Posts Filed Under Sometimes, I’m all deep and shit…..

On the day your daughter turns sixteen

by renegademama

On the day your daughter turns sixteen, I suggest you not look at photos of her when she was four years old, sitting on the sand in Mendocino, with her belly covered in sand and poking out all big and toddler.

I suggest you not scroll through photos of her wearing dish towels as a rockstar dress, attached with chip clips, using a wooden spoon for a microphone.

I suggest you not observe the Tinkerbell tulle outfit of her 5th birthday, or the photo of her and her newborn brother that same year, with a caption that reads, “She’s telling everyone “I have a brother named Rocketship and I’m so much cuter than he is.’”

I suggest you utterly refuse to look at the hallway wall, where you see yourself at twenty-three wearing a blue bandana with your baby face pressed against hers, grinning on the front lawn as if there were so many years left.

And don’t look at the one of her holding her baby doll in the big puffy jacket on the first day of preschool, for you may remember the two years you were apart shortly after that, because somehow the dish towels and tulle and big toddler belly weren’t enough to treat your alcoholism.

And don’t look at the time when you were reunited, when she was seven years old and you were thirty and life rolled out in one miraculous trick of the universe.

Look at us, here again, on the lawn, together, with nothing to stop us now.

And don’t look at the first day of junior high when she was twelve, and you knew what was coming but you said, “It’s okay, I have six more years.”

Don’t do any of that, and don’t look at next year, when she’ll be driving and a junior in high school, and probably working, with one year left.

Don’t look at two years from now, or think how they fly, how they mock and tease, racing by your face pressed against hers.

Don’t wave. Don’t try to grasp them like a goddamn fool.

They’re already gone.

Don’t think about the last Christmas she’ll be here, or bringing her home for Thanksgiving, or phone calls instead of daily chats on your bed about grades and teachers and annoying acquaintances.

Look instead at the morning around you now – the way you woke up with your toddler in his Peppa Pig pajamas and said, “You know what day it is? It’s Ava’s 16th birthday! Let’s go sing to her!”

And you walk out holding hands with that toddler and stand on a stool to sing a soaring, horrific operatic version of Happy Birthday that makes all the kids laugh, and when you’re done, you look at that teenager and say, “How was that?”

And she says, “Nearly brought me to tears, mama.”

“Ya really felt that one in your bones, right? Right in the soul?” Say that, and give her a hug, her body that’s as tall as yours now.

Look as hard as you can at the waffles you made her for breakfast, and the gifts you’ll later wrap today, the special chicken she requested for dinner and the cake you’ll top with candles.

Listen with sixteen years of grace to the sound of her voice playing dolls and monsters with her younger siblings, a sound you wondered about when she was still in your belly, and it seemed you had forever.

What will it sound like, her voice?

It will sound like this, Mama.

Hold on to that. And listen.

The years aren’t gone. They’re in my hands, and hers.

Sixteen years.

Sixteen years.

Maybe that’s why we cried the day she took our picture, for no reason at all, it seemed – because there’s so much in the touch of our faces, and now, perhaps we see, just as much in the space between.

 

19 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | November 21, 2017

Ride on, kid. I’ll be right back here.

by renegademama

A few months ago, my fifteen-year-old daughter Ava was introduced to a mountain biking team. It’s a high school team.

She was gifted a bike, and started riding.

If you could see my face right now, you’d see there are already some goddamn tears in my eyes.

I wish I knew why this particular topic makes me so fucking emotional. I hate feelings.

Alright. Fine. I do not hate feelings. I am super well-adjusted and in tune with my emotions.

I merely prefer they refrain from attacking me at random.

She was afraid at first. She was nervous and rode slowly. She teetered and stopped often and “hated it.” Mac went with her. He went with her on every ride.

She remained unsure.

But Mac loaded the bikes on the back of the van and took her on rides anyway, week after week.

She rode with the team and Mac went along with them.

She was absolutely unsure.

A day came when Mac wasn’t available to ride with her and the team. She sat at the kitchen table and told me she didn’t want to go. She told me, “I have never done it without daddy.”

She rode anyway.

