Arlo turned five today and I’m really doing well

by Janelle Hanchett

I never thought I’d be the mother enduring some sort of existential crisis because her baby is turning five. I don’t know, I’m not much of feeler.

No, that’s a lie. I have always been a grade-A feeler, but I used to be an excellent feelings-suppressor, thinking as long as I didn’t look sad, I wouldn’t actually be sad. As long as I didn’t show you I had feelings, I didn’t actually have the feelings. If anybody would like further emotional intelligence guidance, I’ll be here all week.

Crying felt like vulnerability which felt like I’D RATHER DIE.

If this makes sense to you, hi. We should probably go to therapy together.

I’m totally healed now. Totally. I assure you. Despite my max-healed status (I may be overshooting here a bit), I still have a hard time crying in front of certain people and those certain people are people I’m the closest to.

I’ll cry in front of a room full of strangers at a book reading but have a very, very hard time crying in front of, say, Mac. I can cry with love, or remembering a loved one, but I can’t cry because he hurt my feelings. I can’t cry when I’m just HURTING.

The more I write about this the more I feel like you’re going to tell me I’m highly disturbed and should throw in the towel in a sort of all-encompassing life way.

There’s some part of me that suspects that if you know I’m sad, that you’ve hurt me, you’ll think I’m weak and beat me with a metal rod until I bleed out.

Maybe I should keep these things inside.


Anyway, something happened to me at about age 35, and it’s just gotten worse (better?) since then. Thirty-five was also the year I turned five years sober, so I really have no idea if this development is on account of age in years or the relative maturity that comes with sobriety, but my fucking point here is I FEEL SHIT ALL THE TIME NOW AND I AM SAD ABOUT MY BABY TURNING FIVE AND I WANT ANOTHER ONE LEAVE ME ALONE.

I never knew I’d be a mother who looks at her youngest and simply wants him to stay.

I don’t want him to get to that next phase or stop this or stop that. I just want him to stay, right here.

It isn’t that he doesn’t annoy me. He does. Kids are annoying. But all I really feel when I look at him is an all-consuming gratitude that I still have this tiny bouncing kid in my house.

I have his lisp and his fat little fingers shoving Spiderman into the mouth of a metal bird on my mom’s porch. I have his little bottom racing down the hallway to escape the bath. I have his ringlets covered in unknown sticky substance two hours after the bath he almost escaped. I have his big eyes and closed-mouth smile and endless, meandering, nihilist questions. I have him playing on our floor.

Oh lord almighty, the playing. The imagination. The little lilt they get while inventing games “Pretend you’re the fireman and I’m the dad and you come to save me but my dog won’t leave.” Can you hear it? All the kids use the same one.

The story spins endlessly. Pretend, pretend, pretend. Do they ever actually play? I watch them and listen as they create the scene endlessly, never actually having the characters do the thing. I could watch them all day, but I stay in another room, because they’ll stop if they know you’re there. Or they might. I want them to get lost. I want them to forget about me so I can soak them up just as they are without Mama around.

I still have a little body against mine, a body that fits perfectly in the curve of my body, that snores the tiniest little grumbly snore, that smells like sweet baby sweat in his neck. I still bury my head in it when he wakes up. I take in the wild fuzz of his head. Pajamas. I have those, too.

I’ll never be a person who wags her finger and instructs young mothers (hahaha) to “Enjoy it. It goes so fast.” But fuck me, I’m here living that recognition against my fucking will. I didn’t ask for it. I HATE FEELINGS AND SENSITIVITY.

I certainly don’t enjoy this all the time, and my patience is just sort of – misplaced? – but I can tell you that every single fucking day, I think about how soon I’ll turn around and he’ll be somebody else. He’ll talk “properly” and he won’t spend thirty minutes rolling a truck on a pillow with a Paw Patrol character, and he won’t just fit on my lap if I curl him into a very tight ball. He just won’t be, well, a little guy.

I suppose in a way this is a wonderful place to be, though if I think about it too hard I dip my toe into a pool of guilt and sadness that I didn’t “take it all in” perfectly enough when my other kids were young. I thought I had forever. I knew another was coming along.

I thought I had forever.

You don’t think about how things will end when it all feels like a beginning.

But fuck guilt. We only have what we have when we have it. And back then, I had the smooth-sailing ignorance of “so many years.” And now, now I have minutes that seem to contain entire lifetimes. That’s how sacred they’ve become. I hold them like I hold his little hand, aware of the softness of his palm in mine, the pressure of his grasp, and how fast it slips away when he turns, runs.

Happy birthday, Arlo.



