B: All right, today we’re going to talk The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. So the beautiful thing about this one is… so far, the episodes that we’ve done have been largely about our children and our daughters.
A Corrupt System
B: And I kind of expected to get the same feeling as I went into this book as I did with All the Crooked Saints; I expected to relate to who I thought was the heroine, which would have been the main character. Pretty little girl on the front of the book with her beautiful brown skin and long dark curly hair. And she’s just… I was really looking forward to soaking in Luna.
A: And she was great. She was a great a great character.
B: I loved her. She was adorable and energetic and had so much power. But the moms; the book is full of all different layers and levels of mothering in so many different ways. And I did not expect that. Um, and if you haven’t listened to the audio book, it’s narrated by this beautiful old soul.
A: She’s glorious. Yeah, it was really good.
B: She’s got the perfect grandma voice, and you know, I may or may not have sobbed at the end of the book. Um, so yeah, coming into this one, this episode is really more to the moms. You are the Truth-tellers and moms who are Explorers, and Bossy Pants especially. And they’re each representations of all of us in this attempt to mother in this universe.
A: Absolutely. So setting up the background really quick: okay, so Luna comes from a town that is basically like a super-corrupt patriarchal society, right?
B: Yeah, it’s like the elders of the town…
A: The elders of the town have decided to manipulate the people in town.
(We’re going to spoil the ever-loving heck out of this book. Per usual, we’re going to destroy this book for you. So yeah, if you want a chance: pause right now, run out and grab your copy of the library or pick up the audio book. It’s a great book. Kelly Barnhill is amazing. Um, but okay, so. SHUN/UNSHUN. [dorky The Office reference] )
So in this society, they have decided that there is an evil witch who lives in the woods. And in order to keep her from…I don’t remember what the repercussion was…
B: So they had created a story around a witch who lived in the forest…
A: Isn’t there always a witch in the forest?
B: There’s always the witch in the forest, which is the trope, right? We always can blame things on the witch.
And um, so there’s a witch who lives in the forest, and there are excerpts of a mom telling stories to her child: “Don’t you already know this story, you silly child?”
And there’s the witch who sits in the forest, and it’s big and it’s scary. It has wings and it will come fly and it will eat you up. And it will do all these terrible things if we don’t…
A: [chuckles] The wild creature in the wild place.
B: And if we don’t sacrifice one of our babies to it every single year…
A: [whispers] God.
B: It’s brutal. So that’s the story that the town is telling itself. And the story that’s actually happening is very, very different. The witch who lives in the forest has told herself a story that this terrible town leaves a baby unattended in the forest every year, and “I have to be the one to take care of it.”
A: Which is kind of true. I mean, they do leave a baby under the forest every year. They just leave it there, and basically that’s their way of…they use the lives of babies to manipulate people into obedience.
I’m just going to leave that right there. [laugh] I’m just going to leave it.
B: So there’s a lot of layers happening back there with old, old stories of old, old magic were..
A: And misunderstandings…
B: …misunderstandings, and it’s kind of driven by an actual evil witch [not the one who cares for the babies] who feeds off of their sorrow. And this is the best way to feed herself, is with the sorrow of this entire village that is not challenging the system because they’re afraid. They think that to protect themselves, and all of their children, that this one unfortunate thing has to happen.
A: And that’s just the way it is.
The many guides of Luna
B: It’s just the way it is. It’s the way it’s always been. So every year our [good] witch in the forest, who is actually quite nice and feels quite responsible to take care of the babies that belonged to this horrible village… She picks up the babies and feeds them starlight because every witch knows that the best food for babies is starlight.
Then takes them across the woods and gives them to a village who loves them, and they grow up very happy and they become the star children. But one year, instead of feeding the baby starlight, the baby drinks the moon and drinks far too much moonlight and becomes something different than just a star child.
So Luna becomes the focus of the book, and [Xan, the witch]is raising Luna, and saying “how are we going to get Luna to grow up?” Because drinking the moonlight basically makes [Luna] potentially a witch someday, so they have to wait and see if her magic is going to come out.
Um, but also Luna had a mother who wasn’t okay with just going along with the system. And that’s not to say that all mothers weren’t sad [about giving babies to the witch], but this mother was particularly broken.
A: Completely. And they locked her up. I think, like, she kicked against the system so much that they literally put her away until she kind of dissociated with reality, but her mother had her own form of magic, didn’t she?
B: So because of her sorrow was so great, she became a really excellent source of food for the actual evil witch [who was part of the corrupt system in the town]. [The evil witch] was feeding off [Luna’s birth mother’s] sorrow.
