By Tracy Sutton Schorn
I come from a long line of oracles from Detroit. I’m a fourth generation oracle, actually. In antiquity, oracles were thought to be portals through which the gods spoke directly. Frenzied women who made predictions and told unpalatable truths like: “Yes, the Trojans are going to slaughter you in battle.” The Detroit oracles of my family says things like: “That maternity outfit is not very slimming” and “no you can’t have the income from your trust fund because you’re going to need that money for your divorce.”
(For the record: It wasn’t. And I did.)
My mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother were all truth tellers. Women who were not one bit afraid to hurt your feelings. “You look washed out. Put on some lipstick.” And “No one employs majors in African history. Are you afraid to work?” Nor were they afraid to give an unvarnished assessment of their offspring. “When your mother was born, she was such a beautiful baby. She looked like a rosebud. But not your aunt. Your aunt looked like a chimpanzee.”
How is this different from verbal abuse? Well, abusers often make things up and say shit just to hurt you. Oracles, on the other hand, are dead on. They just don’t care if it hurts you. The other difference is — an oracle’s prediction comes true. In ancient times, people traveled perilous distances and sacrificed expensive offerings in order to consult the oracles. In my family they just give it away for free: “Sue will never conquer her addiction issues and she’s cheating on your brother.”
It’s a burden being an oracle. Some people need a lot of evidence to come to conclusions. As oracles, we can see around the corner of things and come right to the (usually sad) conclusion. We can suss a lot out with just a few scraps of information. The trajectory is apparent to us. The twins are autistic. Your uncle is having an affair. Cousin David is bipolar and will spend a lifetime locked in his parent-subsidized apartment drawing obsessive portraits of Christina Aguilera.
What do you do with this knowledge? If you are a mother and an oracle – you speak the truth to your kids. You respect them enough to warn them of certain unpleasant realities. But are wise enough to back off and let them decide what they’re going to do with that knowledge. “The Trojans are going to kick your ass. I’m sorry, they are. I told you not to date a Trojan, but you wouldn’t listen. Look, you’re going to survive. Of course you are! The world is full of conniving Trojans, people hiding in horses pretending to be things they’re not.”
What a mother oracle is NOT going to do is sugarcoat things. They love you too much to let you blunder into this world uninformed with your shirt untucked. They will grab you by the lapels and force you to consider things you’d rather not consider. That your marriage is failing. That your hair looks ridiculous. That you ought to consider a teaching career instead of gun running for the African National Congress.
I would argue that oracle mothering is a harder path. The natural path is to want to comfort your children, protect them, and coddle them in their delusions. The last thing a loving mother wants to do is intentionally hurt her child. It’s the most natural thing in the world to want to dust off your child, after some colossal misfortune and coo “Sweetie, they’re just jealous. It’s because you’re so much prettier/smarter/more special than they are.” It’s reflexive to want to blame-shift responsibility for some shit outcome on to some one else. “That teacher’s grading system is really unfair.” It’s harder to accept that your kid is at fault. Or that when someone else is at fault, it doesn’t really matter. You still have to deal.
An oracle mother wants you to be the kind of person who can cope. And you can’t learn to cope with things you don’t face head on. And if facing it hurts? Well, suck it up. Don’t crumble to pieces. You’ll either figure it out, or you’ll learn to live with it.
When I went to visit my grandmother in Florida while six months pregnant with her first great-grandchild, she took one look at me and said, “that maternity outfit is not very slimming.” Frankly, it’s an idiotic thing to say to someone who is enduring maternity summer casual wear in her second trimester. Maybe it was cruel. But it was accurate. You can wear all the cotton tunics you want to, but you can’t disguise the fact that you’re carrying a baby there around your midsection.
Hearing it put so bluntly, well, I accepted it. Yep, I’m fat and pregnant. May as well embrace it. I waddled around accordingly.
I’ve had to embrace my share of unpalatable truths during my life. As the saying goes – the truth will set you free — but first it will piss you off. I want to thank the oracle women in my family for all the ugly truths. And all the love and support that followed. I might still be mad … but I’ve got lipstick on and I don’t look washed out. Thanks.
Tracy Sutton Schorn is a writer living in Lockhart, Texas. She writes the blog www.chumplady.com
Illustration by Christine Juneau