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  • Mj Pettengill

Marya's Mother: Undaughtered


1896 - Edvard Munch

You are either born a son or a daughter. There are many complexities at play here, which we will not cover at this time. What I would like to share, is the moment it occurred to me that I was no one’s daughter, not anymore. I had thought about it some, during the crafting of my first novel. The protagonist and her sister lost their mother. They had already lost their father in the war. War—we won’t get into that now, either.
 But, what was interesting, is how I perceived that the two young women identified themselves as orphans. Historically, when a child loses one parent, he/she is considered a half-orphan, a term more common in the nineteenth century. So, it only stands to reason, that when both parents die or vanish in some manner, a child is orphaned.

Wait. Does this only apply to children? When a person loses a parent, is that person always a child in the family dynamic? Is it right to feel orphaned when you reach the legal age of adulthood? How does it work?
 I ask this question with a pure heart, because as we grow and develop, whether or not we renegotiate our relationships in the adult world, can determine how functional our family is. Put it this way, if you fail to renegotiate and remain locked in roles from various youthful developmental stages, chances are, your family is terribly dysfunctional. The old rivalries, competition, teasing, and whatnot, are outdated. Those perceptions are previous versions of self and each other that no longer apply. In fact, strong-arming each other into those outdated roles will never work. This not only applies to siblings but parents as well.
 An example in my family: when I was in Junior High, there was ongoing tension between the bus driver and me. Yes, you read it right. I live in a cold climate, and the bus did not come at the same time every day, I mean within a reasonable amount of time. So, I used to stand indoors and wait for him to roll around the corner. If I wasn’t right out there, he wouldn’t even slow down. He barreled by, and I would run down the steps and out to the roadside and poof, he just drove away (laughing).
 It seems like I might be paranoid when I add the laughing part, but as adults, he and I have spoken about this. He owns it. He was laughing. I then would storm into the house and report to my mother who would simply lose her mind with anger. It was a waste of time to engage. I needed a ride to school.

It turned out okay. My friend’s father—a friendly and very nice man— was always driving by at about that time. I would go out, start walking, and within minutes there he was. He pulled up in his Bronco, rolled down the window and hollered, ‘do you need a ride?’
 I was between the ages of twelve and fourteen. I did learn to outsmart the bus driver. And, he handed over the responsibility of driving to another man, one who was more dependable and kind. I never missed the bus after that. But, to this day, what stayed with me (in my family) was this narrative: “Marya is always late.”
 No. she was not; I am not. That was never the case. I'm one of the most punctual people I have ever met. Decades have passed since this short stint in my life, and my sisters will continue to laugh and joke about my lateness. This is an example of being locked into old paradigms that really don’t work. I shared it because it is gentle and easy to read. Many have the potential to be painful, and as a unit, cripple us. But, we won’t get into that now. 
 So, when my father passed away, I did feel something in the way of being a half-orphan. I was able to translate it into my creative work. I processed it through dreams and long talks with people who do long-talks well. It was new. My father was dead. How strange was that? I focused on observing the word without him in it. That became my goal—what did it look like now?
 But, death comes in many colors. Marya’s mother was a much different situation. It cannot be worded, at least not all at once, only in little bits and pieces, like this now. Because it has only been months since her departure from this earth and life, all of it is still coming into place. The whys and the why-nots are swirling around as they should be.
 A few full moons ago, I was sitting beneath it when I had the thought: I am not a daughter anymore. I’m no one’s daughter.
 That is a jarring thought. Of course, I am a daughter. As one who collects medicinal plants and spends vast amounts of time in the wild, I could throw out the cliché that I am Gaia’s daughter—the daughter of the Earth Mother, Father Sky. We could go on and on about the various ways to be daughtered. But, the obvious is that without parents, one is no longer in the same place as when the parents exist on the Earth plane. 
 I am okay with this. I was a daughter once. I have a daughter. I get daughters. But, the truth of it is, we are in a constant state of transition. Sometimes we lose things that we cannot imagine until they are gone. Then the question becomes, who am I now? Who have I become? And the best answer is not needing to know.

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