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.)

 

49 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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149 Comments | Posted in despair | November 16, 2016

Male birth control. Or, stop being a whiney-ass baby.

by renegademama

I have a little story for the men who couldn’t handle the side effects of a new, effective male birth control shot, and the researchers who canceled the study citing “safety/adverse effects” – the very side effects 30%  – that’s THIRTY FUCKING PERCENT – of women taking birth control experience daily.

 

The story is called: IF YOU FUCK THIS UP YOU WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE. AKA: Birth control. AKA: Pretend you are us. 

From the time we are teenagers, or choose to become sexually active with men, it becomes “locker room” talk for damn near every straight woman with a vagina (and yes, I know the definition of “woman” is broader than this. I am referring here to the aforementioned identity). In every bathroom, bedroom, hallway, and yes, locker room, the giant, glaring question: HOW DO I AVOID UNWANTED PREGNANCY?

Welp let’s go over the options.

Abstinence: okay, okay. Okay. Okay. But then not okay for most of us. This is the form of birth control that will be thrown in your face if you end up pregnant, or birth control fails. You will be told that you should have stayed abstinent if you weren’t ready to accept the possibility of failed contraception. Yes, even if that risk is 1%. And yes, even though you were 18 and the dude who also trusted that condom has since left you for your roommate.

You should have thought of that! Abstinence is the only safe way!

Condoms: Absolutely excellent except you have to have them all the time and sometimes men refuse to wear them, or whine and whine about it and after a few (hundred) beers, whine so long and hard (see what I did there) that you’re like FINE because you’re 19 and drunk too and then. Well, pregnancy.

YOU SHOULD HAVE STAYED ABSTINENT YOU WHORE. He’s just a boy being a boy stop having unrealistic expectations. 

The pill: You realize condoms are too unreliable. You need something more secure and consistent and less reliant on a partner’s dick going in it. The pill! Perfect! You make an appointment at the clinic. You get there and they stick a scope in your vagina before they can give you the pill. Standard procedure. It’s a cold, hard, metal thing about 12 inches in diameter. You stare at the florescent lights. You remind yourself why you’re doing this.

After they stick that in, they swab your insides with a small, splintering piece of wood that they call a “Q-tip.” For the grand finale, doc sticks her hand in you and pokes and prod while you watch the interns gaze at your pubic hair.

But you get the pill! Whew. Sweet relief.

Then you take it. You notice your weight goes up. You notice you are getting a little irritable. A little sad. You notice you’re yelling a lot. You’re crying more. Now, you’re screaming, and now you’re lying in your bed, eating, and you don’t know why. Things that used to interest you don’t. You are legitimately depressed. Your friend says, “Oh, you went on the pill? Oh yeah. That’s what happens.”

What now come again, you think. I have to LIVE like this? I guess if it’s normal. And you hang in there.

You try for a few more months until the migraines come. This can’t happen. You go back to the doctor. They tell you, “Yes, the pill is triggering your headaches. We can put you on the lightest pill since you aren’t responding well to this one, but you have to use a second form of contraception, like CONDOMS.”

And here you are RIGHT BACK WHERE YOU STARTED. “But are there any other options, doc?”

She tells you: “They all have hormones, sorry. The shot. The IUD. It’s all the same. Hormones. If you don’t respond well to the pill, you won’t respond well to those.”

You survive for a few years on the lightest pill, using condoms, enduring the problems and countless pregnancy scares, but then they come out with the NON-HORMONAL IUD and you’re like OMG THANK YOU BABY JESUS and you go back to the clinic and they stick in the scope and hand and splintering wood while a couple interns watch as usual and then they stick in your uterus a little T-shaped device that feels like a tiny fish hook being dragged through your insides.

And then the cramping starts. But you have reliable birth control and no hormones! It’s worth it! Years of security!

You ignore the stories of the way they get implanted in the uterus and cause scar tissue and thus infertility (because you know how important it is to not fuck up your baby-making capacity – you must keep it all working! Do not mess this up!). You ignore it because you have to accept this risk so you don’t get pregnant, and it’s the only thing that’s worked, and truly, you are out of options.

Then your period comes, and you remember that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Your formerly chill 3-day period has been transformed into an upside down volcanic explosion of what must be 60 % of the blood in your body. You change your tampon once an hour, twice an hour. Do I just LIVE in the bathroom now?

It doesn’t end. It’s coupled with waves of cramping that move like fire down your body. Your low back. Your stomach. Your guts.

Here it is: The cost of non-hormonal, not-man-reliant birth control. Fuck my life and my uterus.

The following week, your boyfriend tells you he can feel the IUD with his penis while you’re having sex, so could you please figure out some other form of birth control?

The end.

 

Check it out: IT IS TIME FOR MEN TO JOIN THE CLUB WE’VE BEEN FREQUENTING SINCE THE BEGINNING OF HUMANKIND.

(40 years, people. 40 years of no real progress in male contraception.)

What kind of 9th-circle-of-hell bullshit is this?

Women suffer for years at the mercy of their uteri, and then at the mercy of birth control methods that work but fuck us up, fail and fuck us up, and we keep working and working and trying to get it right, and a good portion of our lives are centered around avoiding pregnancy, getting pregnant, staying pregnant, all the things about pregnant, and NONE OF IT IS PRETTY and NOW YOU ARE TELLING ME THERE IS POTENTIAL FOR SOME HELP AND RELIEF AND WE ARE TOO CONCERNED ABOUT MEN HAVING TO ENDURE WHAT WE DO?

What the hell is this, “Man Cold, Side Effect Style?”

You know, we with female anatomy endure a lot of bullshit to provide certain things, such as, oh I don’t know, new life. (Or, even worse, to get it to function the way it “should” if it refuses.)

And either way, we endure it our whole lives. Hiding it. Protecting it. Defining it. Mourning it. Medicating it. Fixing it. Figuring out how to orgasm it.

It’s taken a long time for us to get to the point when we have some agency over our bodies, the course of our lives, but still, the birth control situation remains complex and unclear for many of us, and we have no choice but to figure it out.

Are dudes too delicate to endure the exact discomfort we’ve been facing for years?

Once again, society is cool with the suffering of women. We think twice for men. Once again, society kisses the ass of man – or shall I say “penis” – while telling women Well if you didn’t want to deal with birth control, why were you born with a vagina? 

(Ummmmmm hey there. Didn’t choose this. Shouldn’t be punished for it.)

Yeah, I’m angry.

This one hits below the belt (I can’t stop myself).

Figure it out.

HORMONE UP, motherfuckers.

It’s your turn.

womantoughaf

 

61 Comments | Posted in I'm going to get unfriended for this | November 1, 2016