My daughter turned 17. I turned into my mother.

by Janelle Hanchett

I distinctly remember being a teenager and thinking my mother was the most ridiculous human in the world with her constant “worrying.”

“Call me when you get there,” she’d say. And then I would nearly fall over in shock at how “dramatic” she was.

Or when she would ask me to be home by midnight and I’d roll in at 1:30am and she’d tell me that she had stayed up, wondering if I was alive, and I would fly into just a touch of rage at her desire to “control me.”

I remember my eye roll. As if she didn’t trust me to live in the world. I have it handled, Mom.

That’s what my eye roll said. That’s what my yelling said.

Also it said: “I am an asshole.”

(I was terrible. My parents were saints. The end.)


It was the morning I stood in the doorway and told my daughter, Ava, who’s seventeen, to “be careful in the fog” that I knew I had become my mother.

It’s really poor visibility. Leave early so you don’t have to drive fast. Don’t tailgate. Don’t speed.

I wanted to tell her all these things. I wanted to low-key beg her to listen to me. I willed myself silent on the barrage of guidance I wanted to pummel her with. I allowed myself just one “It’s dangerous to drive in the fog. Please drive slowly.”

Oh, and: “Text me when you get there.” I did it. I went there. I went “text me when you get to school” because of a heavy blanket of fog.

I never understood my Mom because I didn’t know that the fog dropping onto the world drops on your baby, too, who got her driver’s license only six months ago. I didn’t know the fog is a blanket over her eyes, too, and you think about all the times you’ve driven in the fog, and how it’s her first time, and you think maybe let’s just wait until it clears, while also knowing this is ridiculous and you should really pull it together. 

I didn’t know that every New Year’s Eve is a million drunks waiting to plow into my baby while she cruises home listening to her favorite Beatles song.

I didn’t know that every screaming ambulance within earshot brings with it an instantaneous mental calculation of each child’s coordinates, that even though you know your daughter is nowhere near that ambulance, you wonder. Just for a second, you wonder. You calculate.

I didn’t know that the world becomes, against your will, against your intellect and better judgment, a landmine of threat, and even if you’re reasonable, a stone-hearted analytical type, the type of person who rarely cries, you get a little fucking weird.

You hold it inside to not freak your kid out. You allow yourself one “Drive safely,” and a kiss and “I love you,” followed with a “Have fun” because the last thing you’re going to fucking do is teach your kid that the world is a thing to be feared, to be tiptoed around, to be cautiously and barely lived.

But I’m a mother and you’re my baby and you’re new at this.


I watch you drive away. I watch you head out the door at 10pm to come back at midnight. You always respect your curfew. How did my parents survive me ignoring it, and before cell phones? 

I always wait for the sound of the front door – opened, shut, locked – the dog hopping off his bed to greet you, your face in my doorway with a smile, or a “Goodnight, Mama” from the hallway.

The sound I could never understand until I became my mother.

A rite of passage, I suppose, this learning to live in the in-between, a part of me running around loose and wild for the first time, in a world that terrifies and delights me.

I watch you drive away in the fog. I smile when you remember to text. I smile at the roll of our eyes.

We were babies.






13 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | February 4, 2019
  • Melanie Murrish

    ???????????? <3 Mine turns 17 in June. Xx

  • Cristina Arauz

    Im in tears, again… Damn Janelle, how can ypu make me do this every single time??!! The funny part is my kids are still a decade a far from being 17. But here i am sobbing at the idea they will go to places without me protecting them ten years from now…
    And also laughing because i know i became my mother the day i told my kids “Eat your food!! There are kids out there dying from hunger, you know??!!”
    or the classic “If i come to your room and find it…”
    Either way, thank you again for letting me feel im not alone in this shit show.
    Love you.

  • Laurie

    I understand this so well. Because my mother DID go there, because she worried excessively (I remember her clutching the back of my swimsuit when I was little) and because some of her fears did get passed on to me and my siblings, I was determined not to do this with my child. IT’S SO HARD. And it doesn’t really end when they’re all grown up, even when they become parents themselves. But like your role reversal, they do understand the fear now.

