Posts Filed Under Ask Janelle

Why the hell do people have kids?

by renegademama

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Hi Janelle!

I’m a faithful reader of your blog. I don’t have kids but that doesn’t matter, your writing is awesome for anyone who isn’t into canned bullshit, and I SO appreciate it!

Soooo here’s my question, please don’t punch me in the throat – what the fuck is wrong with you people with all of these kids?! Seriously, I watched a friend’s daughter for 2 hours yesterday. TWO MEASLY FUCKING HOURS. And I wanted to curl up in a ball and die by the time she was leaving. They’re exhausting. Like to the core of my being exhausting. And that was only one 6-year old. For two hours. How the fuck does ANYTHING get done? When do you sleep? WHY DON’T THEY EVER JUST SIT DOWN AND CHILL THE FUCK OUT?

And she was really good, too. No misbehaving or anything. SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE UNRULY CHILDREN, like me when I was a little shit bird?! Or, for the love of God, more than one?! Um, I think I need to call my mother. Or buy her a BMW or some shit to make up for dealing with me from birth through at least 25. You parents are fucking super heroes, in case you didn’t realize that. THANK YOU for being willing to reproduce and repopulate the earth so I don’t have to. I think I’ll stick with my chickens!

***

Dear reader,

Oh my god. I don’t know who you are, but I love you. And I’m going to answer your questions as best I can.

First of all, I don’t know why other people have kids. I barely know why I have kids. Sometimes I think about the fact that I have four of them and I’m shocked then confused then delighted and grateful, in that order, although sometimes I stop at the first one.

I had my first kid because I didn’t know what I was getting into and found myself pregnant and thought newborns were cute.

I had my second kid because my husband and I were worried our first kid would think she was the center of the universe and didn’t trust our parenting skills enough to teach her otherwise, so we created a built-in sharing requirement.

I had Georgia because we went to a bluegrass show in San Francisco and forgot birth control then figured what the hell.

I had Arlo because I REALLY NEEDED ANOTHER BABY FOR SOME REASON.

Two kids make sense, sort of. Three? Not really.

FOUR?

Four is what the fuck is wrong with you? Too many humans. You’re a weirdo. You have a problem. You do not fit in restaurant booths, hotel rooms, or normal cars.

Anything beyond four kids means you reside in a highly religious cult commune.

The best part is that having four kids makes little sense in the context of my life: We are not wealthy. We do not have a big house. We can’t afford two hotel rooms. Amusement parks other than Disneyland make me think only of urine and broken dreams. I enjoy personal space. Excessive motion irritates me, especially after 3pm. Large groups of mothers trying to accomplish things, like fundraisers for example, are my personal version of hell. I dislike being pregnant. I do not like being climbed on. I hate kid music. And most kid shows.

And yet, we would have babies forever if we could. I realize that’s a strange thing to say. I know that’s not everyone’s experience and I do not glamorize or glorify or elevate it beyond any other life choice. Frankly, I can’t even explain it, but I’ll try.

I never envisioned myself not having kids. Neither did my husband. By 18 or 19, I was thinking about babies. I loved them. I wanted one. I have no further explanation. This is not to say I was ready to have kids when I found myself pregnant at 22 (I was decidedly NOT), but I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I think part of this is that nobody talks about actual motherhood and we get some bullshit smocked-pastel version of it all, so maybe we think of babies like accessories, like these cute things we add to our lives like a new purse, or brooch. Nobody wears brooches. Not my point.

A lot of people see through this, have the capacity to look at parents and SEE how hard it is. Like you, for example. A lot of people don’t though. And we’re blindsided by how fucking hard and relentless it is. And wonderful, though.

You see? This is the problem my friend. It’s a big emotional clusterfuck.

There are innumerable aspects of parenting I find mundane and tiresome and generally irritating. But for me, the beauty has always outshone the negative in a profoundly real way, and here’s what I see:

I have children for the realization that a tiny life and being has been created through a connection between the person I love and me. I do it for the look in my husband’s eyes when he finds out we’re having a baby. I do it for the all-consuming love that hits me like a tidal wave in that very moment, the moment I realize a little one is coming, of me but so beyond me. Of us but eternally beyond us.

