This is Part 1 of Cat Mulrooney’s guest post series Divining Motherhood. Read the rest here!
It wasn’t what I expected. A full moon night. The ground covered in heavy drifts of old snow. The blue and white bathroom wallpaper of the rental flophouse we sometimes lived in, peeling off in lazy ribbons to puddle on the floor. The test in my left hand – two blue lines in the white window long before five minutes passed.
I was crying so hard I could barely see the stairs I stumbled down. He sat on the threadbare couch some roommate or another had pulled out of the trash. I handed the test to him and bolted out the back door into the snow.
The air cracked with cold and the moonlight spilled across the iced-over snowbanks. A blizzard year. The cold blistered into me – lungs aching with it, tears leaving frozen trails down my cheeks and chin. I watched the moon sail in the dark sky, shivered uncontrollably, and wept. I don’t know how long he let me stand there. But, eventually, he came outside behind me and wrapped himself around my back and held me close.
“Come inside. It’s too cold out here,” he said.
“I can’t,” I told him, “My life is over.”
Two blue lines in the stark white. Two terrified kids in the bleak snow. A winter that refused to relent. A baby, invisible between my hipbones.
In working with tarot cards, this moment is the Fool. The zero point. The beginning. The unknown. The traditional Rider Waite Smith deck depicts the Fool as a youth in fine clothes with a satchel over his back and a white flower in his hand. The sun arcs yellow at his back and a little dog is jumping up beside him. He is confident and radiating light. He is also a footstep away from going over a cliff. Is there a more apt card for the start of anyone’s mothering journey?
Whether we are young & surprised by an unplanned pregnancy or older & established and trying to conceive for many years, the moment that test is positive – the first step of a whole new journey begins. For all of our book knowledge and research, until the moment our newborn is in our arms, crying or calm, and in spite of being inside of our bodies for nine months, still very much a stranger – we are all the Fool about to embark on an expedition into the parenting wilds.
I was raised with magical roots tangled into Catholic soil, with women who read tea leaves, interpreted dreams, made offerings to saints and the dead, and talked about premonitions and otherworldly signs. I started reading tarot as a young girl when I found a deck in my great-aunt’s house, and she told me to take it home and learn how to use it. Just read the stories as you see them in the pictures, was her parting advice. So, I did. So, I still do.
My own children have been raised with tarot cards in every room of the house. Two decks in the dining room. One in the kitchen. Another in the bathroom. Gatherings around family holiday tables where my deck comes out and the cards are read. My kids see mom throwing cards every day for herself and for clients and for them. I also use my cards regularly for advice on how to raise my kids as a single parent – seeking my own inner counsel and seeing the images on the deck and how they tell the narrative of this long, rambling mothering journey.
I think one key to integrating tarot into life with children is to present it as naturally as one would any other routine behavior. One child is brushing her teeth, another his hair, another is using the bedroom mirror and I’m shuffling my deck – calling out the day’s card and a sentence of its meaning. They are teenagers now, whether they listen to me or not, they hear the message. They see me pausing for a moment in the midst of our chaos to seek deeper knowing and give it space.
I read regularly for my children, not just about them. My daughters, in particular, have spent more than one evening curled on my bed while I’ve read their cards about friends, relationships, school and work questions. Tarot is a tangible tool and guide in our household. It gives me a way to communicate with my teenagers about the issues that truly matter to them. As any parent of adolescents will likely tell you, this open line of conversation is a gift – and the tarot is the catalyst for us.
Beyond just practical usage for guidance as a parent, using The Fool’s Journey of the major arcana has become, for me, a sacred narrative that deeply parallels my own pilgrimage through motherhood. I see a counterpart in the stages the Fool must traverse to reach wholeness and integration in the way I have had to do the same, raising my children up into young adulthood. In future entries here, I will share my years of exploration of this corresponding process between mothering and the Fool’s Journey and what it has meant to me. I also will offer specific correlations between the cards of the major arcana and my own mothering experiences.
a chalk rendition of the Fool
Whenever I see the Fool card surface now in readings related to my children, I know that I need to think about things from a youthful perspective, from their perspective. The situation is calling for playfulness and levity, for realizing that maybe I don’t know everything and should remain open minded, open hearted and ready for adventure.
The Fool card asks us, as parents, to move ahead even when we don’t know what comes next. It asks us to move based on instincts, rather than carefully laid plans. My unexpected pregnancy with my daughter asked me to do the same. I was initiated into a new mystery. A new beginning in what has become the journey of a lifetime: motherhood. Like the Fool, I took a chance – I leapt – I found my way.