The Delicate Dance between Mother and Crone

In Watkins Glen, October 2015

My son Anthony sent a text last week. “Leaving San Francisco now.” Their move to rural New York had been planned for many months, so that was no surprise.

I wanted to write back: “Watch out for snow in the mountains. Watch out for twisters in the plains. Don’t get too tired. Don’t speed. Don’t let the sun blind you while driving east in the morning. Eat your vegetables. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

I restrained myself. This is my self-assigned job. Maternal self-restraint. Experience with my mother-in-law taught me to step lightly with the powerful women my sons love.

Instead I wrote, “Good. Be safe. Love you both.”

That afternoon, Anthony posted a photo of Jenna in the driver’s seat. In profile, she focused on the road, her hand relaxed on the wheel. A baseball cap shielded her eyes from the sun. Behind her left shoulder, out the driver’s side window, a sunny smear of moving desert gave a clue for where they were. Looked like Nevada to me.

“Making good time and feeling well so far. Xo,” Jenna wrote in an email the next morning. She also reported they’d slept well at a motel and that a hawk had swooped so close to the windshield she was afraid she would hit it. It swerved away in time.

Falcon (wikipedia)

“You’ll find lots to read about hawk spirit cards, hawk messages, hawk symbolism,” I wrote. I resisted a desire to do a google search myself and say more. Too much. Jenna can look if she wants.

My email ended with, “Where are you?”

“We’re halfway through Wyoming. Still making good time. In doing a little research, I think it was a falcon instead of a hawk.  It was probably too small to be a hawk. I read that falcon means, ‘Opportunity is near, and I am prepared.'” She wrote a little more about falcon symbolism. The parts about manifesting intentions caught my interest.

Anthony, Jenna, and Elaine in Watkins Glen, May 2016

I resisted telling her I hope their move here provides every opportunity for them—and also for me. They already know that. Or I could have told her about the Peregrine Falcons that live here…but she’ll find out soon enough.  And soon enough I’ll learn how much is too much. Very soon.

“Be safe. Be safe. Be safe,” the mother in me thought but didn’t say.

“Fly free and be blessed,” the wise inner crone thought, offering her silent prayer.


Here in time for mud season


By the time you read this, Jenna and Anthony will be at my house (and the post will have been pre-approved). Our tentative plan is to build another home on the family land, but we’re taking it one step at a time. They’ll rent a place nearby until we figure out the next move. What have you learned from experiments living near or with adult children or dealing with older parents as an adult? For a blog about an earlier visit from Jenna and Anthony, see Grieving for a Sacred Grove. For a piece about my relationship with my daughter-in-law Liz, see Sunshine on the Wedding: 2013.

  1. My bags are packed for another trip to PA this year, and I have to get up at 3:00 a.m., so my thoughts are in a tumble.
    1. I sense joy under the restraint in this post.
    2. Jenna has picked the perfect mother-in-love. She seems perfect for Anthony too.
    3. Jenna and Anthony’s presence close by will speed up your curating process.

    I was wondering what was going on behind the scenes. Now I know – both of your sons in the East now. Woo-hoo!

    What have I learned about living near adult children with families? Don’t judge. Be available. Don’t expect too much attention. They are busy with their own lives.

    What have I learned dealing with older parents as an adult? 1. Love is the only thing that lasts. 2. Get rid of stuff. It is only stuff! 3. Did I say “GET RID OF STUFF”?

    You are busy, busy, but I know you probably read to relax. Have you read H is for Hawk, a memoir by British author Helen Macdonald – if so I wonder what you thought of it. If not, now might be the time.

    All good wishes! I am so excited for you, Elaine.

    • Thanks for commenting despite all the pressures in your life, Marian. I don’t think I could add reading a blog to packing and setting my alarm for 3 a.m., so a bow to you and your strong energy. Yes, both my sons are in the east, Anthony and Jenna in my house until May 1 when they move to a secluded cabin they’re renting. My other son and his wife are in North Carolina where they are deeply planted. I love what you’ve learned and agree with all of it, but I don’t have as much practice as you.

      As you know, I’m slowly working on getting rid of the stuff. I got bogged down in photos which takes forever (my mother’s photos, my mother-in-law’s photos, Vic’s photos–fortunately mine are all digital). I recently put the photos aside to clean out dressers and a closet, assuming Anthony and Jenna would stay here a while. Then, a few weeks ago, a neighbor (that means he lives a mile away) told me he’d heard my son was moving back here and his sister had a perfect place to rent a few miles away.

