Dear teacher, I wish I could tell you.

by renegademama

To my son’s teacher,

I know he didn’t do exactly what you said. I know you said “write an essay” and make sure you use topic sentences and correct punctuation and I know these things are important (I am a writer, you see, I get it), and I know my boy didn’t do that. You said use cursive. He didn’t do that either.

I wish I could tell you how he sat at the table working on his paragraphs for 4 hours over many days and how when he was finished he came into my room 5 times in 20 minutes to check if the baby was asleep yet so I could read the words he wrote “totally by himself.”

I wish I could tell you that last week he lied to us again about his assignments and I failed to check and I didn’t know about the writing project due last week. I wish I could tell you how we talked to him about facing hard things and how even if it seems easier in the moment to deny and pretend it’s not happening, we have to face the challenges of our lives.

And so this week, with this essay, he’s facing the super hard thing.

I wish I could tell you how hard it is. I wish I could tell you how he didn’t talk until 3 years old and came home from preschool with migraines and would curl on the bathroom floor in pain. I wish I could tell you how I took him out and homeschooled him after that and how he could not not not not not learn any letters at all and I would lose my patience. I would lose my patience with my learning disabled son so I wish I could I tell you I GET IT. I get how hard it is to teach these kids.

Still, I wish I could beg you to tell him what a great job he did on this essay and how proud you are because he worked so hard. I wish I could ask you to say this in spite of the phonetic spelling and words running together and lack of punctuation or topic sentences or cursive.

But I probably won’t.

I probably won’t because being the mom of a learning-disabled kid means walking the line – no, skinny ass thread – between “helicopter enabler mom” and “letting the kid own what’s his” mom. Between “not catering to laziness” and “protecting a child in a system that wasn’t created for him.”

Between helping a kid own his disability while defending him against unnecessary exercises in futility that serve only to make him feel more stupid. How much is the disability? How much is his personality? Where do I end? Where do you begin?

But we don’t talk about this at IEP meetings. We talk about auditory processing disorders and rapid naming disorders and “2nd grade instructional” reading levels and another battery of tests so he can keep his IEP. I know when we’re doing those anyway, before you even mention it, because he turns deathly quiet before school, again.

I suggest perhaps they’re unnecessary since he’s not going to magically become un-dyslexic. But I know it’s about funding. I know there are so many kids in your class. I know how hard you work. I know about teaching. I did it, though with college kids. I could never handle a bunch of ten-year-olds and their fucking parents.

But I have to hold you accountable and that feels weird. I have to intervene. I have to watch like a damn hawk. Not because you are a bad teacher (although he’s had one of those), but because the system wasn’t built for kids like him.

I wish I could tell you about first grade and how it was okay and second grade and how it wasn’t okay and how he was shoved out of a chair and dragged across the room by his collar and nobody even told me. I wish I could tell you how he learned NOTHING that year except fear and separateness and I took him out again, for healing. He got 15 minutes a day with a brand-new resource teacher who had no idea how to teach dyslexic kids. I had to refer her to options. That was when we lived in a poor town full of poor kids. And apparently if you’re dyslexic and poor, you’re fucked.

I wish I could tell you how we moved for 3rd grade to get to nicer schools because I knew my son’s education and possibly life depended on that. I wish I could tell you the guilt I felt that I even had that option but how in third grade his teacher wrapped her love and strength around him in a way that made 2nd grade and preschool and his impatient mother dim into damn near nothing and his reading specialist and special ed teacher (who he spends an HOUR with every day) taught him to read. And he worked. And he worked. And he went from a pre-k reading level to 2nd grade instructional in one year. And they loved him. And he spoke in front of the class.

And I sat in the back and wept.

I wish I could tell you this journey, so you see the 4th grader standing before, beyond “daydreaming” or “off task again.” I wish I could tell you this so you know what you’re looking at when you get his paper so far “behind.” So lacking. So not following the rules.

I wish I could tell you so could see the ten thousand hours of fear and desperation and love and fighting and strength that live in each misspelled word, each scratched out, run-together line, and how his eyes beamed blue and bright and proud when he held it out to me and asked, “Do you think my teacher will like it?”

