On a jaunt to a community festival, goddessdaughter #1 turned to me and said, “I feel comfortable with you.” She’s 10. A warm sensation started in my stomach and moved outward. “Mama’s always online buying shoes and Papa’s always busy,” she continued. I know this is not the case but I understood what she meant: When I’m with her, I’m with her, 100%. She is part of an extraordinarily close-knit family but somehow I’ve made my way into her heart. In the midst of the heartache surrounding one of my nieces, I feel like at least in this one small way I must be doing something right.
I take my girls every Friday to Banneker or a park or my house and we spend about two hours together. Mostly they play together, but if we’re at the park goddessdaughter #1 will talk to me for half an hour while I push her on the swings while goddessdaughter #2 (age 7) makes “salads” of weeds and mulch and flowers. I’ve been teaching them baseball with a wiffleball bat and a large plastic ball and they are improving. We just started running bases and they are thrilled with that.
When A and J asked me to stand goddessmother the first time, I told them I would be there for their daughter 100%—as long as they let me. We had a blessing for each of the girls at the Unitarian Universalist church where I swore to “teach her to love the ways of justice.” I think of that often, such as when I encourage them to share or when I demand that they stop fighting.
I have always been completely open as a Witch with the girls, and we have a small altar for them in my temple. Goddessdaughter #2 has recently become fascinated with my path and wants to know how to be a wizard. I gave her some gemstones for her birthday, listing the magical property of each. Both girls have gone through phases of telling their friends that I am a Witch, with the usual wide variety of responses. Neither one quite understands the concept of religion yet but they know I am a “good Witch.”
Friday was awful. When I entered their house, goddessdaughter #1 was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Don’t be a witch.” It had a green background and a black silhouette of a caricatured witch that was clearly meant to look like the Wicked Witch of the West. I understood at once that it was the equivalent of “Don’t be a bitch,” but it still took my breath away. I was overcome. I was so offended.
I pointed at her shirt and asked, “What’s this?” She could tell by my expression that I was upset and she crossed her arms over her chest and looked away guiltily. A stepped in with her best “soothing” voice and said she had bought it and thought it was cute. It didn’t mean anything. By this time my goddessdaughter had fled the kitchen for her room. I turned to A and said, “You wouldn’t have a T-shirt saying, ‘Don’t be a Christian.'” She was still in soothe mode and just said, “Okay.” My goddessdaughter shortly re-entered with a shirt saying, “Witch way to the candy?” I laughed and gave her a hug, but I was still in turmoil. In fact, I’m still in turmoil.
In one of the Dune books, Frank Herbert wrote, “He knows me so well, but I despair of his ever understanding me.” That’s how I feel about A. She has known me for over 20 years, all that time as a Witch, and she has even self-identified as Pagan. She knows that I founded a national non-profit for educating the public about Paganism and ran it for almost 10 years. She knows me. Doesn’t she?
What could she possibly have been thinking when she bought that shirt? She says she thinks of me as a sister but it seems she doesn’t think of me at all. I was deeply offended by the shirt, not only for myself, but for my people. Do I really need to explain to her that Witchcraft is a religion?
A and J are ambivalent about my path. They were adamant that I not teach the girls anything along the lines of natural magic several years ago. Recently A told me she didn’t want me to teach them how to cast a Circle. But she’s fine with their learning “metaphysical” properties. I don’t know how to interpret that. I feel like they want all the good things I can bring to their children, just without the feminism and the Witchcraft. But there is no me without feminism and especially the Craft. When I follow down the strands of my identity, the things that make me me, I find at my core singing and the Craft, twisting together in a beautiful DNA strand. They can’t be separated from who I am. That’s terribly inconvenient for parents with middle class values. But it’s who I am. It’s who they asked to be goddessmother—twice.
They love that I’m involved with the girls’ lives, that the girls love me, that they get alone time when I take the girls on our jaunts. They invite me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, even though the girls’ grandmother takes them to church on Christmas Eve, I am not allowed to take them to the local synagogue or mosque to expose them to different faiths. And I’m their goddessmother. If not I, then who?
The whole reason we have an altar for the girls at my house is because A lost the gift I gave to goddessdaughter #1 at her blessingway. She lost it. But she was able to hang onto the Buddhist prayer flags given by my goddessdaughter’s godfather. I knew that if I wanted to maintain any kind of spiritual relationship with the girls, I would have to safeguard it myself.
I have always walked Between the Worlds. Even when I was a good Catholic girl playing Maria in The Sound of Music, I was set apart a little from others. It is a constant tension in my life. It is a spiritual truth which I have meditated deeply on for years and which I hope to come to peace with before I die. But it’s just so hard to be who I am, to be admired for who I am, and yet to have my identity denied. Like when my family says a Christian prayer at every mealtime and ignores the fact that I am not of their faith. We’re an alcoholic family, so it’s easy to ignore the elephant in the living room, but it still hurts. I’ve been on this path for nearly 25 years and these people who are so involved in my life refuse to acknowledge it. They don’t want me to be fully myself because it makes them uncomfortable. And I feel wedged into an ill-fitting place because I can’t be what they want and what I want at the same time.
“I feel comfortable with you.” Which me?