I do it for the fascination, the weirdness, the baffling reality that while the body begins from a cell, there is so much more than that: the soul, the spirit, the personality. We get to watch and love that and be part of a human crossing to join us, from where?

I do it for the mystery.

I do it for the moment I lock eyes with my newborn and he or she is placed on my chest and it’s ecstasy. I do it for newborn breath. I do it for baby rolls. I do it for smiles and laughter.

God damnit. I hate you. Now I want another baby.

And then, well, I guess I do it because I love our little tribe, our little crew. Our goofiness our joy our anger our traditions, the jokes we have, the way we are us, a unit, impenetrable and unbreakable. I do it for trips to our favorite beaches and camping and music and the friendship between siblings, watching older ones love the little ones and knowing forever they’ll have each other, long after we’re gone. I do it to learn. I do it to teach. I do it for holidays.

I hate the fucking holidays. They are the worst.

If you ever told me this would become my life I would LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH. They match, and there's a labrador.

They are the best worst.

Here are my kids in matching pajamas. >>

In the end I think the only thing to say is we have fun and that outweighs the rest. And I really, really like having people. 

But you have to understand something here: You can’t judge having kids by the feeling you get hanging out with other people’s kids. Other people’s kids are fucking annoying. I can count on two hands the number of kids I find engaging and tolerable, and most of them are related to me.

Oh, come on. I’m not that evil. I’m exaggerating. Sort of.

OR AM I?

The reason you can’t compare hanging out with other people’s kids to having your own is because your kids are YOUR kids in YOUR family and therefore will learn what works and what doesn’t and what’s tolerable and what isn’t in YOUR FAMILY, and this will be different from other families.

For example, whining. I fucking can’t handle whining. I don’t care how tired you are or what age you are or how badly you want the red cup. Normal voice. Figure it out. I hear other kids whine and their parents deal with it differently. No judgment on them, whatever people, but when my kids try whining – as they all do – I look at them and say “I do not understand whining” and walk away. Because I’d rather get a root canal than listen to tiny voices carry on about some bullshit they think they need.

And soon, the older kids are telling the younger ones, “Don’t baby talk. Don’t whine,” and soon nobody’s doing it because that shit is unacceptable in the house.

Also unacceptable: complaining about food, expecting special meals, not using manners, the inability to use sarcasm, watching Caillou, failing to recognize revisionist history, disliking the Grateful Dead.

THIS IS OUR HOUSE.

It’s ours. It works. My kids annoy the shit out of me but not in ways that make me question the meaning of life.

My point is that you get to raise your kids, and you’ll raise little humans that more or less fit into the culture of your family while also bringing that certain something that makes you want to scream WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU COME FROM?

I’m not saying you should have kids. By god almighty DO NOT DO THIS unless you’ve got some deep-seated overwhelming urge, because there are a thousand ways to connect with the mystery of life and enjoy cute things and have fun and have people. For example: Redwood trees, sea otters, any vacation anywhere without children because children ruin vacations, and friends.

Oh, and your other questions:

How the fuck does ANYTHING get done?

Barely.

When do you sleep?

Rarely.

WHY DON’T THEY EVER JUST SIT DOWN AND CHILL THE FUCK OUT?

They do, when they’re older, and then you miss them being little.

This is the fucking mystery I tell you. 

 

Also, don’t believe anything anyone says about kids. Nobody knows what they’re doing.

Have a nice day.

I hate everything.

I hate everything.

70 Comments | Posted in Ask Janelle | April 25, 2016

“Can two people be in love forever?”

by renegademama

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“Can two people be in love forever?” – CL

 

Dear CL,

First, I don’t know shit about marriage.

Second, I somehow ended up in a happy one.

Overall. Generally speaking. Mostly.