  • Renee P

    Janelle: I hate to tell you that the worry really never goes away. I have a 40 and 39 year old. I worry about them when the weather gets bad or when they leave town; if they will be safe. I worry about my grandkids; if they remembered their hats and gloves, if they have their homework done, if they had a good day at school, if they remembered to let the dog out and on and on. But now there is a new one. I worry about my 92 and 91 year mom and dad; are they safe and eating well, are they having a good day today or do they need me to do anything for them? Have I remembered to check on their house and run their cars for them or are all their bills done? Like I said, on and on and on and ON!!! My mom did it for our family and it’s my turn to take over. I, however, do not do as good as job as she did. I do, however, try to walk in her footsteps, which is a good thing!

  • MaryEl

    My oldest is 19 and lives at home. There’s a reason why kids should move out at 18… I don’t really want to know that they walked out the door at 11 pm and do not plan to be home until the next morning (and I don’t know the exact location of the house where they’re hanging out) even though I freely did all that at the same age (I did NOT live with my parents, though).

    And my mother is 80, I’m 53, and still she worries about me when I go paddling or rowing by myself.

    And I still get annoyed when she tells me to be careful.

  • Laurie G

    I just finished your book. Needless to say it was everything I expected it to be and more. I wish my husband loved me half as much as your husband appears to love you. One question… though all the drunk blackouts and all the drugs you seem to have remembered things so very well. How did you do that? I never did drugs nor drank and yet there are huge parts of my life especially the part where I was raising a large family that I don’t even remember…its all a haze

    • renegademama

      Hi! Thank you so much for your kind words, and for reading my book. I only wrote about things I remembered, things that stood out to me. And I wasn’t a blackout drunk. I blacked out a few times toward the end but it wasn’t a regular thing for me. The memories I wrote about in the book are clear as day in my mind, as if they happened yesterday, but they are glimpses, scenes. I’m sure there are a million things I’ve forgotten.

  • Kristy Benevento

    I have a 14yo myself and this resonates with me a lot. I really just wanted to say that the picture you chose for this post of you and your baby, so young, almost brought tears to my eyes. She’s adorable and the look of love in your eyes speaks so much, and that phone lol speaks of a simpler time not really THAT long ago. It makes me nostalgic for 14 yo ago. I don’t usually post and I read all your blog but this one with that picture I felt I had to. And I read your book, it was great…I have too much to say on that so I’ll just say I absolutely loved it for so many reasons… I’m a big fan, I fucking love your words

  • Cheryl Soler

    Yup. I tell my daughter “OK. Here are all the mom things that I have to say” before I go into the “stay with your friends, call me when you get there. . . “Stuff.

    I”m sure you’ve heard the adage that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body. Until you actually have a child, you don’t realize how true that is.

  • erin

    So…..i did this twice last week. The first was telling my youngest son, 18, that i would let him skip/call him in to school cause i didn’t want him to drive in the snow. He went, then texted me a hilarious GIF with something about dying when he got to school. OK, i get it. Im too much. The other time he was planning to go on a day trip with his friends to Cincinnati (1hr 45min drive). As all five of the kids were leaving to walk out the door, I said, “who’s driving?” and my son said, “me” I immediately said, “NO….not happening. Your tires aren’t good enough and you’ll wreck, flip your car on the interstate and kill all your friends.” After I said it all of the kids blankly stared at me while I laughed and joked about how i was kidding (I wasn’t). But one of the girls said she’d drive…so they left. He came back like an hour later. I was like…”Whats up? No Cincy?” He slammed the door and said, “NO mom, cause you terrified all my friends and no one wanted to drive!”

    WHOOPS. I mean, we all parent differently, right? My tactic is just honest truths to scare them into making the best decisions. It worked for my other two who are responsibly adulting in society.

  • Debbie in the UK

    Omg you look the image oh George in this photo !

  • Linda

    My children are 43, 40, 38, and 33, and I still have them text me when they get home or wherever they are traveling to. The only thing that has changed is that they all have me text them when I arrive somewhere safely as well. As adults, they understand the worrying only too well.

  • Elizabeth Sargent

    I have a 17 year old. Your writing speaks directly to my heart, makes me cry, inspires me to see life as it is in all its beauty and messiness. I loved your book and look forward to your blog. It’s always the first thing I read in my inbox.