I don’t live in a trailer. Or even a trailer park. I just like the idea of a playdate in a trailer. The image pretty much sums up my experience of motherhood. Just a little off, all the time.
The first time I picked up “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” I knew I was fucked.
Allow me to elaborate:
When I found out I was pregnant with my first child I wanted to kill myself and the man who got me knocked up (who I had known for 3 months and is, incidentally, still my husband). I kept the baby because he threatened to leave me if I didn’t and I loved him, and in my gut it seemed like the right thing to do. I looked at having a baby as a sort of event, a passing occurrence, like going to Mexico or getting your teeth cleaned. When the permanence of it hit me- when my belly started growing – I was furious. My body became somebody else’s. My sexiness faded like the jeans I used to fit. I felt robbed. Conned. Tied down. It was a sort of death I cannot explain. My youth passed in an instant, my freedom expired, my free-wheeling, hot & young days ended – abruptly, at 21, many years before I was ready. I swung between moments of compliance with my new identity and vengeful, furious rejection of it.
This is how I entered motherhood. And the manual I encountered was “What to Expect.” Where was the chapter on “suicidal tendencies upon viewing positive pregnancy test?” Or: “how to remain 21 and hot while mothering.”
Lord have mercy.
Sadly I didn’t become June Cleaver the moment I laid eyes on my precious baby girl. Instead, I spent a few years making huge, tragic parenting errors, which is another story and another blog. In short, I’ve been “that mother.” I’ve been drunk, absent, uninterested, impatient, narcissistically self-centered and obscenely immature. I’ve wished I’d never become a mother. I’ve pretended I could just ignore my kids and they’d go away. In fact, I tried that once (didn’t work). I’ve done all these things and now I’m finally on my way home, but I still wonder: “Where do the bad mothers go?”
What about those of us who love our children as much as the well-adjusted knowledgeable stable enlightened types but just can’t seem to get it right? What about those of us who just aren’t cut out for this shit but are doing it anyway?
I am proof that not every woman enters motherhood in some gentle, planned, ribbon-and-ruffles way. Not every woman likes this crap. Not every woman fits neatly into the mold created and reinforced by mainstream books like “What to Expect.” Not everybody is a good mother, all the time, even when we try.
I usually look around the child-rearing world and see a bunch of crap I don’t need, hear a bunch of advice I can’t use – encounter a bunch of people I only partially understand. I go home and I see a thrashed house with kids everywhere and overgrown lawns, dirty cloth diapers and books I want to read but don’t and toys and dishes and sometimes I demand that my kids just sit down be quiet and watch Netflix because I can’t stand one more moment of noise or movement. And if one more person says “Mama” I am going to take a bat to the windows.
A few hours later I walk into her room after she’s gone to sleep and I see my firstborn baby, nine years old. I stroke her frizzy unkempt hair and listen to her soft snores. I touch her cheek and my eyes burn in palpable adoration. I feel it surge up my body from my toes into my fingers – thick, fierce infinite expanding mama love. And I beg the universe in that moment to give her everything she will ever need and please God keep her safe and how is it that I am so lucky to have this child, right here. The one who robbed me of my great ass and flat belly and turned me into the mother I wasn’t ready to become.
I lie down exhausted and think of all the ways I could be a better mom. Of the days I’ve missed through my own selfishness. Of the years racing by, teasing me with the illusion that this will never end, that they’ll always be little. And I wish I didn’t yell so much.
And so it goes on like this. Back and forth. All the time. Here’s to the trip.
Someday I shall write my own version entitled: “What to Expect When You’re [a jackass and] Expecting.” Until then, I’ll write this blog.
Maia GuntherThursday, 27 January, 2011 at 5:06
I could not have turned my computer on at a more perfect moment, I so needed to read that right now. I love you and you rock.
TeresaSaturday, 29 January, 2011 at 8:13
We are glad that you are making it through — and you’ve helped all of us newer mothers a lot in the process, too!
And this confirms that I made the right decision to skip “What to Expect” when I was expecting!
renegademamaSaturday, 29 January, 2011 at 13:31
Thanks, Teresa. I’ve always been a little surprised at how helpful other mothers are when things get tough. There really is nothing better.
meWednesday, 9 February, 2011 at 12:38
Yeah! Sooo refreshing to hear an honest and true to life perspective from another real mom! Thanks RM!
