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BECOMING ASTRID
An Abandoned Girl’s Superhuman Strength
& Pippi Longstocking Too

Astrid Lindgren, the author of the inimitable Pippi Longstocking, knew all about superhuman strength. She had it as a young girl. At least, she had to believe she did. To get through a traumatic pregnancy and separation from her baby. “You can do it.” That’s what people told young Astrid over and over when she felt she couldn’t take it on alone. But, she did. Because what else is there to do when no one’s willing to help? Not her parents. Not the father of her baby. So, this is where Becoming Astrid began. She had to rise up out of being an abandoned girl and learn to be a mother to her little son Lars. All by herself.

Astrid Lindgren (Alba August) was an imaginative child, a storyteller, a talented writer. The chief editor of the town newspaper, Reinhold Blomberg (Henrik Rafaelsen), needed an assistant. He also needed love – and thought nothing of getting it from Astrid. He was 50. She was only 17. She got pregnant.

A Young Girl Hungry For Love

Astrid’s hunger for love is what got her into trouble. Her mother was formidable,  dutiful, and cold. A mother with “rules” and restrictions. That couldn’t really appreciate Astrid for who she was.  Too busy with other children; farm work; helping her husband and the family live their lives day by day. 

Such a mother leaves a child with deprived longings. As Becoming Astrid begins, we see her at a dance with her friend (Blomberg’s daughter). Wallflowers, they sit on the sidelines while other girls are chosen. As a pretty friend is asked to dance,  she turns to Astrid: “I’d see that crazy mind of yours and fall in love right away.”

Of course, Astrid longed for love. Any girl does. And, Reinhold Blomberg fell in love with her mind: “she’s dazzling, truly gifted, full of life,” he tells her father.  She felt it, and went after the love she wanted and needed to believe was there. Seduced him when she saw how needy he was. Because she was needy too.

Some lonely and deprived girls use seduction to try to get love. Or they do all the giving. It never works. They inevitably end up alone; just like Astrid.

After the talk with her father, and the promise to marry her when he can (which Reinhold believes he means), Astrid’s dad takes her to board the train to Stockholm. She can’t stay in Vimmerby and shame her religiously traditional family: “You can do this.” He touches her cheek. It means little. He’s abandoning her too. She turns away.

So, it’s easy to see where the inspiration for Pippi Longstocking and all the motherless and fatherless children in Astrid Lindgren’s books came from. Those children – the ones that had to figure out how to live alone and raise themselves – leaped right out of Astrid’s own experience, of course.

How Abandoned Children Survive

Children wrote letters to Astrid as an old woman: “How can you write so well about being a child when you haven’t been one for so long?” That young girl lived inside her.

Abandoned children survive just as Astrid did, telling herself, as everyone wanted her to believe: “You can do it.” And, they have to tell themselves too: “I don’t need anyone. I’m strong. I can survive. Yes, I can do it all by myself.” There is no other choice.

We see it all unfold in Becoming Astrid, as Astrid goes through one shock of abandonment after another. Her roommate tells her about a lawyer that finds foster families in Denmark. Astrid doesn’t think this applies to her. She has a fiancé. Loves her baby. But, her “fiancé” comes to Stockholm, distressed, under a pseudonym.

He’s remote with Astrid. His estranged wife won’t leave him alone: “She’s heard rumors. She wants me locked up for adultery. I could go to prison.” What will he tell his children? Their mother now dead, and father locked up in prison. It’s a lie; a stretch of the truth. And, he lets her know, he can’t give their baby his name.

Astrid comforts him. She’s self-sacrificing. Convinces herself he won’t leave her alone for long. She tells him she can have their baby in Denmark. The baby can stay with a foster mother: “Until the court case is over and I can show my face in Vimmerly. Then you can get a divorce, we’ll get married, and we can bring the baby home.”

Abandoned children do what they have to do, to get by. Astrid’s trying to be strong. But,  knowing what it’s like to be alone, she never intended to abandon her own baby.

