Birthday Spells

I miss my mother so badly I fear that saying it out loud will turn my organs to dust and I’ll crumble into paint flakes. It’s my birthday. The first without her. I wasn’t expecting it to hurt so vividly. I am not sure what to do with the day. Should I surround myself with as many friends as possible and stay buoyant by way of 1,000 life preservers?  Do I hide and quietly let it pass without a peep so I don’t risk an emotional breakdown in public? I have been reflecting on the many, many people who are taking care of me in small and large ways. The pier and beam infrastructure of friendship, partnership and sisterhood as well as all the one-time wisdoms making me ever more pliable. Thank god for them all.


collage by Kiddo

collage by Kiddo

This time last year, I had been carrying Small Spells business card in my wallet for 6 months. My friend Andy had passed it along to me after he’d had his first Tarot Card reading and wanted to share the experience. My thoughts on Tarot Cards was the same as palms or star charts or horoscopes or fortune tellers. My opinion was two-fold: one, “readers” are nonsense. It’s pathetic that so many people are so desperate to have some certainty to hold onto — that those people hear something and mold their truths around vague information from a stranger. Two: I was terrified of hearing something so painfully true and cutting about my own path that I’d fall apart. I was a jaded skeptic/total believer with no experience in any of it.

I carried the card for so long because I was intensely interested and frightened to do anything about it.

collage by Kiddo

collage by Kiddo

And then my birthday rolled around. 

My partner was working in LA, Mom wasn’t showing physical signs of succumbing to cancer yet, and I was running a freelance business while planning a wedding — life felt unrecognizable from just 6 months prior. On my 32nd birthday I reached out to Rachel Howe of Small Spells, suddenly desperate for the reading, for any kind of connection to a spiritual plane. A few weeks later I found myself at her apartment in Williamsburg, nervous on the walk up to Small Spells home base.

The apartment was warm and so serene I imagined I could hear a molecule of dust caught in the sun landing with a gentle tick on the couch’s arm. Outside New York was coated in slush post-snow mix of dirt trash and rock salt making the stark contrast a relief I could feel in my chest. I took off my coat and looked around at cream pottery, soft arches framing the entry ways, eggshell pillows on a chair of the same and simple framed drawings. The focus of the room was a large dining table of knotted, beaten-soft repurposed wood slab upon which a lazy black cat stretched out, barely willing to keep his eyes open.

When we settled in, Rachel asked me, “What question did you bring for the reading?” I forgot I was supposed to focus on a single question, and thought for a moment. Somewhere from inside bubbled up with “What do I do with all this grief?”
It wasn’t my usual barrage of questions (harassment) for myself including: What do I do next for my career? How will I make enough money to feel okay? Am I on the right track with my job?
It was a relief to have a deeper question, something I was wrestling on an unconscious level that had not revealed itself until that moment.

collage by Kiddo

collage by Kiddo

Rachel gently took me through the cards. For me, it was a kind of secret wonder that I won’t reveal in entirety here. What I will say, is that she unlocked something.Rachel talked about my intuition — that I had stopped trusting it and its voice inside me had been muffled. I needed to feel into that voice when I had a choice in front of me. She suggested that the more I got into that practice, the more I’d strengthen that soundless expression of my true north. I’d have more clarity, in millimeters and inches, “This” she said, “is a lifetime-long practice.”

“I had stopped trusting my intuition and it’s voice inside me had been muffled.”

The cards also showed that I was, as Rachel wisely put it, “trying to build a house on the ocean.” I was looking for stability, roots and solid footing in a moment of my life when none of that was possible. Instead, what I could do was get on the nearest raft and sail to shore. It would serve me to let go of a need for certainty and be open to the turbulent changes happening in my life, in my mom’s health, in my grieving process, in my partnership as we prepared for marriage, in my own heart…allowing the obstacles to change me and make me softer and stronger.

“I was looking for stability, roots and solid footing in a moment of my life when none of that was possible.”

Stop trying to build a house on the ocean. I looked for a long quiet time at the card. The image that could be a log house falling apart on the waves or the construction of a raft…the expression on the person’s face depicted on the card kept changing from panic to skillful effort. I watched as it shifted back and forth.


I had a lot to think about. That night, instead of seeing friends, I took a meandering walk around Brooklyn, contemplating all that had happened at Small Spells, circling back home four hours later. Rachel’s reading was a gentle mirror that helped me see where I was in that moment and the possibility of trusting my deep and hushed inner voice. It was a gift that I return to often, thinking about that innate voice and asking “what do you want to tell me today?”