JameyMonday, 11 April, 2011 at 10:09
I can relate to this in a big way. I am a full-time career woman trapped in a stay-at-home mother’s body! Help! Thanks for doing the best you can manage everyday and sharing your flaws with the rest of us “anti-Cleavers”. I just keep reminding myself that adversity breeds character. If all kids were raised Cleaver style none would be interesting and unique. My kids are going to be very, very interesting people! Lol!
Tami -- Teacher Goes Back to SchoolSunday, 28 August, 2011 at 20:22
I’m a new mom – and by new I mean we haven’t picked our baby yet. We travel in a month to meet her for the first time and bring her home.
I’m so glad to have found your blog. Happy to see the real side of parenthood. Thank you for writing and good luck at school tomorrow!
LisaFriday, 20 April, 2012 at 15:33
Are you my twin? Holy crap I actually have tears in my eyes which never happens because I am such a hard ass-But I am pretty sure you just wrote my life story too. And probably lots of mamas that didn’t want to and weren’t ready to become mamas and resent it and are bitter and feel like failures most of the time, until they see their kids sleeping and remember that you love ’em a lot. But man, so not ready still!
sara moonWednesday, 8 August, 2012 at 13:56
where have you been all my mothering life? just found you today (the soulemama post? OMG!) and i think i love you. thank you for putting out there (so witty and eloquently) what i feel in my effed up head. can’t wait to read more!
JenSaturday, 1 December, 2012 at 21:05
Oh thank heavens I found you JUST when I needed you. I think it might be hormonal but I was starting to glace furtively at Martha Stewart and Real Simple and Soule Mama so that I could feel bad about doing stuff I don’t want to do. I really REALLY needed someone to remind me who am. I am the mom who, upon seeing the homemade crepes that someone brought to my daughter’s Montessori preschool for snack, threatened to bring a bucket of KFC and a pack of smokes for the kids to pass around. Joking of course, but you feel me right? Thank you so much for your sweet/salty funny reality check.
McKinney MommasSaturday, 19 January, 2013 at 12:38
You’re sort of awesome. The end. 😉
KrisFriday, 1 March, 2013 at 21:21
You know, it’s easy to fall into the belief that ‘it’ will never end. The truth is, every goodnight kiss, every tuck-in and story, every precious, gooey, caramel apple stickiness moment is numbered. You only have a finite number of days, if you are fortunate and blessed, to spend with your kids, as kids. One day you wake up, and ‘it’ has turned from frozen, icy, hard, solid moments into some watery mist and evaporated out of your life. ‘It’ is, as if, ‘it’ never existed. For me, it happened in the course of one moment when I realized that all those infinite moments were gone, forever. I wish I had realized that ‘it’ was just a fleeting illusion of forever flushed out by the sneaky hand of time, a great magician that lulled me into some sort of trance. All of a sudden, squeezed and shoved in between the spaces of busy moments and selfish, time-killing obsessions, ‘it’ managed to escape and my three older kids were gone, on their own, and never needing a goodnight kiss or tuck in again. I can’t even explain what that realization was like, and I can only say that it held a magnitude of loss that didn’t attack me until it was too late to bring them back, just for one more night. Just for ONE more opportunity for them to be little and want to sleep with a new toy and suffer mommy kisses and good night tuck in. All numbered. All limited. All expired.
I’m happy that my girls are grown, successful, independent, and love their lives, but I mourn for all those seemingly infinite moments with them. There is just air now. Air in the same hallways that used to ring with laughter and smell of little girl happiness, infinite summer days, endless winter midnight sledding and hot cocoa. I just want ONE more day.
My absolution is my 16 year old son who was a later-in-life baby and who arrived when my oldest girl was approaching her teens. I still take him to buy, ‘boy junk’ and he indulges me. I know these days will end, and I waste no opportunity to tuck him in and give him goodnight kisses.
Laurie57Sunday, 1 June, 2014 at 5:11
I feel for ya…I have a 17 yr old son and his Momma (me!) was the center of his life until that horrible teen showed up and now he is a cranky, uncommunicative,surly teen age boy. OH how I miss the old relationship but I know it is gone, maybe someday replaced by a more mature relationship, but… to buy those silly trading cards and watch his face light up as he got a ” good” card..I miss that. BTW…the pulling away from Momma and the pull to his friends and girls and independence is all a normal and good thing…but as the Momma, I feel sad and a little unnecessary now.