Losing Lars

Astrid is on a ship to Denmark, where she meets Marie, the lovely Danish foster mother who helps Astrid in many ways.  She’s with Astrid at the delivery, comforts her; is as warm as Astrid’s mother is not. She understands Astrid’s insecurity. Listens. When Astrid doesn’t want to leave Lars, she says: “You can do it;” in a different way.

We can see how much Astrid loves her baby when she greets him after he’s born. But, she can’t stay: “Everyone will know something’s wrong if I don’t come home for Christmas.” Marie comfortingly wraps her breasts to stop the lactation.

Astrid’s been abandoned by everyone she needs. She hates abandoning Lars. She knows what it’s like. But, she can’t take care of him alone. She promises to come back to see him soon; still wanting to believe Reinhold will come through. He doesn’t.

All he gives her is a warm coat and empty promises. He goes to visit Lars with her in Denmark, but that’s all for now. There’s no one to count on. Her own mother, cold and dutiful, couldn’t be less interested in her baby or her pain. She tells Astrid: “You don’t have to marry him.”And, then says the cruelest most unforgivable thing of all.

“You could leave the child in Denmark and forget about all of this.” Forget? Well, some people think they can. And, yes, Astrid’s mother does put her own daughter’s feelings out of her mind. Incredulous and angry, Astrid shouts: “You’re telling me to abandon my baby?” She knows how it feels to be left, and will not do the same.

“Finding” Lars Isn’t Easy

Astrid knows where Lars is, but she’ll go through unthinkable suffering to reach him.

When Reinhold calls and fails to keep his promise once again, Lars is 6 months old. Astrid hangs up the phone. She’s beginning to hate him. And, 6 months later, his lie is exposed. He wasn’t in danger of prison. But, he amorously gives Astrid a ring. Thinking she’ll forget what he’s put her though.

Of course, Astrid doesn’t trust him. She puts down the ring and walks out. Reinhold, panicked, runs after her: “Why can’t we just be happy? How will you manage without me?” She already has. And, she will. But, it won’t be easy and it will take a long time to have Lars with her. Even longer to really become his mom.

Astrid works hard in Stockholm finally getting a flat and a crib to bring Lars home. But, he’s 2 1/2 years old now. And, when she goes to get him, he calls Marie “Mom.” In spite of Marie reminding him over and over that Astrid is “Lasse-Mama,” he only knows and wants Marie.  Astrid’s heart is broken.

Yet, Astrid does the difficult thing: “I’m not his mother, Marie. This is his home.” As hard as it is, she puts Lars first. Marie tries to comfort her. Astrid pulls away. This is an unbearable loss. The last straw. In Stockholm, she stares at his empty crib.

Returning to her family, Astrid is depressed. But once again her detached mom is not sensitive: “Get up, you did the right thing.” Astrid shakes her mother off and walks away. If she must, she’ll walk away for good. She’s felt Lars’ (Lasse’s) feelings. But she doesn’t have a mom that feels hers. She doesn’t have a mom.

Becoming Lars’ Mom

A letter arrives 6 months later. Marie is very sick. She can’t care for Lars. This time, when her mother says: “You must stay strong.” Astrid yells: “He’s my son. He has no one else in the world. Are you not my mother? Isn’t he, your grandson?” She packs. “Guess what? I’m not coming back until I’m welcome with my son.”

Scared, Astrid travels to Denmark: “Marie, I can’t do this without you.” Lovingly, Marie says: “You must be his mother. You can do this. Children just need love. Lots of love. You have that. You can do it, Lasse-Mama.” It’s not easy. Lasse is grieving and misses Marie. Astrid hasn’t felt her own mother’s love. And, Lasse is ill with whooping cough.

.

But, this time, Astrid isn’t entirely alone. She has a kind boss. Up all night, caring for Lasse, he sees her unusual mistakes and asks what’s going on. When she tells him about her son, he orders her to go home and not come back until Lasse is well. And, he sends a doctor, an old friend, at no charge. His name is Sture Lindgren.

As she cares for him, she begins to tell Lasse a story about a town where everyone drinks soda pop and says good morning all the time:

“It all started when the grownups got angry and sent them away in shame. And, the children went to a new land to live all on their own. But, they are just children and didn’t know what to do. So they slept with their feet on their pillows, wore their clothes inside out, and said good morning when it was night.”

