the letter i had to write once

by Janelle Hanchett

Dear Rocket,

You came into this world the way you’ve remained, perfectly.

You came two days before you were due (always the gentleman), in a birth that felt like the sunrise. “Turn around,” she said, “pick up your son” and you swam and I lifted and kissed you and we locked eyes and you took air and took me. Pink ball of perfection. They asked me how I felt. I said “elated.”

You were so beautiful you took my breath away. How could it be?

This boy.

My son?

My son.

Your sister named you “Rocketship” before you were born. Rocketship “Rock on” MacDonald, to be exact.

It stuck.

I dressed you in blue. Your hair was red and blond with ringlets, eventually. You didn’t talk much or cry very often. You smiled and rolled around and climbed and grew. You slept on daddy’s chest.

And grew.

Until you had Chuck Taylor’s and a newsboy cap and words and freckles across the bridge of your nose (which destroy me, by the way).

Once, I walked in from work and you were two and you ran to me in elation, threw your arms around my neck as I knelt to you. You whispered “Mama, home.”

Let me always be home for you.

Let me get on my knees and feel your words across my cheek.

You turn 6 tomorrow.

My awe has not diminished. Your sacredness rests undisturbed. You won’t ever understand, little one. And that’s okay. You shouldn’t. You may get a glimpse when you have a daughter, but you’ll never quite know –what a boy means to his mama.

Tomorrow you turn 6.

The birthdays hurt a little.

Because I remember when you were 18 months old I got sick and was lost and I left you. For two years I left you. For two years I couldn’t see and I ran searching for something, stopping by as mama, holding you in the night sometimes, when the whiskey hadn’t taken me completely, crying softly in the folds of your neck as you slept, begging for a change and dying.

How did I go so long?

How did I not see?

That all I needed and all I sought and all I was dying for rested in the freckles across the bridge of your nose. In the little feet that ran to me. In the blue eyes that forgave me as I walked away again.

Without a word you explained — if I could only see you clearly for one single moment,

I would know freedom.

And finally, I saw.

But that time still sits like a boulder on my chest. Like a thousand pounds of granite grief. Of the time I missed. Of the boy who missed me.

But this isn’t a sad story.

This story ends in joy.

In you and me and a homeschool room (screw reading, let’s make messes) and stories in the “big bed” and breakdancing and Modest Mouse and mohawks, and baking cookies and sand and dirt and Transformer pajamas and stuffed seals and farting noises and you and me.

A boy.

And his mama.

Who’s home.

Happy birthday, little man.

Here’s to the rest of the story.

  • Christina

    And I cried….. Because my son is 13 and it never goes away.

    • renegademama

      I sent you an email…and really? It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.

  • Michael Ann Riley

    I cried too. God. It wasn’t drink but it was tiredness and boredom and being needed 24/7….that got in the way of truly being in the moment. And now my boys are teenagers and won’t run to me with abandon like that ever again. Lord, they don’t even want me to touch them. I wish I could have just ONE day back from those days.

    • renegademama

      Thank you for relating. I thought to myself “nobody except sober alcoholics are gonna understand you, don’t say this!” And here you are, getting me. Thanks again.

  • Mariah

    Happy Birthday Rocket! Here’s to making messes, lots of messes, and even breaking a few crayons.

    • renegademama

      Indeed – the messes. Perfect education there. 🙂

  • Michael Ann Riley

    and by the way, because you know I love your blog, I have given you another award 🙂 This one is called the Liebster Award and you can read about it on my blog at


    • renegademama

      Thank you, Michael Ann. Very much.

      • carole powell


        This blog is wonderful. I watch as my daughter tries to fit my grandson, into the hole, that the American education system, says he should fit in.
        I want to tell them all, he is himself, a wonderful boy, full of fun and laughter, but is getting stressed because he, ‘Should do better’ I realize he will have to earn a living, and education is important, however, not at the expense of my sweet boy’s happiness.

  • Amanda

    He is beautiful and so are your words. It is true that (at least I think this) all mothers wish away some of the best parts without realizing. I have these moments daily with my 3 under 5 but then I read something like this and it inspires me to try to be present so thank you. Happy birthday Rocket!