VirginiaSaturday, 20 July, 2013 at 21:52
Thank-you for your honesty. I have a “love/hate” relationship with motherhood. For me, it lies in what pieces of myself I have to sacrifice (sleep, time to myself or with friends, etc.). I find myself feeling, like you, taking a bat to the windows or better yet, something that moves! And then I get my toddler to bed and things calm down somewhat as I sit on the couch, nursing my newborn and I thank God for my little ones and pray for supernatural patience to deal with the challenges I face in my role as “mama.” I enjoy reading your thoughts – you say what a lot of us feel but censor when sharing it with an audience.
MonicaSaturday, 8 February, 2014 at 11:19
I’m pretty sure you’re me in a different package. I read your ‘I became a mother, and died to live’ post as a link from a friend’s facebook page, and had to shut myself into the bathroom to read it while I cried (so my 2 and 4 year olds didn’t think I was crying because of them). Somebody finally put words to exactly how I feel about Motherhood! I promptly shared the link and have read a few more of your posts and now fantasize about finding the time to read the rest of them. You are all kinds of awesome 🙂
MichelleWednesday, 21 May, 2014 at 12:52
I recently found your blog through a friend on FB. I’ve read several of your stories & have both cried & laughed. I am not a new mother, I have a 25, 21 & a 13 year old. But….my husband & I have recently become the parents of my 16 month old granddaughter. Your post about the Georgia & her antics so reminds me of my Bethi!!! Love your posts & will continue to read you. Thank you for your perfectly on spot parenting stories. I love them all!
AllisonSaturday, 24 May, 2014 at 10:40
Just found your blog, and I feel like this pretty much sums up my journey to motherhood. Thank God I’m not alone. I’m thankful for your honesty, and hope we can all figure this out together!
MaggieThursday, 12 June, 2014 at 9:06
I am a older woman with grown kids. Your blog is amazing. So much of what I felt back then. The amazing love combined with all the not so great feelings bout motherhood. I can tell you from around the corners that I wouldn’t have done it any differently though. Some days seem like the last years, heck, some hours seem like they last years. But, and I say this honestly, I miss the heck out of it. I long for one more day of that chaos.
BonnieSaturday, 23 August, 2014 at 13:05
I think I might love you just a little bit 😀
I don’t have kids or want kids, and am constantly surrounded by fluffy ideals. It is refreshing to read your honest words, I am pleased that I found you.
LisaTuesday, 5 May, 2015 at 9:17
Found my way to your blog through an inspiring entry you wrote about teenage girls. Now I’m going to have to read your whole damn blog from inception. And I sent my 14-year-old daughter a link to your “teenage girls” post. I hope she shares it w all her girlfriends who are as spectacularly awesome as she is.
Mama FettucineThursday, 18 June, 2015 at 6:51
If you can develop the craft of using your biting honest wit without the profanity (an occasional damn is fine), you will be the next millionaire Pioneer Woman. Good luck.
P.S. Love your blog title. Wish I had thought of it first.
LizFriday, 6 January, 2017 at 14:25
Hi Janelle! I just found this website and OH GAWD WHY AM I CRYING OVER EVERY POST. I’m mum to the most beautiful 7-week-old boy, and while I am amazed and delighted and confounded by every aspect of his being and the fact that he is MINE, I am also bewildered and panicked and exhausted. I had a fairly difficult birth which left me feeling broken and physically fragile. And it’s terrifying to think that this broken person is in charge of the life of another, littler, more vulnerable person.
I haven’t seen anything that’s expressed that tension as eloquently and precisely as you have. Seeing my inner turmoil of fierce love and maddening exhaustion put to words by someone else is so empowering. I just want to thank you for what you contribute to the world of motherhood, for keeping it absolutely real and making us feel the value of the “me, too” that comes from someone who’s with us in the trenches of the beautiful mess that is motherhood.
Jahn GhaltWednesday, 19 July, 2017 at 15:55
Someone like you, who has a firm grasp of values-that-really-count (and derides surface “values”) hardly needs “fans”, but I may be becoming a fan.
It troubles me to suspect that many parents are not self-aware like you – especially about practices that “everyone does”, as if that makes them OK. I suppose that makes me a “snob” – and I’m OK with that – as you probably are.
OK, off to read a little more.