So they kept [Luna’s mother] and as she became so wrapped up in herself and finding her daughter and her sorrow, um, she became in touch with a magic that she didn’t know that she had.
Right. So, um, there’re so many layers of misunderstanding that happened as all of the characters start to interact with each other. We have an Antain, which is one of our only male characters in the book.
A: …who witnessed Luna being left behind [as a baby] and he was basically in line to become like a next one of the next male leaders. But he actually spoke up against leaving Luna. He questioned, he was like, “why would you leave a baby here? But is it going to die? Why would we do that?” And his father was so ashamed of him for asking these questions that basically [Antain] lost his big chance to have authority, right? He was kind of shunned a little within his own community for causing disruption and for asking the questions that were humiliating for other people to grapple with, because it’s basically like asking people, “well, why are you heartless bastards?” People don’t like being asked those questions as it turns out, and Antain kind of paid the price for that.
B: He did. And so he has a run-in with Luna’s mother. He recognizes her and remembers her from that time, and sees some of her magic and starts to question the system even more. He knew that it was wrong, but now it’s wrong and fishy.
A: Something’s rotten in Denmark.
B: All the while…Then everybody grows up, right? So Luna is growing up and Antain’s. Now an adult’ he winds up getting to married the girl of his dreams because she’s a beautiful soul.
A: She’s got a lot of moxie.
B: She’s got a lot of moxie, and she really values him, not in spite of him being an outcast now but because of it, because she’s a truth-teller. And a go-getter.
A: Yeah, she is.
B: She doesn’t have the actual magic in the lore of the book, but she’s got some magic in
A: She has the ability…like, there are some people who, even though they have absolutely no official authority, they have inner, internal authority and they wield that shit like a claymore.
And people jump when they say to jump because they sense that innate sense of authority, you know, and I love this about her. She’s one of my favorite characters.
B: She’s fantastic, and so we’ll get back to them because the story gives everybody of an equal growth track, and you can see them all, and at the end they all come together into this massive climax and resolution because they all have [something] to contribute.
The Too-Good Mother
But meanwhile, Luna’s growing up, and Luna’s magic comes to her when she’s very young.
And I know… when your child starts to gain that sense of independence, especially if they’re very different from you and it looks very different from what’s familiar to you, that’s terrifying. Right?
And the good witch in the forest who had taken her has realized “I can’t just pass her along [to the next village] because she might have magic” was raising her. And she [Xan] was more of our “Granny Weatherwax”, bossy-pants, get everything done, have to take care of everybody, always busy, always moving, always doing everything [type of person]. And now she has this little five-year-old girl.
A: It’s a lot of imposed responsibility. Like [Xan] has this deep sense of self-imposed responsibility, and she’s very convinced that there’s ONE way to do things, and there’s one way to do it RIGHT. And if you want it right, get it done yourself. And “maybe we shouldn’t trust anybody else to attempt it because they’re probably going to eff it up.” Yep.
B: So we’re not even going to talk about it to anybody else. Yeah. We’re just going to barrel through and get it done.
A: As a matter of fact, she goes the extra step and kind of performs, like, almost a mind- wipe on Luna. She kind of presses this magical reset button that causes [Luna] not to realize that she’s magical.
B: So Luna. Yeah, she shows up… If you can imagine a four-year-old who can do magic. without any kind of control… It’s chaos, right? She’s turning things into flowers and making them sprout everywhere she goes. There’s a trail behind Luna of ridiculousness happening because she’s a five-year-old going, “Whoa, Whoa, what? Oh, Yay!!” Everywhere.
Meanwhile, Xan is still trying to run the world. Xan’s very, very busy in her own work, and it’s too much to focus on this whimsical, busy child who needs more emotional attention than Xan is used to giving.
A: [funny voice] Highly inefficient.
B: It’s highly inefficient. So Xan decides the best way to deal with this is to just put it off until the child is more reasonable.
She artificially delays Luna’s magic.
B: She wraps it up into a tight little pearl in a knot in her brain and it’s going to unfold when Luna is 13, but then [Xan] realizes that that means she can’t even say the word ‘magic’. She can’t teach her in that time span because she’s blocked something in Luna that blocks their relationship, right? It puts a veil in between them.
So Xan decides to stuff her own magic as well, and not talk about it and not acknowledge it and not perform it and not be that version of herself.
A: Not around Luna, anyway.
