I’ll never feel “just right” as a mother. That’s what I’ve learned. No matter what I do, a piece of me will wonder about the other side, the other choice. I’ll crave it a little, yearn for it a little, lie down at night and wish for it, a little.
I’ll wake up in the morning and go on with my day anyway.
I’ll wake up and get dressed and go to my office and write. It will feel right. I will feel refreshed to be out of the house and alone, invigorated to be doing the work in my gut, trying, bringing our finances to a more comfortable level.
“When I grow up I want to be a writer like you, mama.”
Ha. George thinks I’m a writer. Of course she also has a fake friend named “Carrot” (who’s also a giant), but her declaration makes me smile all the same.
I get home from work and Mac has taken the kids to swimming lessons. I bring home Mexican food but we miss each other. I eat alone and leave again to work with women alcoholics.
When I get home, Arlo is already asleep.
My breasts and arms crave him. I’m a little irritated at Mac for putting him to bed, which is insane, and I know it. It’s not him it’s me. It’s the sadness, my choices and non-choices, the guilt and stab at my heart. The not right. The just not quite right.
“But I have to nurse him!”
“I’m sure he’ll wake up for a little nursing, Janelle.” Mac is right.
I lie beside my babe and pull him close and he nurses instinctually, eyes closed, wide open mouth like a little bird. We settle down near each other as we have since he was a newborn, in the same bed, and I kiss and smell him over and over again like a starving person who just found food.
I physically crave my baby.
I physically ache for him.
I imagine this is the ache that drags bereaved mothers to the brink of insanity. Hair-pulling batshit total delusion insanity. Because if that craving could not be satisfied…my God. I think of my friend Kim.
Three days a week, from 9am until 4pm. That’s how long I’m gone. It’s not long. I used to work more. Some moms work 50, 60 hours a week.
Some evenings I’m gone too, but I’ll be gone a lot more than 3 days a week if I start drinking again.
I know these things, all of them, and yet at the close of the day I think of my first baby turning 14 in a few months and last summer, when I was home all the time with them and we went to the library every day with new tiny creation Arlo and how Ava mentioned it as the best summer and how this summer we’ve only gone once. To the library, that is. We swam on Sunday together as a family and Ava played with her siblings. I wonder how much longer she’ll do that.
When I think about it like that I curse every moment I’m gone and want back. BACK HOME. Back with them.
Yesterday though I met with a filmmaker who’s working with me to write my first screenplay and when she and I are talking I feel an energy vibrating through us and I think there’s no way I would survive without finding out what the words will say.
Now, and in 20 years.
I can’t quit silent.
From the outside it looks sometimes like women are secure and clear in their choices or non-choices. For better or worse, it appears black and white.
I want my kids to see an independent mother.
I want my kids to see a mother at home.
I want my kids to see a professional mother.
I hate staying at home.
I hate working.
I work because I have no choice.
I stay home because I have no choice.
For me, it’s all gray. (Maybe it’s gray for all of us, deep down.) I work because I have to and mostly want to, but I also know if we seriously down-sized I wouldn’t “have to” anymore. But I don’t want that either. I’m never “sure.” I’m never not regretting, sometimes. I’m never just right.
Maybe you’re the same.
I see you.
And here’s what I want to tell you: Maybe not just right can actually be “just right” and life can roll on okay with us over here flailing a little back and forth, acutely aware of how little we know, and how much we’ll never be clear how to be, exactly. And what’s “best,” always.
Maybe this is it. The clarity and the best.
Maybe I can be grateful for my life, my choices my words my home my breath my kids and husband and trust that this is enough.
I think this is it. I think I can relax in the gray and be here now, in my office writing to you.
And home in a couple hours, wondering what the fuck happened to the kids’ room.
And sitting down to play the sorting house with Arlo because 9am to 4pm is an awful long time when I walk in the door and he comes toddling so fast his tiny legs blur like the side of me that will walk out again tomorrow.
You know, because I called Ava yesterday while she was visiting her grandparents and asked how she was keeping herself entertained. She responded “looking at feminist posts on Instagram.” And I thought well that’s pretty rad since there are a few thousand other things a 13-year-old could be looking at with her smartphone and Rocket read his fortune the other day in the Chinese restaurant by himself without even a lick of fear and George, well she wants to be a writer now and Carrot is doing just fine,
and Arlo will wake up for a little nursing.
He’ll find me again, even with his eyes closed, in the gray of evening when we can’t see a thing.
Somehow still here, just right.
J.Tuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 12:28
I can not even tell you how much I needed to hear that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Thank you…just…thank you for sharing this.
RoseTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 12:32
Mine are all grown now but I will say it again; wish I’d had someone like you to read when they were little. Nailed it. Again. Thank You!
CatTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 12:49
I am copying what I wrote on your Facebook to here. I don’t know how often you check there. If I seem stalkery whatever, I just wanted to make sure you knew how much hope and happiness your blog gives me. I have very few close friends that have kids, and even fewer that I know who think like me. Never stop being amazing! I rarely comment online. But I needed to here. And Carrot. Made me laugh. My kids had No-bee (a purple cat.) and Doty (a blue cat.) respectively. The other three never really did the fake friend thing. Anyhow, here is what I put on your Facebook. Since I hope I’m done rambling on.
“OH MY GODS Iloveyou! You make me feel okay. You make me feel like I am not some anomaly in this universe. Your stories give me confidence. They make me see myself differently. I just finished the history timeline for my novel, and was supposed to start writing. All I can do is Read. Your. Blog. You and your family are amazing. Please keep doing what you are doing. As long as you do there is hope for humanity.”
BTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 12:53
How is it that you always write what I feel?! Amazing. Thank you for saying what I feel so perfectly. All. The. Time.
C.F.Tuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 13:23
Ditto on all above comments.. and you are seriously amazing. I often feel so “isolated” in my thinking/parenting styles and have a hard time relating to most other mom’s around. Every time I read your blog, I have a renewed sense of relief that there at least other mothers “out there somewhere” that are similarly like-minded 🙂 you make me laugh and cry..Every.single.time.. thank you so much for your words and cheers to you and your beautiful family
KarynTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 13:42
How do you do that? It’s uncanny how often your writing makes sense of the mixed up mess in my head. Thank you.
Today I’m also try to make peace with the grey and the regret and the guilt about not being the mum I think I’m supposed to be. I need to be able to see that as enough, although I’m just not feeling it at the moment.
SarahTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 13:42
This! I wish I had found you when my first was born! The baby was born this spring and I’ve been home all summer. Feeling all these feelings as I’m getting ready to go back to work tomorrow! Three years ago, I really thought I was the only one feeling shades of gray and all other mothers must be black and white. So glad to know I’m not alone and I’m getting more confident every day.
TanyaTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 15:28
Oh my God, I needed it.I never feel just right either. Thank you so much for spelling out my thoughts. Again.
LaurelTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 15:36
Thanks for making me cry at work! But truly, thank you. I have a feeling most of us are in the grey area and some work hard to make those boxes better fall into place because they want to live up to some image. I just went back to work again and my second is almost 4 months. My sweet squishy chunk I could eat and smother all at once. In a non-killing-my-baby sort of way. I work because I need the space most of the time, and I am blessed to have lots of time with my favorite munchkins. And I miss them and they drive me nuts and I am so thankful to pee alone and eat a meal all the way thru but also, I kinda miss nursing one while the other climbs on top of me for snuggles. If only I had octopus arms.
LauraTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 15:43
I cannot tell you how much your article resonated with me and how much I needed to read it exactly right now. Honestly. Thank you for writing it.
JordanTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 16:15
You will never know how much your words mean to me. It’s so hard to find that mythical work-life balance everyone talks about. I bust my ass day in and day out to be the perfect mom in every aspect and then I feel like I’m losing myself so I beg for some me time. Then I get it and I’m miserable because all I want are those tiny little voices asking me 1673378 questions and begging to nurse even though I wish he’d wean because I’m exhausted. SO FUCKING EXHAUSTED. Then I go back to feeling like shit because I’m annoyed because so many women just do it with ease but it’s just so involved and woe is me. Anyway, all this to say please keep living in the gray area because you’re like my lifeline to feeling semi normal.
TamiTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 17:13
I want to tell you that it was so strange that this was exactly what I needed to read today. Exactly. Thank you!
KristenTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 18:51
Thank you for writing this! I feel the same way and it’s maddening at times. So hard to feel complete and confident in your choices when you are constantly feeling like you are missing out on time with your child.
CindyTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 19:08
I look forward to reading your posts every time because it makes me feel okay in this world with my family of 5 kids and husband who is busy most of the time at work. Keep on writing , I love it
Tessa FeliceTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 19:25
I am inclined to refer you to Touch of Gray by the Grateful Dead xox
LeighTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 19:35
Whoa. I’m too tired from being pregnant and dealing with a 3.5 year and a 2 year old to have an articulate response here, but you have really tapped into it. I mean, you always do, but the struggle you describe, the challenge to find the balance, to feel right inside, is just right on. There is a lot of comfort in knowing that others feel this way too. Thanks.
NicoleTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 20:29
With maturity comes grey… that is, if you’re doing it right.
EvanTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 20:47
Oh thank you! I have this exact same sense of uncertainty every single day – I can’t think of not working (fills my brain, soul and bank account), but always wonder if I should really be missing the everyday-ness of my children’s lives. I’m gone 7:30- 5:30 four days a week and I constantly ask myself if it is truly worth it. I might never know, but at least I’m not alone…. Thank you for sharing this!
