It is bedtime. My daughter and I are cuddled up, and it is story time. This is our nightly ritual. Some nights, when she's not so tired, we read myths. She is nearly 4, and her attention span is not that of an adults, so most nights we read about My Little Pony or Olivia like your normal family.
Tonight, though, she brings me Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl. There was a point where I couldn't read through it without crying, and I'm secretly thankful that I've steeled myself slightly to the beautiful prayer the author wrote for his daughter.
Within the first few pages, my daughter grabs my hand to still it, and looks a long time at the picture of beautifully aged women looking lovingly over a wandering, wondrous girl. She asks, “Are they the Ancestors?”
I'm suddenly tearing up anyway. This time my eyes are welling up with pride. She's connected it. She's starting to understand the nature of Ancestors – That They watch over us.
Until this point, I've avoided using anything but English words for the Gods (which for a Roman polytheist can include at least some of the Ancestors), but on this night I kiss the top of her head and say with pride and delight, “Yes, these are special Ancestors. We call Them the Matronae. They are the Big Mothers who look after us and make sure we have a good life.”
“Matronae,” she says, turning the R into a W. It's adorable. It's amazing to hear the word on the lips of the young, fae-like creature my entire world has come to revolve around. It means even more as I slowly write a book about the Matronae of the Missouri River.
My daughter gets it. She understands.
Maybe I'm not failing as a parent as much as I thought.
“It's Parentalia,” I remind her. “This is a time for the Ancestors.”