B: Oh, how many times a day do we ask: why did we have so many children? And when that happens, not only is it chaos and is it busy and it’s a disruption to the efficiency that we expected to have in our lives and our ambitions and our need to “Weatherwax” things, control and do the things that we want to do…
It’s a disruption to that, but also they all need something very different. And so I have some children that I relate to really well and can understand what they need, and I can handle that pretty efficiently.
And then others, um, particularly one of my daughters— I don’t understand that child. I don’t know what to do with what is in my hands. She’s also very big energy and everywhere, and I’m like, “oh babe, I can’t…with that…right now.” And the temptation is is to just [say], “Can we just not right now ?”
A: And the problem with doing that—in continuing to delay handling over agency and authority, and “yes, you can take that risk!” and “yes, you can make that mistake!” and “yes, you can take that chance” (and you have to sit back on your hands and wash it all fall apart so that they can learn from it)…
The problem with deferring and delaying that is: the longer you [delay it], the harder it is to let go and let it happen. If you’re not doing it incrementally from a young age and saying, “we’re going to practice…” Um, I don’t know, what’s a skillset… oh! A hard one was impulse control at my house. “We’re going to practice doing this, but we’re going to contain it and give this rules or a box.”
It’s not efficient.
Raising children is an inefficient process, because they have to explore their way through life.
And unfortunately, I think also when we say, “Well, you’re going to do it this way because I said to do it this way” (there’s a time and a place for sure ;I’m not going to negotiate with a three-year-old over bedtime. No, they’re going to go to bed when they need to go to bed because they need to grow and because they’re going to be an absolute monster or the next day if they don’t get enough sleep. Like some things you can’t say, ‘okay, sure. Take the reins of your drive yourself to school.’ You can’t say that, obviously.) But like, if you don’t learn how to let go in increments, you get out of touch with the true nature of your child because you’re used to conforming.
You’re used to cocooning them up and saying, “Well, this is how it is. This is how our family does it.” You lose touch with their true nature. So when they hit 13 or 16 or 18, you’re really not sure who they are when you say, “okay, your turn!” They are so different from you, it scares you.
Turtles, Fuzzy Blankets, and Leading with Our Strengths
Because, okay: I navigate the world through what makes good, sound, logical sense to me.
My oldest daughter has good logic. She has workable logic, and she knows the reasons why she’s doing things, but the criteria with which that she makes decisions (that do not make her miserable and make sense to her life and her way of navigating the world) look very different from mine. And if I hadn’t been giving her space to perform her incredibly, insanely messy brand of quote-unquote magic, um, all throughout this time, I wouldn’t have built rapport with her and I wouldn’t have gotten to know her.
And when I passed the reins over, I would have been completely shell-shocked, you know what I mean? Like, if I waited until she was 16 and then I said, “okay, go navigate the world!” She wouldn’t necessarily know herself very well, but I will be shocked too. It would be very hard for me to sit back and say…
And I would imagine that that’s probably even more true for somebody who’s super efficiency oriented. Because there are a lot of ways that other people navigate the world—for instance, if someone is extremely emotional and they need to navigate their world through, you know, their own personal, emotion-based value system—that’s going to look highly inefficient to you. It’s not going to make sense. They’re going to make choices that make no financial sense to you.
That’s not to say that you can’t provide guidelines and tools. That’s not what I’m saying, but it might be the best investment for them to spend that extra $5 on a super soft, squishy, fluffy blanket that is going to feed them emotionally, because they know themselves and they know that they need that. They’re going to get a lot more bang out of their buck for that than you are, so you have to let them figure out “what is your magic? what makes sense to you?”
Because what works for me is not going to work for them, always. Right, but you don’t know that unless you’re not…kicking the can. You know what I mean? You’re not saying, “well, we’ll deal with that later. I’ll control you until, you know, I don’t control you anymore.” And then letting it go hurts. It hurts so much because you have this…
I think sometimes, we do the people who lead with high emotional intelligence a disfavor by assuming that because they seem to be soft to us or they seem to wear their emotions on their sleeves or they seem to have a lot of compassion or maybe they seem inefficient or illogical, we might have a tendency to see them as squishy little jellyfish running through the world and “they’ve got no bones about ‘em” and “God, the world’s going to rip them to shreds.” Right?
But if you think about it—like I think during the last podcast we likened introverted truth-tellers to being um, like…
B: Little turtles or Daleks.
A: Turtles with a hard shell on the outside, or like little crustaceans. You literally have a crop tattoo to have a crap. You literally have a crab tattoo.
