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Mama Witch

July 2007

“Mama, are you a witch?” my little one asks.  He has developed a fascination for witches that is reaching an amusing peak. Yes, I always answer, even if I know that certain people—and I won’t mention names—are itching to replace the first letter of that word with, uh, something else.  “Bad or good ?”  he wants to know.  That he needs to ask doesn’t bode well for me, but I insist on finding comfort in this faint display of doubt.

I’ve always had a thing for witches and people have referred to my mother, sisters and I as a coven, more for our razor sharp intuition and extra sensory perception (dulled only, though repeatedly, by love) than any actual witch-like traits, i.e., warts, black robes, hooked noses, black, bubbling cauldrons, you get the picture. So, I actually delight in my own child trying to verify my sterling witch roots. Yes, I am a witch, inherently good until I became a mother and the hormones became crazily more woman.  Well, okay, it isn’t just hormones.  It’s mostly fatigue, too, brought by the daily demands of hands-on, conscious motherhood.

There are days equanimity escapes and every ounce and drop of patience along with it.  It happens, especially if mommies don’t get enough sleep, thanks to several unwelcome nocturnal visits from their children.  It also happens when, already robbed of sleep, mommies are rudely awakened by pre-dawn whining, especially since rules are very clear about THAT tone of voice, THAT early in the morning. My boys have been told, even shown, that whining is the vocal equivalent of dragging a rake through my innards, but even that rather evocative visual flies out the window once they have decided to have a go at it.  These are a few examples of what brings out my inner traditional witch and when that happens, even the crazy hormone-challenged woman in me looks like Mother Teresa.  Yes, there are days everything rushes to the surface and I simply let it fly: big eyes, bellowing angry voice, slamming, banging. Rage.

But, oh the guilt.  The guilt.

Just this week a brief exchange with some mommies over our “bad behavior” proved that every mother 1) carries too much guilt 2) does her best to be warm, gentle, kind and loving always 3) inevitably fails at #2 and finds herself raging, yelling, screaming, threatening and generally becoming a bad witch and then 4) repeatedly opens her baggage to accommodate more of #1.   We also own too many books about how to be better mothers where we are told how to control our tempers, to always use the “I” voice, treat our children with respect, kindness, warmth…you name it, we’ve read it, tried it, failed at it and hated ourselves for it.  Such is the emotional drama of real moms everywhere.

During this mommy beating session, I did share that children needed to see their parents being wicked, not everyday, but they do.  No, I didn’t make it up.  One of our Waldorf mentors sent me a very short paragraph written by author, Dr. Till Bastian, aptly entitled: Children need wicked parents.  In it he shares that children need to know how far they can go because they do go astray when they have no limitations and boundaries.  So he suggests we dare to be “wicked” sometimes, make unpopular decisions, because these belong to the hard side of education. Children who have never experienced such a boundary cannot find their foothold on life.

Of course I know that ranting and raving are not the best expressions of boundary, but I am also very slowly learning to accept that part of me as real.  It needs taming and transformation but there it is.  It is the part of me that arrives when I reach my own boundary.  I have an amazing capacity to be stretched, then stretched some more when other people have long since walked out, but when I arrive at the boundary, I am there with bells and whistles: WITCH ON WHEELS.  There is no turning back.  This is a boundary my children know and respect though I am adding less volatile versions to my growing repertoire.

During an endless bickering session between my boys that would not die no matter what, that continued in the car as we got in to run an errand, I decided I had reached my limit. I very calmly asked for the car to stop so I could leave. I wasn’t angry at that point and quite beyond exasperation.  I was just tired of it all.  So I thought it best for them to run the errand, bickering all they wanted, while I escaped into my quiet home for a good half hour of peace.  The car stopped, I said goodbye, opened the door and left. No drama.  Later on I was told that the children were seriously silent the whole trip.  Now if I could always be that calm.

The very first time I lost it with a child, I called his teacher looking for solace, asking what I might do to take it all back.  She gently reminded me that you couldn’t take these things back (thereby causing my heart to hemorrhage) but that if I worked on myself and tried to overcome and transform such weaknesses, the child would also feel my striving.  Human striving is a lesson of love that the child imbibes.  So we strive.

Alas, it is a lifelong process.  Every mother will still have her bad days, despite all her efforts, but it helps to know that we are not alone and as long as we keep striving, keeping up the fervent pleas to the heavens to help us be better today, tomorrow, the day after, reading all those good parenting books and trying out every little tip, counting beyond ten, taking deep breaths and then switching to Lamaze breathing because, what the hell it might work, locking ourselves in the bedroom just so we can calm down and get it together, doing  all this everyday—then I’m sure all is not lost.

At a bookstore a year or so ago, a dear friend looked at me and said, “Look what my son asked me to buy for him.”  I looked at the heavy book in her hand entitled, “Son of a Witch”.  We had to laugh.  It was clear what that made us.

“Mama, are you a witch?” Yes, I am. “Good or bad?” he continues. Like all difficult questions, this one begs to be thrown back.  So I do. “What do you think?” I always ask.  “Good!” he has unfailingly replied. As long as I’m getting that and my son still sees the good in my witch, I know I’m still being a good enough mother.  I am still mother-woman-witch—my home trinity.  I can’t be that bad.

Mothers today need to open their hearts and forgive themselves because being a good enough mom is already quite a feat. True and present parenting is a tough job (and don’t let any CEO bully you into thinking otherwise).  We have to learn to stop beating ourselves senseless because nobody else will be kind to us about our weaknesses.  That’s also part of being a mom.  We bathe all the wounds, including our own because that’s just the way it is. So mommy witches, open your hearts and let yourselves in.  You are not alone.  We are all here rooting for you.  We see right into your love and goodness.  All will be well.

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