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Wednesday, December 28

Why You Should Embrace People with Disabilities

Before I talk about disabilities, I have a little story to tell you.

-  -  -
I have a friend whom I love to hang out with.  She is a wonderfully witchy person and always has treats and gifts for people.  She is a giving soul.  But I can only visit with her if we can do so outside of her home.  She is up for any kind of adventure whether it be camping, flea marketing, festivals, antiquing... anything.  She is a good sport about the whims of Mama Stacey.  Yet, I find myself dodging all invitations to eat dinner with her, watch a movie with her, or even letting her babysit Doodle Bug.

MY DEAR FRIEND, WILLO, IN HER HANDMADE CLOAK.
You probably all have that friend, too.  Maybe they have a cat that poops everywhere.  Maybe they have a hoarding issue.  Maybe there is no where to sit.

For me, the issues with my friend's home are cigarettes and television.  She is a ridiculously heavy smoker, like two-packs-a-day.  She's older and lives alone, so to combat loneliness, she leaves the television on all day long.  Her hearing is going, so it's pretty loud too.  I was at her place once, returning a dish I'd borrowed, and her television show went to commercial.  As sometimes happens, the volume of the commercial jumped much louder than the show.  It sounded like THUNDER had cracked 3 feet away from me. I jumped and gave a yelp!  She noticed no difference and insisted I was just being silly. 

I have a saying now.  "Thunder in the house."

Whenever you're in someone's presence and are shocked by something seemingly normal for them, you are in the presence of thunder.

Boxers in the living room?  THUNDER.

Kids standing on the coffee table?  THUNDER

Beer at a 3yo's birthday party?  THUNDER

We all have our norms and our I-would-nevers.

-  -  -

My son, Doodle Bug, is a special needs child.  He has moderate mental retardation (or what they are now calling "intellectual disability") and is on the Autism spectrum, along with a handful of other delays and disorders that make functioning in this world difficult.  But I don't mention this for pity; I mention this because of the "thunder" I can no longer hear.

ROLLING ON THE FLOOR OF OUR UU CHURCH WITH ANOTHER SPECIAL NEEDS BOY.
Doodle Bug is in orange.  The other child is in a Grim Reaper
halloween costume that he refused to ever take off.

His arms raised up in the air while he spins in the check-out line?  NORMAL.  Sure, I've lost count of the number of times I've said, "Put your arms down, please," but I don't hear THUNDER.  I hear my son trying to contain his anxiety.

Having to hunt him down for dinner instead of simply calling his name out the back door?  NORMAL.  Other parents can boast about how obediently their children come running, but I don't hear THUNDER.  I hear my son's hearing loss and auditory processing disorder.

Having to clean up a 9yo's bathroom accident?  NORMAL.  I hear people grumbling about how they'd "beat that right out" of their own child, but I don't hear THUNDER.  I hear my son's physical delays.

RIDING A THERAPEUTIC HORSE AT AGE 3

THUNDER lessens when it is normalized.  Now, I would never encourage you to increase your exposure to cigarette smoke to ease your discomfort, however, when it comes to special needs individuals, I am entirely telling you to get out there and learn more.  I would love to live in a world where no one could hear the thunder of differently-abled people.

If Doodle Bug had been born in my grandmother's era, he would have been put in a state facility to live out his days in isolation.  If he had been born in my mother's era, he would have likely been kept at home so he could interact with family, but would have been isolated just the same.

Today, children like Doodle Bug are armed with masses of community outreach programs, therapeutic staff, special classes, and facilities that allow them to work and socialize.  They are encouraged to be out in world, quirks and all.

The one place, however, where people with disabilities are not always included is within the Pagan community.  Rituals rarely take the needs of those with special needs into account.  Pagans with mobility issues struggle at campgrounds, parks, and other gathering sites.  Asthma, vision and auditory problems, anxiety issues, and other needs are almost never taken into consideration during rituals

Interacting with people who have special needs and disabilities is going to be a reality of your child's life.  I feel that parents should be encouraging play dates, classroom friendships, and conversations now.  Allow your children to normalize the needs of people different from themselves.  Look for your local Special Olympics organization and attend an event.  Sit next to the stimming child at the library, instead of the other side of the room.