 

On the night before her first race, she was irritable and angry and frustrated and scared and pissed the fuck off that her family “made” her participate. We suggested she not do it. She hated that idea even more than she hated us in that moment.

She rode anyway.

She came in second to last, elated to finish.

We raved and cheered at her success.

A finish. An actual finish.

A week later she rode 8 miles to school on country roads. I didn’t want to let her go. I was sure she’d get creamed by a drunk farmer.

She rode anyway.

Now she rides every day and you can’t stop her from it. She rides without even thinking, and talks about how good her little brother will be since he’s going to “grow up riding.” She talks about turns and hills and falling and how it’s “no big deal” and she doesn’t talk about riding alone, or not wanting to race.

 

Six months later, she’s finished four races, and with the last one, she placed five spots higher than the races before.

But who cares?

No. I mean really. Who the hell cares.

She had me at the fear. She had me at the falls. She had me at the mud on her face and the blood running down her knees. She had me at her tears when a dog jumped at her on the street and she fell and ripped her clothes and had to ride home humiliated and angry. She had me at still racing. At still riding.

She had me at the beginning.

 

I suppose it makes me cry because this is what I’ve always wanted for my kids. I suppose what I’ve always wanted really, at the end, is that when life offers a chance to do some cool and difficult shit, that they give it a shot and see what happens and bloody their knees because it’s better than accepting what the world tells you you are.

I’ve always been so afraid to do “physical” things. There were athletic kids and then there was me. I’ve always believed myself to be “the intellectual but not athletic one.” The funny thing is, we said the same about her. She was kind of the two-left-feet kid, you know?

But her dad didn’t believe it, I guess, and neither did her uncle who gave her the bike, and neither do her teammates or coach, or little siblings who watch her ride, and the finish line? That fucking finish line didn’t believe it either, I guess, because it just sat there while she crossed it.

But mostly, it was her.

It was Ava who didn’t care. It was Ava who decided to define herself.
I wish I could tell her what her muddied, bloodied knees mean to me, how fucking gorgeous they are to my eyes, eyes that perhaps never believed that would be her life, or mine, or that such things were even open to us. To try even though you have no evidence you can do it. To try even though you’ve got no history of it, no vague inclination, nothing at all rooting you on except a person you care about who’s right there next to you.

To try, and keep riding, even when the glory is simply a “finish.”

Even when the glory is simply getting to the end. 

I held her as a newborn. I held her until she crawled, walked, and I now, I guess, rides. Right beyond the horizon of my dreams, to a place she’ll find.

I’m happy to hang behind. It’s never been mine to own, and the gift is getting left in the dust.

I want you to know a few things about grief.

by renegademama

I generally try to avoid writing “helpful instructional” posts, mostly because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing (you know, in life), but every now and then, fate hands me some piece of information that I think may be helpful to others, so I share what I know. For example, alcoholism.

And now, traumatic death and grief.

For those of you who don’t know, on the evening of November 9th, 2016, my grandmother was murdered by my mentally ill cousin. I was pulling out of my kids’ school parking lot the next morning when my mother called, screaming.

And in that moment I was inducted into the traumatic death grief circle. I don’t love it here, and hope you never join me, but you or somebody you know probably will.

I want to write what I’ve learned about grief because let’s be honest, nobody knows what the hell to do when a friend’s sister, child, spouse or parent suddenly dies. Nobody knows what to do when somebody’s loved one slowly dies. I didn’t. I sent a text or call or card, flowers or food or chocolate, and moved on. If it was a close friend, I showed up once or twice.

I see now that I could have done better for my friends. And I will now.

 

It’s not surprising we sort of suck at this. We live in a culture that does its best to protect us from aging and dying – botox, face lifts, endless “anti-aging” creams, sending our elderly to homes – so I get the feeling most of us don’t want to move too close to the topic of death, and the grieving among us become death beacons. We’re like giant glowing WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE marquees.

And who wants that?

BORING.

When it comes to death and dying, we want to show up for a moment, touch it for a second, then recede quickly back to our fantasy of safety. There’s nothing wrong with that fantasy. In fact it is necessary for life: How else would we feel comfortable every day hurling down a freeway in a box of metal with thousands of strangers who are probably texting?

Delusion of safety.