B: I do have a crab tattoo, and he’s so happy and hopeful because he’s got that nice shell!
A: Exactly. He’s got that nice tank of a shell.
And I think that sometimes people who are really efficiency oriented have the same kind of thing. They have this outward tough-mindedness that is like: “It is through structure and taking control that we’re going to protect ourselves from the harsh things of the world, and if you don’t do this and you don’t let me cocoon you this way, then how are you going to be protected? The world’s gonna eat you alive!”
And what we forget is that some people who look soft on the outside can have a very sturdy skeleton on the inside, right? They wear their feelings on the outside, but they are tough as freaking nails, and they can actually take a pounding in areas that we can’t. I’m not saying they should literally take a pounding, but you know what I’m saying. Yeah. Right. Like we forget that that is actually their strength that they’re leading with.
B: Right. And so when Luna actually does turn 13, Xan is actually caught up and not with her. She’s stuck and can’t get to her. So with Luna, the thing that Xan was most worried about —the thing that Zan put up a barrier between the two of them and stuffed her own personality, which I want to come back to you, that fear that she was trying to avoid—still happened anyway!
A: Yep. Cause you can’t control things! You can’t hold back time.
B: And Luna does fine. Like there are hiccups and there are problems that she figures it out.
A: She figures it out in her zany, clever, kind of offbeat way…
The Perils of Bubbling Your Magic
B: That Xan probably would have held back and, and told her “no, this is how you have to do it.” And um, so the things that we most fear are often not the things that are actually going to be the problem. And what we tried to do to prevent that becomes the thing that we should have feared. But so the reason that Xan had stuffed [the magic] was not just because it was hard, but it was because, um, she knew (from when she got her magic, and from the way that she felt she would fill up with magic from the earth, and then use it and it would drain and then she would fill back up again)… that when Luna fully comes into her magic, [Xan’s] is going to drain out of her body and it won’t come back.
She won’t be able to keep [her own magic] full anymore. So she knows that after living hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, magic has been sustaining her, and she’s going to die once she gives this over to Luna.
And that is such a beautiful metaphor. Because it’s fiction, and because it’s a fictional universe, everything’s happening earlier. She’s coming of age at 13.
Our kids are into adolescence. Mine are real close. You’ve already tipped over.
A: [laughs] We are well into that.
B: So we see it coming, and we’ve seen it from parents who are peers, and from our parents.
A: I’m so grateful for those people in my life. (Shout out, in case you’re listening: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.)
B: Single out people who have children a few years older than yours and follow them like a hungry little puppy dog. Because you need to know what is coming.
A: [laugh] Yeah, absolutely. Arm yourself with knowledge! And there are books on it too; there are books about what’s coming down the pike, and what you can expect (typically). Because every person is unique obviously, but there are certain neurological phases that our brains have to go through in order to develop. And if your child is not neurotypical, even then still there are biological things that your body goes through. Like you have like periods when you’re more angry, and periods when you’re more [fill in the blank].
So knowing that that’s coming down the pike can help a lot, especially if you’re prone to anxiety at all. I definitely am prone to a little bit of anxiety. Um, knowing what’s coming can help you keep from conflating normal phases with things that you’re afraid are going to happen, right?
B: Yep. And then we have the cautionary and impending tale of all of these parents who’ve gone before us, when their kids leave the house and they’ve been so consumed. They’ve stuffed their own magic. They’ve stopped talking about their own magic. They’ve stopped thinking about it because they’ve been so consumed with taking care of the whole village and taking care of the whole forest and making sure that this person is so protected who is in my care, and then when that person goes to find their own magic all their own (your child is going to discover that whether or not you allow them to, they will find it): they’re gonna leave.
A: They’re gonna leave the forest. They’re going to leave the woods at some point; you can’t control that.
B: They’re going to leave the woods. They don’t want to stay in the woods. And then what’s left? The metaphor here is super clear.
There is a death happens, and I’ve watched it. I’ve seen it happen, where you have to have this refractory period. And honestly, I’ve kind of felt that myself when I first had my children; it was overwhelming. It was physically overwhelming for me as an introvert to have humans on my body 24/7.
A: Yeah!! And in fairness, that’s not necessarily easier for extroverts, because I felt trapped.
B: Because there was no adult interaction…
A: And the funny thing is, I’m the kind of extrovert that’s just outer world oriented. So it was not even necessarily people, but it’s freedom. So anything that impedes my freedom, a k, a sobbing, screaming gremlins who need me 24/7 because they afraid of, I don’t know, like the shadow in the hallway, like that kind of thing—it can feel like a ball and chain.
