Posts Filed Under unenlightened parenting techniques.

So basically, you’re doing everything wrong always

by Janelle Hanchett

Everybody’s always trying to figure out how to do it right.

What’s “best” for my children? What can I do to raise the healthiest, most well-adjusted kids possible?

How can I do it “right?”

Well I think we should reframe this whole discussion into a simple recognition that we’re doing it all wrong.

Everything we do, it’s wrong.

Every decision is the wrong decision. And I have proof. Check this out.

If you have a hospital birth you run the risk of being bullied and manipulated by misogynistic OB/GYNs determined to cut you.

But if you have a homebirth, you’ll probably kill your baby.

So there’s that.

And then, once the kid comes out, you will fail. If you circumcise your boy you’ve engaged in genital mutilation and will have most likely set off a disturbing chain of events in the child’s psyche, possibly resulting in a fascination with burning puppies.

But if you don’t, your kid’s gonna get HIV. And you’re a dirty ass hippie.

If you vaccinate, your kid will probably get autism. If you don’t vaccinate you’re a leach sucking the life out of society and bringing back preventable diseases.

So basically, killing all the people.

Breastfeeding? You’re tied to your kid and undoing years of feminist work. Also you’re ruining your tits and will never be hot again.

Not breastfeeding? Wow. Really nice of you to give your kid brain damage, ADHD and a propensity toward obesity.

Cosleeping? Your children are overly-dependent and will not leave your bed until they’re 19 (if they’re lucky enough to even live that long, since you’ll most likely SMOTHER THEM before that). Also your sex life will die and you’ll never sleep again.

Putting baby in a crib? Hello, attachment issues. Babies need their parents, not a CAGE! If you want to stick something in a cage why don’t you get a rabbit? Also you’ll never sleep again.

Working out of the home? Your children are suffering from your absence. They need a MOTHER, not more MONEY. Teen pregnancy and drug use a sure future.

Stay-at-home mom? Well since you don’t work you can’t afford the character-building activities that turn your children into well-rounded individuals. Teen pregnancy and drug use a sure future.

Involved in everything your kids do? Helicopter parenting. You’re creating entitled lazy asses.

Involved in nothing? Hands-off parenting. Why did you even have kids? Kids need parental involvement to succeed. Studies have proven it.

Private school? Your kids are receiving a skewed version of reality wherein everybody’s wealthy and hyper-educated. Learn nothing of the real world.

Public school? Learn too much of the real world. Pushed into non-thinking followers of society. Worker-bees. Nothing ruins a kid like public school.

Well except maybe homeschool.

Homeschool creates social derelicts. Everybody knows that.

Let your kids play with guns, raise serial killers.

Don’t let your kids play with guns? No worries, they’ll chew their pretzel into one.

Barbies? Your daughter requests breast implants at age 13.

No Barbies? Your daughter becomes so obsessed with Barbies she ends up jacking one from Walmart and you get taken by CPS for raising a little hoodlum.

Have TV in your home? Brainwash your kids.

No TV? Raise out-of-touch weirdos. Go fucking nuts because you can’t get a break, which increases irritability and thus yelling, which we all know ruins children.

Speaking of yelling, do you fight with your partner in front of your kids? Well, that sucks. Way to create an unstable, unsafe home environment.

Don’t ever fight with your partner in front of the kids? Nice. Now they have NO EXAMPLE of conflict resolution and will never communicate well.

We could go on like this all day.

Always vacation with your kids? If you don’t vacation alone with your spouse your marriage is going to fizzle out and die, ending in divorce.

Vacation without your kids? How are they ever going to see the world? You’re a self-centered asshole.

Stay in the same house for 20 years? Raise sheltered children afraid of the world.

Move?  Without stability, your children will seek shelter and grow afraid of the world.


And so…what’s the moral of this story?

What does it mean that we’re going everything wrong?

Well, lest my brain deceive me, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t mean we’re doing everything RIGHT.

It’s simple logic: if everything is wrong, then nothing could possibly be right, which then makes everything neither right nor wrong, but rather the same. Equal.

