It seems like one of those years when everyone is having babies. The net effect of this on me is having more opportunities to smile at cute little babies, after which I get to walk away. With my youngest now approaching the ripe old age of 16, I have the luxury of viewing from a comfortable distance a completely new generation of parents and children. In case you can’t tell, I very much like my new position on the sidelines of the childraising Olympics.
It was when I had very little children that I first noticed how much I needed to write. It was an urge I simply could not ignore, and when I felt it coming on I knew that no matter what else was happening, I needed to create an hour or two alone with my notebook or journal. In retrospect, it all makes sense and I am extremely grateful that I continued to practice the craft of writing, even when I didn’t have time to write.
Some of these pieces ended up being published in the old Reclaiming Newsletter, but most are not available in the Reclaiming web archives. That is a shame, because I am genuinely fond of some of them, even now. So just for fun I decided to reprint one of them here, which I wrote back in 1988. This was when I had a 2-year-old and an infant and still lived in San Francisco, at the center of my community. That made for some great parties, and at my 26th birthday party I received a copy of Luisah Teish’s book Jambalaya, then just out in paperback.
I have the utmost respect for Teish, and have worked with her some but not enough over the years, but I still worry that she found my article unfunny. On the other hand I certainly enjoyed writing it, and I think it might still have something to offer all those new mothers out there, even twenty years later.
Life Among the Little People
(c) 1988, Anne Hill
Some friends of mine who must think I have time to read gave me Luisah Teish’s book Jambalaya for my birthday.Â I have tried to uphold their opinion of me by reading the book in my occasional spare moments, and what I have read so far has been quite thought-provoking.
I am particularly moved by Teish’s work with ancestors, and the many rituals she describes for becoming more closely attuned to the spirit world.Â As a mother, these practices seem especially relevant to me, because my responsibility lies in raising the next generation and working for a decent world for them to live in.Â My kids will need all the help their ancestors can give them.
The problem that always strikes me, however, when I read beautiful descriptions of feasting the dead, of water gazing at your altar, or treating yourself to herbal baths, is WHEN?Â It is all I can do some days to find time to feed myself, let alone make something my ancestors won’t feel offended by. (Hey Nana, how about boxed macaroni and cheese today?Â With or without canned tomato soup?)Â And if I had time to water gaze I’d also have time to go visit my one surviving grandmother who is very ill.Â When it comes down to choosing between caring for the living or communicating with the dead, my choice is clear.
Still, as I say, I was inspired by Teish’s words and struck by the importance of her work, so I have devised six simple rituals that can be incorporated into even the busiest of schedules.Â These may be especially useful to women with small children hanging all over them.
1. Diaper Meditation.Â When changing a particularly messy diaper, mutter under your breath a word of thanks that your child has inherited a healthy digestive system.Â Try to recall which relative it was that grew up on a farm and whose genes have blessed your child with such prodigious poops.Â Finally, take a moment to consider that in those days, women washed diapers like these by hand, so thank the spirits that today there are washing machines for such chores.
2. Juice and Cracker Feast.Â Familiar to every mother are the times throughout the day when you seat your progeny at the table for a snack.Â Such times are valuable not only nutritionally, but strategically, since most fights will be forgotten when food is suggested.Â Set out an extra plate of crackers, cheese, carrot slices or whatever you are serving, along with something to drink, and put it on top of the fridge.Â (Refrigerator tops are typically utilized as altars for this type of thing, since the kids can’t reach that high.)
Other things you can add to this altar are flowers your children pick for you, toys they were fighting with (to cleanse them of combative energy), and broken things that maybe the ancestors know how to fix.
3. Dishwater gazing.Â When I am sick of reading books to kids, arbitrating disputes and tying shoelaces, I retreat to the safe haven of the kitchen sink.Â Regardless of my mood or degree of receptivity, I always feel a link here to generations of women before me who kept a home and raised children.Â Also, regardless of the time of day, there are always dishes to wash.Â On filling the sink, I try to give silent thanks to the Hetch Hetchy Valley, and hope that one day it will return to its former state of beauty and wildness.
If your mother had a set washing routine like mine didâ€”flatware, followed by glasses, dishes, and cookwareâ€”follow it, otherwise, you can borrow from any tradition that feels right to you.Â Gaze into the suds, relax, and open up to the wisdom of Those Who Have Washed Before.
4. The 2am Feeding.Â This is by far the most challenging of all the rituals included here, simply because there is NOTHING fun about having your sleep cycle interrupted every night. What I manage to do here is to fix my attention on keeping my jaws unclenched.
Remember that even your wisest, most right-on ancestor was once a small person who infuriated her/his mother by demanding to be fed at all hours of the night.Â Try to send yourself back to sleep peacefully, perhaps by repeating something my foremothers always tell me at this hour: “Your child will not be a baby forever. Treasure this opportunity to receive instant commiseration and sympathy from everyone who hears about your child’s sleep habits.”
5.Â The Ancestral Bubblebath.Â Of course this does not mean a bath for you; you will be lucky to sneak in a shower every now and then when the kids are napping.Â This is an opportunity to slip a bit of ‘Church’ into your unsuspecting child’s consciousness during bathtime.
On preparation, spend a bit of time at the store choosing an appropriate bubble medium.Â Ideal would be one that smells like a flower native to your ancestral homeland, but be practical.Â If bathtime is a problem in your household, go for what works, and that means packaging.Â My son is satisfied with some stuff that comes in a blue plastic elephant-shaped jug.
During the bath, your ancestors will have some ideas on where and how vigorously this kid needs to be scrubbed.Â In fact, many women experience spiritual ‘possession’ during this ritual, and become like their foremothers, who got their children mercilessly clean every Saturday.Â If you are uncomfortable with this type of thing, consult your local priestess for counseling, or better yet, entrust your partner with the sacred responsibility of keeping the kids clean.
6.Â The Family Dinner.Â This is perhaps the most formidable of all rituals of ancestor reverence.Â Whether you realize it or not, your forebears are checking you out now to see just how good you are at disciplining their descendants.Â Some spirits are less tactful than others, however, so you must take precautions to both hear what they are saying, and divest yourself of any guilt that they send your way.
My ancestors can be quite opinionated about how my children act at the table, so I have devised the following procedure which works quite nicely.Â Prepare a generous serving of the dinner you cooked and place it on your refrigerator top altar.Â Light a candle before the meal and courteously invite all those great aunts and grandmothers in to partake of your offering.Â Seat your kids at the kitchen table with their food, and give them strict instructions as to how you expect them to behave.Â Then take your dinner out of the kitchen and don’t look back!Â Sit down to eat in another room and relax, knowing your children’s upbringing is in good hands.Â After the meal, reenter the kitchen, thank the spirits, snuff out the candle, and tell your partner it is time for the kids to take a bath.
These are only a few of the many ways in which you, a busy mother, can live your spiritual beliefs and not feel overwhelmed by the task.Â Be creative in your application of the principles of ancestor reverence, and don’t be discouraged if your experiments backfire at first.Â Have patience with yourself, your children, and your oftentimes finicky ancestors.
Above all, if you do get fed up with the whole process, please do not send your ancestors over to my house.Â I have enough to deal with.