Even if you love them, even if you choose that. I chose that. I wanted that, and I decided; I signed up for that. Volunteered. But I mean, that’s how it functioned sometimes. And I’m never going to lie about it because I think that does people who are younger a disservice. Like people who are just coming into parenthood, it does them a disservice if they feel like “I’m the only one who feels this way.” You can really hate on yourself really quickly if you feel that it’s not normal.
B: I think it was the internet, like millennial moms got good at being like, “Whoa. What. just. happened?” We had the access to talk to each other 24/7, like up in the middle of the night feeding a kid, going “who is up with me? I’m losing my mind!” And so we were able to have more of a conversation, where when you had less communication [in previous generations] you wouldn’t necessarily want to like grouse about it all the time. There’s a lot of:
“Cherish. Enjoy every moment.”
A: It was a funny little generation where people were compartmentalized; like they still weren’t doing like super close communal living and inter-generational living. So we were compartmentalized for a while, but we also didn’t have a lot of connectivity. Right? [Post edit: which is where we got weird, social shame-wise, with our mothering. We had expectations for status quo, and also didn’t compare notes honestly.] But like in the eighties, my mom was already calling the lady across the street. Like she had a best friend across the street, and they compared notes like all the damn time, because my mom’s an extrovert.
So they were just talk, talk, talk and all the time. But I think you’re right. I think you’re absolutely right. We’re [even] more connected.
B: The more connected we get, the more we’re able to prepare each other.
A: Yeah. And we can be a little bit more honest about. I mean, it’s a little too much information sometimes, but the information is available. There’s not a dearth of it.
B: Yeah. So it’s, it’s intense. And what I found is I looked up one day and I’m like, I haven’t read a book in probably six years.
A: God, yes. I would love to speak on that a little bit too.
B: Do that! Because when I first realized that I could take time for myself, I still did it in obligations. I started, thinking that a job and working from home, and being like, “well I can do this and contribute and that will be fulfilling.” And in some ways, it was because I have a little bit of that entrepreneurial drive, and so it kind of felt like a refreshing thing. But it still wasn’t time for myself, and it still wasn’t time to pursue the things that I loved and the energized me. And one day in particular, I had a little bit of free space and I created a recipe. I just threw stuff together and like, really great food. And I’m like, “You used to do this all the time. I don’t understand why it’s been so long!”
I was so pulled in so many directions. I had no creative energy left.
A: That’s a terrible feeling.
B: Yeah, it’s stuffing your magic!
A: Especially if creativity is like a big part of your personal identity or how you process and understand yourself. You lose yourself, you lose your relationship with yourself.
B: Right. And you kind of wake up one day and don’t know where any of it went. And Xan kind of did that. She had these moments where she’s like, “I know that Sorrow was dangerous, but I can’t remember why”, because all these other stories and obligations became so much bigger than the actual thing that was part of her own history. She completely had forgotten her own history.
A: And sorrow in this story, just like in case you haven’t read it, is the antagonist and she’s so awful. Yeah, but [Xan] had literally forgotten the greatest danger in her life. So she lost the plot. She actually lost the plot.
B: And Xan literally had lived hundreds of years, but it feels like hundreds of years. It feels like an entire lifetime ago that I did not have children or even that I had small children. Now that they’re bigger and I’m out of that fog, that feels like someone else entirely.
A: I don’t know her. [laugh]
B: It was a shell. It wasn’t the same person.
A: And like a friend of mine likes to say like, ‘sleep deprivation is powerful woo’; it’s true. It can create like a literal, actual fog where you don’t create the strong memories as you normally would. It messes with you.
But also like, yeah, it’s true. Like if you lose yourself, I think it’s hard to even make like super strong emotional memories. Because most of us— like I think they say that the majority of the memories that we remember with any level of accuracy are connected with strong emotions, right? And sleep deprivation is not actually an emotion. [chuckle]
B: Are you sure?
A: It feels like an emotion sometimes…
B: It felt intrusive, like one.
A: Yeah, it does; it kind of has that same octopus-tentacle vibe.
But like, yeah, there are total years of myself that I have a tough time accessing. I have pictures, and I’m glad I took those actually. And have conversations that I remember with friends, and those were just lifelines for me. I had certain friends that I would touch base with on a daily basis and they preserved sanity in a big way.