Cost, benefit. Advantage, disadvantage. Right, wrong. Yin and yang and shit.

Playing field, LEVELED.

So sit back and enjoy your failure.

Since there’s no other option, we might as well embrace it, have fun, and raise some fucking well-adjusted children…you know, by doing everything, WRONG.

Just like we’ve been doing since the beginning of time.

Is “Lost” a Parenting Approach?

by Janelle Hanchett

There are some seriously messed-up expectations in motherhood – you know, tummy time, extra-curricular activities, the Wiggles – but by far the most twisted, torturous and baffling (in my opinion) is the idea that I’m supposed to adopt some sort of “parenting philosophy,” — like there should be some voice inside my soul guiding my every move as a mother, allowing me to feel all confident and right in my decisions, so I can hop on parenting forums and websites to proudly announce (as we all bow our heads in reverence): My Approach.

“I practice attachment parenting!”

“I’m a cry-it-out supporter!”

“I exclusively breastfeed!”

“I think breastfeeding is the end of female independence!”

“I’m a VBAC, no Vax, CD, EBF, CS, SAHM mom!”

“I have 2 nannies and wear Chanel and see my kids on Fridays!”

(Ok I realize some of those are ridiculous, but have you read Twitter bios?)

And I’m supposed to stand behind this approach, totally and completely, because I believe in it and shit, and I get all smug when people don’t agree, and I hang out with “like-minded” mothers because they support me in my well-researched, educated, enlightened methodology.

Or not.

With my first two kids, I guess I practiced “attachment parenting.” They exclusively breastfed, on demand, co-slept from birth til 3 or 4 years old, and I picked them up whenever they cried, carrying them in slings and carriers and such.

However, I didn’t do it because I thought it was “the best way.”

I didn’t do it because Mothering magazine told me so, and I sure as hell didn’t do it because all my friends were doing it (um, I was 22 – all my friends were playing pool and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon).

I didn’t do it because I was pressured by family members or the community (I had a Play Boy bunny diaper bag to piss off the yuppie moms in my SUPER YUPPIE town), and I didn’t do it because my husband told me I should (see above re: Pabst Blue Ribbon).

You know why I did it?

Because it felt right. It worked for me.

No, really. That’s it. That’s as deep as it goes.

I’m selfish. I’m not going to suffer through some mothering hell because the ubiquitous “they” tell me I’m supposed to. Ya feel me?

I breastfed because it seemed WAY EASIER than making bottles all the time, and I did it on demand because I couldn’t handle listening to a baby wail. Of course, it helped that my mom was a La Leche League educator who taught me Dr. Spock is an asshole. I co-slept because it was the only way I could get any sleep, and I liked having my babies near me, and felt more comfortable knowing they were right there. I wore them in slings because I found out right away that I could get way more done if I stuck them in there – they were happier for longer, my hands were free, and by breastfeeding and baby-wearing I could leave the house with very little gear, which was less to remember, and I liked that.

Why didn’t I wean my kids? Because I never wanted to. I wrote about that here.

You know why I used cloth diapers? Because I thought they were cute.

I warned you: not deep.

And so I’m going happily on my way, parenting the way I feel like it, when I come across Mothering magazine and I’m all “Wait a hot minute! There’s a name for this? ‘Attachment Parenting?’”

Golly gee I thought it was just called “parenting.”

And though I always felt a little attachment-parent-deficient because we couldn’t afford Waldorf schools or Amish toys, I’ll admit I got a little carried away, a little confident in my “approach.” I subscribed to the right blogs and magazines and read it religiously and felt a bit smug and true and right in my philosophy.

Ah, but then I had Georgia.

My third.


I should have known, given the nature of her birth, that she would always have her own plans, but alas, I’m a bit of a dumbass, and clearly (as evidenced by my 3 kids), I don’t learn very quickly.

Anyway, after using two cribs as stuffed-animal holders, we didn’t even buy a crib or co-sleeper or anything for the third. Obviously she would sleep with us. OBVIOUSLY.