Inclusion and facts are your friends.  The article, "How to Talk to Your Child About Disabilities", is a fantastic jumping off point.  If you would like a book to read with your child, here is a terrific list: "Explaining Special Needs to Your Child: 15 Great Books".

Within the Pagan community, persons with disabilities are not always taken into consideration.  Gathering sites are not always accessible for Pagans with disabilities.  Rituals are rarely written to take

Tuesday, December 27

Calling on the Bear in Winter

After the tree is taken down and the cheery twinkle lights are removed from the landscaping... when it is no longer appropriate to play holiday music and bake cookies... that is when the gloom of winter takes hold in Mama Stacey.  Winter can be harsh and it is a struggle to find something good in it. It's easy to associate it with horrid driving conditions, a lack of fresh produce, a need for layers and layers of clothing, hiked up utility bills, dry skin and being sunlight deprived.

Pagans make use of prayer to deities and spirits when times are tough, like a person of any other faith.  Deep in winter, when my spirit is weak, I call upon the Bear.  


THE POLAR BEAR KING
[Theodor Kittelsen]

These gorgeous creatures align themselves with the wisdom of Father Winter by not simply surviving the dark half of the year, but harnessing it. Winter is a great guru in that it forces us to live in darkness for a time. Darkness, solitude, downtime . . . we need these things in our lives just as much as we need activity and stimulation.

One winter, soon after my divorce and a move into a horrid rental house, I sat up all night and looked through photos. I called a girlfriend and had a cry and ultimately made a list of things in my life that needed attention. I was honest with myself about the mistakes I'd made, the things in my life that were not good for me and what I needed to improve.  My friend asked why I hadn't done this immediately after my divorce. I didn't know, but thought on that for a few days.  Ultimately, I believe it was because my divorce was in the early spring and spring/summer/fall are very active times. I kept myself busy... I kept myself distracted.

Winter took away all distraction.  It forced me to face myself and deal with some turmoils. I was glad that the snow had cleared my social calendar and that early sunsets gave me opportunity to curl up with my 2 year old son and nurse my wounds in a cozy space. I had a home business fail on me at this time as well and I'm glad that I could deal with that in privacy. Winter was my blanket to hide under, to cuddle with, and to cry into.

I LET THE SPIRIT OF THE BEAR GUIDE ME.
[Sketch by Cory Godbey]
I had found a purpose for the darkness in my life and I understood it's place. It is a time for healing, for working through pain and for completing private or personal projects.  That doesn't mean that depression doesn't come.  Pain is pain.

So, if the new year is dawning yet you cannot summon your joy, know that there may be a reason.  Take a few tips from the Great Bear:

Make a Den - Extra pillows on your bed.  Transform the sofa into a reading nook.  Build a blanket fort, complete with lights strung inside.  However you do it, make it comfortable and all yours. 

Rest - It is not insane to sleep when you are tired.  If you can't commit to sleep, you can certainly unplug and put your feet up for a bit.  I highly recommend reading.  It is crazy easy to get a library card.  

Slow Down - Maybe you don't have to run every errand today.  Maybe scale back this week's cleaning schedule.  Maybe bring a frozen lasagna instead of that over-the-top homemade thing to the potluck.  Say NO.  Anyone who expects you to leave your house after 6pm is crazy... the sun goes down at 4:30pm anyway.

Eat Lighter - Smaller plates, lighter foods.  How about a smoothie for lunch?  Fresh blueberries and walnuts for a snack.  A balsamic salad for dinner.  Six small meals instead of three heavy ones.  It's better for your metabolism and your waistline.  

Cuddle Your Children - Curl up.  Share some cocoa and a book.  They feel winter too.

SNUGGLE THOSE LITTLE BEARS.
[Marina Cano]

Bears in Winter


We can learn a lot from animals about the cycles of nature and the rhythms of the Earth. In North America, black bears are hibernating this time of year. These massive, gorgeous creatures are conserving their energy and waiting until the Earth is warm and fruitful again. Some female black bears will deliver cubs while in hibernation, taking their place in the archetype of the Dark Mother.

