“Please tell me how you balance 4 kids, a husband, writing, and everything else you do. Are you an alien or something?” – Sammy
“How do you stay so damn awesome? And how do you find time and energy to keep being awesome every day?” – Charlotte
Dear Sammy and Charlotte,
I figured these were good questions to answer today because today I feel like giving up. It happens, usually out of sheer exhaustion. Last night I slept 4 hours. This week I haven’t slept more than 5 or 6 hours a night. This month we all had strep throat. Then most of us got it again, including me, this week.
As I write this, my head is pounding, my eyes are droopy, and my cheekbones ache. It’s a headache, I guess, wrapping around my face and skull, concentrating in my temples. It burns the side of my face. My eyes want to sleep. My brain, though, has other plans. I know that. Fucking insomnia.
They say “take power naps.” That sounds amazing. Somebody explain to my brain that power naps are a good call. “Nah, I’d rather THINK,” it says.
Okay, asshole. Let’s go.
I thought when I leased an office this would get easier. And it probably would have, had I not taken on a couple college classes as a last-minute decision, for reasons I’m not quite sure about.
For reasons in and out of my control, right now I find myself teaching college classes, teaching writing workshops, writing this blog and other projects, and taking care of four children every morning and every night, virtually alone. My husband has been working 2.5 hours away since February. He’s rarely home.
And today, today I want to give up.
I don’t, though. I don’t in the same way and for the same reasons none of us give up. How do I do it? How do we do it? We wake up and put one foot in front of the other, or maybe drag one foot in front of the other.
I’ve told my husband this year that his job has ruined my life. I don’t mean that. I said it in a fit of furious desperate exhaustion.
I do that. I say irrational things and feel sorry for myself.
I’ve yelled at my kids on the way out the door, with a hint of crazy, circling rage in a way that rocked me. I didn’t mean that. I sit down and explain.
I do that. I get angry, blame, lose my patience. Act terribly.
I get down. I get back up.
I write one blog post a week. Lately I’ve been pushing it to the 7th day. I used to publish on Tuesday. You’ll note today is Friday.
I do that. I push things to the very end of the possible deadline because I FUCKING DON’T WANT TO because I’m uninspired and sucked dry.
I write badly. I publish things I don’t love. I don’t take myself too fucking seriously. I cut myself some slack. I trust I’m learning from all of it, that every piece of writing makes me a better writer. I write silly things. I sing in the car. I act like a fool.
The B.S. will pass.
It’s hard to create anything in the meantime, in monotony, the exhaustion and frustration, when all I want to do is watch “Mindy Project” and play Candy Crush. But I do it anyway, because if I sat around waiting for inspiration to strike I’d never write a fucking thing. If I waited for the muse to tap me on the shoulder I wouldn’t have written a word the whole of 2015, because the muse is hard to see through the haze of self-pity. Sometimes, as Stephen King says, we have to get down in the basement and do the fucking grunt work SO THAT the muse can visit us. We think she shows up uninvited. I believe we have to ask her to come, every day.
My job is to do the work in front of me and trust that the magic will show up.
(You got a better idea?)
I do that. I check out. I zone out. I whine. Then I show up again.
I’ve gotten a bunch of frozen food from Costco. We eat it when I’m too tired to move at the end of the day. My mom helps me drive Rocket to swim practice, Georgia to dance, Ava to piano. The laundry mocks me from every basket. I sit on the floor and read a story to Arlo. He makes the “milk” sign and I make a face. He nurses for 1-minute intervals. By the 6th time we do it, I’m done. I feel guilty. I haven’t seen him all day.
Why can’t we just read books? Why can’t we just hang out? Shit.
I get up off the floor, because I don’t have it in me to nurse my flailing toddler every 70 seconds. I’m sorry, baby. I look at the clock. 5pm. Mac won’t be back for another hour. Dinner. Fuck. Dinner. I try to cook. Arlo clings to my legs, “me me me,” he says, to hold him. Me. Hold me. How precious. So goddamn precious. His tiny baby voice. I can’t, baby. I have to get some dinner on the table.
“Ava! Come and get the baby please!”
5:30pm. He’s never coming home. Damnit I need help.
