The other day, when I arrived home after doing something amazing (because I was alone, so whatever it was, it was amazing), Georgia yells “Hey mama! Look what we have in the backyard!”
I look out the window and see two puppies out there, just chillin’, as if they were home.
“Um, why do we have puppies in our backyard, dearest honey pot?”
I receive only a slightly nervous smile from the “dearest honey pot” (dripping in sarcasm) in question.
“Can we keep ‘em? Can we keep ‘em? CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE?” The kids are like straight out of a movie.
They were abandoned at Mac’s parents’ ranch. He brought them to our house knowing they would probably have to go elsewhere, but I’ve been with the man almost 15 years. I know that look in his eye. If he had his way, we would currently have 3 dogs of questionable intelligence instead of one.
And I would be training them.
Later, I check the mail and open a package of tiny compasses and other tiny gadgets I don’t understand. That’s because Mac and Rocket and are making tiny survival kits that fit in Altoid containers. Obviously.
There are approximately one-thousand-three-hundred and forty-seven empty Altoid containers in my house.
I hate empty Altoid containers.
In my garage, there was a bin with a deer hide in it, soaking in an unknown liquid, because Mac and the kids are “making moccasins.”
As in, from scratch.
There are 4 knives on my mantle because they made knives a few months ago out of saw blades. They still need to carve the handles. They will probably never carve the handles. Saw-blade-knives will probably stay on my mantle forever, because where the fuck does somebody put such a thing?
Yeah I don’t know either.
For 2-9 months there were long pieces of taped wood leaning against walls in various locations in the house and garage (including the bathroom) because Georgia found a rocking chair in a magazine that we couldn’t afford, so Mac is making it for her.
There’s a rabbit hutch and chicken coop in the backyard. I’m 90% sure nobody has cleaned beneath them since they arrived, a year ago.
These are not my projects. These are their projects, and I’m not going to lie, sometimes I hate them. It sounds so cool in theory, and it sounds so cool when I tell you about it, but honestly sometimes it just feels like one more thing, one more mess. One more Thing to Put Away, to deal with, to figure out, and I don’t have any reserves, you know? Like I feel already worn to the bone, and I can’t quite handle a wayward, random deer hide in our this-house-was-clearly-built-in-1948 garage.
They start a new “project” before the last one is done. I feel a vague sense of dread and rage.
They huddle together on the couch sitting on the arms and chest of their dad, watching YouTube videos on how to do the next project. They watch video after video.
I’m probably cooking dinner or doing some other thing I think needs to be done. I’m probably cleaning up or emailing or paying a bill or doing some other Thing that I think just must get done now. I’m doing something IMPORTANT. I’m obsessed with IMPORTANT SHIT.
Sometimes I get mad at Mac for the abandoned projects, the messes made and left for how long? HOW LONG? Who knows. They’re still there.
Then I get mad at myself for getting mad about things that don’t really matter (because it all eventually gets done or cleaned up), and sometimes I wonder how or when or at what point I became The One who feels compelled to be the mess cleaner as opposed to the mess maker. The project asshole as opposed to the project beginner.
This stuff he does, it’s so damn cool: The time with their dad, learning that they can DO THINGS if they just DO IT. Realizing they can have an idea, learn how to execute it, do some work and make it happen. It teaches them patience, endurance, how to get dirty and irritated and inconvenienced. They use their hands. They use their heads. They get creative and active and frustrated and satisfied.
I know all this. I know all of it with all that I am, but it doesn’t matter in the moment sometimes, when I’m 4 days down on sleep and I’m making dinner and thinking of all the things he and the kids “could” be doing and the mess that will be left and even though we clean on Saturdays and maybe Sundays and my husband helps ALL THE DAMN TIME, there’s always more.
There is always, always more.
You know, my life really started 6 years ago, when I got sober. Before that, I didn’t grow or develop or move through things, becoming a new and better person over the years (that’s how life is supposed to work, right?). I pretty much just drank and hoped for the best. Eventually, I didn’t hope for anything at all. I never “moved through” anything in my life. You can’t move through things if you don’t feel them, if you fall unconscious on your pillow each evening, if your reactions are purely self-centered narcissism rooted in attempts to control others in hopes it will fix you. And fear.
