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Letting Go: A Mother's and Daughter's Perspective

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Letting Go: Demeter
By Sil Reynolds

At the gates of the Sacred Temple of Demeter
and Persephone in Eleusis, Greece. June 2010.
Those of you who have attended our 13-15 year old workshop know that we read the ancient Greek Demeter/Kore/Persephone myth during that workshop. In late May and early June of this year, Eliza and I had an opportunity to travel to Greece because I was teaching a workshop there. One afternoon, we made a 'pilgrimage' to Eleuisis (now called Elifsina) which is not far from Athens. We were very disappointed to discover that it was closed that afternoon. This was a 'letting go' moment-- here we were next to, but not able to visit the ruins of the great temple to Demeter and Persephone. Three thousand years ago this was the most celebrated temple in all of Greece- the site of the Eleusian Mysteries. In this photo, Eliza is comforting me as I 'let go' of our dream to visit the site, at least for this trip, and maybe forever.

It has been a year of letting go for this Demeter as my Kore, Eliza, went off to her first year at college and returned as Persephone. I want to share one of my letting go experiences with you. Eliza had been at college for over a month and sometimes it felt like an eternity. I was feeling pretty sad and there were moments when I felt, well, Demeter-like-desolate. I would wander into her room half-expecting her to still be there chatting on her phone with one of her friends or doing her homework or greeting me with the news of her day and it felt eerily empty and quiet. These 'Demeter moments' made me feel as though me 'earth' was bare of vegetation. Was this the winter of my life?


I also felt happy and relieved. Happy because Eliza was doing so well. My colt with her long shaky legs, was not only standing, she was off at a brisk gait and finding her own way. She loved her dorm, her roommate and her new friends (from all over the world!) and all of her classes. She went to African, Salsa, Ballroom and Swing dance classes and in one week she joined groups such as Students Against Human Trafficking and Students for Choice. What more could a mother want?

I was relieved because I am essentially "done" as a mother, and it was a job well done. I marveled at Eliza's self-sufficiency. She opened a checking account and budgeted her own hard-earned money to cover most of her extra expenses. She alternated cooking in her dorm with eating at the cafeteria (she cooks well and loves learning about nutrition and going to the farmers' market on campus). She worked well with her adviser and searched out an academic dean who helped her to make key choices about her academic plan for the year.

Which brings me to the issue of Demeter cutting the cord. I confess I was a "helicopter" parent on one particular occasion. If you don't know this term, it is a pejorative expression that refers to over-parenting, a hovering over your daughter's every move in a way that is not healthy for her development or for your relationship. Lisa Belkin has an excellent blog on the topic that also conveniently helps me to not be totally self-deprecating. It is called "In Defense of Helicopter Parents".

I am 'supposed to be' the totally together mom, who teaches mother/daughter workshops, and never screws up. Wrong. Fact is, I found myself, unconsciously and inappropriately, emailing the academic dean that Eliza met with and found was so helpful, to thank her for mentoring my daughter. Eliza was pissed and rightly so. She was angry that I had gotten involved in her budding relationship with this woman. "Mom", she said. "I am an adult now, making adult relationships on my own. I don't need or want you to get involved."

In that moment, I knew that she at least had cut the cord. I was so proud of her for knowing and setting this boundary and for calling me out. I owned it 100%, apologized, was forgiven and we moved on. When we got off the phone, I felt Demeter's desolation again. I realized I had to let go of my old role more completely and I felt so empty and so sad. Who was I without being involved in my daughter's life and community? I worked with this question and inner reality all day and channeled my feelings into a productive reordering of my writing room, the room that I am writing my side of Eliza's and my mother/daughter book. It was invigorating and hopeful and I found myself moving into some kind of new and creative identity that is still forming.

That night, Eliza called unexpectedly from the laundry room of her dorm. She had a quick question about her light and dark color loads and wanted some mother advice. She was cheerful and working on her homework, in between loading laundry. Persephone had "returned" from the Underworld, ever so briefly. It was delightful. Truth is, I have been getting used to her "comings and goings" for many years. Since middle school and certainly through high school, I could find her in her bedroom but she was already "gone", even at home. With each year, she became more and more independent and more involved with her peers- and if I am honest with myself, her going off to college is not that different. I have alternated mourning and celebrating her independence for many years.

It is a work in progress, this letting go of my mother role. I find that it takes time and patience and wisdom. I suspect this is something akin to an organic process, something that Demeter, the goddess of the Earth would know and understand. She might speak metaphorically by teaching about the cycles of the seasons. Demeter might teach me that often, and throughout our lives, both Eliza and I will find that the umbilical cord joins us up again ("comings"), and then needs to be cut ("goings"). That night I lit a candle to this earth goddess and asked for her continued help in letting go of my old role. Eliza has returned from the Underworld and is back this summer, no longer the maiden Kore, but the Queen Persephone. I celebrate her new role.

