Look what kind of bullshit the world handed me recently. These two photos are taken one year apart, to the day:
One day, we have the child we’ve always known, and the next day, we don’t. This is hitting me so hard right now, and I’ll tell you why: The boy who I somehow felt was always going to be a little boy is suddenly a teenager with size 13 shoes and I feel like all I did was yell his entire childhood.
Get off my case about the soaring drama, okay?
Sometimes, I don’t care what my Facebook and Instagram look like and I don’t care about that time you had dinner in my house and thought we were just such a loving family. What we really were is a fraudulent rage family.
Was I ever a real mother?
So many nights I’ve rested my head on my pillow and wondered if I said even one kind thing to any of my kids that day. I don’t mean “You’re the most special creature I’ve ever encountered and I’d die for you.” I mean just a compliment, at all. A recognition of them as human beings trying to grow up.
Or did I simply bark orders? Did I simply lose patience? Did I simply tell them to do this and do that and then, that night, did I think tomorrow, damnit, tomorrow I will be better. Tomorrow I will ask my boy about how things are going in general and maybe I’ll suggest we go get some tea together and my god Janelle you went to the grocery store with him – you could have talked – were you on your phone?
Were you too busy? Did you even notice?
And as I rest right now at 3am on a mattress on a floor in Holland, my four kids tucked into their rooms, the boy in the photo who used to sleep every night in a pile of stuffed animals and blankets on our floor, currently snoring behind a CLOSED DOOR if you can imagine that shit; as I lay here next to my husband who does not stay up at 3am wondering about these things, my whole body aches for some relief. My whole body seems to shiver with a desire to go back, to see him one more time as the little boy I’ve always known, the little boy I held held held until he shut the door to his room.
Those nights, when I’d watch my life screaming past me in frenetic monotony, I’d tell myself, “At least he’s still a little guy. At least he’s still just a boy. Tomorrow.”
What do I say now?
After a week of these highly fruitful midnight contemplation sessions, I have decided I am sick of this fucking guilt. I am sick of the way my brain wraps it all into regret, wraps it all into you coulda done better. You know what? I obviously could not. If I could have done better, I would have.
But let’s talk about this, the “mom guilt.” What a terrible feminist I am for even admitting I have it. MOM GUILT!
We don’t have that since we’ve been liberated. We don’t have it because men don’t have it, because it’s an invention of the patriarchy, because we congratulate dads for bathing their offspring, so this is all nothing more than internalized self-loathing, so stop.
Okay fine, good talk. I feel so much better.
I don’t. I don’t feel better.
And you know what? I’m tired of every feminism that doesn’t meet me where I am. Every feminism that tells me I have to love being fat all the time. Every feminism that tells me feeling a loss of identity when I became a mother is a betrayal of my bra-burning ancestors (read the comments).
Yes, it matters where the guilt comes from so we can deconstruct it. Unexamined life, etc. But HEY FRIENDS I’m here now. There’s no solution in “Don’t feel that way, Janelle, because it’s a construction of the patriarchy.”
OH SO FAKE IT THEN? What a fresh take!
And as much as these self-empowerment gurus tell me to shed that shit alongside all lingering desires to diet, the feeling is still here. If I were to declare otherwise, I’d simply be lying to myself. How is that “empowering?”
I want something real, something tangible, something actually freeing, not just some fucking band-aid rhetoric.
We are where we are, and if you can’t help me from there then you’re just trying to sell me another line. A workshop, perhaps. A retreat. A book.
Weird how the world makes money off polishing my shit into something more palatable.
And the truth is this: I have missed a lot of my kids’ lives and I feel like shit about it. Some of it I missed because of alcoholism, but most of it I missed because I was living a life of seemingly impossible circumstances.
Years of a husband leaving at 3am and coming back at 5pm only to not see raises except in healthcare costs and student loan payments while babies keep getting shot in school and the rich get richer and my degree gets smaller and they keep telling me my discs are crushed because I’m fat, which is probably true. I’ve just spent so much time so fucking tired. Always, it seems. Tired, worried, drained. A frantic monotony. How quickly life can become something to survive, kids something to manage. Manage. Manage.
Play with? Engage with? Cuddle with? Stolen moments here and there. A glance. A book before bed.
But inside of myself, you know, there was often such turmoil. So much goddam pain.The world suggests “self-care.”
You know what? Sometimes we’re too poor for self-care, too tired to even remember. We squirm under the boot of a damn-near impossible life then beat ourselves up for “missing it.”
And that, my friends, is some bullshit.
After more tears than a feminist like me (lol) would like to admit, as my breath stops in my throat when I think about Ava going back to America in three days to finish high school in the States, when I think about my first two babies never returning to how they used to be, and I feel once again I may die from the sadness of what’s gone, of what’s lost, of all that was once in my hands, I follow it all the way to the end – past regret, shame, wonder – to a deeper part of myself. The part that knows I did the best I could with what I had, and I always fucking have.
We always, always fucking have.
And sometimes, sometimes for years, it isn’t much. But if I look, I see those stolen moments. I see the times I looked at my kids as they sat on our front porch, and handed them an ice cream to watch a movie with me, and watched them sleep, reached for their hands while driving.
Hey, little one. Here I am. And damn, you’re beautiful. In this mess, this fucking crazy life, I race and race but I show up when you need me more times than not and sometimes, for mere seconds, I stop to feel your palm against mine. Could that be enough?
The other day at dinner I asked my teenagers “Do you feel like all I did was yell at you your whole life?”
They threw their heads back and laughed. “Absolutely! It’s been terrible!”
Ava then turned to me, her voice a serious tone: “Why would you ever ask that, Mama?”
And I see in a flash that today is where the freedom lies, the healing, because today is the day I will someday yearn for, when they were young, when we were young. Someday, I’ll look back at today as the years I can’t get back, and I’ll remember the time I asked them if all I did was yell, and I’ll remember the way they glanced at each other and teased me, the sun against their sweaty teenage necks, and the way I sat between them, almost in their hands.
Speaking of mom guilt, have you read my book?
It’s not really about mom guilt I just couldn’t think of a segue.
Also, did you know I’m teaching a five-day writing retreat on a magical island in British Columbia?