And believe me, after having it ripped away, I realize fully how we NEED that delusion. Because I’m terrified all the time now, and I sure won’t weep when that’s over. (My dog suffocated in an insulated lunch bag 5 weeks after my grandmother was killed, and we found him dead in the morning, and it was precisely at that point my psyche shifted into random death can occur at any moment mayday WE ARE NOT SAFE mode. And now I’m weird AF but getting better.).

 

I’ve read a lot of posts about “What not to say to grieving people,” and while I suppose that’s helpful, I’m not into it. People say stupid shit. People said profoundly insensitive things, and honestly, if you message a person whose grandmother was murdered wanting details of the crime because you saw it on the news and you’re living out some detective fantasy, nothing I can say will help you. And yes, that happened. More than once.

But most of the time, people just don’t know what to say. Every time somebody said, “I know what you’re going through. My grandma died last year of old age.” I wanted to be like, “Yeah that’s not actually the same thing as having your grandmother stabbed to death by a family member so please stop,” but I knew that person was trying to reach out, to empathize, to help. So for sure their words were not “perfect,” but it’s small, you know?

It stung because it reminded me of my own sense of isolation and loneliness – as in, what sort of freak has this happen in their family – but during those first couple months, damn near everything hurt like hell. Everything reminded me of the trauma. I had to get off the internet entirely. I was a raw open wound and the world was unknowingly chucking salt into the center of it about 80 times a day. So it was more about ME than them. They were never gonna win with me. I hurt too much.

Plus, how can we make hard and fast rules about what to say or not say in a time as personal as grief? For me, I had to make some sick ass jokes. I needed to laugh about some really dark shit – not at the expense of my grandmother, but rather, the situation in general – because the weight of my sadness was crushing and I needed relief to breathe. At some point, I needed maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter to open a vent and let a little of the insanity of the situation out – my brain unable to hold it. My heart unable to house it. My thoughts unable to reason with it.

 

It’s not about saying the perfect thing.

It’s about showing up and meeting people where they are and I think we do that through opening our eyes and really seeing people, in all their grieving mess, and not making it about ourselves, our comfort, our fear. I know immediately when I’m around a friend who I can be honest with and those with whom I need to give the “Oh I’m fine” runaround.

But here’s what I really want you to know:

Grief is a physical pain. It hurts the actual body. In headaches, tension, anxiety, exhaustion – my bones ached. My face. My head. So I appreciated physical help: laundry, cooking, food, cleaning.

Grief scatters the mind. I straight up forgot about a button on my car that unlocks the doors from the driver’s door. I used it a thousand times, then forgot about it entirely for weeks. I’ve missed more appointments the past 4 months than probably the past 3 years of my life. I will commit to something on Thursday and forget on Friday. I can’t figure out simple questions. I grow confused easily. So I appreciated people’s patience with my mistakes and when they didn’t require me to help solve their emotional problems as perhaps we had done in the past, because holy mother, I HAD NO MORE TO GIVE.

Grief makes you super weird. My pain moved from a freight train slamming my body to waves of panic and terror and sorrow to a gray cloud descended over me all the damn time. A heaviness. A strange apathy. And then, at the strangest moments, the wave comes again, and I think maybe I can’t withstand this one.

And I want you to know how much terror is involved in grief like this. If this is true, what else can be true? What else can be taken? 

Every time my kids want to ride their bikes, I want to say “no.” Every time my mom doesn’t text back at night, I wonder if she’s been killed, and my body physically responds. A friend showed up unexpectedly at 9:30pm one night and my heart raced for 30 minutes after because I thought he was the police, there to tell me somebody had died. The simple walk to the door had me panicked. This happens 10 times a day, still, in response to random tiny events. My intellect says, “Janelle, this is nonsense. Stop. My body and heart say: ‘DANGER.'”

I walk around with that inside all the time, and the world doesn’t know.

So yeah, it’s weird and dizzying and painful for a long time, in a literal, material way – and sometimes I feel like I’m going to get carried away into oblivion, and just then, I get a message from a friend that says, “Hey I’m thinking of you and you don’t need to respond but know you are buoyed, and we will not let you drown.” And I cannot tell you how much I think those messages actually made me survive.

