Alright, 2016. You gave me some love.

by renegademama

I learned that if you start doing something you love and keep doing it over and over, saying “fuck it” and doing it again, you may find yourself making a living doing what you love. And it will feel as good as you imagined.

But I learned too there is no arrival, and even as you meet the moments you were sure were going to eliminate the fear – “As soon as [this one thing] happens, I will feel confident and know what I’m doing.” – fear simply morphs into a new version of itself. But you can write anyway. And you grow bored of the motherfucker.

Get a new game, fear.

I learned that I can love a political candidate and get super into the primaries (Oh, Birdie), and that I can feel actual sadness when my guy loses. I also learned that the primaries are way. way. WAY too fucking long. Why do we hate ourselves?

I learned that the moment you realize you have three years left with your oldest child is an incomprehensible one, and you feel robbed and delighted all the same, and wonder if you loved her toddler years completely, and hold on to the time like glittering diamonds.

I learned two-year-olds are still pretty annoying.

And potty training is bullshit.

And snot is an asshole.

But the way they run in quick little steps still takes my breath away.

I learned my children will surpass me with their strength.

I learned I will miss my husband’s beard.

I learned a mini-van is the vehicle of the gods.

I learned my country can betray me. I learned it can elect a man of hate and authoritarian idiocy, and that some people aren’t bothered by a President using Twitter to discuss foreign policy.

I learned we need to improve the American education system.

I learned you’ll feel a little better the day after your country elects a barely literate bullying demagogue if you go over to your best friends’ house and sing old folks songs of resistance while she plays piano and your kids run in circles around the living room.

I learned you’ll feel better until you realize the next morning that at the very moment you sang and cried, your grandmother was bleeding on a kitchen floor 50 miles away, killed by the hand of your cousin.

You will wonder if you cried perhaps for her that night.

I learned grief is a physical agony.

I learned children sometimes face evil too young.

I learned I cannot protect any of us from either.

I learned silence surrounding mental illness kills people. I learned it shatters families and massacres the dignity of life, and death. I learned one hundred human lives can cripple under agony, diminish forever, weep simultaneously for the rest of their breathing days because of the silence surrounding mental illness.

I learned of the dignity of death. I learned you can die beautifully. I learned you can die with your hands held to the heart of your wife of 67 years and the eyes of your daughters and grandchildren surrounding you through their tears, bathing you in the sunlight warmth of a lifetime together.

I learned we all deserve the right to die like that.

I learned once again that the only way through it is to move right to the center, to throw yourself into the flames, let them leap and pull and tear to make you new, turn you to ash, trusting for some godforsaken reason that the embers will burn enough to light your way to the other side.

I learned there is no other side.

I learned this is it. I learned my family is all I have (and that some family isn’t blood). I learned there is more love for all of us in our pain. I learned this isn’t bullshit mind candy. It is the ultimate reality I will always be seeking.

I learned if your grandmother is killed, all the irritation you once felt toward your own mother will wash away like a pebble pulled into the ocean – all the tiny bothers tumbling into the blue – and you will rest easy, and grateful for that, as you hold her hand to your heart and pray it’s enough.

To tomorrow.

I learned we are still here.

And with all my heart, I’m still, I’m still just happy to be here.

my baby and my mom.

 

19 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | December 31, 2016

15 things I’ve learned over 15 years of questionable marriage

by renegademama

1. The top-secret trick to staying married is not getting divorced. (You can thank me later for that little gem.)

2. Sometimes, the reason you don’t get divorced is because the thought of going through this process with yet another human makes you want to bury yourself alive. And yet, that is somehow enough.

3. The thing nobody tells you though is that if you keep going for whatever reason, you may wake up one day and realize all the shit that used to plague you is gone, though it hasn’t necessarily been resolved. You just don’t care anymore and it’s freeing as hell.