Not gonna lie, I felt like some sort of attachment-parenting ninja having not even purchased a crib.

I should have known then I’d get my smug ass handed to me on a pretty little platter by a ten-pound bundle of crazy.

You see, this kid hardly slept at all next to me. She would like shift her body and twist and turn all night, as if she were irritated, bothered. She didn’t settle against my breast all happy; she nursed and flung herself away from me, as if to say “Thanks woman, now leave me the hell alone.” She woke up frequently and none of us got any sleep.

After about 3 months of this I finally admitted to myself and my husband: “Um, I don’t think she likes being touched while she sleeps.” We bought a $60 crib from Ikea, stuck it in our room and put her in it. She snuggled in and crashed, with a look on her face that said “Aw, FINALLY.”

And to this day, she sleeps in her crib, only coming into our bed occasionally when she’s sick or going through some phase.

As if that weren’t enough to shatter my delusions of grandeur, after about 3 months of pumping two or three times a day at work, to ensure my baby was exclusively breastfed, I found that I just couldn’t take it anymore, and, I guess because I’m selfish once again, I (you might want to shield your eyes) started giving my baby formula as well as breast milk.

Oh, the guilt! The irreversible pain!

I’m joking. It was totally fine.

Pumping every 3 hours and dealing with milk transportation and refrigeration and ALL THE SUPPLIES every day with three kids and grad school and work and babysitters was ruining my life. The formula supplement thing worked way better. Done.

And I used one of those baby carrier stroller things (a mini-version, but still) in addition to slings, because it worked better in some situations with my older kids.

And I let her watch TV occasionally.

And she quit breastfeeding around two years old, but she still takes a bottle. HORRORS!

So I guess all this makes me, what, a practitioner of “detachment parenting?”


Check it out. I have an idea. I vote that we all stop analyzing our parenting decisions in terms of whether or not they adhere to some over-arching philosophy we’ve read or heard is The Best.

I vote that we stop comparing our approaches to some magazine or blog or whatever the fuck, and trust that we know how to parent the child that exited our own vaginas, and we are smart enough and strong enough and aware enough (Stuart Smalley, anyone?) to respond to the ever-changing realities of our lives in a way that will meet our own needs and the needs of our kids.

I know, radical shit up in here.

But I mean it. We can be doctors and lawyers and brilliant homemakers and farmers but somehow we need complete strangers to tell us how to raise the kids we know better than anybody else?

It’s crazy when you think about it, right?

So here’s what I think we should do. When we’re faced with some big ass parenting decision (or even the small ones, really) and hear those voices start chattering (“this is wrong, this is right, this violates ____ belief! They say this behavior causes this one horrible thing”)…we just ask ourselves:


And if the answer is “no,” we change something – even if it means we practice some whacked-0ut version of “Detached Attachment Parenting.”

Or, as I like to call it, parenting.


I’ll come out when my mom adopts a parenting approach.

Cheers to one more milestone I won’t be celebrating!

by Janelle Hanchett

One of the most baffling aspects of motherhood is the way it seems to obligate me to get excited about things I’m really just not that excited about. Like I’m supposed to get all into it because I’m a mother or something, but really I just watch other women get excited about it and wonder if I’m missing something.

You know like “When did that ship sail, cause seriously, I barely give a shit.”

For example, parent-teacher conferences. I hear women talk about them like they’re the biggest deal all year. You know what I think when I get that notice home? “Damn, how the hell am I going to wrangle the toddler while I sit through this thing?” Or, “Shit. One more thing to do.”

I mean I can write the whole thing for you right now anyway. Here it goes: “Your daughter is way above grade level in all subjects but has a hard time working with others and waiting her turn to talk. Your son is performing below grade level in all subjects but is a natural leader and a master at P.E. and everybody loves him.”

And all these “milestones” that I’m supposed to start jumping up and down shouting “yippee!” – first crawls, first words, first whatever – obviously these are kind of fun, and I’m excited in a “I’m glad my child is progressing” kind of way, but I’m not like tearing down the house with glee. Ya feel me? [Seriously, Janelle, rhyming?]

