The view from a cot on Half Dome, or, my mom

by renegademama

(Note: I’m taking the month of May off from from the blog (well, except this post). Be back in June. Don’t leave me. Love your faces.)


My mom taught me that if you’re broke and possibly broken, the thing to do with your tax return check is to pack up your kids and drive north, up the coast of Oregon, Washington, all the way to British Columbia, fishing along the way.

You go to those fancy gardens and ride a ferry.

If it rains, you hang a big blue tarp over the hatchback of your Ford Taurus Wagon and cook up the crawdads your kids caught.

No need for campsite reservations. You’ll find something along the way.

Even in Yosemite, in the middle of the summer, when there’s no chance in hell you’re getting a campsite. When you’re done patrolling the campgrounds, finally accepting that there are no spots available, you go to the walk-in campground and share a site with a couple German rock climbers who tell your kids how they sleep on cots sticking out at a 90 degree angle from the face of Half Dome and your daughter gazes at them, sure she’s finally found love.

She goes to sleep imagining the Yosemite stars and moon and clouds and trees from a cot sticking out of Half Dome.



If  you come upon an event you can’t afford, you buy one ticket then tell your kids to meet you at a certain spot down the way so you can pass that ticket through the fence and each kid can get in for free.

If you need mayonnaise for your sandwich you stop at Carl’s Junior and grab some from the condiment area. You send your daughter in and it embarrasses the crap out of her.

If you break down in Las Vegas you play nickel slots and eat buffet food until you get a ride home, or the car gets fixed.

When the window breaks on your mini-van you duct tape that shit and keep driving, even when it’s spewing black out the black muffler and humiliating your junior high kid.


My mom taught me that when it gets insane tough and the money’s gone again, you do your chores on Saturday then go to the beach, and you cook up some hot dogs in the fog while the perfect cold sand squishes between your toes and curls form in your hair around your face from the fog and wet air and the sun slices through the gray in slivers of pink orange.

Because there it all becomes freedom again.

If you can’t afford a nice place to live you find a nice place to live by living in places that are for sale but ya gotta go when it sells so you move every few months, which is weird, but you still get the sweet digs, and your kids learn to pack their rooms in 30 minutes flat.

When life really really isn’t working you pack up and move to Texas. If it doesn’t work there either, you move back.

When you hate the public high school available, you work in the kitchen of the fancy private school because the only option for your kids is college.

How will we pay? Who knows you’ll figure it out.

How will we get there? Doesn’t matter we’ll get there.

Keep driving. You’ll see it. You’ll arrive. I know it. (She always seemed to say.)

(Her optimism infuriated me at times I will admit.)


If on the way Grace Slick or the Rolling Stones comes on the radio you turn it up WAY UP and you sing loud and tell stories of drinking Southern Comfort with Janis Joplin.

I mean you sing it loud. In the mini-van, with the duct-taped window and black-spewing muffler.

You go to church on Sunday.

You start businesses and when they fail you start another.

You run out of money and get it again.

You lose your house and find another.

You give up 10,000 times for exactly 10 minutes.

You recast redefine reform and redesign 5, 10, 5,000 times to drive on, keep on, rolling on and making it. On.

(I have questioned everything in my life except the loyalty of my mother.)


When your daughter goes to rehab, again, you clean her apartment. You cry when you stand in it, telling her later, “I just knew how hard you were trying to be a mother, Janelle. And you just couldn’t do it.” You see what even she can’t see, and hold on to it like a trip to the ocean on a foggy cold Saturday. You see the orange pink of her face as she takes a drag off another cigarette and feel the cold sand between her toes until she can feel it again herself.

When your grandkids need you, you pull them into your home.

When your daughter gets well, you let them go again.

And you turn it up, loud, and you drive, and you love, and you become Nana and stay mom and sing, until every kid and grandkid knows the tune, and wonders where the hell we’re going this time, and how we’re going to get there, but only a little, because your voice is reminder that we’re already there.

You can forget, but not for long.

Get the duct-tape out. Fire it up, kids.