Letting Go: Persephone
By Eliza Reynolds

I would like to bring the following to everyone's attention: letting go is not an exclusive, mother-area of stress, concern and tears; I HAVE LETTING GO ISSUES. And not just the "oh mom, please just leave me alone so I can get on with my life" reactionary issues. Real, confusing, heart-aching, conflicting, empty stomach letting go issues. Because there comes this time (namely college) when I am told to step away from my parents' warm hands and dive, headfirst, alone, and with only a small cell phone calling "home" to kiss my cheek goodnight.

The myth of Demeter and Persephone, traditionally told, is the story of a young girl's abduction by Hades, the lonely god of the Underworld, and her mother's intense grief at the sudden loss. In the end a time-share deal was agreed upon (by her father Zeus) whereby the not-so-innocent-anymore Persephone (now Queen of the Underworld) was shipped back and forth for six months of each year between her mother's Earth and Hades' Underworld. Each year, come spring time, Persephone returns home to her mother, and each fall she goes down again to Hades in the Underworld.

This is my story.

As I am Persephone, I wanted to go. I left my mother's world for the Underworld, not for a boy, but for myself. I wasn't abducted; I was swept away. If I wanted to grow, I had to find a self and a world that was my own.

June 2010, here I am, 19 years old, reunited with my mother after my first year at college, standing at the site of the sacred temples of Demeter, goddess of grain and growth, and her daughter Persephone, in Greece. It's a set up that could make your sentimental self wipe away tears at its perfection. But the gate's locked and the grumpy Greek sentry yells to us that "it is closed!" Our dusty and expensive cab ride (which honestly I slept through in the back seat) has gotten us here half an hour too late. It looks amazing, just amazing-through-a-metal-fence kind of amazing.

10 months ago I was standing on the steps of my college dorm saying goodbye to my mom (and dad.) I realized that home was no longer going to be with them. But home was not going to be the white-tiled college dorm room up above me either. Home would have to be inside of me. I had to let go of what home had been. Dive into the Underworld.

We spend out lives learning to let go of things: petty things, meaningless things, meaningful things, clutter, plans, homes, expectations, love, loved ones...

My THREE 'Letting Gos' that I am living by these days:

I let go of how straight up terrified I am of being alone.
I answer the question, "So, any boys in your life?" without hesitation: "Nope, and it's great." I stretch out my legs across the new expanse of space in my bed and revel in the comfort instead of the emptiness. I cherish my friendships. I spend each morning totally alone, a meditation of tea, iPod and schoolwork. I eat alone in my room instead of alone in the dining hall. I curl up in bed with a movie at 9pm on a Friday night because I want to. When you're alone you only have to please yourself and it's fantastic.

I let go of the fact that not everyone likes me.
I am not as outgoing as my roommate, as fashionable as the pretty girl down the hall, as happy as the mobs of freshmen seem to be around me. My relationship with my boyfriend really is over - even if I cling and make promises, he doesn't want to be with me anymore. Hey, he's just not that into me. I mention in passing (with a straight face) that my passion is teaching "mother/daughter" workshops. And... gauge the look I get. And I realize frankly that there are some people out there that I would be embarrassed if they liked me...

I let go of the reality that I will never have the "perfect" body that I see on the cover of the magazine.
It's just not in the DNA. I eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full, dance every second I can and, on the first day of my period, I turn off my alarm and go back to sleep.

Like Persephone, I come, I go, I descend, I reunite, I push, I pull, I am inconstant (30 minutes late... and I forgot to call!), and oh gosh, I am always just the same old me.

I am lonely, I am happier than I have ever been, I am in overwhelm; I am so ready to be ready (just let me at the world, they won't know what hit 'em).
I am empty, I am whole, I am scared, and I am brimming with enthusiasm.
I am a lesson in balancing the bittersweet qualities of life.

I am a Persephone, learning the Persephone lesson of consciously letting go, of descending into the darkness, of diving into the future and trusting that your head will not smack a concrete bottom, but that you will catch yourself in the fall and find beneath you your very own feet to place firmly down when the time comes.

"And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin


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SilElizaEliza Reynolds:
Eliza Reynolds will be a sophomore at Brown University in the fall, where she is studying Psychology, Gender Studies, English, and nonfiction writing. She is a certified Teen Peer Mediator, a counselor at the The Wayfinder Experience summer theater camp, and an SOS Trained Peer Educator for Planned Parenthood. In high school she helped to found Scarlet, a magazine for teenage girls. Eliza recently served as an advisor to Eve Ensler for her newly released set of monologues for girls, I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Lives of Girls Around the World.

Sil Reynolds
Sil Reynolds, RN, has been a nurse practitioner for almost thirty years, during which time she has specialized in women's health, eating disorders, and a Jungian approach to psychological and spiritual processes. She is a therapist in private practice in Stone Ridge, New York. Sil has been an ongoing advisor to Omega Institute's Women and Power Conference and a consultant to Eve Ensler's V-Day projects related to body image and eating disorders. For over 10 years, Sil assisted and led Geneen Roth's Breaking Free From Emotional Eating workshops across the country. Sil leads Embodying Conscious Femininity retreats with Sherry Wheaton MD and Linda Kawer LCSW.

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