Because all these “milestones,” while glorious in their indication that all is well with the offspring’s progress, also mark whole new insane levels of work and chaos.

Crawling? Yipee! Now I have a MOBILE maniac.

Walking? Now I have a fast, mobile maniac.

Talking? Start of the slippery slope to the day when she NEVER EVER FUCKING STOPS TALKING. EVER.

But one of the things I felt comfortable in my disdain of, one of the “milestones” I thought I was safe to not get excited about, at all, in fact pretty much loathe, was potty training. I mean, who likes that? Nobody. It’s not fun. It’s not amusing. It’s not even cute. It involves crap and work and pee, and cajoling, and angry blog posts by judgmental women who hate the fact that I bribe my kid with chocolate chips.


So you can imagine my surprise when my homies emailed me an actual invitation to a “potty training party.”

A what what?

Oh yeah, you heard me. A party. Celebrating potty training.

Like, one you’re supposed to attend. Fiesta. Shindig.

You get it.

Here’s a quote, in case you don’t believe me: “Let’s get potty training started with a party! Come and join us for a day celebrating this inevitable milestone! We’ll have snacks and drinks for all, and a lot of fun!”

What the WHAT?

Beyond the excessive use of exclamation points, which already makes me want to die a slow death in a cold basement, the idea of celebrating POTTY TRAINING is about the most obscure concept I’ve ever heard of. It’s like oxymoronic. Or Ironic. It can’t be real. BUT IT IS.

It’s like having a party to celebrate menopause. Or hemorrhoids. Or how about a little shindig honoring a recent hysterectomy? (although wait. That one may have potential.)

You know what potty training looks like in our house? A naked toddler pissing on the floor then running up to us gleefully exclaiming “I peed in the potty!” Or Rocket laughing his ass off from the other room, barely squeaking out between squeals of laughter “Georgia’s pooping in the dollhouse!” Or it’s seeing the toddler begin to urinate on the couch, yelling “NOOOOOO!!!!” (like in one of those Hallmark movies where the dude protagonist watches the main chick die), and (in similar slow motion) bolting across the floor to stick her on the potty, which is, incidentally, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FREAKING LIVING ROOM (because potty training seems to turn you into white trash, TOO) meaning we all get peed on and the floor is covered but the actual potty contains approximately 5 drops of urine, the sad remains of the cross-room journey.

For obvious reasons, I delay this shit (ha.ha.) as long as I possibly can (because OMG the work involved), but eventually it becomes so obvious that it’s “potty training time!” that I start looking bad at playgroups (um, because I totally go to those), so I start sloughing the work onto my husband, telling him he better get on it and pronto, as payback for the fact that I carried the urinater in question in my womb for 10 months and now pee on myself when I sneeze. Also he still doesn’t know where we keep the strainer.

Only fair, says I.

Dude, I’m not kidding, we’re so bad at potty training the toddler HERSELF asks us to remove her diaper so she can poop.

Judge not. Or judge. Whatever.

So HOW THE HELL am I supposed to comprehend a PARTY celebrating the “inevitable milestone?”

It ain’t easy, I tell you.

After we commiserated for a bit on the bleak state of humanity (what has the world come to when we’re having parties celebrating potty training?), my friend did some sleuthing and discovered that the event in question is this thing created and “sponsored” by Pull-Ups (oh yeah, you thought it couldn’t worse, didn’t ya?), and if you want to have one of these little shindigs, you “apply” for it and Pull-Ups chooses you based on SOMETHING (I can’t even imagine) and they send you a bunch of Pull-ups for your kid and guests, party hats and all kinds of other nonsense. There’s even a “potty training DANCE” everybody can do together! I just vomited a little in my mouth.

So basically, in having one of these parties, you become not only a threat to all that’s holy, but also a tool for the marketing antics of corporate America! Gooooo Huggies!



Only I’m making my own damn invitations. Otherwise, my people won’t be interested. Here they are.