Rachel @ The Mama FilesTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 21:24
Great post as always Janelle. I feel so much like this today, when I waited and waited for my baby to nap so I could file two stories, and now I just want him awake again, pulling on my tracksuit pants and climbing all over me for cuddles.
There’s a great book I’ve *started* reading called The Divided Heart: Motherhood and Creativity by an Aussie writer. I saw her speak at the Writer’s Festival. It has a heap of interviews with mothers who are also writers, musicians, artists, etc. You might want to try and find it on Amazon, I’m loving it so far!
ChenayTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 21:26
Like everyone else, I needed to know that someone else feels this way too. It’s amazing how alone I felt, so many of the moms around me know that working full time is exactly for them, or that staying home is exactly where they should be, but look at all of the moms commenting and saying the same thing! It’s nice to have a space filled with like-minded people, even if it exists in cyberspace. Thank you, and congrats on the screenplay!
LouiseTuesday, 11 August, 2015 at 21:28
I can’t tell you how much the honesty in your blog touches me. As a mom to an 11 month old baby boy I struggle everyday with the grey. After I went back to work I felt I was losing that connection with him, but when I’m home it’s there. I go to work and think about him, I come home and think about work. Life is a struggle. If I can help him make his way in the works and become a decent man- I’ve done my job. For now I just have to try to keep him from eating all the furniture….
LauraWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 1:45
As always you are spot on! Thanks for this, it is just what I needed to hear at just the right time. ‘Just right’, indeed! Thank you Janelle, your words mean so much to me.
WendyWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 4:14
Loved this. In my PND affected brain I felt like such a fraud like someone was going to knock on the door and take our daughter away as I wasn’t supposed to be her Mum. Am through that now but sometimes still wonder…..
MaryWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 4:56
Not only is life not black and white, it’s every color in the visible and non visible spectrum. It’s every nuanced shadow or murky damaged hue possible. We are the ever changing little pixilated dots in this fabric and that feeling of what else could it be? I’m pretty sure it’s that damn human thing. The duality we’re all stuck with in this form. We are tethered to this, and some, like my own child, find it difficult to not notice and rail against it every single day. The best we can do, is what you show us with every word you share, Janelle. Keep hoping we’re doing it right, keep expressing our universal fears. Thank you again for what you do, doubts and all.
KaurinaWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 6:53
This made me cry. If only because….children grow up fast. But lest we not forget, we keep growing up too. And all that gray….just leaves room for our paths to lead us, and their paths to lead them.
emWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 7:49
i stay at home with mine & often–guiltily–mourn my parallel universe life as a globe-trotting artist & writer. i feel like a bad mom. your post made me feel a little less alone in that. thanks!
LauraWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 8:32
What an amazing post! Love it!
So many of us share these emotions!!
MaryWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 9:33
Oh, Janelle. Every time. You speak to my soul. Please keep writing. 🙂 And thank you.
KrystalWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 10:31
CathyWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 12:36
This is so on-point!! for me anyways, I am always in the “what-ifs”. it was this way before my became a mother. I ache to be with my 22 month old. regretting that she was in day care all this time since she was 4 months, almost. realizing at the same time that there wasn’t another way when I had to return to school to finish my program..
CathyWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 12:38
BTW, I have been a silent reader for the longest time! I LOVE this blog:-)
You inspire me to write my own:-) I have so much in my head I wanna write!
PrairieWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 13:53
It’s Wednesday. On Monday I go back to work after my 2nd kid. I know working ft is ok, I’ve done it before with 1 kid. I’m still so nervous. I needed to read this today. Thanks.
AsahiWednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 23:35
Message:right on time. I needed this.Thank you.
KristiThursday, 13 August, 2015 at 5:04
This speaks to my soul. I’m always wondering if I’m “doing it right”. You also make me want a fourth baby, which I didn’t think was possible. How I long for my nursing days. What I wouldn’t give for another finger curled in my lip while those big brown eyes stared into mine. Thanks again for another beautiful post.
ShayThursday, 13 August, 2015 at 6:40
AHHHH you hit the nail on the head, AGAIN!! I, like you have come to the stark conclusion that this dialogue in my head of “should I stay or should I go” will always be there, no matter what. Thanks again for a great, insightful, honest post that I can relate to on so many levels!
HestherThursday, 13 August, 2015 at 22:36
A simple “thank you” for your writing. I appreciate it all.
Just when I felt that conflicting guilt/longing creep up again…well, truthfully, as you said it, it never really goes away for me either. I wake up with it, go to bed with it, and need to learn to accept the gray area that is parenthood.