Mama’s home.

And damn. Look at those stars.


Hey teenage girls: You are not the worst

by renegademama

Recently I read (yet another) thread on Facebook that went like this:

Main post: “Teenage boys are so hard.”

Comments in thread: “You should be glad you don’t have GIRLS.”

At least you don’t have GIRLS. OMG TEENAGE GIRLS.

They are THE WORST.

Insane, emotional, slutty little things. Mean. Irrational.

I’m paraphrasing, but you know the story.

Get your shotgun out. Lock em up. But goddamnit why are they so ANNOYING?

I have a daughter. She’s 13. I don’t see it. I don’t see the horrible. I don’t think I ever will. Tell me I will. Tell me she’ll be “the worst” in a few years.

Dear humans:

What would happen if we dropped the storyline that teenaged girls are “the worst” and just let them fucking BE?




Well, since we’re on the topic, American teenage girls, I would like to provide a few guidelines for keeping yourself safe and navigating these awkward teenage years:

Do not wear revealing clothing like short shorts or leggings because boys just can’t control their hormones at this age and your skin makes them want to rape you. Yes, this is your problem. This could get complicated because you may have sexual feelings too and maybe WANT to show a little skin and explore the sensual side of your existence – OR MAYBE IT’S JUST A HOT DAY AND YOU ARE ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY HOT –  but this makes you a slut.

so don’t do that. nobody likes a slut.

Yes, that’s right: What’s unavoidable in boys is equally unavoidable in girls but in boys it’s expected (and possibly celebrated as a sign of virile heterosexuality) but in you it’s just dirty and shameful and your virile dad will need to protect you with a shotgun from virile boys whose parents dressed them in onesies at 6-months-of age that read: “Lock your daughters up.”

Now’s the time, daddy.

Lock.Your.Daughters.Up with those wild breasts and vaginas JUST OUT THERE FOR THE TAKING.

On to the topic of friends: Don’t be a “mean girl.” When boys have problems with their friends they are humans having problems with friends, or “assholes” or bullies, but when you do it there’s a special classification called “mean girl” because we need to make sure we establish early on that you are catty, simple-minded, and trite.

Newsflash “mean girl” is not actually a thing.

Assholes come in all genders.

Speaking of assholes, hormones rage in male and female teenagers, resulting in mood swings, tears, uncontrollable emotions and rage, but when you do it it’s a result of your vagina and uterus and menstruation and ohbytheway you’ll carry that with you your whole life. The irrationality. The emotionally unstable. When men cry we either deem them “pussies” or laud their gorgeous sensitivity. (Oh yes we’re screwing them too but that’s a different blog post.)

Have you dropped out of math yet?

Good. Stick with literature. Our emotional brains function better in those tender humanities.

Anyway, in short, teenage girls, this is why people hate you and why you read Facebook threads of grown-ass adults lamenting your existence and claiming you are WORSE than “boys:” Because you’re crazy and mean and irrational and emotional and slutty and your potential to get pregnant and evoke the (obviously unavoidable) rape drive in boys makes you a liability to yourself and your family.

Welcome to femaleness. Welcome to womanhood.

Welcome to the motherfucking jungle.

Oh shit wait! I forgot. How to not get your throat cut by strangers (this is from an actual list of helpful citizens on Facebook who commented on the occasion of a woman getting her throat cut by a stranger on the street):

  • do not get out of the car at nightFBbFBa
  • learn self defense
  • always carry pepper spray
  • do not know bad people
  • don’t be a prostitute
  • do not go into bad areas of town
  • don’t walk alone ever on a street ever.

(Why are they virtually unconcerned about the human who MURDERED another HUMAN? Well shoot your guess is as good as mine.)


(good times.)


Lemmetellyousomething my girl:

I don’t see this and I never will. Oh okaaaaay I see difficulty and I see pain and I see emotions and I see the hormones and the silliness woven with grown-up-ness and I see myself.

I see your father.

