Call Me Mama
By Loba

“Mama,” little Rhiannon said, looking up at me lovingly… a simple word that a part of me had long wanted to hear. I had always wondered if I would become a mother. I felt drawn to all the little ones I saw, and loved to play with them more than hanging out with other adults. Then I found myself imagining what a mix of my man’s and my traits might be like, maybe a child with his Viking strength and my pigeon toes, one with his intense awareness but still as silly sweet as me. Yet for many reasons I continued to avoid getting pregnant.

During my crazy early years I didn’t have a dependable relationship, and once I finally did I was at the point of realizing how much I needed the focused time to mother myself. I couldn’t possibly have given as well to a daughter then, when I hadn’t done the work of understanding, accepting, nurturing and growing my long neglected being.

On top of it all, it weighed on me knowing that an endless population growth was fueling most disastrous environmental tragedies, government oppression and war, and that our offspring would be part of that regardless of how much we might want to think of them as exceptions. Not to mention my worry over what kind of scary society and world a child would be facing in the future!

“Pick me up, Mama!” Rhiannon implored, not long after our Animà Co-director Kiva approved her daughter calling me “Mama Loba.” Kiva’s commitment to our good work and special home made it possible for me to give my heart completely to the then four-year-old girl, without the terror of imagining her later being taken away. Rhiannon loved having the extra love and attention from the very start, and would have liked being raised by an entire village of mamas, if instead of running a wilderness women’s center, we were a primitive tribe. Actually, if you ask Rhiannon, she’ll tell you she has four mamas: Kiva and myself, Tabitha Twitchett (her pretend mother when she’s playing with all her Beatrix Potter-inspired pretend friends)… and Mother Earth!

It has been nearly four years now since I first accepted the role, and gave wholly my heart. Every day of that, from the beginning, has been filled with joy for both of us! If I am baking something she’s interested in, she asks me to wake her up before it’s fully light out for the privilege of helping squish down the huge bowl full of dough and shaping into bagels. What pleasure and satisfaction I get teaching her how to do things, and tend things. And the more we do together, the happier she is.

It is so fun washing dishes with my little apron-wearing helper sitting on the floor pre-scrubbing the dirty pots for me, telling me the latest news in her huge world of imaginary friends. She loves to give baths to all the little old-fashioned toys and trinkets we have around the house, watering plants with the water from the bathtub, and harvesting wild mustard and dock with me for our Canyon-grown salads.

Of course there are plenty of challenges even on the best days. I love being playful with her so much that I think she often views me as more of an equal than an adult, and it can be hard for both of us whenever it is necessary to insist on any limits and boundaries. Plus I have found that I have a hard time not acting frustrated whenever I run out of patience.

I work to figure out what we want to teach her about life, way beyond the necessary schoolwork. I am learning that every moment is a chance to be the best role model I can be. I see how much she appreciates it when I recover quickly from some disappointment or mistake, when I maintain a sense of humor and don’t take things too seriously. And I know it’s important to show her there are some things that are serious, and demand our focus, attention, and respect.

Part of the work has been forgiving myself for any ignorance or slip-ups. I try to keep in mind that I don’t have to be everything she needs in a parent all by myself. That is one of the benefits of co-parenting, and a reason for raising a child in a more tribal way — supporting each other in being the unique gift we are to the child, and to help make opportunities for each parent or role model to give their special gifts.

The results of expecting a lot from her, and from ourselves as parents and teachers, have been truly impressive! At six years old, she can read at a third-grade level, writes long stories, letters and poetry, types on the computer, harvests many native plants for medicinal and culinary purposes. She can build and tend a fire, do embroidery and other simple sewing, notices many things that need tending to on her own, can help find lost things, run errands quickly, can wade through a river up to her waist, carry a backpack with about one fourth of her weight in it, and can show remarkable sensitivity and respect for people’s space and processes.

Rhiannon’s enthusiasm, playfulness and huge heart full of love are extended to every person that makes the long journey here. All year long she receives cards and gifts from past students and guests, describing how affected they were by her joyful, generous presence, and what a blessing it was for them to see a little girl with this much love of life, growing up in a place that nourishes her and gives her so many real challenges and lessons. Her bravery and willingness to engage deeply with her home helps many to see their own potential, and inspires them to do the same.

I had commented to a  recent guest how great it was to see her walking around without shoes, and she replied, “I saw Rhiannon coming down that cliff in her bare feet, and I thought, if that little girl can do it, so can I!” And yet as sociable as she can be, she counsels guests about the value and fun of solitude. Every other day, from the time she was four, she’s gone about a half mile downriver by herself for her “alone time,” which she spends singing to the clouds, dancing with the fairies, speaking to the river, and in turn hearing what the river has to say. Knowing that many of the women who come here to the Animà Center are in need of solitude, Rhiannon has learned to sense or ask us about when distractions are inappropriate, and to respect space and process.

The day will come when Rhiannon will leave to explore the world beyond the canyon, and already talks about how much she is interested in traveling and meeting all kinds of  people. She is not even sure if she really wants to be a medicine woman, or if she would rather be a princess and go to a lot of parties, or if she can somehow do both. Regardless, it is for us to empower her to have her own mind and follow her heart, wherever they take her.

I will one day taste the sadness of her leaving, not even knowing for sure if she will choose to remain close to either her own nature or the natural world. Yet every day as I watch her amazing dancing, whether skipping through the forest, the riverbanks, and across the woodpile, I know that every place in the canyon is forever blessed and changed by her shining, swirling, whirling, loving presence.

I will likely never know the feeling of a developing child kicking in my uterus, the pain of stretching and tearing, or what it is like to be dosed with satisfying hormones of pregnancy. And unlike Kiva, I didn’t have to suffer abuse from Rhiannon’s biological father or deal with three years of raising a baby alone on the streets. And yet with every passing year of tending her, feeding her, playing with her, soothing her or crying with her, answering her questions and running with her and her imaginary friends on the river sand, she feels more and more of me… not of my womb, but my heart.

I would have a very hard time being a mother without Kiva’s help, and probably wouldn’t have tried it. But I own the title now, even if I don’t have stretch marks. I am blessed to be a wife and teacher of Animà, and also “Mama Loba,” a gift to a child, while letting the child be a gift to me… honored and grateful for the magical opportunity to be the best mother I can be!

Loba is a purveyor of sacrament and delight, and columnist for SageWoman magazine. She and her partners tend an enchanted wilderness sanctuary and ancient place of power, where they offer counsel and correspondence courses, as well as hosting wilderness retreats, quests, resident internships and the annual Wild Women’s Gathering each Spring: The Animà Retreat Center & Women’s Sanctuary, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830

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