I wish you could have seen my face.



End of the year gift for his special ed teacher.

81 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 4, 2016

Five years ago yesterday I started writing

by renegademama

Five years ago yesterday I wrote the first post of this blog. I had been crafting it on my drive to work and in the shower and back again and all around. In fact, I had been “writing in my head,” also known as “thinking,” for many months. All the things I’d like to say about motherhood. All the things I’d like to read but can’t because nobody seems to be writing them.

Rocket's mohawk that became inspiration for the logo

the original logo was Rocket’s head

Five years ago yesterday I couldn’t take it anymore, so during my lunch break and possibly a little after, I hid in my cubicle and put a blog together with one of those built-in WordPress themes and I wrote the words that came to me.

At the end of that first post, I said I was going to write a book someday on motherhood.

Yesterday, I sent off the final draft of my book proposal.

So life, because it’s a wily-ass-motherfucker, planned it all out that exactly 5 years to the day after I sat down to write my first post, I would take a huge final step toward publication of my first book, which I promised in that very post. Now what kind of bullshit is that?

Also, spoiler alert: The proposal may not be final. These things have a way of evolving. Also, the book is not published yet. It’s not even bought yet. I am not at the end. There is no end. There is no arrival. That’s the way with writing. And probably life, right?

But there’s something about this marker, something about the synchronized moments of the beginning and its promise and this big step. Please don’t tell me about “intention.” Please don’t tell me I willed this with my motherfucking dream board. This was work. That’s all. Boring old work. Maybe intention kept my feet moving, in the form of there’s enough of me that believes this is worth my time so I’m going to keep going, but most of the time I couldn’t see TOMORROW, let alone a “dream” or endpoint. I was just writing.


I decided I would only write when I “felt inspired” and that I would write two posts a week no matter what. It’s a good thing I only followed through on the second decision, because inspiration left sometime around the end of year 1, when I had exhausted most of the rants and raves and figured it was about time the world recognized its next literary genius.

But it wasn’t. Assholes.

“Nobody will ever read this. It’s a waste of time,” I’d explain to my husband Mac, usually on a drive home from somewhere, late at night, with all the kids asleep in the back, when it all feels a bit heavier than usual.

“No. Keep going. You’re a great writer. Aren’t you getting more subscribers each month?”

“Barely,” I’d whine.

“Doesn’t matter. It will happen.”

Or he’d get fed up with me and say “Yes Janelle it is a complete fucking waste of time. Stop doing it. Shut the whole thing down.”

He’d call my bluff.

He's still taking the kids out of the house so I can write. He did it last night. All 4 kids to Rocket's Boy Scout event. I finished the proposal and sent it off. My mom sent me this photo.

He’s still taking the kids out of the house so I can write. He did it last night. All 4 kids to Rocket’s Boy Scout event. I finished the proposal and sent it off. My mom sent me this photo.

No matter what though, I knew he thought what I was doing was valid and real because not only would he say it but he’d prove it with actions, taking the kids to the park so I could write, encouraging me to go to a coffee shop, helping me make “I need to write a post” a real and actual priority in our home. Even when I had 100 readers. Even when there was no money in sight. Even when I had a “real job” that had no writing in it. Even though it “took time away from the family.” Even though all of that, we just did it, together, he and I. I don’t really know why.

Love, I guess.

And you, the new reader, I’d cling to the message you sent, telling me this is the first time you’d ever felt seen as a mother. That you thought you were alone. And I’d think “Okay. I’m writing for her.” Even though there’s only like 10 of her. 

And I’d do it again.


I wrote mostly when the kids went to bed. I’d write a post on the couch at night and then I would publish it and then I would go outside and smoke a cigarette* and read it over and find typos. Then I would fix them. Then I would go to bed and sometimes I could hardly sleep because I couldn’t wait to see the email notifications on my phone that somebody had commented. Every fucking one felt like a gift.

I couldn’t believe people were reading my writing. Strangers! Amazing.

If it was positive, I’d feel good about myself and interesting and capable.

