My Indigo Girl

09/13/2010 02:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's One Big Happy Family season here at This Writer's Life. In celebration of the book's paperback release I have asked a number of the writers from "One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love," to reflect upon how things have changed (or remained the same) in their own lives since they wrote their essays over a year ago. Further, I've also asked various writers I admire to discuss their wild, messy, loving, non-traditional families as well. Below, Susan McKinney de Ortega talks about her happy family:

My Indigo Girl

by Susan McKinney de Ortega

December 21st, 2012, the winter solstice, is the day the ancient Maya of Mexico noted as the end of their 5,126-year Long Count calendar. It is also the date my youngest daughter, Sean, turns 15.

In Mexico, where we live and where my two daughters were born, el quinceaños is a rite of passage for girls when they turn 15. The party includes the girl's family, godparents, friends and half a dozen chambelanes -- that is, stiff-looking teenaged escorts in ties and gelled hair. If the girl is a traditionalist, she wears a fluffy princess dress and a tiara and waltzes with her father.

My oldest girl, Carla, turned 15 this year and wants to have her quinceaños party at the equestrian center where she and her sister ride, with the caballerangos, the young men who take care of the horses, as chambelanes. Everyone, of course, will wear riding gear.

Sean, who is presently 13, has spent the last few months convinced she won't have a quinceaños party at all because on her birthday, the world is going to end.


A few years ago, I held my hand to my face, moaning with the agonizing pain of a disintegrating tooth.

"Here, let me help," said my daughter, Carla, then aged 10. She held her hand some ten centimeters from my cheek.

"Honey," I said, pulling my face away, afraid she would touch it and amplify the pain. Then I returned my head to within inches of her hand. There it was -- the beginning of what I'd felt before I'd yanked my head away. An absence. The pain was being drained from my cheek and into, it seemed, my daughter´s hand.

"Mom!" she said after a minute, shaking her hand out. "That's a lot!" She looked at me crossly, as if I should know better than to let pain build up like that.

Later that month, I had a headache. "Carla," I said. ¨Put your hand here." I indicated the space around my forehead. She did, and again the pain ebbed away until it was gone.

It occurred to me that her seeming ability to draw away pain was related to something she´d told me when she was 6 years old. "Look at those pink balls," she´d said, pointing in an arc to a space over the washing machine.

"Honey, I don´t see anything," I said.

"Right there," she said impatiently. "Those floating energy balls."

Another day Carla told me my aura was yellow and green. "It almost always is," she said. "But sometimes you get dirty spots in it. Like there." She scooped at the air above my shoulder, and I felt a tension lifting, akin to feeling the urge to cry and having it melt into tranquility.

Later, she said the auras of the boys in her sixth grade class were dirty. The aura of her horse, Lucky, was red.

On a trip to Teotihuacan, the pre-columbian archeological site north of Mexico City, Carla's palms burned as she stood before the Pyramid of the Sun, but she didn't ask me if mine did too. She understood at age 12, that not many people saw and felt the things she did.

The dead can have a similar effect on her. One Christmas morning, we entered the Parroquia, the stunning neo-gothic church that anchors the main square of San Miguel de Allende, where we live. While I admired the glittering Nativity set on the altar, Carla clutched the back of her knee and groaned.

"What's the matter?" I whispered.

"There's a lady here who was trampled by a horse," she said. "He stepped on the back of her knee."

"What do you mean?" I hissed.

"You know. She's buried here." Carla pointed to the floor. Then she rubbed the back of her skull. "Ugh, there´s another guy who was shot."

"Let's get out of here," I said.

In Philadelphia, where I grew up, there is a basketball net over every garage door. In Wisconsin, where I went to college, a bar on every corner. In San Miguel, there is a shaman in every neighborhood. The one to whom I took Carla when she was young told her to leave her gifts alone, and that they would come into bloom when she was fifteen or sixteen, and at that time she would have the maturity to handle them.

Carla is fifteen now. She predicts better days in our business, a day spa, and a more abundant year overall. She predicts consulting jobs for her father when he finishes college like this: "He won´t have an office. He'll move around." She saved me from a traffic accident recently by telling me not to make the turn I'd intended. She feels a shift in the earth's energy. She thinks something big is coming. She calls it a transformation.

The rest of what Carla says will go unreported because, while I do pay attention to her words, she is not a prophet -- she is a teenager. Her extra senses do not help her navigate school or friends. She frets about her dressage career. She argues with her mother. She is part child, part adult, like any adolescent. Part visionary, part trying-to-find-her-footing-on-earth teen. She is learning to block the open channel that gives her extra information, and access it only when she chooses.

She is planning an entrance on Lucky for her own quinceaños party this June, and promising to help her sister plan hers in 2012.

Find Susan McKinney de Ortega online at