And it was the people who kept sending them and calling two weeks, one month, two months after it happened – and still bring it up sometimes – that helped me beyond measure because they give me permission to keep talking when I was afraid to “bring people down,” and they slammed that sense of isolation.

Because in our busy lives coupled with the desire to distance ourselves from death, once the funeral is over or a month has passed, the world says, “Oh you’re fine now let’s get back to the usual programming,” and that is precisely when the agony settles in: Reality to the new life.

But where did everybody go?

Back to life. Back to the routine. I get it. But there are a few friends who stick around, who keep showing up, who keep asking, “How are you?” in a way that really wants to know, and they keep us alive. They keep us above water.

So now I’m going to show up for the grieving when everybody else has stopped asking. When everybody else thinks it’s “over” and “time to move on,” I’m going to come to your door through word or body, and I’m going to say, “Hey. I’m here.”

And whatever happens with you will become the power to get us both through. Your world is falling, and I know it, but I’m here with you so let’s get weird and real until all the waves have crashed, and we’re just sitting here again in the sunshine.

I’ll remind you it will come, as they have done for me.

 

With my Arlo a few days before she died. I don’t know what I’ll do when he outgrows those dino pajamas. She thought they were so cute.

Alright, 2016. You gave me some love.

by renegademama

I learned that if you start doing something you love and keep doing it over and over, saying “fuck it” and doing it again, you may find yourself making a living doing what you love. And it will feel as good as you imagined.

But I learned too there is no arrival, and even as you meet the moments you were sure were going to eliminate the fear – “As soon as [this one thing] happens, I will feel confident and know what I’m doing.” – fear simply morphs into a new version of itself. But you can write anyway. And you grow bored of the motherfucker.

Get a new game, fear.

I learned that I can love a political candidate and get super into the primaries (Oh, Birdie), and that I can feel actual sadness when my guy loses. I also learned that the primaries are way. way. WAY too fucking long. Why do we hate ourselves?

I learned that the moment you realize you have three years left with your oldest child is an incomprehensible one, and you feel robbed and delighted all the same, and wonder if you loved her toddler years completely, and hold on to the time like glittering diamonds.

I learned two-year-olds are still pretty annoying.

And potty training is bullshit.

And snot is an asshole.

But the way they run in quick little steps still takes my breath away.

I learned my children will surpass me with their strength.

I learned I will miss my husband’s beard.

I learned a mini-van is the vehicle of the gods.

I learned my country can betray me. I learned it can elect a man of hate and authoritarian idiocy, and that some people aren’t bothered by a President using Twitter to discuss foreign policy.

I learned we need to improve the American education system.

I learned you’ll feel a little better the day after your country elects a barely literate bullying demagogue if you go over to your best friends’ house and sing old folks songs of resistance while she plays piano and your kids run in circles around the living room.

I learned you’ll feel better until you realize the next morning that at the very moment you sang and cried, your grandmother was bleeding on a kitchen floor 50 miles away, killed by the hand of your cousin.

You will wonder if you cried perhaps for her that night.

I learned grief is a physical agony.

I learned children sometimes face evil too young.

I learned I cannot protect any of us from either.

I learned silence surrounding mental illness kills people. I learned it shatters families and massacres the dignity of life, and death. I learned one hundred human lives can cripple under agony, diminish forever, weep simultaneously for the rest of their breathing days because of the silence surrounding mental illness.

I learned of the dignity of death. I learned you can die beautifully. I learned you can die with your hands held to the heart of your wife of 67 years and the eyes of your daughters and grandchildren surrounding you through their tears, bathing you in the sunlight warmth of a lifetime together.

I learned we all deserve the right to die like that.

I learned once again that the only way through it is to move right to the center, to throw yourself into the flames, let them leap and pull and tear to make you new, turn you to ash, trusting for some godforsaken reason that the embers will burn enough to light your way to the other side.

I learned there is no other side.

I learned this is it. I learned my family is all I have (and that some family isn’t blood). I learned there is more love for all of us in our pain. I learned this isn’t bullshit mind candy. It is the ultimate reality I will always be seeking.

I learned if your grandmother is killed, all the irritation you once felt toward your own mother will wash away like a pebble pulled into the ocean – all the tiny bothers tumbling into the blue – and you will rest easy, and grateful for that, as you hold her hand to your heart and pray it’s enough.