I see a child. I see a woman-child. I see a woman-child becoming woman. I see emotional turmoil. I see upset. I see rage. I see building moats in the sand and looking for seashells and painted nails and pedicures and long lean muscular legs and new curves and unruly curls on rainy days.

I see perfection.brokenness.gaping faults.attitude.

I see the difficulty of any kid that ever lived. I see all the boys and girls.

I see helpful. lazy. I see easier than my 4-year-old. independence. separation. wit and sarcasm and naiveté.

I see myself.

I was a teenage girl. I didn’t know the world hated me. Maybe because there wasn’t social media.

I see exploration. I see changing. I see life. I see a couple text messages to boys and a few discussions about this one and that one and I see you learning navigating working to understand other humans, life, sex, bodies, school, futures, loveheartangerragepainhystericalLaughingFriendsSiblingsFamilyandTomorrow.



Heyyyy daughter, I don’t hate you. I don’t think you’re slutty or evil or mean. I expect you to be irrational and emotional just like I am sometimes, and your dad is sometimes, and your brother and every other person ever.

I want to lock you up, but not because of your gender.

I want to hide you away from the idiots. I want to hide you away so you never think you are the worst. So you aren’t ashamed. So you aren’t embarrassed. So you don’t gaslight YOURSELF when you’re emotional and unstable and irrational in your room away from the family for a few moments telling yourself “Well here I am just another faulty female fulfilling those prophesies all over the internet.”

And I don’t want you to not see that you are growing up in a clusterfuck of rape culture victim blaming female-body shaming (all hail the thigh gap) – WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN – and it isn’t you at all at all at all. It’s us. Them. Them. Them.

We plunk you down in an insane world then belittle diminish fault and blame you as you struggle to find your place in an insane world.

You are me. You are him. You are her.

You are not the worst.

You are the motherfucking best.

Ours, at least.

If you read it, all that nonsense, don’t believe it.

Believe this. Believe it to the end, and I’ll see you on the other side, kid.




My dear friend Sarah Maren and I are teaching a writing & photography intensive workshop in Sacramento next month and it’s going to change lives. Well, maybe not. But it will be fun, and you will become a better writer and photographer.

8 spots left.


(also, how cute and innocent do I look in this drawing?!)


I don’t know shit about Baltimore

by renegademama

I know a few things. I’ve studied them, or better yet, felt them. I’ve watched, heard about them. Better still, lived them. I know a few things.

But I don’t know shit about Baltimore.

I know CNN and Fox are liars, and they don’t know shit about Baltimore either.

I watch people talk.

Here’s a thread of women analyzing whether the mother who “beat” her kid for attempting to join the riots was right or wrong. As if that’s the fucking point. Perhaps turn that white gaze inward.

I’m pretty sure they don’t know shit about Baltimore.

Here’s the “violence is never the answer people.” That sounds nice. It would be even nicer if it were true. Violence, it seems to me, is America’s go-to move, abroad, and at home, among the subaltern, the black and brown poor.

Now you speak up. Now that CVS was injured. Now all of a sudden you care about their “neighborhood” and “property.”

Their lives though? Nah. Still not on the radar.

Where were you on violence when these children and men were killed, unarmed?

You don’t know shit about Baltimore either.

That’s for darn sure.

I read people saying the “rioters” are disgracing blacks, and I wonder why I never read the same about whites, when they burn and loot and break shit because their sports team didn’t win.

Do we call them “animals?” “Thugs?”(just use the “n-word.” it’s way more honest.)

I watch whites cling to the people of color in agreement with them, the ones yelling “looting is not the answer.”

“Look! A real black person agrees with me!” (definitive proof that they are correct, obvs.)

But I wonder if those people, whatever color, know shit about Baltimore, or West Baltimore, to be exact.

As in: Disenfranchised people of color living in poverty, geographically and systematically removed from that which “we” (those of us not in their shoes) see, that which we know, that which we understand to be “life.”

And “America.”

Centuries of removal.


I move in, I move out. Maybe today I think about race. Maybe I don’t.