I love my work. I miss my kid when I work. I get crazy bored at home. I love to be home too. I feel guilty for choosing to work. It’s important that I have interests and hobbies outside of being a mom. And so it goes…
Anyway, thanks. You make me laugh, cry, stop, slow down, and feel a little less alone with my crazy not “just right” insanity.
BeckyThursday, 13 August, 2015 at 23:01
Thank you. I read your blog all the time, but this one hit me to my very core. I cannot tell you how much I have been CRAVING this kind of permission from another mom. I know I shouldn’t need it and I’m sure I could survive without it. But…I’ve felt on the verge of completely cracking, from the inside out, as I desperately try to hold ground with working. No, hold ground with NOT working. No, hold ground with baby sleep schedule. I mean, hold ground with baby led schedule. Holding ground against my mother, but then WITH my mother, agreeing with that mom then disagreeing, holding ground here, there, that thing, this thing… And I feel so ashamed that I can’t seem to just SETTLE and PICK my style, or approach, or technique. And I still don’t know who the FUCK I am, and I have so often felt a pang of regret over having this child, this AMAZING kid who is rocking my world to its core, but I didn’t know what to do with that. This was confirmation of something I didn’t even dare to whisper in the dark to myself, but I secretly, so secretly!, hoped, “You don’t have to choose.” I get to sometimes feel that wondering what could have been, and then enjoy the wiggly snuggles from the boy who will never quite settle himself, either. And we can be unsettled and wild and extremes and completely us. I am in tears because I needed to hear this whole thing SO BADLY. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
JustperfectMonday, 17 August, 2015 at 13:29
Thank you again. I love your posts. All of them. I can barely type through the tears. Not sure why I’m crying, but I am.
weronikaWednesday, 19 August, 2015 at 5:44
thank you. thank you for those words, that are just describing my feelings. just because it is reassuring to know, that this “just (not) right” thing is normal, and it’s ok to feel it to.
KatrinaThursday, 20 August, 2015 at 19:31
Thank you for posting this. I struggle everyday with having a career and being a mom. I wish it were easier. I have so much guilt some days that I apologize to my toddler for having to leave him to go to work. I hope he understands someday. I hope he knows that I do it for him. And that will somehow make up for all that I miss.
Anastasia McDonnellSaturday, 22 August, 2015 at 21:59
You are so strong, and so wise. I admire the heck out of you, lady.❤️
courtneySunday, 23 August, 2015 at 19:13
I love this. It’s Sunday night. Back to work tomorrow. Summer’s over. I spent the whole summer with my 1-year-old son. School has started back up, and I felt such mixed emotions this past week. The excitement of a new school year. New books. New students. Using my brain. But I miss my son every single day while I’m gone. I think about how I don’t really have the choice to stay at home. Then again, it might drive me nuts to be at home all day. But working is hard. I feel busy and overwhelmed and tired and never good enough. But like you say, maybe it’s all fine. Maybe it’s all how it is supposed to be.
Crimson WaltonTuesday, 25 August, 2015 at 19:11
This is so right on you took the words right out of my mouth. I have this conversation with myself daily and I’m glad I’m not crazy, just a typical female dealing with the normal emotions of motherhood and decision making. Fantastic read!
Andrea MaeWednesday, 26 August, 2015 at 5:30
A few days ago my Son and I were hanging out on the deck in the sun waiting for Dad to come home from work and it hit me. I realized WTF “Lazy Days of Summer” actually meant.
Learning the gray is also a fantastic place to be.
LubaFriday, 28 August, 2015 at 19:34
Wow. I needed those words. At this very moment. As I head into the crazy of the fall semester, dreaming back to last fall when I was starting maternity leave, waiting for the baby who is now almost 11 months… I’m overwhelmed and a little crazy and nearly loosing my shit and crying at IKEA (while buying furniture for an office so I don’t have to keep trying to work at my dining room table!) and hating that I have to work and knowing that I want to work. And ALL THE THINGS YOU WROTE! You just lifted a weight off me. Thank you.
JaniceWednesday, 2 September, 2015 at 13:10
I never leave comments. But this post, man. It was exactly what I needed today. right.on.the. money. And I’m in tears, sobbing with relief that I’m not alone in feeling all of the feels you’ve just eloquently shared.
I’m so very grateful. thank you!!!!!
GabrielaSaturday, 12 August, 2017 at 17:14
This is so so true. I have five daughters. With the oldest I went back to work after 8 weeks, it was awful. Now she is grown and out on her own and I miss her. With my other four girls I was able to stay home and work part time or not at all. The first time I went back to full time work was when the youngest was one. You would have thought I would be ready by then, but I cried and missed my girls . I lasted for two years then went back to part time work. I have been back to full time for four months, the youngest is about to turn five. I still miss them but am able to enjoy my work. It took ten and a half years for me to get to this point. Of course when they move out another kind of pain sets it. Just enjoy the moments with your kids. It goes by too fast.