“Mama, did you leave me on accident?”

by Janelle Hanchett

Arlo turned four yesterday. I didn’t post about it until 9pm because I thought maybe if I didn’t say it out loud, it wouldn’t be real. Yeah, I guess I’m there. I told myself, “Well, he wasn’t born until 11pm, so technically, he’s not four yet.”

I’m not sure what that’s about. Maybe that he’s our last baby. Maybe because I’ll never be done. They say you’ll “know when you’re done.” That you’ll just feel it in your bones. Fin.

Maybe. Does that mean we’re not done? Does that mean we need to throw kid #5 into the circus? I’m not asking the internet for family planning advice. What I’m saying is, I’m not sure if the ache I have in my heart means we’re “not really done” or if this is just the way it feels for some of us, the way it hurts.

That in my family, we are both supposed to not have another kid and I ache for another kid.

It’s the anticipation, I think. I don’t even like being pregnant. I’m pretty sure being pregnant is the 9th circle of hell. And I’m 39. Like, kinda old for this shit. And they turn into teenagers. I have two of those. Those things are a lot. And as one of them says, “You can barely handle the four you have, Mother.”

It’s the newborn against my chest. It’s that moment of inhaling their necks, the vernix still on them, when you take a breath of them and it’s like inhaling your own existence. Your own blood. All you ever had of love.

The ecstasy of that moment. The simplicity of newborns. And infants. Hold. Rock. Change. Nurse. It’s simple, but not easy.

But maybe it’s that I’ve spent the last year and a half gone, a lot. Away writing. I wrote mostly on the weekends. I’d leave on a Friday, lock myself into a motel room, and write until Sunday afternoon. On Monday, Arlo and the kids would be back in school. And I’d be in my office. Maybe it’s that I feel I missed most of his third year, the year that feels like the last of the toddler years. The last of the baby-ness.


Four isn’t big.

Yesterday when he woke up, I asked him, “Are you four now?” And he said, “Yes, but I’m still cute and I’m still little.” Even he knows four isn’t big.

But it feels big.

When I came back from two weeks gone for my book tour, he slept with me that first night, and as we were falling asleep, he looked up at me with these curious, endless eyes and asked, “Mama, did you leave me on accident?”

I caught my breath. “Sort of,” I said.

Then he got really serious and said, “Don’t ever do that again.”

I laughed, but felt it its weight. A little boy assuming his mother left on accident. Surely she wouldn’t take off on purpose. Why would she do such a thing?

I didn’t leave on accident, little one. I left on purpose. I left because I’m a writer. Because seven years ago I started writing and when I cracked open that door of words, they just kept flooding in like the most relentless motherfucking house guests and my whole life changed. They weren’t leaving. I had to move shit around to accommodate them.

It still hurts to walk out. The parties I missed. The bedtimes. The school events. The year of three.


I have spent the last 1.5 years walking out of my home regularly and for extended periods, sometimes for as long as a week, but I’ve almost always had a little side gig.

I had a desk job for a while. I taught writing at colleges. I went to grad school for a minute. But the central focus of my life during all these years has been my babies. My house. My marriage.

And then, it became this book, and it wasn’t just when I was away writing. I was writing when I was home. I was thinking and working on it in my brain. My family would speak to me and I didn’t even hear them.

Mama, gone.

I could see I had been consumed. I could see this wasn’t a book I could write as a little side gig, on occasion, when the opportunity presented itself. I was writing a book on addiction and motherhood. I was trying to make sense of how we can love our kids and hurt them, how sometimes love isn’t enough. And then, my maternal grandmother was murdered and I saw I was writing a book about lineage. About my mother and her mother. And my father’s mother. I was writing about being a daughter. Their sins, and mine, the way I failed them, the way they failed me. And how, in the end, we have only our blood between us. And how, perhaps, that is plenty.

This isn’t something I could write on a Tuesday at Starbucks. No, I had to leave. I had to leave in mind and body and I had to not come back very often. Everything in my life became a side job. Everything because a silly practice to get through until I could work that chapter out. That idea out. That sentence out.

Maybe it’s a stupid thing. Maybe it’s a silly sacrifice, but when you believe in something, you know, you do it. I believed in this book and I still do.


I left my kids before. For two years we were apart, and then for one year we were half-apart, and once, when I came home after a long, alcoholic absence, I walked in the door of my mother’s house, and Rocket came running to me in the entryway, and said, “Mama, home.”

I fell to my knees and held him, and couldn’t respond, because I knew I wouldn’t stay. I knew I couldn’t stay. I had passed the point when I was able to delude myself into thinking I could promise him anything.

Those words – mama, home – never left me. I wrote about them in the book. I think I mentioned them here on the blog perhaps, but in my mind, they’re never far.

A week ago, I came home from a meeting and Arlo looked up at me with the same blue eyes his big brother had when he was a little boy, and with a steady gaze, he said, “Mama, home.”

I caught my breath.

I had never heard those words since the day Rocket spoke them at three years old. I had never heard those words outside the chambers of my own memory, where they rattled around like an old, sad friend.

Arlo has said it every day since.

“Mama, home” – just randomly throughout the day, and each day he’s said it more and more, until yesterday, he must have said it three or four times.

“Yes,” I said.” “Arlo, I am home.”

And it felt a little like forgiveness.

