Raised by Witches

by Tyler Sjostrom

Parents are always, always wrong. If you think I’m wrong, I can only assume that you are yourself a parent, which only reinforces just how wrong you are. And this pervasive, indefatigable wrongness of parents is never more evident than in the movies of our youth.

It’s the crux of many formative films, be it “Goonies” (parents permit their home to be annexed by a country club) or any “Jurassic Park” (unattended minors versus historical apex predators) or “Home Alone” (the chef’s kiss of bad parenting). But for my money, “Hocus Pocus” always stood out as a fine representation of all the questionable choices a parent could make, both in the film itself and in my relationship to it.

Bewilderingly released in the summer of 1994 rather than the fall — a decision undoubtedly made by a bunch of parents —  “Hocus Pocus” tells the tale of the Halloween shenanigans of Salem, Massachusetts, the trio of witches who seek the souls of the young to stay alive, and a town of legal guardians who are incredibly chill about the whole thing. When it finally made its way to our local theater in small-town North Dakota, I told my mom of my desire to attend.

Judging by her reaction, you’d have been justified in thinking that she still hadn’t forgiven Bette Midler for the majestic monstrosity that is “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” “You are not seeing that movie,” she wailed, not even extending an “ask your dad” olive branch. My fate had been sealed. I would not have the pleasure of seeing a movie that the venerable Roger Ebert described as “thoroughly unpleasant” in his one-star review.

It wasn’t until my brother told her what the movie was about that her folly was revealed. She wasn’t familiar with “Hocus Pocus”, but it did have a similar linguistic rhythm as “Helter Skelter,” a book that recounted the tragic Manson murders and was central to the growing “Satanic Panic” of the time. She thought I wanted to see a movie about unthinkable evil; I wanted to see a movie where witches wake from a 300-year slumber and somehow know the lyrics to “I Put a Spell on You.”

As with many misguided parental choices, my mom’s Hocus Pocus/Helter Skelter glitch had unintended consequences. I don’t remember exactly when I finally saw the movie, and it may have even been the following night. What I recall perfectly, however, is suddenly being fascinated by “Helter Skelter,” which I hadn’t heard of previously but that I suddenly needed to read. My poor mom, in doing her best to protect me from something nefarious, led me to sneak the book from our town library at an age when no person should have been reading it. 

My mom is wonderful for many reasons, not least of which is that she’s willing to laugh at herself when she’s made mistakes, and she’ll gladly concede that being wrong (and knowing when this is the case) is a huge part of parenting. None of us knows what we’re doing, really, whether we’re trying to keep our kids from exposure to something inappropriate for their age or hoping to prevent witches from sucking out their souls like a Hoover. 

I’m a parent, of course. Our first child is almost two, and we’ll have another in February. Before long, like so many moms and dads before me, I’ll have loads of experience in being wrong. But if we’re wrong in the service of trying to do right, we may just get out of this thing with souls intact.