Recovering Your Own Muchness
But like I had, um… I have four daughters. That’s a lot of kids. No, I did not set out to have four daughters and no, I’m not Quiverfull. But I have four kids. That’s how it worked out. And so, um, I hit this point when I had two small ones at home…and my first was extremely busy. She’s a lot like Luna. It seems like chaos follows her everywhere she goes, at least it did when she was little. She is wonderful. I love her. She’s a great kid. She’s 14 now. She’s so big, and I never thought that would happen, but she is now. But when she was four, and my second born was two, and I was pregnant with a third, like…
…it’s a fog. It was a hard time. So all the way all the way up to when my last was born six and a half years ago, almost seven years ago now, I had stopped reading fiction.
I was still into storytelling. I’ve never gotten away from storytelling because it’s always been a huge part of who I am, in some way, shape, or form. So I had watched a lot of television [while feeding infants] and I never realized that’s what that was feeding inside of me, but it was actually feeding the stories-craving part of me.
So I loved that and I listened to a lot of podcasts but wasn’t reading fiction particularly, and I just didn’t have a creative outlet for myself because if I’m doing external art, my process is so messy and just all over the place. It’s like something barfed [art supplies]. And adding into that a Luna child, and then three other children on top of that, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t roll that way anymore.
It was bringing…it was like chaos. So I kind of doubled down on order, which is not my natural state of being. And I just hunkered down and made things happen. [At the same time, I was actually doing a lot of heavy head work too. I wasn’t doing a lot of creatively, but I was doing a lot of deconstruction of things that I had learned in childhood, and the paradigm that I was brought up in.] So deconstructing that was difficult too, because I did that thing of… you know when you’re knitting something… I don’t knit because I don’t have the patience for it… but like when you knit and you’ve gotta a frog something? When you find a stitch that’s missing? I found so many holes. I started examining the fabric of my life. Oh my God. What a mess.
Like none of [my childhood paradigm] made logical sense to me. It, it wasn’t useful. It wasn’t even functional. I was like, “this is not serviceable anymore. I cannot keep on limping along with this crap-ass understanding of the world. I’m going to look in the box.” So I just started deconstructing everything.
And this hit at the same period as postpartum depression. Um, which, by the way, baby blues can come right after birth. But postpartum depression is a sneaky bitch, and she will come and find you nine months later. Yeah. So that’s what happened. My baby was about nine months old, um, I just broke. I fell into depression, and I had almost like a dissociative episode where I stopped viewing the reality as reality. Like, I’m already going through the world with kind of a slightly off-center point of view, right?
I’ve got a very cross-contextual, creative way of seeing the world, right. I felt like I was on LSD all the time, I thought the trees were going to eat me, I thought my baby was animated mud, like the world stopped making sense to me at all. I just had a break.
Um, and so I started healing from that. (Like my interjection, my disclaimer, as always: please get help. If you think you need help, you probably do need help, post-children especially. Please get help. Like you’re not. No one gets any badges for limping through into the hard way.
B: And you’re definitely not the first person to go through something difficult like that.
A: No, absolutely not. So many people go through this. Like, this is a common issue, right? It’s common.
So the thing that started healing me is this: I have this friend… this is getting to be a very long story. (Sorry, you guys are getting personal stories today.)
Um, so I have this friend who runs a pottery studio, and my older girls were interested in taking pottery lessons, and he was like, “Hey, you look really tired. I have a couch in that room back there. Let your little ones play with the toys that are in there.” And just like chill.
And I said okay. And at that point, I was super numb. Like I was just, I wasn’t interested in anything and you know me. That’s not me. Like if I’m not passionately ranting about something that I’m super enthused about, like there’s something wrong. And at that point, I wasn’t even like squeaking out two sentences about anything. Right? So it was just laying in his pottery studio and I had totally lost myself. I lost my connection with my magic. I lost my connection with who I was like I had, I had lost my moorings completely.
I didn’t have a north star at all, so I was just laying… I was laying on the couch and I was listening to… there are people who work there, people like his little brother works there, and [I was] just listening to the people and noises.
And it was soothing to, me just listening to the people noises around me. So we did that for a couple of weeks and that’s literally the only time I left the house. Once a week, I went to the potty pottery studio and I laid on the couch. I listened to people.
B: Slow unfolding of magic.
A: Right! So the next thing that happened was in that same room was a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. And they were a home schooling family, and I don’t know if you know any home school families, but they have just like a godless, disorganized jumble of books most of the time.
Like that’s just how it is. Like if children ran the libraries, that’s what the bookshelves would look like.