GODDESS ARTIO SLEEPING WITH BEAR
[Oil painting by Alexandra Nereïev]

For children, the concept of bears as nurturers seems to come naturally. When it comes to favorite stuffed animals, the bear ranks number one in most American homes . . . even in Mama Stacey's house.

Now, I'm not one for plush toys. Their ubiquitous nature makes me a bit leery. To me, they're filler gifts and a waste of money. Children amass these things at holidays, from toy drives, from vending machines and arcades, from outlet shops and thrift stores only for them to sit in the bottom of a toy box or take up space on a bed. The eyes and attachments on some pose choking hazards for small children and a high number of them on a child's bed is disruptful at bedtime. Most come from factories in third-world countries where labor laws can be if-y and are made from questionable materials. They are easily dirtied and yet difficult to clean. I didn't like them as a child and I made very certain that my friends and family knew that I did not want them as gifts for my son. That is probably why my son, Doodle Bug, has never been a plush kid. He never had 'lovies' or 'stuffies' or anything of that kind until he was about 7 years old.

SNUGGLING WITH A BEAR DOESN'T LOOK SO BAD.
[Illustration by Marc Simont]

One day we were killing time in a store and he was awestruck by a tiny little teddy bear sitting on a shelf. It was nothing special; shaggy fur, thinly stuffed, no accessories or brand names.

I was touched by how gently he picked him up and cradled him in his arms.  I caved and let him purchase the tiny doll. He promptly named the bear 'Mojo' and had already begun whispering secrets into it's ear before we even left the store. Two years later and Mojo has survived camping trips, washing machines, a near decapitation (thank goodness Grandma is a sewing genius!), two moves and a stay at the hospital.

I have accepted that there are exceptions to my own "stuffed animals are useless junk" rule.

DOODLE BUG AND MOJO CHILLING ON A HOTEL SOFA.


Winter is hard for Mama Stacey.  Seasonal depression is a reality that I struggle to survive until the end of February.  This week my son and I will be taking a look at bears and what they can teach us about winter, nurturing ourselves, and resting.

Sunday, December 25

Leaving Christmas Behind

I have been a Pagan for about 20 years, but only in these last 6 years has the importance of the Wheel of the Year hit me. I used to pop around to area groups for sabbat rites and holiday potlucks, but would tend to return home and go with the flow of my Catholic family.

Yes indeed... I was a Pagan celebrating Christian holy days. 
 
I WAS A PAGAN CELEBRATING THE BIRTH IN A MANGER STORY. 
[Madonna and Child by Sassoferrato]

I didn't go so far as to attend regular church services, but I did sing along with "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and bowed my head in prayer at Easter.  I tried to look at it as still male and female energies and told myself that deep down I could change the meanings of the words in my heart... so I was still Pagan, right?  About a decade into this, I understood how ridiculous that sounded, however I would just shrug it off as 'celebrating with my family'.

With the birth of my son, I had a new family: one born into Paganism.

I NEEDED TO SHIFT MY HOLIDAY FOCUS TO THE BIRTH OF THE SUN GOD.
[Original painting by Briar via Eastgate Resources]

For the first few years, the sabbats would creep up on me and I'd forget to do anything.   Christian holidays were hardwired in my mind. When my son began preschool at age 3, I decided to change things up. I put together a basket of goodies and sweets for him on Ostara morning and lit the candles on the Yule log at Solstice... but with only my son and I the holidays felt empty. Also, I had very little experience putting together festivities for all the new holidays like Lammas and Imbolc. It didn't help that when Christian holidays came around, I was stuck with this awkward vacuous feeling of jealousy, like I was being left out of all the fun.

My mother noticed my quandary and I am blessed that she has been not only tolerant of my defection from Catholicism to Paganism, but highly supportive. She had two perspectives:

  1. She felt left out, too.  She was unsure how to participate in our new holy days or if she was even welcome.  Also, she didn't know whether to include me and her grandson in her holidays without offending me.
  2. She did not want her grandson to grow up void of celebration (happy days, as she calls them) and joy in faith.
Her first concern is a topic for another blog post, but the second is something I think a lot of Pagan families struggle with. As we discussed things, I decided that what I was missing was actual 'celebration' in my Pagan celebrations. It's all good and fine to "light a candle on my altar and meditate", but truly that is nothing to write home about compared to the glitz and glitter of the holidays that a Catholic grows up with.  Also, being alone at the holidays, Pagan or Christian, is something no one should have to go through.

