Letting our hair down on salad days

The other day in the garden I noticed a field of weeds sprouting where there were supposed to be nothing but walking path.  Then I realized that they were volunteer arugula and I was pleased.  This got me thinking about the nature of nature and how the raised vegetable and herb bed was for plants and the part outside of it was not for plants… only no one told the plants.  Nature just goes where it feels like, and we sometimes stop it, but sometimes don’t realize that it just might be the spice of life for our salad—the earth offering to feed and teach us by quiet example.

Because the fairytale Rapunzel is all about arugula (Rapunzel means arugula, as does rocket and rampion), that was also on my mind today when a friend sent me a question:  “Hey Bruce, you’ve touched on this in a few blogs but is there a simple 3 or 5 stage progression from pre teen to young adult similar to the 5 stages of grief?”  He is a dad of girls, but was also prepping a pitch related to fairytales and this seemed a synchronicity calling for a post, hopefully of interest to other parents of pre-teens to young adults, in the hopes that some Grimm insight might help us better enjoy parenting in the sort of salad days one sometimes finds in Los Angeles in November.

As you may recall, a witch takes Rapunzel away as a consequence for her birth mother’s having craved arugula, which her well-meaning husband filched from the witch’s high-walled garden. 

In stage one of pre-teen years, Rapunzel is an innocent beauty living in a tower without door.  She lets her lovely hair down for the witch to climb up.  I would equate her hair with the thoughts that grow out of her head, and at this point the mother figure is free to enter into her head so to speak.  Developmentally, the eleven-year-old is just beginning to think more deeply about the world and it’s not just hair that is changing, but the myelination of the neurons in the brain.  The sex is the easiest part to interpret in our overly precocious age, and yes, hair would also symbolize developing sexuality (i.e. the body hair that also shows up in boys and girls at the same time the brain is changing into the world of abstract thought).  This is when kids can first do algebra, and Rapunzel is soon to do the math and realize she is ready for boys.

In the next stage, Rapunzel lets the young prince climb up in her hair.  This illustrates the need for parental supervision, rather than locking the tower, the liquor cabinet, etc. and thinking the kids won’t get into trouble.  I like to think that perhaps it was the deprivation of warmth and the birth mother that has left Rapunzel so vulnerable to being seduced by the first prince who comes along.  For us parents, this means continuing to give love and affection even though kids thirteen or fourteen can be so harsh, rejecting and downright witch-like at times.  They project the cruelty onto us parents, but arugula is a spicy herb and desires can run rather hot through transitions, be they pregnancy or puberty.

In the next stage we have a tragic Goth phase where Rapunzel has lost her maidenhood, but naively says that the witch is much heavier to hoist up than the prince—outing her fallen self and getting thrown out of the tower and into the desert.  This symbolically shows the split in the child’s mind between being over-protected in the castle, or abandoned to the jackals in the desert.  This is adolescence, in the child’s mind, in a nutshell:  stifled in over-closeness or else doomed in isolation.  Many grown-ups languish for decades in this stage—fearing both intimacy as engulfing, and isolation as terrifying.  While in Rapunzel it is the witch who causes the isolation, often our teens feel out in the desert and alone and are sure that we must be the witch or warlock at fault somehow.  The exhausting dynamic of kids, mentally at least, running off into the big bad world and back into our arms like regressed babies can truly try a parent’s patience and bring out the witch in Mother Theresa. 

In fairytales “launching” is pretty much being thrown out of a tower.  To this end, the witch launches the horny little prince as well, tossing him into thorns where he is blinded.  In counterpoint to Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger at puberty and falling asleep, the prince has already drawn first blood of Rapunzel’s virginity and he pays a blood price for it, pricked right in the eyes.  I’m sure many a father of teen girls can relate to the witch on this count, especially because they remember the towers they once tried to climb.

In the final stage we have Rapunzel as the destitute mother of twins barely surviving in a desert as the blind prince (love is blind guy) crawls near.  Rapunzel’s tears heal his eyes and they live happily ever after.  Perhaps this suggests that before true maturity is reached one must suffer—losing the vanity of long tresses, the power of shallow or desirous sight, and being “blessed” with kids of their own (twins, a boy and a girl).  In terms of development, I would put the struggle in the desert stage as going from eighteen to twenty-six, with true adulthood just beginning at twenty-seven.

By considering the long and painful process of growing up, we parents might better tolerate the slings and arrows of our kids’ projections onto us, seeing us as over-involved witches on the one hand and disengaged clueless fools on the other (i.e. the parents who lose their baby to a witch over a salad).

So, let’s dedicate today to enjoying a little arugula, but to eating it with the bittersweet consciousness that we are at once the craving mom, the well-meaning but weak herb-stealing dad, the witch, the maiden innocent and profaned, the ardent and chastened prince… and, finally, the family who lives happily ever after—within one unified psyche at first (thanks to our efforts to individuate), and subsequently as part of the larger groups of our actual family, community and world.  Here’s to salad days in honor of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce



One Response to “Letting our hair down on salad days”

  1. krk Says:

    Bravo !

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