      I have not read H is for Hawk, but a few people have suggested it. Now that you’re one of those people, it moved way up on the list. Thank you, Marian. I know you’re having a treasure hunt with someone else’s stuff, but I hope you also get time to enjoy Pennsylvania spring. This is that delicate moment on my land when the buds swell and daffodils bloom.

      • I just arrived at Aunt Ruthie’s house and her land is abuzz with redbud and Japanese cherry trees. Reading and responding on blog posts is one way to keep in touch with the familiar in my crazy life.

        Incidentally, I don’t think any of your near and dear would refer to you as a crone. No indeed!

        • It’s a gorgeous time of year. I’m glad you’re enjoying nature’s bonus as well as the treasures and hard work.

          My sons wouldn’t call me a crone, but I have a Jungian view of this word and the feminine archetypes as Maiden, Mother, and Crone. There are many old Greek statues of this triple feminine, usually facing in different directions. Crone in that context implies the power of wisdom and a wide view of the cycles of life and death. In the myth of Persephone, we have Persephone the Maiden, Demeter the Mother, and Hecate the Crone who knows what happened to the maiden. She has a watchful all-seeing eye.

  2. This is so full of heart-stuff, Elaine! Thank you.

  3. Hi Elaine,

    Let’s get -as soon as you have finished your book upcoming about dreams and grief- our crone tribe together and write an excellent handbook for the Crone. There is such a need for our magic. I am getting near the stage of the Crone, with a few grey hairs here and there.
    Dreams, magic, herbs, love, and everything else that comes on the table… I know a lot of wise women reading here will be jumping up to either buy such a book or to contribute with their Crone knowledge.

    • The Crone tribe doesn’t require age, as you know, although I find myself shifting more consciously there now. Especially that sense of solitude and connection with nature. I’m curious about what you have in mind. I’m working on a long article now and a book is going on in the background (maybe), but I still can’t figure out where the book is going. The theme takes a new twist with the adventure of sharing life with family again. I’m writing our stories and setting them aside, but I couldn’t resist sharing this one.

  4. Wonderful news! I’m so happy to hear you will have Anthony and his beloved so close so close to you!

    Zoe is talking about moving someplace different. She’s here now visiting. She has a few friends here, so I’m hoping. However, it seems she wants to go further west! Even that would be closer. We will see.

    Meanwhile, we will be coming East around the 28th of June. We picked that date so we can see the twins who will be visitinb Barbara

    • As you remember, Julianna, Anthony is an avid and skilled gardener, as is Jenna. They brought cuttings from his San Francisco plants on their cross-country trek. They’re all potted now and rooting. Nice symbolism. My flower gardens have never been so well weeded and mulched and the vegetable garden is expanding again. As a kid, Anthony said he wanted to live here, but I didn’t know if or how he’d actualize the plan. I hope Zoe finds a way. And, yes, we will all see what this life brings.

      I look forward to seeing you in late June. I hope to see those twins, too.

  5. This father faces this with his adult son who lives nearby. In this case soon to be living in a trailer on the father’s property. There’s much to be said for mining the critical feelings of disapproval of the son’s habits and behavior that come up for the (sometimes subtly hidden) mirroring of one’s own psyche and behaviors. Thence bursts forth empathy, resonance. A good chance to actually have a conversation. And of all things, to bask in the awareness of the great heart that the son carries so quietly and with such beauty.

    • Yes to accepting our kids and ourselves, Fred. I’m no picnic with deafness, tendency to vertigo, and a high strung nature, but there are many benefits for all of us. I’m already thinking of leaving my dog with Anthony and Jenna so I can travel to AZ and stay a while.

      I know you’re doing this dance with your son, too. His heart is great and also his loving nature, keen perception, and creativity. Family compounds were a normal thing to my grandparents. Having them here makes me realize how much I miss familiar and physical connection with family on a daily basis. We give each other space as Anthony works in his corner, Jenna paints in a different room, and I write at my desk. They rented a place nearby, so living together ends May 1, but we’ll still be gardening together and making our long-term plans. All is moving ahead as though it were meant to be. May you have love and ample rain.