The house, thrashed. Dishes from last night. Kid shit everywhere. Why won’t anybody pick up after themselves? Homework. Georgia jumping on the couch. My phone dings. It’s someone reminding me of something I was supposed to do today. Swimming is in 15 minutes. He didn’t do his homework again. Are the animals fed? Ava, I’m trying to listen to you tell me about 8th grade. But can you please take this baby? I don’t want him to get burned. Get ready for swimming. Eat your dinner. Get off the back of the couch.
6pm. The traffic must be bad today.
I stare into the distance or at the stove and curse the whole damn thing.
I do it badly. I do it strangely. I do it thrown-together-at-the-last-minute. I do it checking Facebook when I shouldn’t. I do it with the fraudulent filters of Instagram. I do it after the deadline. I do it without a clue. I do it with rage. I do it with gratitude. I do it with joy.
I DO IT BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK ELSE TO DO.
But I never, ever, do it with “balance.”
In fact, I’d like to drop-kick every motivational speaker out there who insists that if we would just FOCUS and GET OUR SHIT TOGETHER, life would roll out in smooth rhythms of creative genius and equilibrium.
Fuck their rhythms. Fuck their Earl Gray and candles. Fuck their rituals and “time-saving tips.”
My life is a cluster and my emotional state jacked up, anxiety-and-depression-prone, and the circumstances of my existence are about as consistent and predictable as a 3-year-old on hot chocolate. (If we were braver, we might all admit that life is just this way.)
Does this mean I don’t get in on the creativity? The art? The beauty?
No. Because this is where my humanity lies, and the great truth and freedom of my life is that even in my brokenness, my weakness, my contradiction and inconsistency, I get what I need. I get what I need to love my children. To work as a partner to my husband. To be an okay mom to a few beautiful okay kids.
I get what I need to write the words. I get what I need to take a breath, kiss, hug, cry, feel the softness of my baby’s palm against my skin.
I can’t see it today. I can’t hold it and I can’t define it and I can’t even remember it sometimes, but there is a power, a love, that keeps me going, picks me up, lifts my voice over the gray and haze.
In the end, no matter what, I know I have what I need to speak my truth, right here on the ground with the laundry and dust and baby, even if my voice cracks in tiny whispers, it’s enough.
It finds its way to you.
You throw me some magic in return. And we both keep going.
Join me for a writing workshop in January.
Let’s write through the mess together.
CarrieFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 15:11
I love your writing. As always.
Krista hastings!Friday, 13 November, 2015 at 15:16
OMG! Thank you!! Thank you and thank you!!! This just gave me the extra fuel I needed!!! Its a PA day, kids are home(i have 4 aswell 14, 12, 9 & 2). I was sitting here with my heart racing from what i thought must have been an axiety attack, wanting to rip my hair out, wondering how I expect myself (clearly feeling pitty for myself) to start nursing school mext month, while working in a nursing home, and doing the mom, wife, daughter (my parents live under me and need me lol) thing. And THEN, then I see this, and I say YES! Loud enough that my kids think im slightly insane, or completely, not sure! But Thank you!!!! Thank you for reminding me, once again, that we are warriors!! We dont mean to be, but by accident, we are! And we get shit done! Especially when it has to get done, last minute or not!
THANKS Janelle!!!!!! Xoxoxo keep drudging on!!! You Rock!!
Krista hastings!Monday, 16 November, 2015 at 20:33
WenchFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 15:37
Yes. YES. YES YES YES YES.
Sending you all kinds of love. Because you are enough, and so am I.
DanFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 15:44
Balance???? hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. My husband and kids got me a coffee cup for mothers day this year which read “World’s OKest Mum!”
One freakin foot in front of the other.
ElleTuesday, 17 November, 2015 at 15:48
That is hilarious! Good sense of humour, your family!
tamFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 15:48
This right here. No one understands anyone else’s crazy. As a single mom to 3 teenagers, yes 3 of them aged 18, 16 and 14, I should’ve jumped off a bridge by now. I leave work at 5 but generally don’t get to get out of my car until 7/730 because people are being picked up and dropped off for practices, games or whatever else they’ve thought to sign up for. I’m proud of them for wanting to be involved and not acting cockeyed like some of these other kids running around. But it wears you out. Some days I don’t want them calling my name because it means they need for me to do something for them. But no matter how tired I am or how frustrated I can get, inside I love it. It’s just no matter how “together” it looks on the outside, and I’m thankful that’s what people see, but sometimes I’m completely falling apart.
AluraFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 16:08
This is fantastic. I actually wrote something similar last night, about some particular things that I do out of necessity – even though I don’t want to and fon’t feel like I really can.
It’s especially trying for me right now because I am working on some deep personal stuff (also out of necessity) and balancing introdpective work complete with random surges of anger and sadness, with parenting and trying to keep the house from exploding into chaos is – well, not really achievable. But I keep going through the motions because I really have to.
And I feel like I have no time or energy to write, but I keep doing it because I feel like it is saving my life. It is the only thing I do that feels like it is really for me and that I get any sense of accomplishment out of. Even when it is not “perfect” (always) and I decide it sucks.
But the feedback I am getting from sharing what I bleed out like that makes me feel less alone, and makes it all less intimidating. At least it makes it harder to feel sorry for myself for any longer than what seems to be healthy for me.
So thank you very much for bleeding this out of yourself, I really appreciate it, and I really enjoy reading your stuff!
Shannon ThomsonFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 15:51
This is amazing. So much truth, so much honesty, LOVE LOVE LOVE.
VictoriaFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 16:16
I absolutely love you. Thank you.
AmyFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 17:02
Can I give you a hug? Thank you for writing these words. It helps so much to know that I’m not alone out here.
AnneFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 17:40
Truth. I read every word you post here & I don’t notice (or care) what day of the week it is or how long it’s been since you last posted. I’m probably burning something on the stove or ignoring my children for a few minutes while I read, but it’s worth it. Thank you.
RoseFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 18:17
We will take anything you write any day of the week. Thank you for illustrating with words the roller coaster that is life.
Erika O'ConnellFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 18:38
My absolute favorite so far ????
ClaudineFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 18:50
If something really needs to get done, it will get done and if something doesn’t get done it must not have been that important anyway. As an ICU nurse and mom of 2 boys, I figure if everyone is still alive at the end of the day then it was a good day. Perfection is an illusion. Balance is found when your expectations match your reality. Rock on, ladies.
KerryMonday, 16 November, 2015 at 6:22
I really like your perspective!!
AndiFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 19:28
Tears are rolling down my face. Thank you for your amazing words that bring sunshine to my day after a long and shitty week of putting one foot in front of the other, just making it through.
MichelleFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 20:40
Wow, I love this: “the great truth and freedom of my life is that even in my brokenness, my weakness, my contradiction and inconsistency, I get what I need.” That is one of my mantras, courtesy of the Rolling Stones: You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need. I really believe that. Thank you for writing out of your humanity and love and power and truth. You are enough. We are all enough. Unbalanced, sure, but enough.
EricaFriday, 13 November, 2015 at 22:08
I love this. Thank you for your honesty and keeping it real.
DorotheaSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 2:40
Up at 5 am thanks to my over thinking brain, I’m glad to have this to read. Janelle, I am a fan- not just because you are funny, sarcastic, wise and give freely of your best and worst self… But also because I feel myself- as a wife, mom, caregiver to a disabled husband, full time employee, and someone who falls into darkness and depression far too easily- so close, some days to saying I can’t do this… and having your words here to remind me that in my far from perfect way, I am what keeps all this crazy shit going. There IS a purpose for me. I am a big, big fan, and I’m so glad you do what you do here. Dorothea
HayleySaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 2:45
Wow Dorothea, how much you have on your plate. Some of the hardest jobs going around and you have them all! Just wanted to give you a cyber pat on the back.
DorotheaSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 9:33
HayleySaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 2:42
You’ve gotten so much love for this post, but I do have to say the same as everyone else – I love this. First time commenter, trying not to be a dick! Thank you Janelle, thank you for keeping it real, saying it’s shit when it’s shit and saying it’s beautiful when it’s beautiful….and calling it out when shit is all fucked up. Makes my days of feeling like a total fraud mother a little less horrendous.
Keep on keepin on.
JamieSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 5:35
This is beautiful. I only have one toddler (who occasionally feels like 4), but I also suffer from severe Seasonal Affective Disorder which (HAPPY GODDAMN NOVEMBER) is just starting to crank up because of the shitty weather we’ve been having. Some days I get SO. ANGRY. With my poor innocent two-year-old and I say horrible things. Some days I have to literally fling myself out of bed because it’s the only way I’m able to leave the safety of my blankets, and nothing gets done. I feel guilty every time and I always swear I’ll make it up to him and I stress about how I’m messing up this beautiful tiny human and how I’m ruining our relationship, but my entire life feels out of my control, and what the fuck is WRONG with me? And then it gets better for a while. And then worse. Fuck those people who say you just need to work harder and “not be so negative.” They don’t know. So keep dragging one foot in front of the other, and know that you’re not dragging those feet alone. One day we’ll all be able to lift them again.
DorotheaSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 9:31
Jamie, I use a full spectrum light every morning fall and winter. It’s doesn’t fix me, but it does help energize me a bit and gives me a bit of a warm feeling. The one I have is very small, so easy to move around with me, and I use it when I’m on the computer… Hang in there mama!
KerryMonday, 16 November, 2015 at 6:29
Hi Jamie. I struggle with SAD as well. I also had a mother who, I realize now, had serious depression and possibly mental illness. I know what it feels like to have a mom who hugs you one minute and makes you feel worthless the next. I also see myself falling into the same struggles – the anger, the guilt, the rage. As a mom struggling, and a daughter who has been there, please please please don’t let yourself fall into that endless pit. Please keep pulling yourself back from that brink no matter how hard it is. Remember that your baby is not the cause of your dark days. Let him be your light, and when you can feel the bad stuff rising up in you, get away from him. Even if it’s 2 minutes. Get enough space to get your sights off of him. Don’t let him grow up in an emotional war zone. You can do it. You don’t have to be perfect, just be a safe place for him.
JenniferMonday, 16 November, 2015 at 12:44
Jamie, When I read “and nothing gets done” I want to knock you upside the head so you remember that you’re caring for a toddler all day – that IS something, a BIG something. I’ve had the same thoughts, and when my husband is home with the kids he does too. It’s taken nearly four years but I think we’ve both realized no one cares about a couple extra days for the laundry pile to get washed and put away. Dishes on the counter or an unmade bed aren’t bothering anyone for an extra day. Did your kids smile today, did you enjoy your family for one moment or for many, is everyone tucked away in bed for the night? Then I call Success. And productivity. And living an enviable life. Well done you.
You can “get stuff done” another day when the stars align and things are easier to check off your to-do list. Hang in there. Whether you feel it or not, you’re doing a fine job.
Janelle, great post. We feel you. I hope you feel that we feel you.
TessaSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 5:51
I’m on my way over to help.
MarySaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 6:11
Radical acceptance!!!! LOVE it!!! We are all such beautiful messes.
MaryElSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 6:50
I remember when I was pregnant with my first of two (he is now sixteen and awesome), I worried at the baby shower about how I was going to be a good wife, teacher, mother, etc, and hold it all together. One of the women at the shower just laughed and said, “Oh, you can’t. Don’t even try.”
That was some spot-on wisdom!
JenSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 8:04
I. Fucking. Love. You. Thank you for being so open and real.
TerriSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 8:49
Amen. And thank you for always writing what I’m thinking — no screaming in my head.
RachelSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 9:18
Love this. Thank you.
SunnySaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 10:15
Thanks Janelle. Thanks for being so real and for admitting that parenting is really hard sometimes. I’m almost always overwhelmed by my life and your writing reminds me that it’s ok. We cycle – from overwhelmed to nailing it to loosing it and back to managing. It’s a flow, peaks and valleys. If I have enough energy left at the end of the day I can usually find a moment of triumph somewhere in all the chaos.
Thanks for being a vocal supporter of those of us who don’t really have it all together.
Ellie kipperSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 13:13
Now imagine being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
DanaSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 14:14
I cannot help but hope you drop all (or some)of your current work to write your story (memoir…the whole shebang). You’ve got quite a story to tell and the voice to tell it in!