4. I spent a lot of years trying to change Mac into more of what I had in mind. Eventually I realized there is one question to ask myself: “Are his flaws deal-breakers?” If yes, leave. If not, accept that shit and move on. HE WILL NEVER ORGANIZE THE CLOSETS, JANELLE. But you will probably always yell on Sundays.

5. Playing the “who’s a bigger dick/does more work” score-keeping game ends in nothing but hellish resentment (and somehow me always being the “better partner” even though let’s be honest I’m pretty much always the asshole). For example: “I did the dishes 9 times so you owe me 6 laundry loads also I birthed the children so you owe me your entire goddamn life but then again you have done ironwork for 10 years to support us but still I’m higher on the pole of marital glory because, well, from my perspective I’m the victim here. Also, I multi-task and you can’t find shit in the fridge. Ever.” No. This is a pointless routine. He sucks and I suck but we suck differently and therefore we will be perpetually annoyed. Cool. Now let’s watch Netflix. (Also, sometimes I AM in fact capable of doing more and sometimes HE is. There is balance, but never spreadsheet “equality.”)

6. It’s not about deciding how I need to be loved and punishing him for failing to meet my fantasy. It’s about opening myself to the ways he shows love, in gestures and songs and movements perhaps I never even thought of, and could never see before because I was too damn busy focusing on the ways he was failing. Mad love is built, not found.

7. In related news: I thought partners were supposed to “fulfill me” and “make me whole.” Now I know I have to make myself whole so I can love another completely.

8. You can base an entire marriage on friendship and it will still mostly work, even if you suck at being adult life partners (e.g. “sound decision-making,” general maturity, budgeting, “household organization,” keeping dog shit off the lawn, et fucking cetera). Last weekend we celebrated our anniversary by Christmas shopping for our kids, eating sushi, and hanging out in a hotel room naked watching movies and eating gummy bears in bed. We are really good at hanging out, and sometimes that’s all we’re good at, but it’s ENOUGH.

9. Which reminds me: Fuck Hallmark cards. Fuck Meg Ryan movies. Fuck commercials. Fuck the neighbor’s marriage. Fuck all the comparisons. We are us.

10. Kids don’t make a marriage better, but they sure as hell make it bigger.

11. When I focus on not being a dick, somehow my husband becomes less of a dick. (Weird.)

12. Mac told me once, “I can always trust you to be exactly who you are” and that’s the most romantic thing he’s ever said because he trusts me to be me and sticks around anyway.

13. The other day, after helping me the ten-thousandth time with the same ridiculous task, Mac teased me but said, “It’s okay, Janelle. I will always help you again.”

14. And I think that is what this whole thing becomes: Two people who say, “I will always help you again.” I will always come back, come near and come close, to be with you because you are you, and I am me, and together we have something worth keeping.

15. I always thought love felt like floating in the clouds. Now I know it feels like the ground beneath my feet, and the sense of a friend sharing the sunlight.

Happy 15 years, Mac.

I will always help you again.

oh, and you can start your marriage drunk, stoned, and too young, and still turn out alright. THEY LIED. ALL OF THEM. (Don’t do drugs, kids.)

 

48 Comments | Posted in cohabitating with a man. | December 19, 2016

If he can do the impossible, can we?

by renegademama

Last week, my 11-year-old son Rocket hopped into the car after school and handed me a piece of paper as he said, “I want to be in the school play.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “cool!” But then I looked at the paper. It was a permission slip for auditions. My eyes widened.

“What do you have to do to audition?” I asked, scanning the paper, suppressing mild panic, then realizing: “Dude you have to sing a song!”

“I know,” he said, all casual.

“Wait. Do have to do it on a stage in front of PEOPLE?”

“Yeah, mom.”

“Well, awesome!” I said, and started driving to mask my vague horror at the prospect. (Motherhood protective reactions are not uniformly rational. I have realized this over the past 15 years.)

I thought of him standing on a stage, singing. I thought of that time in kindergarten he brought a stuffed white seal to class and the kids “didn’t even think it was cute” and how he cried after his bath about it. Okay, he was FIVE. Whatever.