If it was negative, I’d craft the perfect rebuttal in my head over the next 12 hours, finally type it, then regret it immediately.

I’ve come a long way since then.


But no matter what, I’d write again. I’d get back to work. Writing those two posts a week became a working part of my life and I just did it. Whenever. However. No matter what happened.

I wrote when I was homeschooling and Mac was working out of town and I was working at a law firm and going to grad school. I wrote when I was depressed. I wrote when I was not. I wrote through pregnancy and tragedy and moving and I wrote when I was bored. BORED of myself and my words and the internet and all of it. I wrote when I was sure I had nothing left to say and wasn’t funny and found myself TOTALLYFUCKINGINSPIRED.


I’m not really sure. I guess because I had committed to do something and I got just enough attention to feed my ego so I kept going. I don’t know. Who fucking knows why we do anything?

I had something to say. I thought I’d lose my mind if I didn’t say it. Then nobody read me and I felt sorry for myself but didn’t quit. And when I wanted to quit I clung to the people around me encouraging me and one or two new readers. And then it kind of grew. And I quit my cubicle job and then the teaching job and now, here, 5 years later, I send off the final draft of my book proposal.

I wish writers would stop being so precious about writing. I wish they’d stop acting like there’s some system or routine or method that will Make You a Writer and that there’s a right or wrong way to do it. Just fucking write what you want to say and hope for the best.

When nothing happens, write the next thing.

When big things happen, write the next thing.

And keep writing and going until little by slowly, through events so mundane you don’t even notice them, you look around five years later and realize your life looks completely fucking different, and it’s all because you decided to write the things you thought about motherhood.

So, hey. I think you should say the thing you want to say even if you’re sure nobody is listening and I think you should say it in the way you want to say it because it doesn’t matter that they all like us.

It matters only that a few like us in their bones.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.



*I have since quit smoking. Hallelu!

**There is no ** asterisk in this post. I just used that as an opportunity to tell you that this title is misleading. I didn’t start writing 5 years ago. I started writing when I was 9. I wrote damn near constantly until I was too drunk to do so. When I started again in 2011, I hadn’t written anything in 5 or 6 years (outside of academic shit), but it’s like riding a bike. I guess. I don’t know. I suck at bike riding. But it takes a long time to find your voice. I know that. It took me about 20 years, I think. So fucking write a lot. That’s my point.

75 Comments | Posted in what the fuck is a writer | January 27, 2016

What would happen if we let people be broken sometimes?

by renegademama

When I write about my sadness, people try to fix me. They try to fix me up with their heartfelt advice, or admonitions. Their concern. So much concern. Deep and earnest.

I need more “me time” (whatever the fuck that means). I’m overwhelmed because “I’ve taken on too much.” Perhaps I don’t understand that “life is hard.” If I would just be “more grateful.”

They tell me “I’ll be okay,” even though I didn’t ask. They tell me how to get “better,” though I didn’t ask for medicine. Hell, I didn’t even know I was sick.

But they tell me anyway.

If you feel like shit, go get some medicine, Janelle. Get some help, Janelle. Get better get happy get that smiling face on please.

Your family relies on you, you know.

I’m so tired of this shit. My friend told me about “happiness culture,” the idea that we must be happy or something is wrong, with us, and we should figure out our shit RIGHT NOW because let’s be honest, your lack of unbridled glee makes people feel weird.

And nobody wants to feel weird.


I wonder though, what would happen if we let people be broken sometimes?

What if we let a little sadness be okay? What if we let a little misery, even, a little dark, a little lost – what if we held that like an old friend or teacher, one we don’t like that much, but who has value, often way after they’re gone?

Since I was a child I’ve felt a sadness, way deep in my bones, sometimes. It’s the sadness of knowing I will most likely live on this planet without my mother. Without my dad. And that is how it is supposed to be. If all goes well, if all goes absolutely perfectly, my kids will watch me pass on and away and that will be that. That’s it. That’s the order.

Wrapped up in the beauty of my daily texts with the human closer to me than any other (my mom) lies the perfect truth that one day our line will be cut.