Like it’s all connected. Like the boy ten years ago is somehow the boy standing before me today, uttering the same words, but this time, I am here, even when I’m gone, and I’ll return as long as I’m breathing, and Arlo knew it when he said it. A declaration. A statement of fact. A seeing.

It’s that blood again. In the book I wrote, “we remain in the blood of our mothers.” There’s a lot more to it than that. I won’t go into it here.

But that’s how it felt, again. The circle. The connection. The blood running between us. The blood that took me away, and made me return, and gave two brothers the same words across their lips, to speak a decade apart, to the same woman, who’s home, sort of.

We can only be who we are. In the end, it’s that inexplicable thing that holds us.

Maybe that’s why I ache on his birthday.

Maybe that’s why I ache for the moment when I inhale the scent of myself in another body, when nothing can separate us yet, and I’m inarguably, and fully, enough.

I think that’s what the boys mean by “home.”


We’re all facing the “most sacred job in the world” armed with nothin but ourselves. 

I insist there’s beauty right there. And a shitload of humor. A SHITLOAD OF FUCKING HUMOR. Because it’s funny, goddamnit, the whole thing.

And I wrote that too.
That part was really, really fun. Alongside even the most intense parts of that book, I was laughing my ass off (IN MOMENTS, okay, I’m not a monster). I may be a monster.

Somebody messaged me today saying her favorite passage in the book was the dinosaur porn one. Here it is:

“Let’s not talk about how we all became better versions of ourselves the day we became parents, and, please, would you stop pretending you did? Because your holier-than-thou shit makes me worry you watch dinosaur porn after the kids go to bed. Your steadfast focus on seasonal cupcakes and organic kombucha concerns me. Look, I’ve got some too. I know all about gut flora. But please. Is that all there is?”


  • Jess

    In tears reading this. My oldest turned 4 at the end of April. His baby brother was born 4 days before that. We are barely surviving with 2 kids, yet already I feel that ache. Is this my last baby? I sure as shit don’t want to give birth again. But there is bliss and so much love with newborns, and it goes by so so fast. And there is definitely something g that feels really big about 4.

  • Charlotte McDonnell


  • Amy

    You took the ache inside my chest and put it into words. Thank you.

  • Sue

    This was beautiful and amazingly well written.

  • Lotte

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Angela

    This post is perfection. And landed in my lap as I am having a coffee by myself with absolute quiet (which never ever happens) because my 3 and 5 year old are sleeping in for once. So as I sit here in silence for one time in probably 365 I was thinking all of these thoughts that you put perfectly. I daily run back and forth between holy shit how can I survive another hour and how can I be doneeeeee! How is this my last baby. I have heard that you just know but I’m certain that is not true! At least for me. Happy birthday to your sweet Arlo ❤️

  • Annie Vandehey

    My last baby just turned 5 and he too is my forgiveness in pure form…. I am not the the mother I was with my first and fortunately all he wants in the world is me … but of course the days are pulling us apart more and more… my mom had three us us young and she always used to say we saved her life…. I think I understand that more now…anyway…. anyone who tells you baby hugs aren’t full of magical unicorn rainbow poop are full of it. ???? you got this mama ❤️❤️

  • Kat

    Aww… damn. Crying again. Curse you and your fucking brilliant words wheedling into my insides.

  • Monica


  • K

    Thank you for another beautiful blog post. I really feel what you write. I have two children, my youngest is 7. I have never felt done with babies, I have always wanted another one. But we have to be done because we can’t afford another, and I’m 40 now and I don’t think I could handle being so ill again during pregnancy and another 5 years of sleepless nights. So the ache will never really go, but I’m blessed to have the two I have.

  • Peggy

    Bless you ,Janelle.
    I gave birth to my last child at 39. It’s harder,but doable. The kids were 19,15, 19 months and newborn. I was 39. Same husband/father of them all. You never know what life will deal you. at 45,our grandson came to live with us permanently.
    I love your honest writing ,I like to think I understand your heart.

  • Liz Higgins

    OMG that face. I can’t stop staring and loving that little sweet amazing innocent face. And I usually only think that about my own 3 year old 😉

  • Donita

    My husband and I agreed we were done after our last and that he would get a vasectomy. I made him wait until my heart caught up to my head. I would question my decision of being done every time I saw a baby. In the airport, at a store. But finally, either because I felt too old, or I was caught up in the next phase of life, that feeling of doubt finally eased. And to be honest, with my youngest now at 16, I can’t imagine having another younger.

    Arlo just might be the cutest 4yo on the planet. You’ve kind of beaten the odds with all your kids being extremely cute. The next one has to be ugly. (I don’t really believe that, but giving you food for thought if you’re on the fence.) 🙂

  • Beth

    We had two boys, and “decided” we were done. I felt the pang for a third so powerfully. I wondered if it would ever fade. We did not have money, time, resources for a third. Then when my second so. Was 5, I got pregnant on the pill. So I got my third. But I was terrified about it, how would we handle it? She’s 10 months old now, it’s working the way it just does. But I am SO DONE. I was 38 when she was born. The pregnancy was very difficult for me. The worry that something might go wrong was the worst of all my pregnancies. Her newborn days were hell, I was sure I could not do it again and I had a tubal. I’m not sure the feeling would have gone away if things had happened any differently. And I know how bad it can ache.