But since the day I woke up on March 5, 2009 and realized I was 100% wrong about every aspect of my life, my life has really just become a series of discovering new things I’ve been wrong about. I was always so determined to be right. Oh, shit I’d fight to the death to be right. But I learned through nearly dying of alcoholism that life is really about figuring out how I’m wrong. All the things I’ve been wrong about. One more thing I thought was true that is just not true.
That is where the freedom lies. That is where the growth comes. That is where we find better ways to live and be of service to others, ourselves, our families, our lives.
And I realized recently, due to a trauma to my family, that I’ve been wrong about the shit that I thought mattered. I was very, very wrong.
I’m done being the asshole who’s bitching about the messes. It matters. Yes, it matters, to clean up after one’s self, to treat your belongings with respect, to contribute to the house in a way that teaches you to be a decent human and member of the home, and community, and earth. WORK, matters.
But I’m done using every fucking spare moment to straighten, clean, pay, arrange, organize, text, email, accomplish necessary tasks. I’m done using every spare moment “engaged in a productive activity.” I’m done looking around this house and seeing only and all that’s wrong. When did I make that “my role?”
I’m fucking done.
Tan the deer hide, kids. Sure, start the damn fire with flint and steel. Good thing there’s 75 pinecones by the woodstove (George collected kindling). And yes, I’ll pick out the fabric for that rocking chair. Just stick it on the end of the kitchen table. We’ll push it aside at dinner. Again. And sew it in a month or two.
I still won’t say “yes” to a couple more dogs, and I’ll still care about chores and work, but I’ll get on the floor for a few minutes with my kids, even though there’s 9 days of laundry in the living room, and I’ll forget about the fucking laundry in the living room, because I can, because I CAN.
I’ll still get irritated, and I’ll still make people clean, and I’ll still bitch and moan. SOMEBODY HAS TO BE A FUCKING GROWN-UP HERE PEOPLE. See? Oops.
Yeah, I’ll leave the perfection to those deeply spiritual Zen mamas (that allegedly exist). But I’m done focusing on the work, the mess, the “problem” so acutely that I fail to see the meaning of what’s happening, the life right here in front of me.
I threw the ball with George for 10 minutes in the front yard. I tell you people she damn near fell over from the shock.
Because you know, these kids are HERE, NOW, and they’re safe, and they’re mine, and it isn’t about “embrace every moment” (impossible), or some “some day you’ll look back and remember the deer hide fondly” theory. Maybe I will or maybe I won’t. It’s about the fact that I realized recently that the joy, life, innocence and cohesion of this very family right here is sacred, and it’s always already at risk, and there’s a whole world out there of pain, threat, tragedy and beauty, all of which will come my way, and theirs, so each fucking chance we have to make Altoid-container-survival-kits is a chance to live, together, in all this mess.
And really, in the end, I don’t have much else.
aimeeMonday, 2 February, 2015 at 15:01
First comment! Woo! Any who, I am also the one who has to get uptight and nag and always give a shit too. Funny, I always pictured myself as a mom, but never the annoying, nagging, drill sergeant, which is not at all what I imagined. No one will ever give a shit if the sink needs to be ajaxed or whether soccer lessons were signed up and paid for but me. But, I like to think I am the glue holding all our lives together and keeping our house from being condemned by the state so..go me! On a side note, you’ve inspired me to write again and I respect the hell out of you as a writer.
ee_AAMonday, 2 February, 2015 at 16:41
I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now but this one inspired me to comment. Thank you. Thank you for all of your posts and thank you for this one. For reminding me that I am stuck. I am (also) sober and am so stuck in being right and being important bc I’m doing “important shit.” So boring. And such a prison of self. Thank you for giving me permission to consider a different way. Brave.
itzybellababyMonday, 2 February, 2015 at 17:25
It is SO hard to let those 9 piles of laundry go. But I am guilty of those MUST DO NOW OR I WILL GO INSANE tasks.