My newsfeed was eerily silent on Walter Scott, except from my black and brown friends. It occurs to me how choosy white liberals are. So enlightened, when it’s convenient.

I do it too. It sickens me.

A student told me during a class discussion about racism: “You get to not think about this if you don’t want to. I have to live it. Every day. No matter what.”

Her eyes were tired.

I leaned against the whiteboard (ironically) and couldn’t talk.

She said it all.


This ain’t no ivory tower material. These are lives. These are lives that are not mine.

I have no capacity to understand any of it unless I shut the hell up and listen to people who know something about Baltimore.


I read these words the past couple days, between driving my kids around and not worrying about getting shot:

The Baltimore Protests are About Freddie Gray and So Much More and Freddie Gray’s Death & Baltimore’s Ongoing State of Emergency by Arnebya Herndon.

Black America’s Baltimore schism: Why the Freddie Gray tragedy demands more serious soul-searching by Brittney Cooper, PhD.

This FB post by Erika Nicole Kendall. (Note: This now links to her blog since FB apparently deleted her post, which is a whole different problem, I think.)

And this one by Feminista Jones.

In support of Baltimore: Or; Smashing Police Cars is Logical Political Strategy by Radical Faggot

This Twitter essay by Jesse Williams

Nonviolence as Compliance, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore by Conor Friedersdorf

Eyewitnesses: The Baltimore Riots Didn’t Start the Way You Think  by Sam Brodey & Jenna McLaughlin


It’s not lost on me that I’m SPEAKING (writing) the words “I need to shut up and listen.” In other words, not shutting up.

But silence seemed wrong. Silence feels like compliance. Silence could be listening and learning or it could be quiet derision, or ignoring, because I can. Because it’s comfortable and easy from a place of race and class privilege.

I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t say a word. Who cares? It does not matter. My voice is not the one to be heard, here.

I don’t know shit about Baltimore.


Do you?



42 Comments | Posted in politics | April 29, 2015

Sometimes you have to settle for standard human

by renegademama

I have backed myself into a corner with this “truth-telling” thing. Here, on this blog.

You know, there really is no such thing in writing. As soon as the words come out they are untrue, because they seem to contain the whole, but they are never the whole. They appear but are never complete, full, entire, because they are only a manifestation, a creation, a curating, a picking and choosing.

They are the nebulous mess pinched and squeezed and formed into a linear string of words. They have no power to tell “the truth.” It’s not their fault.

We needn’t blame them. Or their creator, really.

It’s all just a question of which string I form, which piece I tell, which story becomes “the one.”

I get really fucking tired of the internet with its inspirational quotes all day. I think if people fail they should admit that they failed. That shit is inspirational as fuck.

My favorite is when people tell me about a failure then post inspirational quotes about the value of failure but never admit publicly their own failure.

I guess it doesn’t apply to them. Or something.

We are so fucking crazy.

Sometimes we just have to settle with “standard human,” you know?

Dear internet, Sometimes you just have to be a standard human.

But nobody wants that. That won’t get many likes. Even Instagram can’t filter that shit into glory.


Alright. You want the fucking truth?

I am lost. I am tired of the bullshit. I am tired of the internet. I’m tired of the thing in me that seems to let everybody in and then gets too tired to keep them here. The life-suckers. I’m tired of them. My  friend circle has shrunk to very few humans. I imagine that is something I should have done years ago, but it takes what it takes to realize you have the “let everybody in” disease.

I am tired of my social media near-addiction. I am tired of escaping into the small rectangular box of my iPhone. I am tired of my husband being gone and the realization that it won’t end for 5 more months. I’m tired of no time or space or privacy to write, of working at the fucking preschool when I want to be revising my book.

I’m tired of my 4-year-old saying NO to simple requests and the feeling I have toward her by the end of the day sometimes. I’m tired of nursing all night. I’m tired of my back aching, and the 50 pounds I want to lose. I’m tired of the way I turn to food to give me what it cannot.

I’m tired of my life right now in pretty much every direction and it feels relentless and boring and go ahead. Tell me how fast it goes.