You coming?





the question that killed a thousand mothers

by Janelle Hanchett

Sometimes people ask me what I plan on doing after I finish my M.A., and sometimes I answer honestly, which is of course “I don’t fucking know.” But other times I answer by explaining my “plan,” which at the moment, is to apply to PhD programs in English literature, with an emphasis on American Studies. And quite often, the response I get is something like this: “Are you sure you should be putting your children through that?”

It just happened the other day. A fellow grad student asked me that very question. I looked at him dead in the eyes and responded “If I were a man, would you be asking me that question?”

He laughed and said “no.” And then I told him he was a douchebag and we both laughed. And to be honest, I wasn’t really offended, because I don’t really get offended that often, but especially when people say stupid shit and then own it.

As hard as this may be to believe, I frequently say stupid shit.

But I must admit it got me thinking. I’ve been surprised by how many people have responded to me with that exact question when I tell them my “plan,” (I’m putting that word in quotation marks because come on, really? a plan? Can you have a “plan” with three kids and a husband and personality like mine? My first “plan” was to get an M.A. in English…in 2-3 years. IT’S BEEN SEVEN. Case closed.).

And the thing that really got me thinking is how that voice, “are you sure you should be putting your kids through this?” has been like a low hum in the back of my mind for the past 11 years, yammering the same message in relentless monotone: “But what about your KIDS? What are you doing to your KIDS?”

You know why it hurts? You know why the question stings?

BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW, people, and I never have.

I have never known what’s “best” for my kids. How the hell should I know?

I’m not them.

Okay. Fine. I know a few things. I need to love and nurture them, teach them what it means to be a decent human. I know I need to tell them the truth, hold, hug and kiss them, own my shit when I screw up with them, too. I know I need to take them places, expose them to the world, ask tough questions, make them work, teach them some fucking manners. I know I need to help them find out who they are, whatever that looks like, and back the hell off in case who they are doesn’t match who I think they should be…But  mostly, all I really know is that my job is to help them grow into the people they are meant to become.

Beyond that, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing here.

And yet, people continue to ask me these questions as if I’m supposed to have some sort of answer. I’m supposed to like KNOW. Is there some sort of guidebook I’ve missed? Were other mothers endowed with a mother-compass, guiding their feet along a well-marked path toward the Promised Land of perfect children developing into perfect adults?

This woman once wrote on my blog “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” When I read it, my stomach did a flip on itself, because quite frankly I think that’s the biggest crock of bullshit I’ve ever heard, and its implications made me a little sick.

The happiness of my children composes my own? Nonsense.

That’s the most insidiously selfish statement I think anybody has ever told me in regards to parenthood; it’s the most fucked-up thing I can imagine putting on your kid. Imagine that: “Hey kids, you are not only responsible for your own happiness, but you are now also responsible for MINE. So don’t blow it! ”

In other words, you are not free to live your life, because I’m dependent on you for the worth of my own, which means if you blow it, you’re not just ruining your own life, you’re ruining mine. So just remember that, kiddo, when you’re out there trying to navigate the insane waters of existence: YOUR MOTHER will never be happy unless you’re happy – so add that to your burden, please, as if life itself isn’t quite enough.

Um, thanks, but I unsubscribe from that theory.

Sorry, world, but I am not defined by my kids.

There. I said it.

There are these children in my home, and I love them with every shred of my being, and I am devoted to them with all my heart, and I try my best for them every day, but they are not me.

And I am not them.

And there’s this side of me that has other plans, and it always has, and it isn’t quite fulfilled through the making of lunches and cleaning of houses and doing of homework. I care about the parent-teacher conferences, but they aren’t the most important moment of my week, ever.

I am not ripping on stay-at-home moms. I feel silly even writing that disclaimer, but I need to be clear. What I’m saying is that I believe with all my heart that the greatest gift I can give my children is an example of a person who has grown fully, into herself, becoming the person her heart yearns to be, walked the path her soul has carved, bravely, firmly, lovingly.

Whatever that looks like.