That year began my trek to create memorable, fun, and joyous sabbats for my child. After Papa J, my fiance, joined our little family, his interest in Pagan faith spurred me to come up with new traditions for us to look forward to as a whole family. The holidays have become exciting again... and not just Ostara or Yule, but Midsummer and Mabon and the rest that don't quite have comparisons in the faith I left behind.

One of the primary goals of the ITHOMS blog is to chronicle our journey as we learn and create our very own family tradition.  I want to inspire other families through the posting of crafts, rituals, teaching moments, recommendations, recipes and other things which will help Pagan families find new, fun ways to explore their faith and celebrate the holy days.


UPDATE 2016:

The Mama Stacey Clan is much larger than it was when I first wrote this.  Papa J and I have since married, had two more children, and taken in a rather large dog.  We have found our niche in the local occult community and regularly take part in a full eight Sabbat rituals and many Full Moon rites every year.  I have become comfortable in my interpretation of the Wheel of the Year and know the energies that I wish to honor at every spoke.  Our traditions are become more cemented as the years go by and as I look back on this particular post, I never could have known in 2011 just how awesome 2016 would be. 

If you decide to take the plunge and leave Christianity behind, or rid yourself of contradictory religious habits in general, I encourage and applaud you.  It has been a healthy and spiritually full-filling transition for us. 

Saturday, December 24

Celebrating the Birth of the Solar Child

This past Sunday, our family hosted a rather delightful Winter Solstice Ball. For years the community events in our area have blended in with traditional Christmas parties: an artificial tree, reds and greens, roasted turkey and stuffing, talk of Santa Claus . . . and in some instances even Christmas carols heralding the birth of baby Jesus.

This year, I was not interested in celebrating Yule as a watered-down Christmas. We decided to have a party based around the rebirth of the sun, complete with decorations of gold and silver, bright white table linens, spicy foods and TONS of glitter. We modeled it quite a bit after the blitz of a Mardi Gras style event.

MASKS FOR OUR YULE REVEL

We encouraged our guests to wear whites and metallic fabrics, body glitter, and "as much bling as you can bring". We ordered masquerade masks and laid out facepaint and glitter for people to make use of as well. People delightfully followed suit as best they could. We had friends in gowns and velvet gloves, children with silver colored paint in their hair, and streams of sequined ribbons tied in their hair.

Our budget was tight, so we decorated with as much handmade stuff as possible. We cut giant sun and star shapes from cardboard and spray-painted them metallic gold. Papa J, my partner, hung them high from the ceiling at the perimeter of our ritual space, outlining our circle. I had found bolts of clearance metallic gold fabric and white cloth at a craft store and dressed the tables. Candles and strings of gold beads littered every surface.

Food was a delightful array of potluck goodies: a mouth-puckering sweet & sour punch, baby tequila cupcakes in cute gold wrappers, vegan seitan in a spicy General Tso sauce and, a baking stone with mini sweetrolls shaped like a giant blazing sun, complete with gold sprinkles.


LAYOUT OF ROLLS TO MAKE A SUN SHAPE



The children were looking forward to the prospect of using sparklers in our ritual, but rain worked against us that night. As a matter of fact, most of what was planned for our Solstice ritual went askew and so we ended up turning out the lights, sitting in a circle and putting together an off-the-cuff rite that honored the darkness and the Goddess in her archetype as mother.  We lit a Yule Log and welcomed the newborn Sun.  Doodle Bug jumped for joy and rang golden jingle-bells.

We ended the night with a gift exchange and lots of hugs. It was an incredibly fun evening that sparked my desire to host a large Yule party every year.  Our small community responded well, so we'll see.

GOLD TEQUILA CUPCAKES WITH LIME BUTTERCREAM FROSTING