Balancing Passions

So I should write.

I’ve been told I have a gift, some ability to make people laugh or cry with my words. As a mother, a preschool teacher, a witch, an artist, a historian, a philosopher, a religious leader, and a woman, I just don’t know how to choose to write about. I’m sitting here watching a special on Dr. Ruth and her discussions of sex that made her a career. Her religion didn’t suffer from her outreach, and she created far more good than bad. She’s an amazing educator, a kind woman, and even in her 80’s publishes about a book a year (per “Extraordinary Women,” dir. Shannon Skinner, season 1 episode 10, 2010). If she can be amazing as herself, can I just talk freely about my own spectrum of experience and not have to censor it into submission??

Honestly, though, maybe that’s the point.

Women are told repeatedly that they “can” be sexy, until they have kids. So many women flab up after their first, or even third, child. But how much of that is the absolutely stalwart knowledge that they will never be publicly “allowed” to wear a sexy dress in public again?? Rape culture, we love you so. You may be sexy only until you have procreated…no. I disagree. And thankfully my husband is very happy that I do.

Witches are encouraged to be themselves…around herbs. And smoke and mirrors. They are not expected in the PTA, the local bake sale, or the office around the corner. Let alone a preschool. And let alone sexy. HELL no. What is that crazy, sayin such things…

Preschool teachers are cute and fluffy, old and out of style, soft and cuddly. They are not, by definition, cut-throat competitive, brilliantly smart, and hot in a miniskirt. Which they wear to work over leggings. But luckily, that’s not how it is at my kids’ school. And other than the witch thing, I fit right in.

The religious leader part – that’s a little trickier, and I don’t give everyone subtitles on it. I mean, “they” think Pagan Priestesses have more to do with the devil than children. Yet how much more reversed could they be! It’s the priestesses reaching out to help feed the next generation, to establish the good of this religion as more than just a salve for the teen- and college-aged women (and men) until they have kids and blend back in with society, or spin horribly out of control and implode. We are the ones pointing out the good this religio-culture can offer to the young and old alike, offering solace to those in pain and comfort to those in flux, as well as joy and celebration for those who revel in their day-to-day life. All of this should fully apply to our children, as well. It’s the priestesses out there who are hopefully pushing to that end. I know that I certainly am!! So for me, these all go hand in hand.

And let’s be honest here. Sex plays an important role in Paganism. As a religion, it revels in the balance of male and female, the joy found in desire. Teaching children joy and love means living it yourself.  No marriage, no matter the genders involved, manages to thrive without desire being involved. If I want to be a good mother, though, and teach my kids responsibility as basic human beings, how can I skip over the entire category of desire? It’s such a huge can of worms that many families ignore. Their kids all too often wind up listening to Crazy Aunt Sue or the neighbor chick to try to figure it out, and then the parents say “how did they possibly end up this way??” I don’t sit back and let others define my kids’ responses to want or need. And as Paganism becomes more of a multigenerational practice, this honest approach to want and need is a big part of what makes us so vital to our cultures as a whole.

My daughter, for instance, asked “What is sex?” Because I’d never avoided the subject, even though she was 6 years old it was a fair question. My husband spluttered, of course, but I looked her right in the eye and said, “It’s something people do when they love each other, but it can also be a weapon used to hurt others. It’s how babies are made, but not every time. And it’s fun if it’s done right, so people like to practice. It can hurt, and it shouldn’t be done lightly, especially since you can make life every time you try it. And you should wait until you’re old enough to know how big of a deal it is before you ever play around with it.” Simple, all true, and it avoids neither the fun parts nor the scary parts, without going into too much detail on anything.

And my daughter? She asked me, “Wait – how does it make life??” She was confounded by the science of it! Again my husband spluttered, but again I kept it simple. Special cells combine to make more cells, and more, until a baby appears. Yes, you use your genitals to do it; yes, that part is fun; yes, the baby grows in mommy’s belly in a place called the uterus. I kept it simple and didn’t go into more detail unless she asked.

She also asked if it was so fun, why did mommy sound like she was hurting when we do that??