As you may have observed, cohabitating with one human is never fun all the time and anyone who says it is is definitely lying. I realize these fabricators seem real on Instagram with their sun-kissed beach photos, but All-the-Time-Blissful Marriage is not a fucking thing.

Generally Happy with your Life Partner, though, IS a thing.

And that’s the thing I have.

 

I’m not sure how or why we ended up here, and while I’d like to say we fell in love got married bought a house and built a life in some organized trajectory of soul-mate goal-setting, the truth is we did everything wrong.IMG_8045

Well, apparently not everything. I mean, look at George. >>>

We met too soon, had a kid too early, and separated for a year or two, here and there. And yet, on December 19 we will celebrate our 14th anniversary, and I will probably think “Well I’ll be damned, I’m happy,” and I love him, a lot, even more than 14 years ago, which surprises me, and feels odd.

Sometimes, I want to kick him in the shins because he drives me around the bend. But I don’t want him gone. And I never think of my life without him because I don’t want it. At the last, he’s my best friend, and I like hanging out with him, and I like the life we’ve got going together, and that’s enough for me.

So I don’t know if people can be in love forever. I don’t know much about marriage or love, but I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned so far.

 

I think we’re sold a lie about marriage and romance. I think it starts with romantic comedies. I think we grow to believe “real love” looks like the first 6 months of a relationship extended over a lifetime.

I think that’s bullshit.

I think we’re told that if our love doesn’t look like the end of a Meg Ryan movie, all the time, even 7 years into it, there’s something wrong with our relationship, when actually nobody’s love looks like that. So in other words, YES, there is in fact something wrong with it.

There is always something wrong with it. The point is to get okay with the shit that’s wrong, or leave. We spend so much time trying to “fix” what’s wrong. What about asking ourselves “Can I live with what’s wrong?” And if the answer is “no,” then I guess we work like hell to get better, or we leave.

But often, I’ve found, the answer is “yes.” I can live with that. It’s not perfect, but it’s okay. It’s not a deal-breaker.

I think a lot of Happy Marriage rests in letting shit go that doesn’t matter, even though our egos may tell us it super dupes matters. And this extends to personality flaws. Sometimes giant ones. For example, my tendency to yell and swear-off our marriage altogether at least twice a year, and his, well, flaws. I’m sure they’re there.

I jest. He’s not perfect. But I don’t feel compelled to put Mac up here on the chopping block since he can’t defend himself. I will say, “He will never be the man who straightens the fringe on the carpet” (we have no carpet with fringe but I’m using that as a metaphor people). He will never be the one carefully planning shit in our lives (wait. I don’t do that either. WHERE IS OUR FAMILY PLANNER? Oh right. Ava.) He will probably never organize the garage. He will definitely always forget to put the kids to bed on time.

He will never have the Type A, assertive, GET ER DONE attitude that say, his wife has, and that annoys me sometimes because I can’t do everything! But then again now that I think about it you’re totally going to do it wrong so please just let me do it.

For example, he lives with that. And I live with his tendency to leave giant metal objects on our front lawn. No, leaning against our house. He’s moved on from the lawn.

Improvement!

 

No but seriously, we have some differences in communication (in short, I move IN YOUR FACE and he moves IN HIS SHELL) that are tough, and sometimes we go months in this push-pull thing of me demanding WE ADDRESS SHIT and him pretending I’m not there.

But eventually, we come around. Both of us. He talks to me and I remember I’m sane and the truth surfaces and we end up together, maybe in tears, maybe holding hands or hugging, but for sure remembering who and what and why we’re here, and that we fucking like each other and our kids as a little unit and would rather have each other than not have each other. And that’s our Meg Ryan movie.

We know we will get okay again, and that it will be enough.
I think we’re told our partners need to “fulfill” us. I think this is bullshit. I think we “fulfill” ourselves and bring that to the motherfucking table, as a service to our partner, and ourselves. I don’t want to be responsible for “fulfilling” anybody. I’m a broke-ass broke down human. I can support the shit out of you, and tell you the truth, and be your friend and kiss your lovely lips, but I don’t want your identity on my shoulders. I can hardly handle my own thankyouverymuch.