    • renegademama

      Awesome. that’s exactly what it’s done for me — help me see in moments of impatience and stress that I need to focus with all my might to be HERE, NOW. Because I’ll regret it later if I’m not. No matter how hard it is…

  • Shan


    So many kids never have the love that you give him. He is a very fortunate boy to have you. That you took the long way doesn’t detract from that love or his luck.

    • renegademama

      This brought a little tear to my eye. Thank you.

  • Erin

    You are brilliant with words and you are brave with your stories. I am grateful you share them both. I cannot describe how this made me feel, but as always, it stirs something in me.

    Happy Birthday Rocket.

    • renegademama

      I love Erin. Thank you.

      Can we get together soon?

  • Dee

    I somehow managed to keep it together while reading that. Happy Birthday, Rocket!

    • renegademama

      Thanks, Dee. He’s a good boy.

  • Kateri Von Steal

    He’s a handsome boy. He really is!

    Happy Birthday ROCKET!

    My little one started his FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN TODAY.
    **tears up**

    • renegademama

      Ooooo. That’s a tough one. And thanks.

  • Denee Rebottaro

    I cried. Through all the struggles in my life the only constant, beautiful thing is my children. Well, and one brown dog.

    Happy 6th Birthday Rocket!

    • renegademama

      I cried too. Through the whole thing. Mac was laughing at me. And looking at me like I’m a psycho. But that’s pretty normal.

  • Jennifer

    That was a great post.

  • Texanne

    Beautiful. Wet eyes and nose here, and I’m not a dog. How wonderful it must be to have a son, to give a man to the world. How hard, and how sweet. Lovely post. Thanks.

    • renegademama

      LOL re: the “not a dog” comment. And thanks. It is hard. This whole parenting gig is hard. Huh?

  • Neenee

    Rocket is a beautiful child. The freckles on the bridge of his nose tell the whole story. You’re right, he is perfect and Papa and I are blessed to have him in our lives. Happy Birthday, sweet grandson. You are loved always!

    • renegademama

      He loves his Neenee. Can’t wait to see you soon.

  • kim

    DAMMIT, you made me do the ugly cry.

    Janelle, I’m going to keep saying this: You are such a talented writer. Seriously fucking amazing. xoxo

    • renegademama

      I can guarantee it’s physically impossible for you to do the “ugly cry.” And thank you, Kim.


  • Robin

    I love you, kiddoo. You made me cry, too. A mom never outgrows these feelings, even when their son has kids of his own, as mine does. Happy Birthday, Rocket!

    • renegademama

      Robin, I love you. But you know that. Miss you.

  • Carrera

    I just happened to stumble upon this blog some months ago. Your writing is amazing, just utterly amazing. And this letter was a work of sheer beauty. Happy Birthday to your boy, and keep writing. Your work is tremendous!

    • renegademama

      Carrera, comments like this make me keep writing. Thanks so much. I have this dream of writing a book someday, or even submit an article for publication, but I have this voice in my head constantly “You can’t. They won’t publish you.” This helps. Very much. Cheers.

      • Carrera

        You definitely should. Your writing makes me laugh out loud, literally, nod my head in exasperated agreement, and at times make my heart tingle with knowing melancholy and reflection. I too am English major, and though I don’t have children, I work with them (infants and toddlers,) as an Early Childhood Educator, so I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants, daily, in trying to figure them out and do the very best for them. I can completely relate to your writing and message; that you’re not a perfect person and you’re probably going to fuck up royally, but damn it, you care about them and love them, and know you have something to offer them.

        You are a talented writer and a wonderful mom. Keep up the great work!!

  • Nancy

    Your “events” never just cross my eyes an stay in my head. They seep into my lips an bring a smile, then rushing into my heart where the warmth is indescribable. Thank you for unfolding so much for so many!! Thank You for always Coming Back 🙂

    • renegademama

      Nancy this brought a quick tear to my eye, and I had Mac read it too. You’re an inspiration my friend, as you live your own story of bravery and faith. We love you.

  • Suzanne

    Amazing & you are very brave to write this letter. A reminder that we are all imperfect. Thank you!