This is not a sadness that makes me unable to get out of bed. This is not a sadness that makes me unable to function, to laugh, take care of my kids. This is not a sadness that weakens my knees. This is not misery. This is not depression. And this is not clinical.

It is a feeling that makes me question. It makes me wonder what the hell we’re doing with our lives. It makes me ask myself if all these “jobs” and all this “work” and husband being gone and gathering of stuff is really what it’s about, and what kind of lies have we been sold to think that’s so, and what the hell are my kids learning in school and why haven’t I visited my sick cousin and if I look back on my life in 20 years will today make sense? Will I wish I would have seen more clearly?

Sometimes it feels insane the way we fill our days in the pursuit of, what. What? Is it weird to question that? Is it wrong?

An itch of the unfulfilled. Is that not alright? Do we need to slap a Band-Aid on that? Do we need to polish that right up to make ourselves more presentable?

And if we do, how come it is after the moments of greatest discomfort that I grow the most? My life has been a journey of discovering new ways I am wrong. New things I’m wrong about. And that fucking hurts, man. That ain’t comfortable. That’s not fun.


But if I tell people about that feeling, that itch, that sense of lack or questioning – if I admit I’m SUPER FUCKING WEIRD and disillusioned sometimes – everybody wants to swoop in and make me better. Point out the ways it’s my fault I don’t have butterflies flying out my ass all day. Pinpoint The Cause of my Occasional Distress as if some emotions are better or more valuable or tasty or good or right than others.

As if good, enlightened, grown up people have good enlightened grown up emotions, and then there’s the rest of us with our defective, unpleasant ones.

(Read some Liz Gilbert or hike the Pacific Crest Trail or do SOMETHING good grief! Nobody likes the unenlightened!)

Fuck that.

I don’t choose to live that way, and I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong if we feel really lost sometimes. I don’t think we’ve failed our families or ourselves if we get down and lose it occasionally. I don’t think an ache of sadness or WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING HERE stands too far apart from an ache of joy and I think they both teach, guide, drag along.

And maybe pain even more so.


In other words, friend, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. Even when you’re jacked up.

I don’t think it means you “hate your life.” It don’t think it means you aren’t grateful for what you have. I don’t think it means you need to be fixed sewed up or remade. It could mean any of these things or all these things but mostly I think it means you are human.

Mostly it means we are human.

I wonder if that could ever be enough. I wonder if that could ever be good enough for my kids and you, world, and if you could stop trying to fix that which makes you uncomfortable, or, perhaps, very sad.



Perhaps you and I, we can try letting that be, that broken, and see what happens then.

I’m thinking love, again.

I’m thinking truth. I’m thinking the sadness won’t sit like a black tar wound in your gut because you can’t say it out loud (they’ll say you aren’t doing life right. And one should always, if at all possible, do life right).

They’ll tell you you’re wrong.

I want to tell you that I know you’re alright. And if you’re not, you can tell me that too. And I don’t want to fix you. I want you broken and torn up and super fucking weird and even a little hypocritical and contrary and I want to love you anyway and just kind of be your friend because maybe we can learn together, alongside the outside feeling distant, until we look back and wonder when it was exactly we were remade.

Sewn up.

And maybe even made more whole.


72 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | January 19, 2016

I’m pretty sure Facebook removes my brain upon log-in

by renegademama

I consider myself a rational person. Generally, in arguments, I’m the one constructing bullet-proof logical defenses of my ego. Err I mean “point.” If the person I’m with is crying or engaging in some other sort of extreme emotional reaction I usually look at them rather alarmed and wish they’d stop so we could get back to the logical portion of the evening, where I’m more comfortable.

Or I’m yelling and flailing wildly, which is how I do sadness.

Alright, fine. I am irrational, but pretty much only with family. Family has the ability to bring the crazy RIGHT UP TO THE MOTHERFUCKING SURFACE with me, but it’s because I love them more than the rest of you (sorry) and since they’ve got my heart all wrapped up in their chest hairs (just leave me alone with my metaphors), they affect me on a level others cannot. I think this is normal.

“Normal.” Whatever.