I thought of how he would feel if he didn’t make it, or was given some 3-second “overflow” part without words, and I thought about how I, as his mother, need to keep my fucking mouth shut about my desire to shelter him from pain, failure, and humiliation.

I don’t know much, but I know for a fact my job is to at least TRY not to pass my fucked-up life techniques on to my kids.

If I were in fifth grade, had no singing or acting experience, and was informed of an opportunity to sing some ditty on a stage – to be judged by parents and a few thousand cruel children (which is how I would see it) – I would for sure throw the paper away with a shudder, immediately, just to get the idea the hell out of my head. Possibly I would burn it, and sanitize my fingers just to be safe.

But what Rocket doing this is even more unthinkable than me trying it in fifth grade. You see, he has severe dyslexia, part of which is a rapid naming “disorder,” which means his brain often takes a really long time – and I mean a lonnggggggggg time – to retrieve the words he needs. Under the most relaxed of circumstances, he gets tongue-tied, and then when he sees you waiting, he feels anxiety, and puts his head down and closes his eyes to really think, and the longer it takes, the more stressed he becomes, which makes his brain freeze even more, and often this continues until he grows frustrated and/or cries, or walks away saying, “Never mind.”

Occasionally, he thinks of the word. We try to help him. But it’s so hard for him, and so hard to watch.

So the idea of this boy standing on a stage and attempting to belt out a song under anxiety-producing conditions took my breath away. My brain screamed, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT SON! FIGHT THE URGE! KNOCK IT OFF! BE SAFE HIDE DO NOT TRY WEIRD SHIT!”

But I kept that inside and instead went with, “Wow, Rocket, I’m so proud of you! You are amazing. I don’t think I could do it.”

And he said, “Well, I’m not afraid. I’m lucky that way.”

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how little power we have to keep our children safe. As I watch what’s happening with our government, as I watch it fill with big bank big oil climate-change denying anti-human rights white supremacists, I feel a sense of powerlessness and dystopian wonder as if we are caught in a sci-fi flick. (It’s a terrible movie, by the way. It ends in nuclear war. Everybody dies.)

Meanwhile, our leaders on both sides are eerily quiet. People say “Let’s wait and see.” What, pray tell, are we waiting for? Are we not there? Are we simply expected to go silently into that good night?

We wake up, send them to school anyway.

Aleppo. Hate crimes. Autocracy. Oligarchy. A president-elect who prefers Twitter over intelligence briefings.

We come home, make dinner.

I wonder what kind of world my kids will face. Can a reality TV star destroy the world in four years? Does that “checks and balances” thing really work?

My grandmother is killed. People ask my children and me for details of the crime. I want to explain this is not a True Crime drama. This is our life. I rage, consider railing at them, but I’m silent, because I don’t have the fucking energy. Not today.

My son gets in the car, says he wants to try out for the school play.

I wonder if he will grow tongue-tied. I wonder if he will crumble on the stage. I wonder if a snowball of anxiety will build until he rushes off the stage and folds into himself in the hallway, like when he was five, or, as I would.

I tell him, “Let’s practice the song.” Let’s practice it over and over. Let’s get as strong as we can. Let’s do it, son.

 

We play the song from YouTube. We print it out in a font that’s easier for him to read. He practices as 6am with headphones on. On the day of the auditions, I bring him his favorite drink from Starbucks – a green tea latte – and some lemon cake and I tell him, “I am so proud of you. I can’t even tell you.”

But I don’t stay, because I fear he will see the worry in my face, and I know my energy will bring him anxiety. I wonder if I’m a horrid mother for not staying. I go out to my car and cry, because I’m afraid, and proud, and tired.

My mom watches him.

He has to restart three times. It’s a full two minutes of false starts. The teacher says, “You’re doing great.” His head falls and my mom thinks he’s going to cry.

But he lifts his head higher and says, “I’ll try again.”