If it’s getting a PhD she does it completely.

If it’s raising goats and canning pickles on a farm in Vermont, she does it completely.

If it’s working as an administrative assistant at a law firm 45 minutes away, she does it completely.

If it’s home-schooling 5 kids, making lovely dinners for her husband each day by 5pm sharp, served with a smile and warm heart…

Then by God, she does it completely.

And she does with everything she’s got, with all that she is, like there is nothing else in the world.  She does it like a warrior. She does it like a champion.

She does it like a goddamn rockstar.

Because those kids will watch that, ladies, and they will learn. They will watch it and they will see a human brave enough to live, brave enough to drop the ideas of the world, shake their expectations, brush their judgment off her heart like a bit of dust on the shoulder of an old wool coat.

And they’ll learn, as she moves, as she struggles, as she walks out the door to write that paper, as she comes home after one more day of what has become a bull-dog like devotion to her cause, as she straightens the pillows on the couch, tucks the baby in, falls exhausted into bed, one more time, they will learn:

To thine own self be true.

Like a boss.

To thine own self be true.

And I guess we’ll know then, someday, when we watch our kids soar into themselves without looking back, with the strength we found in the moments we didn’t know, didn’t know what was best for them, but held on anyway to the truth in ourselves, because there was really nothing else to do.

I guess we’ll know, then, when we watch them live in freedom, and find ourselves doing the same, that it was “best,” for them.

And for us.



new ground

by Janelle Hanchett

You know what’s scary? Now that I have a kid who’s almost 11, I somehow consider the baby/toddler time the “easy” portion of parenting.

Yes, I know. “Easy” is perhaps not the most appropriate word. Being 20 in college is “easy” (though at the time, we are somehow just so overwhelmed with it all). Sitting on a beach with a beverage and an open schedule is “easy.” Somebody said Sunday mornings are “easy,” but I beg to fucking differ. Sunday morning is when I realize all the things I didn’t do on Saturday now must happen today.

How is that easy?

Anyhoo, the thing is, when you have a baby, you just respond to his or her needs. And yes, they have a remarkably large number of needs. But I don’t believe a baby manipulates or gets crafty with the parents. I know there are parents out there who believe a baby exits the womb with a parental-unit attack plan, but I don’t buy it. I think a baby cries when it needs something and so my job is clear: do something when my baby cries. Meet needs. Love. Play. Repeat.

But then, all the sudden (not that this happened 8 years ago in Sacramento with Ava or anything) your 2-year-old starts banging forks on a table in a Chinese restaurant and throwing her body across the bench seat, totally ignoring you as you realize “redirection” is not going to work in this particular situation and suddenly you’re like “Oh, damn. We better start disciplining this creature right now.”

And it’s all downhill from there.

Because then, all the sudden, you’re responsible for instructing and guiding and doing the real parenting work, which will either mold the kid into a well-adjusted human or break her soul.

No pressure though.

And you can read all the books and ask all your friends, subscribe to some “school” of parenting that tells you exactly how to talk to your kids, how to handle each situation, how to not break souls, or, you can be like me (though I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it), and just go into important parenting moments (the crossroads, the high-stakes shit, the deal-breakers) totally unprepared, vastly confused, and slightly terrified, hoping your gut will pull through with something, cause fuck me I have no ideas.

Sounds like a winning combination, right?

Sometimes when these real stumpers come up, when I’m looking at my kid and they’ve just behaved really badly, or the kids at school are mean to them, or something profound has come up in their young lives that must be addressed in one profound way or another – I get this pang of anger toward motherhood, for making me the one responsible for this shit, but providing me no actual tools to do so.

Recently we were at my mother-in-law’s house. After dinner, we were all upstairs in her office when I realized it was nearing 8pm and we needed to get home. So I started the “let’s go” broken-record routine (you know, where you repeat the same words 6 thousand times and not one single kid acknowledges you until you start yelling and barking empty threats?)…ten minutes later, Georgia was removing the contents of a box she found, Rocket was engaging in some nonsense involving headphones and a fork, and Ava wanted to look at a pile of photographs she found in a box on the floor. She asked me if she could look. I said “No,” and then continued my efforts toward departure.