Kudos to you for letting it go for just a minute…
IamnotmyhouseworkMonday, 2 February, 2015 at 19:01
Great post! I’ve realised recently that I think other people will judge me as a person based on how tidy my house is to the extent that I have passed up a chance to have a neighbour in for a cuppa because the place is too messy. WTF? At the same time, my partner, a man, would never think like that. I’m starting to wonder whether women are trained to think we are judged by the niceness of our houses…and I say fuck that shit. I’m not going to judge anyone for the piles of laundry on their floor. I’d probably read the piles as a signal that that family had something going on more interesting than keeping the house clean and tidy all. The. Time. So thanks for reminding me to get down on the floor and play once in a while.
SueMonday, 2 February, 2015 at 19:38
Story of my life.
ShowmamaMonday, 2 February, 2015 at 19:46
As one mother fuckin’ butler to another….I feel you sister. And thank god we get the choice to pay those bills, do that laundry, clean up after the masses of the unwashed. Or not. Or ignore the dirty dishes (how can it here BE so many) and kick it on the floor that’s covered in dog hair and build a castle with the world’s cutest blonde before he/she decides mama is boooooring. Love you.
JennyMonday, 2 February, 2015 at 23:20
Crying again, damn! Always so sensitive in the mornings. All completely true, you just have to remember your priorities (difficult) I find it really hard to sit and play in a relaxed manner in a messy room. This reminds me of that thing that did the rounds of fb not long ago about having laundry to do means you have clothes to wear, crumbs to sweep up under the table means you have food to eat etc
MelissaTuesday, 3 February, 2015 at 10:20
JoelleTuesday, 3 February, 2015 at 10:59
So, so true. And so, so worth it.
Sara HowardTuesday, 3 February, 2015 at 12:52
Jacqui BeeTuesday, 3 February, 2015 at 13:57
AmyTuesday, 3 February, 2015 at 22:04
Hey!!! It’s your long lost friend Amy (Seaman). Long story, but heard about your blog a few days ago, and have been reading it. Same ol’ Janelle! Love your wit, humor and honesty. Puts the biggest smile on my face reading this! Your wit kills me! I can picture you as you’re saying all of this too. Anyway, beautiful family…I can’t believe you have 4 kids?!?!?! And that I’ve never met them. Sure miss you! Xoxox
JennWednesday, 4 February, 2015 at 0:54
I love how you wrote about your obsession with IMPORTANT SHIT. I’m exactly the same way and I’ve been struggling with these same issues so much lately. I get so jealous of my husband when he gets to spend so much time playing with them, while I’m cleaning or making lists (fucking lists! So many!) or folding laundry or the baby’s crying or 10 million other things. I lost my shit the other day because they made cinnamon buns, brownies, orange juice from scratch and each time the mess was left for me. It wasn’t REALLY left for me, but that’s what it felt like. He’s better at playing than I am, has infinitely more patience than I do. The remnants of their projects and cooking experiments just serve as reminders of what I’m NOT doing. They make the OJ. I scrape the pulp off the counter. What is this martyrdom bullshit, anyway? And what am I even going to have accomplished, once the house is sufficiently “clean”? Oh the house is perfect now, and it looks like I’m a good, happy, responsible person who has everything together. How about instead of that I just do the things that will make me FEEL like a good, happy, responsible person? Get on the floor and play. Tell stories. Make the OJ. Be present. I feel you so hard on this entire post.
Emily DonahueWednesday, 4 February, 2015 at 15:17
Perfection..again..why did I have to make dinner every damn night especially when I worked outside those years and my daughter begged me to stop cooking..wtf
PeggyThursday, 5 February, 2015 at 5:17
You have been to my house!!!!! when were you here I would have made you iced tea! Scraped of the table and found you a cookie!
KateThursday, 5 February, 2015 at 10:16
Great post. I too am constantly worried about the state of the house here. It’s got to get done. It will get done. The kids are little now and interested in spending time with me now – so true. And can I say that those projects sound cool as hell?!?! I wish I could complain about the mess here b/c the man was too busy doing cool projects with the kids…nope, just too busy on Yahoo and watching ESPN. And to the post about not wanting to invite a neighbor in for a cup of coffee…I did that once about 4 days after having my fourth child. You know what? She looked around and said it really looked like the older kids needed to help clean up. WTF?? Well she’s a 75 yr old woman who now lives alone and all her kids have moved far away from her and don’t speak to her…wonder why?! Anywho…yes, screw the laundry and dishes. Anyone see that movie Overboard where Goldie Hawn sets the table with the disposable table cloth and then just wraps everything up in it after the meal and throws it all away?! Ha! Not so great for the earth and all, but saves some dish washing time! I often feel like her in that movie when she is sitting on the couch babbling nonsense while the kids try to toss M&Ms in her mouth. Oh well. Let’s all go play now! Have fun:)
Summer GajdosikThursday, 5 February, 2015 at 12:24
Yes, yes, and yes!!!!! It’s so hard to let go of all of these things, cleaning, messiness, etc….but it sure feels good when you do (even if it is only once in awhile!).