On this fourth and final attempt, he gets through the song. By the end, his voice raises and he’s got “enthusiasm.” His body rocks to the beat of the song.

When he gets home, we all cheer.

I’m not afraid. I’m lucky that way.

They teach us to go on. They teach us to do what cannot be done. They teach us to look at the beauty, to see where we are lucky. They teach us to keep trying even if the world feels against you, and you can’t see a way out, and the numbness and desire to hide is creeping so close you can almost touch it.

They teach us to be human, and remind us how beautiful “human” can be. They teach us to be unafraid. Or try, terrified.

I’ll try again, he said. And sang the motherfucker. 

You and me both, kid.

2017, Love, Humans. Let’s do this.

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P.S. He got a speaking part! Thanks, world!

Batter my heart, I guess.

by renegademama

I don’t want this to be our new reality. I do not want to continue in a world in which each of my four children grow up with the reality that their great-grandmother was killed by a beloved family member after eating Chinese take-out.

I do not want this unfairness. I do not want this deletion. I do not want the crumbling of safety and innocence this all contains.

I do not want them to know 86 years of life culminated in terror and suffering, and I do not want my mom to hurt, and I do not want these tears.

I feel myself yearning for before, before I knew this as a reality, before my family clung to one another to stand, and our fists fought our tears, and Arlo begs, “Mama don’t make that face,” and Georgia asks while crying in her bed, “Is God with grandma, and will he fix her?”

I yearn for before it steam-rolled our tiny card-house, leaving us here flattened.

I know it was a false safety, but shit it was ours. And I know the way to peace is acceptance, but I do not fucking want this truth. I do not want to accept it.

I fear I talk about it too much. I fear I’m exhausting people. I fear I’m whining, being dramatic, oversensitive. Other people have suffered more. I am not the only one to go through this. Come on, Janelle, knock it off, you are not a delicate flower.

The other day I read a Facebook post with a joke about “at least I didn’t get stabbed today.”

My heart raced at the word as if it flashed in neon and hit my face with a quick cold slap. My blood ran in fear, rage, sadness. Goddamnit Janelle. I am not a delicate flower. I am a raw nerve and it’s not the world’s fault, but they keep fucking with me.

I think a cave would be better for a while.

I fear my kids will get hit by cars. I say “no” when they want to ride their bikes. I fear Mac will not make it home. I fear my mom driving. I fear it all and I panic and my brain tries to soothe me, “Janelle, it’s okay. It’s okay.” But my body and heart don’t believe it.

It’s only been 3 weeks. I have time. I have time. You tell me I have time.

But right now, I do not want this in my heart or mind or body.

I’m afraid if I let it in, I will be destroyed. I’m afraid if I let this pain, this reality, this truth to sink in to my bones, I will be altered and I do not know how. I know I will be leveled, split open, broken up and rebuilt, but I can’t see how, and it’s hard to jump when you can’t see the bottom. I feel myself on the edge. I rock, I hide, I cringe.
But I trust it will be love.

A poem keeps coming to mind. It’s a weird sonnet by John Donne, and I don’t know why I keep thinking of it because honestly it’s kind of a rapey Jesus poem (no seriously, he’s asking to be “ravished” by God), but the beginning has been lodged in my brain for days:

“Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”

I am being broken. I am being burned and overthrown, and I must believe it is for love. It is for compassion. It is to become more in love with you, the world, this life. It is to feel more of your pain, and open my heart to more of the wild rawness of being a human, so I can give and live a little more, a little better.

Not to be good. Not to be a martyr. Not to be all glowing in my goodness. But because I cannot take this destruction without beauty at the end. I cannot withstand the sadness without some meaning at the end. I cannot think of my little family getting broken, blown and burned only to end up angry, lost, and afraid.

No, I trust there is more.

Batter my heart, I guess.

And so I tell my babies we loved her, and we loved her hard, and we love our sick cousin who hurt her, and we will love harder for both those people and for ourselves and our pain, and in that, our lives will be more full.