Five minutes later, when I was nearing my breaking point, I turned around and saw Ava sitting on the floor, looking at the pile of photographs.

And for some reason, I got really, really mad. So mad, in fact, that it took every shred of my restraint to just say (okay, fine, maybe yell): “Ava! What are you doing? I just asked you not to do that! LET’S GO!!!”

When we got in the car, I was fuming. Something about the blatant disregard for my direction infuriated me. It was the way she just said nothing, indicated nothing, but sat down and just DISOBEYED, right in my face.

Now, if it were Rocket, a special gentleman who blatantly disobeys me approximately 4 thousand times a day, I wouldn’t have been trippin’ so much. But it was Ava. Ava doesn’t do that. It was like WAY out of character.

And as I was talking to her in these angry exasperated tones, trying to decipher what the hell just happened, trying to be The Effective Disciplining Mother, I looked at her sitting next to me with her frizzy little head and dusty jeans, and I saw a look on her face that leveled me. It was a new look. It was a look of apathy. It was a look of boredom. It was a look that announced in no uncertain terms, “Mom, you’re talking to me, but I don’t give a rat’s ass about what you’re saying.”

And in that moment my voice fell silent. I looked out the window at the barely decipherable mountaintops against the rising moonlight. I saw the gorgeous order of the farmland rows, the perfect symmetry of the dirt, the impeccable lines of green, and its harmony seemed to mock my own chaos. My eyes filled with tears as the thought crept in, so clearly, so brightly, so plainly: “she’s turning into a teenager.” A couple of them poured down my cheeks. I looked out at the land, silent, turned my head away.

I felt like a stranger in this car, sitting next to this kid. My feet were on no ground, my heart yearned for an indication of my role in this new story, my task in this moment, my spot next to this person, who I barely knew and yet knew completely, with all my soul.

I felt the truth like a dagger: she’s becoming her own person for real now. She’s walking a path that doesn’t involve me the way it did 5 years ago, or last month, or maybe even yesterday.

I felt disarmed, fumbling to find myself in this new place, this place that just showed itself, this very moment, in the form of a kid with a hint of adult, bubbling just beneath the surface.

I wanted to reach out and grab her and beg her not to go. I wanted to scream with all my might “Don’t ever disobey me! Don’t you dare walk away! YOU MAY NOT GO!” I wanted to whisper against her petal soft cheek “Please, baby girl, stick by my side. Tell me how to make this all right.” Tell me how to get through these next few years.

Tell me how to let you go, little by little, as you need it, even though I can’t.

I just can’t.

And yet, I could.

I’m doing it right now.

I knew my place was not to scold her. My place was to hear her, see it from her side. I found myself asking “Ava, did you look at those pictures because you couldn’t see what my reason was for saying ‘no?’ Did it seem to you I had no purpose, like I was just telling you no for no reason?”

She answered with a barely perceptible sigh of relief, emphatically, “Yes. That is why.”

Then something came out of my mouth that I really I didn’t expect. I grabbed her hand and said “Ava, if I ask you to do something and you don’t know why, please ask me. Question what I’m saying and I promise you, I’ll explain it. If I’m wrong, if I don’t have a valid reason, I will say ‘yes.’ But please, baby, don’t just ignore me. Don’t just walk your path behind my back. I will always do my best to be reasonable with you, but you’ve got to trust me, and I’ll trust you.”

She smiled and said “okay, mama,” and I told her I loved her and we cruised into the moonlight, on this new ground I never asked for.

Me and my little girl, who’s moving right along just fine, into the fringes of adulthood, dragging me behind, kicking and screaming and confused, wondering how we got here and where we’re going now, thinking of the toddler banging on the table just a few years ago, wanting to hold her and put her on a damn “time out,” but instead settling for a spot beside her.

Right here, beside her.

In awe, in love.

In that strange place of motherhood, where only your gut can guide you.

us, then.