I don’t know that. I don’t feel that every day when I realize my firstborn will be driving in 3.5 years and the baby I had 5 minutes ago is almost one year old.



A few nights ago Arlo was up for 6 or 7 hours straight, on my arm, dozing, crying, not feeling well. When he finally went to sleep I rolled over with the most profound relief and thought “oh thank God” and breathed and my body felt good and beautiful to be on its own, but just as I was drifting off he kicked me in the back, my ribs, his toes pinching my skin. It felt huge, violent, like a final kick on a broken body, a sucker punch. A last straw.

I wanted to cry, pass him off. Somebody take this baby!

But there was nobody else.

So I rolled over and nursed him again instead, since that kick was the beginning of awakening.

For him, at least. (Mine I hope is on its way.)

You think I don’t see this stream of self-pity? I do. You think I don’t know it’s ridiculous? I do.

I get it, as I fall apart.

This is not new. It happens occasionally. The only thing I know is that I will be rebuilt. I always am. The universe gives me what I need. But I am in the thick of it and I am only a standard human.

Sometimes we have to settle for standard human.

IMG_1964Usually I wait and write to you when I’m through it, when I’m looking back from the other side and have something hopeful to say, or pretty, or interesting, even. But now I’m just in it. Right there in the middle. Not one single answer. I could have chosen a different story but this is the hardest one to tell. This one feels “truest,” though even in telling it I realize it’s not enough, because I drove home today and that was waiting for me on my porch (that, over there, on the left).


I’ve developed a little faith in the brokenness, now, in the tearing down, in the decimation. I’ve almost got a little affection for the old bastard, the way he sneaks in and deconstructs, piece by piece, leaves me here looking ridiculous, lost, unstable, unsure and clinging. Everything I try feels wrong. I feel small and false and wrong.

I smile when I think about what maybe will come out of the wrongness.

A friend who knows I’m fucked right now wrote me this text: “I can’t wait to read what comes out of you during this time.”

I thought it was the kindest thing I’ve ever heard. Her compassion. Her faith. In me, in the brokenness.

(thank you, Sarah.)


I have tiny moments I can give you, the way Arlo holds his arm up every time we get in or out of the car, walk out of the house. He’s ready to wave “hello.” He waves “hello” at every passerby. He waves “hello” to his siblings as they play outside. He waves hello with his whole fist, opens and closes it rhythmically, sometimes with a smile, sometimes just staring intently, waiting for a response from the recipient.

If it’s a passing car, I feel a little sad that they won’t respond. I tell him “They can’t see you, Arlo,” and kiss his cheek.

There are times in life that are meant to be survived, trudged through, just one foot in front of the other into and through the gray. There are times when the world doesn’t wave back, and you don’t know why. You’re trying. You’re looking. Your arm is held up there stupidly, ready, for a glance back or a grin or laugh.

If you’re lucky, you get a kiss on the cheek as a consolation prize, and another day to get through, to carry you through, to the other side, again.

Until then we keep waving, with our whole motherfucking fist, telling the truth and lies, looking up, over, until time robs us into a new day, a new story of the same old human.

In that dawn we look back and can hardly remember.

It’s just too damn bright I guess.



hey Arlo just keep on waving


76 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | April 19, 2015

My expert advice on when to take baby to the doctor

by renegademama

Sometimes I hear parents get confused about when they’re supposed to take their baby to the doctor. You know, how to tell the difference between an infection and a virus, or the severity of either. And I think this is weird. I mean it’s so simple.

But that’s probably because I have 4 kids. My experience is vast, my knowledge virtually endless. My oldest kid is 13 years old, so just imagine how many flus, colds, ear infections, tooth problems, respiratory infections and other ailments I have skillfully faced.

Since this has been a particularly sickly year for everybody, I thought I would share how to know when you’re supposed to take a baby to a doctor.

You can thank me later.

First, if the baby is a newborn, you take them at the first sign of anything at all whatsoever: Sniffles, cough, low fever, because it’s probably Ebola, polio, or whooping cough. If it’s your 2nd 3rd or 4th newborn, you do not take them immediately but rather wait 12 hours and then take them in. Because you’re more laid back now.virusl

Do not argue with me. Just do it. There is no other way.


