A neighborhood family recently invited us to their son’s coming-of-age-ceremony. The father in this family, a Salvadoran man by birth and blood, along with his wife, offered his nine-year-old boy a traditional Mayan “Rite of Competence,” in which the village joins together to see a child through the gateway to adulthood. This includes singing, teaching, and meaningful gifts given to the child from adults close to him or her. It also includes an assignment to find and carry home either firewood (boys) or water (girls), to become useful to the village.
Also, at least in this case, the party includes lots of really good Salvadoran food. Seeing on the Evite that homemade pupusas and wood-fired chicken would be served, I quickly replied “YES.”
Now, this family is something of an institution in our neighborhood, but Jake and I, Seabass and Sweet Chuck aren’t exactly close with them. When replying to their invitation, I confirmed that we were, indeed, invited, and the father graciously replied “You are part of our son’s village. You are most definitely welcome.”
Being curious about the ceremony and moved by the prospect of
Salvadoran food this father’s heartfelt invitation, we walked down the street one Saturday afternoon to join in the ceremony with a couple dozen people we didn’t know. After grabbing a couple drinks, we sat down to listen to a wise-looking, carefully-spoken woman who led everyone in appreciation for the many gifts we all enjoy: those of the waters, the plants, the animals, and one another. Then the young man we were celebrating – a boisterous, beautifully-complected boy with a mop of dark, wavy hair – came forward to receive the gifts of the animal kingdom as offered by the adults closest to him.
I learned that, according to the Maya, we are all born with the spirit of an animal that is like a spiritual guide, teaching us through our lives. They are:
Armadillo – Flexibility, community, social rules
Rabbit – Pure emotions, happiness
Jaguar – Balance, fierceness, power, drive to accomplish
Turtle – Love for all creatures
Monkey – Learning, writing, math, wisdom
Eagle – Visions from the dream world
While the Maya believe we all have a dominant animal guide, we must observe all of the guides, both in nature and within ourselves, to remain in harmony with our fellows and our world. (Basically, it’s like ancient Myers-Briggs profiling. And therefore: love it.)
After the gift-giving, our group sang our boy up the mountain to retrieve firewood, and, when he returned, we sang as he and his peers lit a fire. When the spark finally became an ember, became a flame, became a fire, we cheered. A tear rolled down my cheek. I loved how this family brought people close to help raise their child, how intentional and loving they were about that which is, for so many of us, a painful season of life, crossing from childhood to adulthood.
Dinner came next. Scrumptious. I sat down to enjoy a pile of pupusas beside the wise woman who prayed in gratitude at the start of the ceremony. We chatted for a while and were soon joined by our host, the father. “Do you know Jaime?” he asked her, re-introducing us. “She is one of our village mamas. She has a strong jaguar energy.” He mimicked a sleek jaguar prowling on a branch with a big smile on his face and then started laughing. “You know, with an edge.”
As he casually walked away, I gently pulled my jaw from the ground. Village mama? Jaguar? Really?!? I was dumbstruck.
For so many years, I’ve told myself I was a less-than woman. Too pushy. Too sharp. Too ambitious. Too abrasive. Not soft enough or sweet enough or ANYTHING ENOUGH to be the kind of mom I thought I was supposed to be. But this man – not much more than a stranger – had the insight, keen eyes and ancient lens to see something truer than all that. He saw me. ME. The loud-but-loving, raw-but-real, fun-but-flawed, hard-lined, beautiful me-ness of me.
In the O.D. (Old Days) I would have been so ashamed by his classification. I would have started “shoulding” all over myself. “See?!?” I would have screamed at myself. “Mothers are supposed to be turtles! For God’s sake, why can’t you just fall in line? For once!”
- And then I would have acted turtle-ish, to the best of my ability.
- And then I would have failed by having an ambition or an opinion outside the norm of what I perceive in the pastel perfection of Pinterest.
- And then I would have given up in defeat.
Today, I majorly embrace my new Jaguar Village Mama moniker. I choose to wear those trendy harem pants and listen to James Brown (or Bach) at full volume in my beloved Volvo station wagon. I choose to flourish in an ambitious writing career while paying for my daughter to attend preschool. I choose to force my kids to eat vegetables and read books in the face of a culture that chooses video games, TV, Cheetos and bologna sandwiches, every time. And I choose to let myself feel sad when I am sad, angry when I am angry, joyful when I am joyful, no judgement allowed. I owe it to myself, yes, but also to my kids, my spouse, my neighborhood, my community and my world. There’s a place for me in the village, just like there’s a place for armadillo, monkey, rabbit, eagle and, yes, turtle mamas, too.
That’s why, henceforth, you shall address me as JAGUAR VILLAGE MAMA. Hear me roar.