How Did Astrid Know About Loneliness & Never Giving Up?

The story Astrid told Lars is her story. And it’s Lars’ story of how it felt when he left Marie. Astrid speaks to him and to herself. She speaks for feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Lars asks if he can sleep in her bed. And, Astrid is finally his mom. In Sture Lundgren, Astrid finds a husband and love. She isn’t alone anymore either.

Children wrote letters to Astrid Lundgren as an old woman: “The children in your books can overcome almost everything. Pippi gets along without her mother and father. That’s who I want to become. someone who never gives up, but keeps fighting even if I’m hungry and feel alone.”

“Hey Astrid, I thought about what you wrote in Brother’s Lionheart. There are things you just have to do.” Yes, Astrid knew about these feelings. She had to help herself. Children who read her books have her understanding voice. And, so did Lars. No child should have to go it alone.

Is it any wonder Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren’s superhuman pigtailed red-haired 9-year-old children’s heroine, was so strong? Her creator had always thumbed her nose at anyone that tried to get her down. Even her parents. She giggled in church. Had her own beliefs. Was spirited and independent, smart,  and funny.

That spirit was Astrid from the beginning. But, even in her determination to get her baby back, she was sad, lonely, and without parents. And, she had a lot to fight.

Pippi Longstocking is Astrid Lindgren. She is Astrid’s child self. The one that lived inside Astrid’s determination. Her spunk and her strength to survive one of the most difficult and painful experiences a young girl could have. Story-telling can bring solace, understanding, and healing. For Astrid and Lars, it certainly did.

Pippi Longstocking: Her Braids & Superhuman Strength

In Astrid’s Pippi Longstocking books, Pippi still has her braids. Astrid cut hers off to woo Reinhold Bromberg. When she pushed herself to be grown up too early, much before she was ready for life alone.

In all of Astrid Lindgren’s books, we have children without parents, children abandoned and alone. This was Lars. But, it was also Astrid herself. “How can you write so well about being a child when you haven’t been on for so long?” When you, too, are an abandoned child, it lives on in your bones. 

Her mother thought her new bob was a “one-way ticket to hell.” Perhaps not in the religious sense. But, in her nativity about love and the deep grief of losing Lars, it was a kind of hell she had to work hard to find her way out of.

Yet, with Astrid’s awareness that Lars needed her; she could override her feelings of rejection and become Lasse-Mama. And, heartwarmingly enough, standing up to her parents; especially her own mother’s rejection, brought Astrid a mother too.

By the end of Becoming Astrid, she and Lars return to her parents. Her mother is transformed. She’s realized the loss of her own daughter and perhaps the ways she caused it. She’s warm and loving with Lars and Astrid. They all go to Church together. No longer in shame. And, Reinhold Blomberg sees that Astrid “could do it” all alone.

Live your life

Face the storm winds down

With a scream

Take a leap

Just dare to take a leap

From the darkness into light

Astrid Lindgren did. She didn’t back down from her own darkness. And she’s helped many young readers have the bravery to do that too. Thank you, Astrid. For your courage and for Pippi Longstocking, your superhuman self.

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Los Angeles based psychologist and psychoanalyst. I work with people who have been abandoned and neglected and live with a lonely child self still inside. This can change. Psychotherapy and writing can help. I also work with writers who have stories to tell.

2 Comments
  • Sharon Walters
    Posted at 18:04h, 20 May Reply

    I am 76 years old a mother and grandmother. I had a childhood trauma and never knew what to do about it or that anyone could even understand what I go through. I happened upon your article childhood trauma and I can’t tell you what it is like to have someone write things down that I feel every single day and no one has understood for all these years ..thank you doctor

    • Dr. Sandra E. Cohen
      Posted at 20:42h, 20 May Reply

      Thank you so much for writing and commenting. I am very touched that my article spoke to you and made you feel understood. That is why I write and it means a lot to know that I could be helpful. I wish you the best.

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