ConstanceSaturday, 14 November, 2015 at 17:52
Amazing! When I’m feeling like that, I think I’m in Hell all alone. When you write something like this I realize we’re all in the thick of it – doing the best we can. Thanks again for the reminder. Roll with it, baby! (This is not an original quote, I think Steve Winwood said it first).
PS I love that you quoted SK-he’s another one of my favorite things.
TessaSunday, 15 November, 2015 at 10:11
I read your blog and I understand. Probably not to the extent that most people do bc I have only one 5 month old. I am a nurse… I was a labor and delivery nurse for 2 1/2 years. Ups and downs 12 hours of bringing life into the world. 12 hours of holding a mother in my arms as she lost her 39 week baby for no reason. My husband working hard for barely anything.. then we had Koa. It changed my life. Our life. I quit the hospital and I now work at an IV clinic. My husband is a stay at home daddy we sold everything and moved into an rv. Its rad and shitty. Its full of surpises and and disappointments. I wonder how I can nurse every hour and continue to do normal human things… eat sleep poop. Ha ha. I love your blog. Your real.. you have no sensor and your honest about how wonderful and exhausting motherhood can be. Thanks for writing. I enjoy it… and you keep some of going with saying the things we are all thinking but feel too damn guilty to say. So THANKS!
JhanaSunday, 15 November, 2015 at 13:38
WONDERFUL. INSPIRATIONAL. HONEST & VERY REAL! Thanks for sharing,,, No matter WHAT FUCKIN DAY IT IS! I’ll be back for more! one step at a time 😉
MirandaSunday, 15 November, 2015 at 15:57
You are so real!! Thank you for reminding me and others that we are not alone!!
charlotte wiseMonday, 16 November, 2015 at 2:47
This got written straight out of my heart today! Thank you so so much! x
DanielleMonday, 16 November, 2015 at 9:43
This is so beautiful. It inspired me, and I’m not sure I would actually say that about many pieces of writing. Thank you.
JodiMonday, 16 November, 2015 at 11:28
Nailed it. Thanks for illustrating with words what reality for many actually is. Love it.
Brynly BrownMonday, 16 November, 2015 at 13:20
Thank you, this is me. I’m right there with you and the whole NO SLEEP ever issue. Baby is now almost 18 months and I have not slept more than 5 hours in a row the whole time. Yes, I still breast feed. Yes, she’s waking up to nurse. Yes, we’re working on a weaning plan. UGH. We finally put her in daycare because we were not getting any work done (my husband and I work from home). I feel so guilty, but so happy at the same time. I’m also right there with you on trying to listen to the 10 year old about her day, but having her help with the baby instead. Sigh, it’s hard and there is no balance. I keep telling myself that it’s not forever, but, man, it’s hard when you’re right in it.
TabithaTuesday, 17 November, 2015 at 16:14
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’m a first time mom, working outside the home. I’ve been so overwhelmed with all that I need to do. I clicked on some other blog post in my inbox about Missing Milestones as a working mom. And I cringed. I knew I would read that article and feel even worse. Then I saw yours. I skipped ahead to it, and devoured it. Nodding my head the entire time. Afterwards I promptly deleted that other nasty little blog post, giving it a big ol’ f*ck you. I took a deep breath, smiled, and went back to conquering and being conquered and doing my best in this crazy motherhood thing. Thank you for your breath of fresh air. I need that.
EllenTuesday, 17 November, 2015 at 20:15
Thank you Janelle, loving you and your words of truth.
TrishSaturday, 5 December, 2015 at 5:05
I found you through a beautiful friend of mine that posted this link on FB and boy am I glad she did.
I have been feeling like a failure as a parent lately and riddled with guilt about everything I should/would/could have done with my kids lately and just about every single second I seem to be yelling at them.
This has given me a remarkable insight into BEING NORMAL! and being a parent which doesn’t mean I have to be the best or smartest or more importantly CLEANEST parent around.
I love my kids and would give up the world and walk over hot coals for them but I too need to be a person as well and this has helped me see that my frustrations, anger and sometimes short fuse isn’t abnormal and I am still a good mummy.
YOU FREAKIN ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DesireeFriday, 1 January, 2016 at 18:06
Oh my god so much yes to all of this!! Thank you!!