    • renegademama

      Indeed we are. It was a very freeing moment when I decided to drop the act. Ya know? Accept my deficiencies. 🙂

  • Lisa

    Well you prove to us time and again that you have balls. Thank you for your honesty – fuck it’s not just honesty – thank you for baring your soul to the quick for us, for yourself, for your children. Some of us MIGHT write this letter in our own journal IF we are feeling brave but you . . . you let your light shine. I love the pic too what an amazing smile that little boy has. So thank you for helping some of us out here who might be struggling feel a little less alone.
    P.S. Mac really laughed at you? Now that’s not nice!!

    • renegademama

      This was incredible for me to read. Thank you.

      And he didn’t really laugh like laugh laugh. (That made no sense.) It was more a loving chuckle, like “ha. look at you all twisted up about our babies.” and then he probably got a little teary too. We’re both a couple of criers. pathetic, really. We tease each other a lot. It works. 🙂

      • Lisa

        I would never marry a man who couldn’t cry over the beauty of a child – especially his own. Good choice dear : )

  • mamawolfe

    My little boy turns 12 this weekend. He came early, snuggled, cuddled, and is the kindest soul I know. I completely understand. One of my life mantras comes from Maya Angelou: ‘You did then what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.’ Forgive yourself.

  • Julie

    I had to go back and re-read this several times, sort of like when you rewind a point in a movie that’s so poignant you just want to experience it over and over.

    Your writing is so strong and raw. I’m humbled.

  • Lynsey Summers

    A.M.A.Z.I.N.G piece of writing right here on my screen. I think this is the most heartfelt and raw thing I have ever read. You are so brave for sharing it and it made me stop and think, my baby is 18 months old and going through that ‘tough phase’ but this will remind me that it passes too soon and to just be brave because they are not little forever. So glad I follow your blog.

    • renegademama

      Wow, thank you very much, Lynsey. I have to admit I pretty much bawled writing the whole thing. It was something that was in me for a long time and finally found an outlet. Interestingly, so much of the pain is gone since writing it. Guess it took some of the power out by putting it on paper.

  • Rachel Howells

    What beautiful, poignant writing. You are an artist with words, and one day I’m sure you will weave those words into a bestseller. I know people say this sort of thing all the time when they discover someone who has a knack for creative endeavor, whether music, visual arts, writing, etc, but it is not always true. Sometimes it is just a nice thing to say. In your case though, as I was reading (and I realize I am nobody special) it was like I was witnessing the revealing of an expectedly sublime piece of art. I feel like a slobbering loser leaving comments like this, but this was just such a moving post I felt compelled to add my voice to the crowd. Pleasure! ~ Rachel ~

    • Rachel Howells

      “unexpectedly” sublime was what a meant to say. Geesh. 😉

    • renegademama

      Thank you so much, Rachel! Really appreciate the encouragement and kind words.

  • Meagan Philpott

    Thank you for this post, and all of your other posts, for that matter. I love reading your blog because as a new mom, it makes me feel like I’m not alone. It lets me realize my potential as a mom, and that the “right way” to raise my little girl, is the way I choose to raise her. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are an inspiration.

  • MONI


  • Toni

    I cried too. This is a lovely post.
    I don’t have a son, I have a daughter, I didn’t drink either….But I was involved with something and it did keep me from her….
    The important thing is that we came back to our children, and we love them soo much the more now.

  • Tory Brock

    Just found you, Janelle! You are an amazing and gifted writer! I should have been in bed an hour ago but I can’t help myself! I feel like I have a new friend.

  • Bethany

    This was an amazing post. I am wiping away tears as I write this. A little boy and his mama are truly a special thing, and I think you “got” it perfectly right. We all wonder if we are doing our best.. thanks for sharing some of your personal struggles.

  • Collie


    Simply beautiful.

  • Treadingwater

    I’ve never read a blog that touched me the way this one does. This breaks my heart and mends it at the same time.

  • Shelbie

    I read your blog at night while I nurse my 16 month old son to sleep. One of the highlights of my day. Sometimes I laugh so silently hard I think he is going to fall off my lap. Other times I cry and I hug him. I hug him so much I will probably wake him. Who needs sleep when you have a handsome little man, right? Thank you.

  • Becky

    I read a comment where you say you are apprehensive to submit an article or write a book – I hope this has changed because you are really gifted. I’m an artist and your writing reminds me of one of the best advice I received from a professor once in a drawing class – “OK so you can draw. Great. But what do you have to say?” You are not only a great writer, but you have a message that could help/save countless people who can relate to your stories in various ways.

