Mothers and Daughters
After the memorial service for my mom, I returned to New York and hunkered down for a few days, a rare luxury. (Just as one is allowed a parental leave of absence on the birth of a child, we should be granted a child’s leave of absence on the death of a parent.) I slept, spent time with my family, and watched movies. I was drawn to see Maleficent, Wild, and Into The Woods. Wonderful movies with rich characters. Spoiler alert – read no further if you have not seen them and want to.
Maleficent is the story of the scorned woman, scorned by a man not worthy of her, who gets her revenge by cursing his child. It’s the more interesting and complicated story of the older woman who has lived and raged, not the story of the virginal princess who has yet to learn that “happily ever after” is a fairy tale. As the kiss scene approached, it was obvious that the prince, a marginal character, who is entranced by the princess’s outward beauty but doesn’t know her inner soul could not possibly offer the spell-breaking kiss of true love. I began to ponder the implications of Diaval, Maleficent’s raven/human confidant, being her true love, when my daughter whispered, “It’s Maleficent!” GASP! Of course! What truer love than a mother’s – or fairy godmother’s or revengeful witch’s – for the precious girl in her charge?
Next up was Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her physical quest and spiritual journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after hitting lower-than-rock-bottom following the death of her mother. I had read the book upon the recommendation of a yoga friend of mine and loved it, as I love most memoirs by women telling their stories overcoming whatever it is that is holding them back. What came through in the movie for me, even more so than in the book, was the deep bond of true love between mother and daughter. Cheryl is unmoored by the loss of her mother, beautifully played by Laura Dern. Cheryl doesn’t know how to love herself without the presence of her mother. It is mother Bobbi’s passionate insistence on choosing love and a life with no regrets, even while facing death, that is so moving. How could she regret her marriage to an abusive man when it resulted in her amazing daughter? GASP! Indeed.
I found myself sobbing into my daughter’s shoulder when Meryl Streep, the not-so-evil witch from Into The Woods who is raging at the loss of her youth and beauty, sings “Stay With Me” to Rapunzel. I, again, identified with the raging old and ugly witch watching over the beautiful princess, anxious to protect her from selfish and unworthy men and other dark evils of the world. Anxious to restore her own youth and beauty.
Stay With Me (from Into The Woods)
Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?
Someone has to shield you from the world.
Stay with me.
Princes wait there in the world, it’s true.
Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.
Stay at home.
I am home.
Who out there could love you more than I?
What out there that I cannot supply?
Stay with me.
Stay with me,
The world is dark and wild.
Stay a child while you can be a child.
Stay with me my beautiful girl! I not-so-jokingly sobbed.
But off she goes. Again. For her second semester of college. As she should. As I want her to. I will miss her. Each homecoming and each departure become more familiar but not more easy. My heart is bursting with love and pride. I will return to my busy busy busy life, shocked at the old face I see in the mirror. She will return to new classes, new experiences, deepening friendships, and explorations into the world of love. I want to protect her, but she must learn her own lessons. It is her turn.
As I mourn the loss of my mother whose love for me was deep and true, I pass on a love for my daughter that is deep and true. I have new appreciation for the tears my mother shed when I left home. When I cry at each step my daughter takes away from me, they are bittersweet tears of pride and loss. I don’t really want her to stay with me. I want her to go. I will create a haven for her to return to, while encouraging her to create a life she loves apart from me, while together we figure out how to build a grown up mother-daughter friendship.
Live your life my beautiful girl! My love for you is true.
Photo Credit: from Disney’s Maleficent