There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Look! Here she comes. Like most old women, she has a lot to say. Let’s listen in:
“Well, that’s what an old nursery rhyme says. But I’m that old woman, and I can tell you for sure that the only thing ‘true’ about that rhyme is that I’m old. I’m older than anyone I know. Oh, I see you there, eavesdropping. That’s okay. You’re welcome here.
You know what? I’ve been called many names by the (mostly) men who make up those rhymes and stories. I’ve been the old witch in the candy house who serves pie to children and then serves the children in the pie. (But did that German guy who wrote that opera about me ever say who eats those pies?) I’ve been the thirteenth old woman at the christening who wasn’t invited and brings a curse that’s as big as the blessings from the first twelve. I’ve been the evil, wicked, mean stepmother.
Hah! Don’t you believe it. That’s just blather and botheration. I’m an ordinary old woman who don’t hold with living tamed in town. I’d rather live out here in the woods and away from your so-called civilization. You know what? It’s safer out here.
Oh, and I don’t live in a real shoe. I’ve built myself a really, really big house that’s backed up against a fairy mound and, gosh, it grew to be ten stories high. My front porch and front yard are kind of round…makes it hard to get inside my house. Well, it’s a minefield out there. They’ve got armies. Not company I want. When the word “feminist” is invented, you know what? That’s what I’ll be one of. A kind of feminist warrior. A militant crone and a babysitter at the same time.
Well, the tall part of my house accommodates the children. I take ’em in. I feed ’em. I give ’em a safe, warm place to sleep. Where do they come from? You remember that big Children’s Crusade they held a thousand years ago? Most of them never made it back home. I got some of ’em here. You know about kids that get lost or kidnapped? I rescue as many as I can. Kids that are whipped and starved? Little girls and boys sold into brothels or living on the streets? Little girls sold as so-called wives to old men and then sacrificed when those old men die? I bring as many of ’em here as I can. But how they get here is my secret. All you need to know is that the older children and I have worked ourselves into a kind anti-army. We find the lost children. I keep ’em here, and when they’ve grown up stronger, I send ’em out to do good works in the world. But they can always come home here.
Yeah, so much for “she didn’t know what to do.” I know exactly what to do! Always have. I’ve built up a rescue army and we find lost kids. Who else on earth does that? You know what? Here’s how that old verse oughta go:
There was an old woman who lived out of reach
With all the dear children she’d gathered to teach.
She taught ’em the old ways, like kindness toward all…
And asks, so why’s that old teaching so hard to recall?”
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.