Once they’re past the newborn stage, it gets a little trickier. Luckily I’m here to help:

If they have a fever for more than 4 days you should take them in, but only if it’s not a low-grade fever, because a low-grade fever can be caused by teething.

Or walking pneumonia.

So it’s either teething or walking pneumonia.

There’s probably no way to know which is which, except for the cough. Do they cough when they lie down? Then it’s probably pneumonia, except that also happens when they have shit in their chests.

Get a stethoscope and listen to their chests. Do you hear scratching sounds? Yeah I’ve never actually heard anything either. Let’s move on to snot. Snot assessment is super reliable.

Is it snot green? Then it’s an infection. Actually that’s just an old wives’ tale.How long have they had snot? Six months? Oh right. They’re babies. That’s probably nothing. Don’t worry too much about snot.


Basically we’re here again.

But cough? You should worry about cough. Persistent cough is BAD. Except sometimes the cough from the cold 3 weeks ago is still happening, which is pretty fucking persistent, but in that case not a big deal.

Are we clear so far? Good. Let’s move on to raspy sounds.

If they have raspy sounds when they breathe you definitely need to take them in because that’s a respiratory infection, except also snot in the throat sounds pretty much exactly the same, so maybe it’s that.

It’s either something in the chest that needs antibiotics or it’s a virus.

You don’t get to know this though, ever.

Figure it out though because you don’t want to be one of those douche moms who takes their kid in for nothing plus you’ll be bringing them to a goddamn cesspool of kid germs UNNECESSARILY and sometimes even little infections will heal on their own through the power of breast-milk and good vibes so DO NOT OVERUSE ANTIBIOTICS ASSHOLE.

Super bugs and shit.

Are you taking notes? You probably should be. This wisdom was years in the making, pal.


Lethargy, however, that’s clear. If they’re lethargic, DO NOT DELAY. Except fever can kind of make them lethargic. You know, like your baby who never stops crawling starts lying his head on your chest and you’re like “THIS IS DEFINITELY LETHARGIC” so you go straight into the emergency room because the fever’s been there for 5 days TOO LONG FOR SURE but then you’ll get there and the nurse will give him Ibuprofen and 12 minutes later he’ll be flirting with the homeless man to his left and the strange thought will pass through your mind: “OMG would you please act sick like you have been FOR THE PAST FUCKING 3 DAYS?”

Then you’ll realize that’s a terrible and slightly insane thing to think and you’ll be grateful again, always, of course, that your baby isn’t really, actually sick.

But since you’re there you’ll see the doctor anyway and she will look at you like “No really, stop being such a fucking moron.” And you’re like “no really he’s sick” but your words are unconvincing since the “sick” baby in question is now grinning and waving frantically while playing peek-a-boo with a tongue depressor.

So basically, what I’ve learned after 13 years of parenting, endless colds and flus and viruses and strep and ear infections is this: I will always take my kids in too soon and 98% of those times my baby will suddenly, miraculously, for no apparent reason, become healed as we cross the threshold of the doctor’s office, successfully making me look like an ass ONE MORE FUCKING TIME and I will say to myself “Next time I’m not doing that.”


And the next time, I will move through the various aforementioned stages of virus vs. infection assessment and hold out and hold strong until exactly one day before they were going to get better. And then I will take them in because I AM ABSOLUTELY SURE THEY NEED ANTIBIOTICS OR SOMETHING but they don’t.

And I’ll feel dumb and like I’m wasting the doctor’s time. But I’ll walk out thinking “Well at least we know.” And I’ll swear I won’t do it again because I learned this time but I will, always.

I tell myself it’s better to look like an ass than be wrong.

I should know, I’ve been practicing both for approximately 13 years and 5 months.

Obviously, I’m an expert.

You’re welcome.

(in other words):




Only 3 spots left in my May writing workshop.



43 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | April 7, 2015