My turn to splutter. Husband to the rescue. No clue what he said, though; I was too busy blushing. So yes, I am still a fairly normal woman.

Now take this conversation and flip it. My daughter asks for what she wants, for what (she thinks) she needs. A toy, from a quarter-machine.

Many members of the American culture have gotten so used to isolating sex, setting it aside with kid gloves, that we forget that it’s basically a want we think we need. We forget that much of our response to relationships is similar to an 8-year-old’s response to a toy, whether received or denied. We fail to realize that the tool belt of responses to such grown-up needs is the same one that was fashioned out of the Christmas shopping sprees, late night food cravings, and teenage car searches. We isolate sex as the one want we aren’t supposed to have, so it can’t possibly involve the same responses as the other wants we revel in daily.

In the Charge of the Goddess in Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows, the Goddess is quoted as saying “I have been with you since the beginning, and I am that which is found at the end of desire.”

For those who have heard of the Medieval witches consorting with the Devil and so craving his charms that they boiled babies to get to him, this can carry a scary connotation. BUT. What is this “desire” we picture? What does that word really mean?

When we “desire” chocolate, it carries the undertone of a guilty pleasure, ten pounds of weight we haven’t put on yet. But how much of that illusory weight gain is implied because we try to ignore the craving until we gorge? If we acknowledged the craving as important, couldn’t we go out to a chocolate shop right away and get the most beautiful treat ever for only a couple of bucks, and be done with the whole mess? No ongoing temptation – one beautiful satisfaction, and the romance of it is complete.

Now what of a job? I was in a job I enjoyed but reviled for years. I talked myself out of my “desire” for more, much as the chocoholic swears off the next bite. And yet after years of this, my search for religion started pointing me towards my own desires. My cravings led me to acknowledge the Goddess-given priestess status I had ignored. This pursuit put me back in touch with an aunt who shared my religious views. This led me back to school, directly and yet indirectly. And once I was into school, my job suddenly dissolved. My potential degree became my focus, as did my children. Helping at their school became not just a discount for the kids to get the education they needed and deserved, but a passion I revel in. And again, there’s that theme – passion.

Does “passion” imply sex here? Not at all!  But the passions of life were what I denied in my path, and yes, that included my approach to sex at the time.

Happenstance? Never. We deny ourselves so much in day-to-day life, and passions are the root of it. Sex is only one.

So my daughter asked me for a toy. Yet another quarter-machine toy, once again when I’m going to get groceries, the vital essence of any family of five. I say no – I have no quarters, only the card. Besides, we have nowhere to put such a thing, and it’s honestly just another item created by consumer culture, ultimately destined for a landfill. I object on philosophical levels, as well as functional levels – the answer. Is. NO.

Yet it’s the endless pursuit of desire we’re discussing here, not my issues with the target. Rather than avoiding it, I look it square in the face. “What you want is another toy, but why? Don’t you already have tons?”

“Yeah, but I want THAT one.”

“Will it be more fun than the ones you already have?”

“Well, yeah…”

“Where will you put it?”

“With the other ones.”

“Do you even know where they are?”

“No, but that’s why I want THAT one!!” Okay, I leave that circular logic alone.

“Have you earned any quarters you can spend? I certainly won’t spend my money on that, but I won’t tell you how to spend your own money.”

Now at this point we come to that interesting impasse of parenting. Kids want to be able to spend money, but they frequently forget that when they have a chance to earn their own. They want to earn it after the fact, sure, but when? And what would they actually do to earn it? Yet before we even get there, as soon as there’s even a tentative “yes” on the table, we stumble into bargaining.

“If I give you a quarter, is that how you want to spend it?”

“Well, if I CAN get a toy, I want THAT one!” Which inevitably costs fifty cents, instead.

“That costs more. If you’re going to get that, then you can’t get anything else with your money.”

This arouses questions. What else could I get? How much could I get? What am I passing up in getting this toy? Could I get the candy over there instead? Could I get TWO items out of TWO machines, instead of just the one??

Are you starting to see how the response to desire is a thing that we learn early on?