LauraThursday, 5 February, 2015 at 14:33
Hahaha – oh, I love it! My sister-in-law has a sign in her house that says “Please excuse the mess, the kids are busy making memories.” I find myself teetering among all of these thoughts many nights after work right now. With one child. And I do wonder what it’s like with more and when the baby will get older. I’m going to have to keep practicing this art of letting it go and trying to have a little fun among the mess.
AmberFriday, 6 February, 2015 at 14:36
“You know, my life really started 6 years ago, when I got sober. Before that, I didn’t grow or develop or move through things, becoming a new and better person over the years (that’s how life is supposed to work, right?).”
This spoke to me on such a deep level. I just moved away from my hometown 6 months ago, leaving abusive family behind me. I’m finally figuring out that the person I used to be is not who I am now, and that’s ok. I’m having to learn how to grow and move on and let go of things. I’m turning 30 this year, it’s been a long life of not growing. I feel like my life is just starting but I’m still frustrated at the little growth I’ve achieved. Maybe seeing someone else think the same thing will remind me how far behind other people my age I am and that I can catch up at my own speed.
Andy in MaineSaturday, 7 February, 2015 at 10:00
No need to try and catch up. We’re all running our own race! 🙂
kristin @ going countrySaturday, 7 February, 2015 at 9:28
Hey, your husband and mine could get together and make messes together, because they make the EXACT SAME KIND. Like, my husband made buckskin this fall, too. He used it to bind a pack for trapping. And then he scrapes the trapped raccoon hides of their fat, resulting in little piles of frothy raccoon fat. How pleasant. I like the idea of moccasins better.
He also made the four-year-old a knife with a file blade and a deer antler handle. In a leather sheath. My four-year-old son is Crocodile Dundee at his preschool when they cut up vegetables with butter knives: “That’s not a knife–THIS is a knife.”
Being a suburban type of person myself, this kind of lifestyle has been an adjustment, to say the least. But whenever I find myself envying my brother and sister and their brand-new and very clean surburban homes that do not have raccoon fat on the lawns or buckets of black walnut hulls for seasoning traps or whatever. But then I remember that they also don’t have acres of forest for their kids to play in or the freedom my kids have to play outside by themselves and I realize I wouldn’t trade if I could.
Andy in MaineSaturday, 7 February, 2015 at 9:56
Oh my…..I am Mac!
I have a newborn deer fawn in the chest freezer, buried under the fox I shot (4 years ago), raiding our chicken coop (which was ‘temporary’). 3 weeks a go, I killed a weasel (by hand!) in the chicken coop. It’s been zero so I haven’t snuck him into the freezer, yet.
I never have any idea what time it is, which is why the boys and I are watching skyscraper demolition videos long after I was supposed to supervise the brushing of teeth.
We have experimented with raising maggots to feed the hens (very cool), a favorite of the boys.
My (homeschooling) wife is a living Saint. Not the squeeky clean, martyr, the one with nearly unlimited patience, love, forgiveness and organizational powers that surpass a Fortune 500 CEO!
Do a google search with, “Colbert Report Scallop Guts” and you’ll get the picture while you enjoy a good laugh. If you or any of your followers ever make it to Acadia National Park, look us up. Kids and I will take you out for a tour on our lobster boat and show you cool stuff. Spraying each other with the deck hose is a crowd pleaser. Don’t worry. We carry plenty of old, clean towels on board.
Andy in MaineSaturday, 7 February, 2015 at 9:58
^ Don’t make the mistake of thinking, this is not a dead shit serious, open invite.
Sara T.Tuesday, 24 February, 2015 at 0:36
I’m pretty sure you are my soul sister.