  • strangebird

    Good lord woman. It’s 11 pm and I should be asleep except I’ve been reading your blog for the past 3 hours (well, I did take a break for Game of Thrones) and am now bawling my eyes out. The freckles! Those fucking freckles are just a sugar-coated spike to the heart. My boy is 3.5 and I alternate between wanting to absorb him back into my body and wanting him to just shut the fuck up already. Boys and their mommas, indeed.

  • Lolly boo

    Very touching and important words for many reasons. I’m an adoptive mummy who is incredibly lucky to have the love of a little one even if sometimes its hard. It has given me further empathy and gratitude for the birth mother who has given and lost so much due to her lifestyle and substance problems. Thank you. xx

  • May

    Just beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. I have twin 3 year old boys and this has inspired me to write them letters, maybe every year on their birthdays would be something fun for them to read later. There is just so much you forget and it goes by so quickly. You’re a loving fierce Mama, love your blog!

  • Joan

    I love reading about Rocket. He reminds me so much of my Monkey who is almost 7. My own anxiety and depression kept me a prisoner for much of his and my daughter’s infancy and toddlerhood. I hated a lot of it, though they were the most beautiful things I ever saw and I have regrets that I can’t go back with my head in a better place. However, the here and now is beautiful and hard and wonderful and painful and I’m trying to remember more and wish away less.
    Anyway, thank you for sharing and here is to little boys who are square pegs trying to fit in round holes, and to mommas who allow them to be who they are.

  • Cami Lynn

    I just wanted to say thank you for your blog. I came across it after googling what the hell all the abbreviations on the baby blogs mean and after reading your related post, I just had to read more! I had been obsessing and pouring over all these blogs trying to make sure I get this pregnancy and this baby right, because I was a mess with my first. I was a 19 year old addict alcoholic who got sober then eventually relapsed shortly after her 1st birthday. I finally pulled it together, but I missed so much, and what I didn’t miss I dont remember! I’ve been clean and sober sometime now but I needed to read your posts to remind me what’s actually important this time around and that there’s no such going as a perfect mommy, but I’m grateful to be a sober one! Thank you.

  • B from Canada

    Im a recovering opiate addict… 3 months.. My Daughter is 6. I needed to read this so badly. Thank You.

  • Sharma

    This broke me a little. Hunched over my keyboard at work..hurriedly dabbing my eyes, so my co-workers don’t see my tears. Dammit. Crying because I empathize. Because my daughter is an alcoholic and drug addict. Because her husband is a drug addict. Because I’m raising their daughter. My precious, unique, book lovin, woobie addicted, sleep resistant, grandbaby. Because they’re pregnant again. Yes, currently sober. Hopefully forever. Because as a Mama, I know my daughter’s heart and her baby angst. Her regrets. Her self disgust. Thank you for opening your guts and spilling them 🙂 I appreciate your candor AND I adore your sarcasm. From a blessed, but very tired “Mamaw”

  • Shannon

    My EXACT thoughts that I feel every day, but have never said out loud. You have. Thank you.

  • Niki

    Wow, a friend posted a link to one of your blogs and in reading it and other posts I ended up here. And I cried like a baby. I have 22 month old boy/girl twins and everyday my little boy just melts me. (they both do of course, just in different ways) My husband is a sober alcoholic as well, sober almost 5 years, and I am so glad that he is here and present in their lives. It is so difficult. — And now I need to go hug my kiddos. Thank you for your ability to share.

  • Karen

    This comes up in my Timehop because I shared it a few years ago……so every year I read it through my tears as my own little boy runs circles around me. Thank you. Yes, we do recover! Happy Birthday Rocket!

  • Summitcomama

    I was waiting for my son to fall asleep when I read this last night. The tears would not stop flowing. Today marks day number 2 of sobriety. I walked out and told my husband I want to get sober and go to AA. Thank you for being so brave to share your darkest moments, you make me feel like I’m not alone in this exhausting battle. You give me hope that I can do this for good.

  • Amber

    I don’t usually comment on anything but this brought me to tears. Very powerful and extremely relatable. Thank you for this.

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