The discussion now turns to what they have to do to earn these quarters, exactly how much they want to earn, and on what time-line. It becomes a balance of what they’re willing to do, in exchange for how much they’re wanting to get. It becomes a balancing of desires.

So yes, I am a teacher, a parent, a woman, a historian, an artist, and more. And while the first three categories have been successfully balanced, allow me to put the passions of artist and context of historian into perspective here, as well.

For thousands of years, we as a species have fought this same battle. Our desire for beauty has balanced with our need for food and shelter, same as any art-lover or starving artist of today is so familiar with. Our needs include consumption and safety, but we balance them with the eternal desires for fun, creation, and the divine. Art began with the divine in most cultures, as far as I have been able to discern. In fact, I came to art history with the assumption that if you want to find God in the earliest civilizations, follow the art. Yes, we all want to be able to see the beauty of a spring blossom as winter drags tirelessly on. Yet is that enough to drive a person away from the survival-factor of such a season to the creation of something that will never feed, clothe, or protect them? It requires the presence of faith in survival to allow such an allotment of resources, even in our own minds.

We want, we desire – but there is the inevitability of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to contend with. While I detest it, the truth is that physiological needs like hunger have to be met before safety can be properly addressed, then love has to preclude esteem, and only then can self-actualization be a real priority to the person living their life. If art falls into a baser category somehow for a person or culture, then it takes place sooner in the grand scheme of things. But the divine, or at least a sense of sacred survival, has to somehow fill the gaps for that to happen.

We balance our desires against our willingness to sacrifice in order to get it. So candy often becomes a higher priority than the toy, for a child – even though we’re getting food for dinner. Or a misplaced desire for the toy overrides all other sense, feeling like a need to be satisfied immediately so one can focus on mundane things like a full belly. Meanwhile, once the toy and/or candy is in hand, the chores involved become mere drudgery, to be accomplished on a longer time-line than discussed, ignored entirely, or suffered through tragically. Only on very rare occasions does the work get done as discussed, and even more rarely with any sense of cheer.

And here’s the crux of it. Joy is the point of living, in my mind. If not for joy, why are we here? If a chore can’t been cheerfully done, then what point is the reward? If the reward provides a distraction from the work involved – “Mom, I CAN’T take out the trash; I just got my toy!! I need to play with it!!” – then what lesson is provided by the deal that was made?

We all have to find a way to balance these out. I have now resolved myself to saying, “No, I won’t get you a toy if you don’t have your own money for it. If you wanted it so badly, you should have earned your money, kept track of it, and remembered to bring it with you.” On very rare occasions will I agree to a loan, to be repaid (in theory). Or I suddenly allow a generous purchase – and it IS, in fact, appreciated.

Why, you might ask, is this such a priority for me? Especially with a 2, 4, and 9-year-old? Because I myself learned how to temper my expectations with reason, to pursue my passions but with restraint. So yes, I am now a 33-year-old mother of three who wears miniskirts. I wear them because they’re fun, and it makes me look good for my husband. I wear them for me, though, not for the effect on others. I managed to devote so much care to my daily life that I look good in a miniskirt after all that – something I am damn proud of.

I don’t wear them to work at the preschool, not without some respectable leggings and a rather demure top. But I don’t avoid being beautiful around the kids. This way, they know that they can let themselves be beautiful someday, or to expect someone beautiful. They know that beauty is not something that lies corrupted and anorexic on the cover of magazines, and that it can come with a big beautiful brain that can explain the inner workings of submarines, lizards, and nesting dolls alike. They learn that kindness can come with it, too.

And for those who I work with religiously, they see that magic can make anything possible. Just like the Christian miracles we hear about so often, it can allow a priestess to also be a preschool teacher.  She can have religious friends of all backgrounds, and do amazing things with her life. A happy and devoted marriage can result, and it can provide a great environment and example to the children that our love created. For Pagans, who so often come from broken backgrounds and painful histories themselves, it shows that happiness is a very real possibility.

And overall, it shows that passion can continue on all fronts, even after life starts to look a bit like Donna Reed, minus the spotless floors.  It can even lead the way.

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