The One Where TBW Tells Her Momma

Having just returned from a fun evening doing everything but drumming with friends in the rain under the New Moon, I feel like I’ll have insomnia forever.

So, to make good of my state of wakefulness, I’ll finish the many stories that I didn’t get to tell you about my lovely holiday season. The worst of the story is that my family, three leggy teens, The Bad Husband, and myself, drove all the way to Chicago and back to Alabama in a Camry.

The good parts were worth it.

1) My mother-in-law is a woman who raised her own children, her sister’s children, and her brothers’ children without batting an eyelash. She is a woman who put thirteen kids through parochial school, who had as many as seventeen children in her charge at once (along with an aged mother and a daughter-in-law); she is one of the most hard-core, independent, robust matriarchs any family could be privileged to have. She also has severe dementia.

When The Bad Witch was earning a degree in Ministry, an extended stint in a nursing home taught me that dementia can be a living hell. Because of past experiences with dementia,[1] I was expecting a grueling and heartbreaking visit. But, not only did the beautiful darling remember me and all of my children – after a little coaxing, of course (we had prepared for other possibilities), she was caught in a feedback-loop of delight. For the duration of our visit, she was obsessed with some of her happiest memories (and inventions) of her life, and we got to share them with her – over and over. And over. And over. It was the unadulterated joy of a mind bleached of woe. And we all got to share in it.[2] It was downright revitalizing.

2) One week ago today marked the anniversary of my having lost a large chunk of my family of origin. However, my sisters-in-lawand brothers-in-law, who never really liked me all that much, welcomed me home with a devotion that I have never expected from anyone but my own momma and Favorite Auntie. And my brother, who never comes out to see me, dropped everything (and there was a good deal for him and his family to drop) and met me for a hotdawg.

And, hallelujah, it snowed.  — Just enough —

3) After having a fabulously pre-vegan bacon encrusted evening with my bestie and her husband, we retired to a pub in the old stomping grounds owned by my old high school frienemy. There was a band, she sang, we talked – a lot, we drank, we took pictures and got all caught up with some friends I only ever get to see on Facebook.

4) On the way back home, I visited my momma and daddy and sister et al. When I arrived at Momma’s, she told me that a cousin had passed and that the wake was the following day. Cousin Al was a ripe old man who’d led a full and prosperous life. No tears shed. When I went to the funeral home, I got to see my maternal aunties and cousins. This was lovely. At the funeral, Favorite Auntie told me, “I think about you more than you will ever know.” The embraces that come unexpectedly and unconditionally from unwavering arms are the best embraces of all.

On the way back to Momma’s Town, we stopped to have lunch with Daddy and my husband and kids.

5) In the parking lot of our lunch destination, I talked religion with my momma. You knew I was gonna. I said I was gonna. I don’t lie. Not to my momma and not about my momma. Just to be clear. I was just saving it for a face-to-face. She deserves that much. But I was skeered. No one ever wants to make their momma cry.

When I knew that I was obliged to discuss my religious choices with my mother, my twelve-year-old very astutely told me, “She knows. It’s no big family secret. Just nobody talks about it.” As a clan, we are very good at elephant-in-the-room games.

But I had watched Glee, the one where Santana ‘comes out’ to her abuela. The whole time I was watching, I kept thinking, “I never had to ‘come out’ as straight, this is ridiculous.” This leads me to draw a parallel. I would never be asked to assert a statement of faith as a Christian. I mean, I’m not applying as faculty at Brigham Young. So why is it less ridiculous to discuss my spiritual life with my mother than my sex life? Both are terribly private and kinda gross to discuss with The Momma.

I remember when my brotherish-cousin ‘came out’ to her. And how disappointed I was by her reply: “I can’t condone this. I love you. But this is sin. I can love the sinner and hate the sin, you know that, right?” I still want to cry when I think about his face at that moment. Mostly because I can’t handle the translation that face to one that would appear on my niece’s face. My niece who chooses to live a thousand miles away from her family than hear her grandmomma’s reply, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” And I didn’t want to brace myself for the face I’d make when Momma tells me that she loves me even though I’m a ‘sinner.’