  6. Oh, I seem to be following your footprints again, Elaine, although as always, several steps behind and backwards. My son just got home from Iraq this week and then, after only two days in Ithaca, flew off to San Francisco for a job interview. I could barely stop myself,”Did you pack your charger? Do you have a hotel room lined up? That’s what you’re wearing for your interview? Did you remember a plastic bag for your liquids? …. ” Not easy to have faith that he’s going to work things out for himself like we all do eventually, but I did manage to shut down half of what I would have liked to say, and I did end with some compliments about his new Gucci shoes. Oh how my whole spirit soared while Greg was home and I could feed him, and keep shushing the dog quiet so he could sleep undisturbed. My son is still in get-as-far-from-home-as-you-can mode while one of yours is returning. I’m so happy for you. And I love the photo of the muddy boots left by the door. Who else could imagine the joy of seeing that extra pair of big muddy boots at home?

    • I’m older than you, Robin, and in many ways you’re many steps ahead. The day after Anthony graduated from high school, he moved to CA to be a skateboarder. He tested his parents early, but while I was worried about my youngest son, Vic was a big believer in “Follow your Bliss.” I knew he was right. We bought Anthony a plane ticket for high school graduation. Nearly two years later, he returned to NY state to go to Skidmore. Then he lived in Ithaca a while before returning to SF for a decade or more. Who knows if he and Jenna will actually land here this time? Could be. I’m glad you liked the muddy boots. I did, too.

  7. Oh wow Elaine. How exciting your son is ‘coming home’. You must be thrilled to the moon! You are a wise woman and I’m sure don’t need any advice about how to love your children or what your limits are. I’m so happy for you all. 🙂

    • Debby, my first rule is don’t have too many expectations for the future but let it unfold.
      Step one: they moved here.
      Step two: they rented a cute two-bedroom cabin about three miles away from me, so we’ll have elbow room as we figure out what comes next.
      Of course, I’m writing about all this–with their permission–but most of what I write is stored in a folder waiting to see how the story develops. I just couldn’t resist posting this little scene.

      • All wonderful plans and sensible. I’m pretty sure your son knows you well and wouldn’t have chosen to live nearby if he felt you were closing in on him. Instead he ‘chooses’ to be near you. And that’s beautiful. 🙂 x

        • Yes, it’s beautiful and they’re in the process of moving to their sweet place a five minute drive away. The constant hard rain makes it hard to move upholstered furniture or mattresses in an open bed pick-up truck. It is wet, wet, wet–and waterfalls are gorgeous.

  8. How wonderful to have your son and partner with you Elaine!

    Just yesterday my son and his partner were here for a few nights en route back home to Plettenberg Bay from their month long trip to Japan & Philippines. My son Mike and I were able to have a private conversation in which he expressed some concerns to me. It was only later that I recalled some words someone said to me a long time ago when I was in a tricky situation – and which I passed on to him only last night when he called to say they’d arrived safely – those words were ‘take it as it comes, take it as it comes’. For me those words came at the right time and I felt that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not suggesting that you are in a tricky situation – but I’m passing these words on to you for whatever they are worth.

    May all move ahead as thought it were meant to be – lovely words in your response to Fred.

    • Those words are pure gold, Susan. My philosophy about this situation (and I repeat what I wrote in response to D.G. Kaye’s comment): “ first rule is don’t have too many expectations for the future but let it unfold.” We have a long-term plan, but we’re letting it be tentative and waiting to make moves that require big commitments and investments such as building a little place for me. Anthony is an inspired gardener and my flower beds are weeded, mulched, and perky. No sense of pressure on anyone, and I hope to keep it that way. As always in this life, we’ll see what happens next.

      I hope all goes well with your son.

  9. So happy for you, Elaine!

    Adrian and I moved to Ithaca in 2000 to be near my daughter and her family. I am blessed to be near them. Since Adrian died six years ago, my daughter has made it a point to see me at least once or twice a week–usually twice. I cherish those visits.

    • I’m glad for you, Lynne. My sons have always been loving and supportive, but I didn’t imagine this would happen. Anthony wanted to live here, but it always felt like a distant dream. It feels a lot closer now.

  10. Dear Elaine, Great news on the home front! Like Marion, I also recognise joyfulness inside your maternal restraint! This is such wonderful, pure synchronicity as Mother Nature and her circling seasons turn and release Persephone once more in all her natural, unfolding, beauty. Ah, the tricky dance among those Mother and Crone archetypes, above and below!

