have been over and done with, she wouldn't have been in my face all the time, I could have gotten on with my own life and done my own things without always feeling my apron strings tweaked and my heart strings plucked by dissonant chords. But whether she liked it or not, I needed to stand firm on a few things, those that involved her safety and her physical well-being.

Lammas seems to be a time when irony and paradox come to the fore.

Lammas seems to be a time when irony and paradox come to the fore. And that's exactly what I felt about this period in my life. I had always reveled in Linnea's steps towards independence, always encouraged her to explore — artistically, intellectually, emotionally, and even physically. But when danger reared its head, that's when I drew the line. And I continued to do just that until she was finally on her own.

I think my understanding of this in-between stage, this Lammas phase in my life, peaked the summer Linnea was 14, going on 15, when two of her friends came East with us to spend a few days at the lake cottage Mark's mother owned in the Adirondacks. One day we took a hike up a mountain for the great view at the top. Linnea's two friends pooped out before we got there, or so Mark and I thought at the time. Linnea hung out with us for a while at the lookout, gazing across the lake to the higher mountains beyond. But she left before we did to rejoin her friends, and by the time we arrived, she had begun to scale a rock wall about 25 feet high.

I freaked! Rock climbing can be exciting and fun, but without ropes and pitons, I think it's totally crazy. Her friends had already climbed to the top, and Linnea wanted to join them. From below I told her that I couldn't watch her risk her neck, that she had to come back down immediately, that I couldn't live out the rest of my life if I saw her plunge to her death before my very eyes. Actually, that last statement I added later when she insisted on knowing why we were such sticks-in-the-mud, raining on her parade. But she climbed down and so did her friends. One of them slipped on the way back and almost fell 20 feet to the rocks below. Fortunately, she caught herself. But her almost-accident made it even clearer to me what my duties as a parent entailed. What would I have told HER mother and father? Parental responsibility extended to include Linnea's friends when they were under our roof. And helping young people avoid unnecessary dangers was one of the major parts of the job description.

Until she left home, Linnea had to put up with my vivid imagination when it came to the dangers in her life. And I had to put up with her angry outbursts about how I was clipping her wings. Like me as a youngster, she viewed "summer" as being about freedom. Her job was to become independent, and she worked on it every day until she waltzed out the door to college! But mine was to keep her safe if at all possible. To sustain AND to let go. I guess it was hard for both of us to be in-between.

This in-between season can be difficult for all of us.

I think this in-between season can be difficult for all of us, whether it's weathering the last storms of a work project, cleaning up and saying goodbye to the old house so you can move into the new one or waiting until your crops actually ripen. During the season of Lammas, we need to ensure the harvest, whatever that is for each of us. It's time to tend our gardens, weed and water them, tie up the wandering tendrils, stake up the homegrown tomatoes we all love so much. And to hope that nothing untoward happens to demolish what we have sown. It's a season of riches and risks. So celebrate those fruits that have already ripened, but care for those that are yet to bear.

Graphics Credits

  • the emigrant's mother, photo of Spanish sculpture courtesy of Miguel Prado.
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