Nobody can fill the gaping hole in me because they’re too busy running around trying to fill the gaping hole in them and we’re all just pathetic little humans full of fear and wonder and selfishness and I will absolutely let you down. I gotta fill my own shit. I gotta get okay with the tragedy and beauty of my own gut situation before I can look at you, be your friend, your lover, your anything.

I think this is a truth nobody talks about but we should teach in schools: If you want your life to change, look within.

It’s not fun. It’s much more fun to blame everybody us, but in my experience I am pretty much always the problem. Even if I’m in a genuinely fucked-up situation, one may ask “Um, okay Janelle, sure this situation sucks donkey balls, but what got you here in the first place?”

Or, my personal favorite: “Why, pray tell, are you still here if you hate it so much?”

OH FUCK YOU VOICES.

Then again, sometimes things happen for no reason other than because life is a torturous bitch. One IMG_8316day she’s got three of your kids watering the Christmas tree under the light of your son’s headlamp. The next day she’s taking your friend in a car accident. That actually happened. RIP, beautiful Vanessa.

These are times I need you. And you need me. Let’s be there. That matters. That’s friendship and support, not existential fulfillment.

There’s a difference.

 

I spent a long time analyzing Mac’s faults. I spent a long time trying to fix him to meet my expectations, mold him into my vision of Perfect Fulfilling Life Partner. I spent so much time focused on that I failed to see him for what and who he is: A damn good, loving, loyal and kind father and husband. Things started to change when I got so desperate I stopped looking to him to “make me feel good” or “make my life meaningful.” I said “Fuck it. Fuck everything I know about ‘love.’ Fuck the Hallmark cards and Meg Ryan movies. I guess this is it.” I decided to focus more on what I could give than what I could take.

And I finally felt in love. This was weird. I did not understand this.

I think we misunderstand love. We think it flows from outside into us, which is true, we feel it from others, but mostly in my experience if flows from me outward but the effect is the same and I can only see clearly without resentment and expectations and fear. And love is the only thing that gets rid of resentment and expectations and fear. It seems very active to me. Like a choice, not a thing that merely exists or doesn’t exist between two people. It’s not passive. It moves. It lives.

I guess I learned that my ability to love comes from me. Not him.

Love flows out. And then it flows in. Can that last forever? Maybe. I don’t know.

But I think it’s enough for today.

 

I think sometimes we give up too soon. I think sometimes we stay too long. I think it’s hard to face the truth. I think mistakes can end up in beauty. I think sometimes our love gets buried beneath so much fear and resentment we can’t see which fucking way is up. I think sometimes love goes underground and we have to just keep showing up until it pops up again and I think over the years love changes from gazing into each other’s eyes to seeing your whole history in somebody’s eyes and that transition isn’t expected.

One day you look at a man and realize they’ve been with you since you were 21, and damn near all your memories hold their face and rather than a fiery romance of hot sex on the couch your love becomes steadily burning flames in the old woodstove nobody notices, but realize it’s just as powerful and hop in the fucking sack at year 14 of marriage, 4 kids, 2 people, taking it easy in a bit of love.

Can that last forever?

Who the fuck knows. I don’t know about forever. I only know I’m happy to meet him today for falafel, with my other dear friend Sarah.

And that’s enough for now. And old Emily Dickinson says “forever is composed of nows.”

Oh god, I’m quoting poetry. Way to make me soft, CL.

Love,
Janelle

 

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****

Heyyyyy, there are only 5 spots left in  my January writing workshop.

You should probably grab one of them. Or all five. TELL YOUR FRIENDS.

bastards1

34 Comments | Posted in Ask Janelle, cohabitating with a man. | December 10, 2015

On balance and not being awesome

by renegademama

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“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.

bastards1

48 Comments | Posted in Ask Janelle | November 13, 2015