    Last winter I faced an empty nest while my youngest daughter (mid-twenties) finally left home. Her new apartment is only a 20 minute drive away yet I have to restrain myself from phoning her most days. At present I’ve got it down to once or twice a week yet look forward to those days so that I can check in on her and hear that she’s okay, which of course she is!

    I love the symbolism of seedlings, potting and rooting … where winter ends, spring begins. Where basking in the awareness of the great heart (great line Fred!) means that for all, even after we no longer live together, we garden together eternally. Beautiful. With the ripeness, and fullness of summer to come, let us bless this magnificent day! Warm wishes, Deborah.

    • Deborah, I love the way you see the world. Symbolism abounds around here, as does synchronicity. I’m writing the best stories that come along and the best lessons. For now, they go in their own folder waiting to see what’s unfolding. We’re on safari with a slightly vague destination.

      I love the description of your daughter leaving home. Anthony was 18 when he left home. The Mother Archetype and I had a prolonged dance then, as he was the youngest. I also love symbolism of the season and those plants Anthony brought across country to root here. The earth is coming alive in my fields and forest, gently and delicately. Wild cherries bloom in the hedgerows and the stream has little gurgling waterfalls.

      My friend Fred is a poet among many other things. His love for words shows.

      • Ah! Poets always gravitate towards words and each other. Thank you so much for your wonderful reply, which arrives in the form of a poem itself. I look forward to catching up more when I return to my Fool’s (Poet’s) Journey on the last Sunday of the month. Death awaits!

  11. A delicate dance indeed, dear Elaine. As the mother of two grown sons myself, I certainly can relate. Do we ever stop worrying about our children? There are times when I think my infinite motherly wisdom should be shared (and heeded), but I’ve learned to bite my tongue and keep my thoughts to myself. We raised both boys to be strong and independent young men: good husbands and fathers who put the needs of their wives and children first ~ but I must admit there are times when that hasn’t worked to my advantage! Neither lives nearby (one in Arizona, the other in Amman, Jordan) and I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but that does make whatever time we have together even more precious. You are wise to enjoy the present and let the future unfold as it will ~ and I wish you all the best as it happens ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. Oh, my bloody tongue. That’s not quite true. Everyone pulls into a different corner most of the day, but we come together in the kitchen when we prepare and share dinner. It’s nice to share meals, something I haven’t done regularly for quite a while.
      Strong and independent describes my sons, too. Your sons are far away. I imagine you must be a seasoned traveler.
      Thank you for your blessing, Marty.

  12. How exciting, Elaine!

    I hope that Jenna and Anthony are able to build their new home soon. You must be thrilled to have them so close by. I have relatives who have a similar arrangement, and it works out nicely for them.

    • Thanks for your good wishes, Lydia. I’m actually ready to move out of the old and too large house into a smaller place, but I feel rooted to the land where I’ve lived and explored since 1972. It would be a gift to grow older here. If all goes according to plan (and what does?), we’ll build a small place for me. We know where the new place will go and have drawings, but now we pause to make sure they love living in the wilds of rural New York State. Good for Jenna to experience a winter here first.

  13. We moved my Mother-in-law in with us, temporarily, last year. She had knee replacement surgery in March, and recovered at our house as she couldn’t safely manage the stairs at her own home. It took me some time to realize that, although she is the Mom, it was my turn to be hers – making her do physical therapy, seeing after her food and keeping her post-surgery medications organized. Such a strange learning curve.
    Good for you for being able to moderate that inner-mom voice. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe. It’s a mantra we all share.

    Hugs, Elaine!

    • Caroline, I’m glad you could help your mother-in-law. Sounds like she’s back to navigating the stairs. You probably remember that I’m caregiver for my 101-year-old mother-in-law. We’ve had complete role changes, including from bitchy and distant to hand holding sweetness. Because she was rough on me and no one would have been good enough for her son, I vowed I would get along with my son’s girlfriends no matter what–and it was my responsibility to do so. Along the way, my sons tested me with a few of their choices, but I kept my vow. It’s no test now since I love their partners. It makes me happy that they love me, too. It’s inherently a tricky relationship. Fairy tales and mythology warned us of that a long time ago.

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