And I have to believe that is enough. I have to believe my little family will be bathed in a greater love, a light that makes us new.

 

we've got you

we’ve got you 

57 Comments | Posted in despair | December 5, 2016

I did not know it felt like this.

by renegademama

Three days before my grandmother was killed by her mentally ill grandson, we stood together in Costco, perusing books.

“Tell me if we’re in a hurry, because I’m just hanging out,” she said.

“We are in no hurry, grandma. No hurry at all.”

No hurry at all.

If I could do it again, I would stand alongside her rather than two aisles away, and I would watch her 86-year-old hands touch each book, opening and closing covers. I would watch the way her fingers moved over the letters and I would hold her purse. I would ask what she was looking for.

“Does Mac like books about World War II?”

“I don’t think so. He’s more into those weird adult fantasy books.” I answered honestly. It made her laugh.

“But maybe,” I added. I didn’t want her to feel bad.

As we drove to my house, I offered to drive her to my mom’s around the corner, where she was staying, but when we pulled into my driveway, Georgia and Arlo came running out yelling “Grandma!” and she said, “I think I’ll stay.”

I think I’ll stay.

So she sat at my kitchen table with a glass of water, which I looked for the day after she died but could not find, with Arlo on her lap, and the two of them talked. When they didn’t talk, he sat with her, looking out from her lap, watching me make dinner. Ava and Rocket argued about whose turn it was to feed the dog. George was tired, and possibly yelled. Mac and I got annoyed at the kids.

If I could do it again, I would do it exactly like that, with her simply there, with us, a part of the raucous family.

last week

last week

When my mom came to get her, I am sure I said goodbye. I am sure I said goodbye and hugged her even though I do not quite remember, because that is what we always do, and I’m sure I said, “Have fun in Utah,” because the next morning she was going to visit another grandchild, and then she was going to come back to us.

 

She was going to come back to us.

That was her plan now that grandpa has passed: She was going to visit each grandchild and spend time with each of her 45 great-grandchildren and “really get to know them.” She told us all about it as she sat at my table, with Arlo on her lap. Mac leaned over and said, “Arlo REALLY loves her.”

I smiled. It was true. I thought of all the things we would do together. I thought I would take her to the B Street Theater, to the Nutcracker, to movies and the Mondavi Center and to San Francisco. Now that grandpa was gone, we could fill her time with a million things. My grandfather had been gone 5 weeks.

Three days after I am sure I said goodbye, at 7:30pm on Wednesday, November 9, my cousin came downstairs with a knife and stabbed her, and she died in the arms of her daughter.

 

Did you know grief moves through you like a freight train? Did you know it tears through you like a thousand shards of glass on rails and forces your chest to release a sound you never knew you could make? Did you know air moving in feels like fire? Air moving out feels like drowning.

I did not know this.

I did not know my body could make that sound. I did not know my knees would buckle and I did not know my mother would crumble against a wall, her legs too weak to support the truth.

I did not know pain like this existed. Too much for the body to contain. It rumbles and shakes in your blood, racing and slamming the walls of your body, your skin and bones, to get out and run, but it cannot, and only releases in broken wails and sad, wild rage.

I hear her now. My mother’s screaming. I will not forget the sound.

That night, I slept with her, as I did when I was a little girl, and when I looked over, she had tucked the blankets up over her face and under her chin and I thought I would give anything to remove even one sliver of her pain and make it mine.

I could not. She lost her mother. Killed. My nightmare as a child, my mama is living.

I touched her hair and tucked it behind her ears and prayed to god for morning.

 

I suppose I should say something helpful about mental illness, and how we need to support sick people better, and educate their families, and not be ashamed or minimize it or turn away, and I suppose some day I will say those things, but today, two days before we bury my grandmother, I sit with my mom at the ocean, because it’s where we’ve always gone when things are hard, to watch the wild beautiful rage of the water as it sings its roar against the rocks of my heart, and we wait to be filled again.

 

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148 Comments | Posted in despair | November 16, 2016