My point is I’m a somewhat rational, thoughtful, reasonable human who only loses her shit around her kids, mother and husband. Winning, in other words.

In public, I don’t look for fights and I’m not confrontational and usually I just want to eat the triple-cream brie in peace.

You know, at parties. I want to eat the brie in peace, not argue with you about guns. We should stop shooting each other. That’s my opinion. There. Pass the salami.


I don’t waltz out of rooms or scream and yell or demand that you get the fuck out of my house because your opinions and insights make me want to fold up in a corner and weep for humanity. I realize you don’t really affect me, and I can always lambaste you later on my blog, so I focus on appreciating you for something good (like maybe your kids are cute, or you have nice boots, or love to sing. I love singing too!).

In other words, I don’t freak the fuck out when people annoy me.

Unless I’m on Facebook.

But only sometimes. Sometimes I’m okay. Sometimes Facebook removes my brain upon log-in. But I never know which it’s going to be which seems totally unfair because if you’re going to act irrationally there should at least be some warning for it.

Oh wait. That MAY not make sense. Whatever.

The question is: Why do I repeatedly act in irrational ways on Facebook that never end well? For funnies? Okay. Except it’s not fun.

It’s never fun. It’s never once been fun ever.

“Hey Janelle, let’s try that again because maybe THIS TIME it will be fun.”

For example:

The Rage Unfriend: We’ve been friends for a few months. I don’t know you very well, but you seem fine. You like cats and roses. But then yesterday you shared Matt fucking Walsh’s “essay” about how Planned Parenthood murders children and none of their other services matter and that is such a fucking stupid thing to say because HOW DOES WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH NOT MATTER YOU FUCKING OMG and I have to unfriend you. Immediately. I want to block your ass. I want to unfriend you, lecture you for 9 hours, and call your mother. Wait. No. I do not want to call your mother.

Now, this all makes sense in the moment. I don’t want Matt Walsh in my newsfeed. I don’t even want to come face-to-face with the reality that people READ the man let alone use him as the embodiment of their perspectives. And if you’re interested in blotting out Planned Parenthood we clearly don’t have much in common, and you’re not my cousin sister aunt grandma so WHY ARE WE FRIENDS? Let’s not be friends.

But then again (a day later), I realize: Really, Janelle, this person was just sharing her opinions. There was no threat to you. Not real or imagined. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Why unfriend because your politics don’t align? Know thy enemies, asshole.

You could have just unfollowed her and gotten the same result.

BUT it’s so damn satisfying in the moment.

Actually, you know what? Fuck it. One cannot be expected to thrive emotionally in the face of “none of Planned Parenthood’s services matter.”


Okay, but this one. This one is real:

The Distant Family Member Unfriend. The evolution of our “friendship” inside my head:

  • Day 1: Oh “so and so” I saw at that family party wants to be friends. Okay. Accept request.
  • Day 14: Wow, she writes some really unfortunate shit.
  • Day 30: Wait. Trump? Nope. Unfollow.
  • Day 45: Please stop commenting on how I can improve my parenting.
  • Day 45.5: You have been banished to “acquaintance” setting.
  • Year 365: Damn, why do I ever publish anything publicly? There she is again.
  • Year 2: Did you just? No you didn’t. You did not do that. You did that. Unfriend.

Damn you Janelle. A way better option would have been to NOT BE A FUCKING LOON and just let the distant-family-member flow across your FB feed a few times a year and pretend it isn’t happening or repeat a peaceful mantra or stack rocks or something.

But I can’t because I need that moment of satisfaction. I NEED IT.


There are more:

The Rage Block. I’m not afraid of you but I hate you so thoroughly I must block you because unfriending is insufficient to express my rage. Somehow, I feel like I’m DOING something by blocking you. Like I’m really letting you have it. I find satisfaction in the idea of you trying to find me and being like “I can’t find her!” And then realizing…wait. Right. Oh yeah. Nobody cares.