To tomorrow.

I learned we are still here.

And with all my heart, I’m still, I’m still just happy to be here.

my baby and my mom.

 

21 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | December 31, 2016

Tonight, the blankets stay on the floor

by renegademama

I slept in my mom’s bed until I was in junior high. Not every night. Just sometimes. I guess I needed the closeness. Some kids do.

Even when I came home to visit from college, I crawled into her bed once or twice, and fell asleep, because she was there.

But there was a last time.

My daughter, Ava, will be fifteen in November. I remember bringing her home. I was a baby with a baby. She texts me now. We Snapchat. Actually, she Snapchats and I try to respond. I make her laugh with my ineptitude.

There was a day she set down her doll. There was a day she didn’t pick it up again.

 We don’t remember, you know, the day it happens. The inconsequential last.

Yesterday, my ten-year-old said, “You know when you tell me I can’t sleep in your room now, I don’t care so much anymore.” He was proud. He said it without warning.

We were driving, and I looked over at my husband in the passenger seat, saw tears in his eyes. He looked back at me like See. I fucking told you.

He whacked my leg playfully to process the searing pain of words you expected and welcomed and denied for years. In his eyes, I see years of us watching kids grow. I feel the day we look around at a quiet home, once overflowing with kids.

Our son always wants to be on our floor. Since he was three, he’s had a little spot on our floor. Posted up there. A pile of blankets. A teddy bear. A stuffed cat. His sweaty little blond head. Lately, he’s not allowed there on the weekends. On the weekends, only daddy and mama sleep in the room. Well, except for the baby.

Sometimes there were tears about it. Sometimes he would not sleep. Sometimes he would whine from the other room and we would tell him, “Hey. You get to be there almost all the time. Now knock it off.”

I’d get mad. I’d get madder than Mac (he’s always calmer). Maybe I would even yell.

I’d get mad about the blankets. The mess. The chaos. WILL MY ROOM EVER BE MINE WILL IT EVER BE CLEAN I’M SICK OF THIS SHIT.

I’d clean them all up and enjoy the blanketless floor. Look around, satisfied.

“Someday Janelle, he won’t ask to be with us anymore, and when that day comes we will miss him. Someday we’ll have no kids in our bed or on our floor and I don’t want to miss a single chance.”

I knew he was right. Thank god he said it.  

Sometimes, all six of us are in one room. It’s hot. I can hear the breathing of four children, feel the toes of a toddler in my back. I want out. I want to scream.

I wake to a tiny baby palm on my chest and smell his warm neck.

 I want to live there forever.

I don’t really care anymore when I can’t sleep in your room.

He wanted to impress me, my son. I felt a thousand nights disappear in his pride. In the lilt of his voice pushing the edge of little boy, in the lingering gray of pre-teen. He’ll join our oldest soon.

I told him, “That’s great.” I meant it. It burned.

I told him, “You are always welcome with us, son.”

And in my voice now there was maybe a begging, a tiny request, a nudge, for one two or three more years of a thing I wasn’t sure I even wanted a week ago. The old familiar wonderment at my own lack of perspective creeps in. My stomach flips in sharp regret.

I know not to go there. I know this is motherhood. I know sometimes the shit gets old. I know I’m tired. I know I want space. I know I want my body to be my own. I know sometimes I don’t want to see children let alone have them in my bedroom.

And I get it, on the weekends, sort of. I know it’s not always enough.

I know it feels fucking heavy and endless.

Until it ends, and you wonder with a broken open heart what the fuss was all about all those years, and unfold the blanket that very night on the carpet, watch a four-year-old boy fall asleep with curls around his face, a stuffed cat, shaking your head at the hallucination, because he’s ten now, and doesn’t mind being on his own.

Tonight, the blankets are on the floor. I’ll watch for the last.

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Hey, join me for my last online writing workshop of 2016, beginning in October.

I’m super deep in other projects and will only run one more “Write Anyway” this year.

If you’ve been curious, now is the time.

I’d love to write with you.

I found this a year after I named my workshop "write anyway," which basically means I am Junot Diaz.

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