In the end of the Glee episode, Santana’s abuela makes a veiled comment that she knew that Santana liked girls. And then added that Santana was selfish and cruel for having said it outloud. And then summarily kicks her out of the house.

That made me think, “Well, shit.” So, I played it out in my head:

 I know you would prefer I was Christian. But there’s nothing to be done for that now.

The truth of the matter is you sent me to Catholic school where I learned about spiritual ritual and you brought me to a Pentecostal church where I learned what being inhabited by The Holy Spirit felt like. You also taught me about your mother and what you called her “Indian ways.” You told me about “the trickster.” And, even though he was conflated with Satan, he was never evil. Sly, sure. Dangerous, sure. Evil, no. He was like the silly rabbit in the cereal commercials. When I had dreams, you remember “those” dreams, you always told me that they were messages from the divine and that I should try to figure them out like Joseph did. You let Aunt Tinne call me a Benjamin and “Little Heathen” when she got tickled by my sass.

I even tried to be a Christian. Just to make you happy. First, a Catholic. But they didn’t want me because I was a woman. Then, I tried being Anglican. There was enough ritual to satisfy my craving for Mystery but not so much emotion that I felt I was losing control. And there was no Pope. That worked out for me, as a woman. Until Father B sided against homosexuality.

Momma, I am a Witch. Second, I am raising my children to be Witches. They will be anyway. Might as well teach them how to handle it. Thirdly, I know that you are also a Witch. Fight it if you like. Grandmomma was too. Just like Greatie. And likely her momma too. And back and back. Aside from that you should know that I kinda dig Jesus and I want to be as much like him as I can. I believe that Jesus was one of the greatest Magicians (or Sorcerer, if you prefer) of all time. Solomon too. He passed it on from David to Menelik and Rehoboam of Judah. . . .

At this point, I tend to get lost in lovely Bible stories and lose track of telling Momma anything.

But that’s not how it went at all.

I said, “Momma, I want to tell you that I’m starting a church, of sorts. And I want your blessing if you can give it.”

Suspiciously, she asked out the side of her mouth, “What kind of church?

Then I explained things to her without using the most scary of the W words.[3]

Her only question was, “You believe in god and you believe you are doing god’s will?” I could hear her say ‘god’ in lowercase.

I said that I did and that I believed I was.

Holy shit.

She took me by the hand and looked me square in the eyes (something Momma don’t do all that often), and said,

Sugar. You know that I’ve always known that there was a call to some sort of ministry for you. Everyone who knew you said so. When I saw you so lost a few years back and working so hard on your doctorate, I was praying for you. Praying hard. Then I heard a voice just as clear as day say to me, ‘Don’t worry. You have no idea what I’m preparing that chile to do.’ And then I felt peace. For you and for me. So, no, I don’t understand. I don’t know what this church is. But if it’s god’s plan, how can I not give my blessing? Who am I to withhold that? And if you believe that you are doing god’s will, then I can’t be anything but proud of you.

Now, my momma’s told me that she was proud of my doctorate and proud of my mothering skills. That’s it. M’whole life. Now this.

I cried after I got home.

Oh, who am I kiddin? I didn’t get the chance to cry until weeks later when I fell smack on my elbow and knee and tore them both to shreds. Then I lay like a pitiful lump and cried about all the things I couldn’t get worked up for.

As bad as every one of these things could have gone, I got a best-case-scenario and a few unexpected blessings along the way.

Yes, Virginia . . .



[1] I worked in a geriatric unit and I worked at a facility for severely developmentally and physically impaired children. The most heartrending realization about my work in these places was that families were so willing to abandon “difficult” members to hired strangers. Now, I don’t judge those who are incapable of proper care of special family members. But where I worked, this was not the case.

[2] Given that in the weeks prior, she had been caught in a loop of remembrances of her mother’s passing, we were quite lucky.

[3] Though I did use the P word (Pagan) and terms like “Grove” and “Priestess.”

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