The Heartfelt Discussion with Total Strangers. I feel strongly on this topic so I’m going to share my deep feelings and well-thought-out perspectives, to which Facebook responds: “I’d like to beat you with my barren uterus you fucking cunt.” (That’s a direct quote.) Thanks for getting me. I feel good about this.

The Logical Argument with People’s Logical Fallacies:

  • You: If people would behave the cops wouldn’t have to shoot them.
  • Me: That doesn’t make sense. One doesn’t prove the other.
  • You: Yes it does. Cops only shoot people who are misbehaving so if people don’t misbehave they won’t get shot.
  • Me: But you can’t explain a problem with the problem. It is possible that cops shoot people even if they aren’t misbehaving.
  • You: No.
  • Me: What do you mean, “no?”
    You: You’re a cop-hater. My dad was a cop. I KNOW COPS.
  • Me: Okay but the presence of helpful, law-abiding police officers doesn’t negate the possibility of cops who shoot people unnecessarily.
  • You: You liberals hate everybody. Why don’t you go back to the country you came from?
  • Me: Wait. What. Okay.


Why do I waste my time? Why? Why? Why do I torture myself with mental acrobats leading only to existential wasteland (okay so maybe I’m a tiny bit dramatic) and why click on the story about the baby being put in a microwave so I cry about it off and on for two days straight and question everything I’ve ever known to be true and real?

Why click on the lost-kid story or the killed-tiger story or the latest from Donald IMAFUCKINGFASCIST Trump or anything from the “#AllLivesMatter” crew (seriously just go home with that crap)? The Wendy Williams boobs are for sex only intellectual shit-show? ONE MORE MEME TELLING ME TO GET SOME ME TIME BECAUSE I’M WORTH IT. Gahhhhhhh why am I here get me outta here.

Why? Does Facebook remove my brain? Do I like pain? Maybe I like pain.

I should get off. I can’t get off.

Because cat videos, newborns, and you.

Oh, so it’s your fault. Good. I feel better.

Now excuse me while I hop on over to my hate-follows on Instagram.




I teach better than I manage my emotions on Facebook.

Join me for my February writing workshop.

And btw, there are only 5 spots left and this is the only evening version I’ll be teaching of this in 2016.


Every day I hold my breath as I ask how her day was

by renegademama

Instead of calling a human being an “it,” you can call them 

“he or she”

“him or her”



“sparkle face”

“love boat”


Or, most importantly, whatever they want to be called (even if that’s not perhaps your first thought).


If you don’t have that information, and you can’t tell their gender through the lens of traditional performance expectations (in other words you can’t “tell” if they’re a “boy” or “girl”)

You can resort to calling them anything really that





Recognizes their HUMANITY


As opposed to

erases it.


If you think it’s funny or true or politically poignant to refer to a human being as an inanimate object as if that human doesn’t have

brain bones soul like you do,

then you may raise a child who goes to school with my child

and stands in a circle on the playground yelling


and pointing to my baby


she comes home and tells me about it in




of tiny kid talk.


“I think they just didn’t know if I’m a boy or a girl” and you say WELL TELL THEM and she says I DID (but they won’t stop) so you tell the teacher and she investigates and all along you’re thinking it’s innocent 6-year-old confusion but the teacher says



These kids knew it was wrong. They knew what they were doing was wrong.

And you want to fall over






in the whole fucking thing

because of all the things in the world your baby is,


is not one of them.


Of all the things in the world she is first, human,

and what do you do if the world perhaps








The heart of 5 years, 5 months and 2 days grew first in my womb, home, and veins

born here with you



She’s OURS.

ALREADY made whole, full and

knowing who and how she is though maybe you deny



of her tiny heart

against my own silent pulse

the one



sent you, too,

in shockwaves to your guts –




of love,

breath, and bones.


There are a thousand things you can say instead of “it.”

Choose one.

They’re listening.




P.S. I’m not putting my child’s face up because the thought of People of the Interwebz criticizing the way my baby dresses herself makes me want to stab things. And though this is about her, it’s for every kid like her, every kid rocking aesthetics that the world may not quite understand. We love you. You’re alright. They are the problem. Fuck ’em. Get your cape on and do you.

113 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | January 7, 2016