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  • Myra Jung

    I love when you write. You say everything I feel about my kids. Thank you for all the beautiful words. Sorry our kids grow…its so tragic.

  • Dani

    Oh God, too many feelings. Mine is 6 and really, really difficult but also perfect and he was supposed to be my first, not my last, but after all he is my last and we’re alone and it’s hard and it’ll be easier when he’s older but then he’ll be older and oh, God.

  • Jen

    Beautiful and true, all of it. My younger is almost 7 and I feel the same way as you. I can’t stand it.

  • Sherry

    lol… Your blog appears to have come full circle. I am sure one of the first posts I read here was your outrage at old moms who told you to enjoy it. And today:

    “But fuck me, I’m here living that recognition against my fucking will. I didn’t ask for it.”

    I dunno. It’s kind of a beautiful thing, to find ourselves suddenly filled with the knowledge of the thousands who came before us. Knowing we can’t share that knowledge, because the new ones don’t want to know. But knowing, none the less.

    Mine are 11 & 9, and I love them as they are… but I’ve actually burst into tears at the sight of a four year old. I miss them. And I feel you.

  • Elaine McKechnie

    I think I’ve identified this feeling as grief. I find it so absolutely painful to look back through old photos because the people in them don’t exist anymore. And although the grown humans who have replaced them are some of the best ones I know I’ll always grieve for the babies I had to tell “goodbye.”
    I’m having another one. I thought that would fix it. It’s a girl. I haven’t told may people that and I am so fucking excited, but she didn’t fix it. When my pregnant sister called to tell me she is having a boy I was inconsolable for thirty solid minutes because my baby boy is gone. He’ll be seven this year and soon he won’t kiss my face anymore.

  • Mariek

    A friend of mine once said: “It’s so strange to be sitting next to your children on the couch and miss them.” They are here and you mis all that they where.

  • Jamie

    Oh God. Me too. Almost 5 and supposed to be first but actually last (Dani <3) and the blond ringlets and still-baby trying to subconsciously nurse in the night but eager to go away on his first sleepover and the not-allowing-of-sadness in the face of just biology-being-what-it-is and what-a-lovely-independent-child and relationships-you-really-never-deserved-in-the-first-place and… everything. Only I couldn't just not be sad I couldn't actually articulate, either. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Alana Flores

    Damn it Janell how you gonna go ahead and do me like that. I’m literally sitting here crying like a baby because every goddamn word ripped right through me… again! You always hit that button and that’s why I keep coming back to your words, your blog, your book , your IG because this invisible thread that connects our complicated cloudy hearts. I see you woman. I see you in me and my stubborn sisters and so many other friends and women and humans and I’m grateful to have them wash over me. To soften my hard spots like a solvent solution, so that some funk can wash away, in these tears and words that your reflection pulls out of me. I’m also riddled with guilt for never taking your goddamn writing retreat when you lived down the fucking road from me and now your moving to utopia where your gonna have health care and more feelings to unpack than luggage. Damn it. Thank You. Thank you, keep on keeping on.

  • Nikki_momma

    Another soul touching post!!! And oh my those eyes! My son is soon to turn 11, and I too just want it to just stop. He is at that precarious tween stage and I feel like I’m going to loose him to a whole group of unknown friends and influences any day now. He is in such a hurry to grow up and has no idea of the hurt and love and good and bad things that are all part of growing up. I want to just keep him in a bubble and push stop growing!
    Of course it makes my heart simultaneously smile and cry when I see Facebook pops up a memory from when he was small and squishy or toddling around. Gawd the parenting gig is so bloody hard! ???????????? hugs momma, as always your writing inspires and gives me all the feels. ????

  • Norita

    What a gorgeous meditation on your relationship with Arlo,
    with motherhood.

    Full spectrum of all the feelings into the Love Abyss of Humanity.
    Crying happy tears as I read and also recognize the Knowing of what you are witnessing with Arlo and the greater meaning behind your small-moment experiences.

    Your writing is so fucking beautiful!

    Thank you Janelle for the teacher you are.
    You teach HUMAN 101 so well.

  • Jessence

    I just found this blog today. I am reading this post on my bus ride home from work and have tears in my eyes. My boy (younger kid) just turned 12 and I’m beside myself. I wish I could turn back time… And freeze it…. Even for a day.

  • Jessica

    I’m not a cryer either Janelle but you always seem to get a tear out of me. Thank you for continuing to share your talent!

  • Jennifer

    Me too! I can’t think of anything else to say, just me too!

  • Michelle

    Ugh, you know our daughter is literally 3 months old and I already feel all these feels. Her growing up and leaving will be tough on me!