So anyway, I went over and just started looking through it and I remembered that I liked to read. And I thought, “I’m a girl who likes to read, I forgot this about myself. I’m the sort of person who likes to read.” So I started reading (I’m gonna cry). I started reading, and then one day on the way home as I was trying to not think about the trees eating me, (um, because obviously they’re competing for space on the planet with me, so that makes them carnivores; I mean to postpartum-logic-brain, that’s what was happening.) And I’m not seeing that a “woman problem” that made me a logical; I’m saying literal chemicals were misfiring in my head, right?
So I’m driving home, and I had this funny vision of this: “what would a tree look like if it was running alongside my car, trying to get my attention?” And I just had this funny vision of like, a tree running on its roots, which is kind of silly, but it was kind of like…
B: It was a reframe.
A: It was the sound that a car engine makes when it’s trying to start. It was really trying to fire.
My brain was like, “Hey, I’m still here.”
And so I got like just furiously obsessed with this story in my head, obsessed completely. And somebody reached out to me because they knew I had mentioned in passing that I was kinda sorta on the down-low writing a story. Um, and they invited me to join a writer’s group. So I started writing short stories, and they were okay. They weren’t great, but they were okay.
So I kept writing short stories and getting into it, and then I started making the story that was about. And then I started drawing illustrations, and I started… and then it just kind of all spiraled outward. I was like, “I’m going to make a font, I’m going to make a language!!” And then, I was like, “Oh, I’m a madcap!! That’s who I am!”
I forgot who I was, but I’m the sort of person who, you know, like you said earlier, “ready, fire, aim.” That’s me. That’s how I moved through the world. And I kind of found that again. I was like, “oh, I might be okay.” So like three books later, I actually found a literary agent, which was super exciting to me. And this is a life path that I’m super passionate about, but it took me getting to the point where I didn’t want to be alive anymore before I realized that I had like… I had died inside. Yeah. So anyway, that’s my long-winded personal story.
B: It’s incredibly important. And I mean, do you feel like you’re the same? You rediscovered yourself; do you feel like you’re the same person that you were before all of that?
A: I feel more like the self that I was when I was very young than the self that I was in between. Does that make sense? Like I’m proud of that woman in-between. I’m proud of the woman who did the research. I’m proud of the woman who decided to change some family patterns. I worked hard. Like I leaned in on my logic really hard, and I asked the hard questions, and I earned some shit, right? Yeah. But I wasn’t attending to my own joyful experience of life. Right?
I wasn’t attending to my own pleasure, and I wasn’t attending to my own passion. Everything that I was doing and everything I was leaning in on was for the sake of someone else. It wasn’t me showing up in the world saying, “wow, I’m glad to be here.”
B: So I want to talk about that, and keeping that same vein of that story and your background. Because as we talked about this book and got excited about it when we read it, we were thinking of all of the different types of mothers in the book.
Yeah, as separate mothers. So Xan was the busy, bossy-pants, take charge, get it done [mother].
The Truth-Teller Who Speaks Up
We see Athene later which was, um, Antain’s dream girl who became this amazing woman was the truth-teller. She was speaking truth to power and getting stuff done, and she didn’t want to always have that energy. I love that she has her baby in a wrap. She didn’t always want to have the energy, but she strapped her baby on her and got done what needed to get done. Um, and that’s a different kind of mother.
A: She couldn’t find it in herself to stand by and watch injustice, right. She couldn’t find it in herself to do it, so she wasn’t having it.
B: She had to do it.
Xan almost a restraints herself and holds back and does what she needs to do because she’s trying to be the good mom, and then being the too-good mom.
The Shattered Parent Who Shows Up
And then we have a Luna’s [birth] mother who was very, very broken. (And we thought of them all as separate moms, but it’s almost different stages of motherhood that you go through.) And so Luna’s actual mom, um, is, doesn’t have enough of her mind there to be able to be a whole and complete person.
A: And she was abused by other people. Like she was abused to the point that she reached her mental breaking point.
B: She reached her mental breaking point, and all she had to do was show up and be there for her daughter.
A: And she did.
B: And she did. And it wasn’t like the other stories where we’re told: then Luna was expected to save the mom. That didn’t happen.
It’s stages of motherhood, right? Like there are times where we’re stuffing our magic because we have to get stuff done and we’re making decisions that maybe we shouldn’t make or maybe we should make, but it just has to happen.
A: You can’t let the baby starve in the forest.
B: And there are times where we put it on ourselves to be the too-good mom when we don’t have to be.
And then there’s times when we’re the broken mom, and your mind has hit the breaking point and all you have to do is show up and be there. You don’t have to do anything else, and you can get help.
You need to find the Xan in your community that can hold you while you’re just there, and the Athene, and the whole community, at the end of the book. Everyone convenes in the forest with their own idea of what needs to happen, but then also is just present in what’s actually happening, and listening. And they’re really aware, and they have to kind of set their own expectations aside a little bit and see what Luna actually needs.
A: Absolutely. And give her the space to be Luna, because guess what? She’s joining the circle, right? Like, she has to have her own space to be her own self, to contribute what she has to bring. Because you can’t force her to be your ideal version of her, and what a disservice would that be to the world if we made her a clone of ourselves?
B: It’s easy, for us who feel like we identify with the truth-teller children and the explorer children, to say “feeler moms, sensitive moms, like here’s what you can do better”, but to really look at it in the opposite angle and go, “okay, our inclinations are to be a little bit more efficient than maybe our kids need” and “our inclinations are to feel like we need to be a “better mom” than we are, and to feel like we’re too broken to show up sometimes.
And um, that’s not what our children need. Especially if they’re not quite like us.They just need us to be there for them. So I really love that you went into that story because it reframed it for me. I know that you kind of got to go through (and I think all of us do, but your telling of it is really clear) but you went through all of those stages. And I know the “Good Mom” is still tempting, especially when we see her as Weatherwax and idealize her.
A: Because the world awards us for being her.
B: It’s okay to just show up though.
A: It’s okay to show up, and it’s okay to sit back and watch somebody else find their own best way of doing something. I don’t know, do I want to get into the visual for literally putting on the other person’s shoes? [Luna, at one point, borrows a pair of magic shoes]
B: I mean there’s so many. There’s the visual of putting on the shoes. I was just thinking of that sensory experience of both Luna and her mother keep hearing “she’s here, she is here.” They can see where each other are, and they don’t know what it means, but they know that there’s a connection there that they’re missing. There’s just…
Room for Everyone’s Magic
A: It’s a lot. It’s a good book. You should read it. [laugh] Even if you haven’t read it yet [and we’ve spoiled it to hell], there’s so many layers we couldn’t possibly get to.
B: The more we talk about it, the more we unpack it and see it from different angles because [Kelly Barnhill] just did a really good job of incorporating all of those really careful visualizations. Yeah, it’s beautiful. And there’s a dragon if you need them.
Yeah, there’s a dragon, if you need more.
A: There’s this wonderful, adorable protective swamp monster that makes you want to at least go out and purchase a Saint Bernard that will slobber and watch over your child. I mean, it’s good. It’s good.
B: It’s fantastic. So wherever you are, I feel like this hopefully could have spoken to you in whatever stage of motherhood you’re in. There are so many of them, and it changes, and as long as you can find a way to come back to your own magic, that’s what’s going to help you ultimately connect with your daughter.
A: And honor hers and make space for hers.
B: Yeah. Make space for her, make space for yourself.
A: Like, I’ll pop this in. I know we’re winding down, but..
I think sometimes we think we’re going to make our daughter be shaped like this, so that the world can’t hurt her. And I mean, number one, that’s a fool’s errand because when has that ever worked, right?
Number two, how much more effective is it to get people on board with seeing your daughter’s own brand of magic and how amazing it is? You know what I mean? Instead of being like, “you [daughter] need to change so the world can’t hurt you”, what you need to say is: “Oh my God, look at this badass. I love her. She’s not like me, but how awesome is she? She’s rocking it out.”
Sometimes respect is contagious.
And if you respect your daughter and you teach her that respect is the baseline requirement for relationship with her, she will expect that from other people as well, and she will honor her own magic. Yeah, and I think that really if we’re going for protection, that’s the best way to go about it.
B: Yeah. Instill in her that confidence in herself. Because we can be really strong, and we can be really strong-minded, we can be really emotionally strong…without being confident in who we are as a person.
There’s still so much questioning that can happen and stuffing [your magic] is never the answer—hiding it, trying to blend in, trying to live in the forest—none of that is ever actually going to work.
B: So good. So much good stuff. We’re gonna decompress from this for a while. [laughter]
And we definitely want to hear from you, especially if you are that truth-teller/explorer/bossy-pants mom or parent. We would love to hear from you. We kind of feel like we’ve done a lot of parenting of ourselves in thinking through these topics so deeply, and we’d love to hear from you and your take on it as internal thinking/external thinking type parents.
A: And thank you so much for listening.