Friday, September 14, 2012


Hello dear friends that still pop in every once and a while to see my ideas.... 
I have definitely slowed down since Edison joined our family in March. And I'm okay with that. I am still holding an "activity time" almost every day with my little ones. Some days I fail miserably and other days we have great success. I figure that's normal. Whatever you are doing right now with your own little ones, I'm sure it's the right thing. I have confidence in all of you other mothers out there and you inspire me. You are perfect for your family.

I do have something to post today! I decided (a little last minute) to enter the Real Simple Magazine's Life Lessons Essay again. Makes me feel like a real person again to actually do something for myself that I enjoy. I entered this contest two years ago with an essay I titled Living Between the Lines. This year's topic is "If you could change one decision that you made in the past, what would it be?" Here's what I wrote, between diaper changes and meal times, and submitted last night:

I started writing in a journal when I was eight years old. My first diary was made out of a pink puffy plastic that is now cracking on the edges, the heart-shaped lock still carrying the two tiny generic keys on a silver string. On the first few pages, I wrote about my baptism and how my white jump suit was three sizes too big.  I describe my embarrassment as I rolled the pant legs and the sleeves a few times before entering the water that came up to my chin. After I was submerged completely, I slowly made my way back up the steps and into the towel my mother was holding open for me, filling her hot pink pumps with warm water.

The rest of those rosy lined pages are filled with the ins and outs of third and fourth grade: being chased by boys with fake worms at recess, the colors on the elastic band of my crush’s underwear that I spied when he bent over one day to pick up a pencil, and my first love affair with fiction in the form of a tiny book called The Velvet Room.

As I grew older, I kept writing.  I wrote about the first time my mom and I caught my step-dad smoking a cigarette in front of one of his construction sites. I remember how I lowered my eyes when he saw our car and quickly put it out beneath his boot. I have several entries about that one year when I became obsessive about little things, like the way I stepped onto the floor mat in front of our back door, always following a particular order (left, right, back, front) and the time I fell out of bed while I was reaching too far to straighten my slippers on the floor. I tried to freeze time on the page, anxiously scribbling an entry about my “last day as a thirteen year old” or the “last day of eighth grade.” I recorded the due dates of my mother’s consistent miscarriages and how my step-dad started carrying his dinner tray down the hall to his bedroom.

It’s strange now to leaf through those hardbound records of my early life and feel the weight of those growing pains, preserved on the page. I penciled in the details of my day-to-day life, even the most personal things like the three-month stint where I fearfully suspected I was a lesbian.  I often wonder what I would say if I could go back to my old room and have a conversation with myself. I’m pretty sure I would sit down on the edge of the bed, put my arm around my younger self and just smile, knowingly. I would be tempted to give a few hints like, “Don’t date Ryan, you’re better than that. Your step-dad’s a jerk, don’t blame yourself. Don’t worry too much about high school. You don’t go to your ten year reunion anyway.” But perhaps I would just stay quiet and smile.

When I left home, I couldn’t have been more ready to be on my own. I was accepted to study at a university exactly 1876 miles from my home. My mom flew out with me to help me get settled, my four-year old baby brother tagging along. We stayed in a hotel near the university, eating out at night and shopping for dorm room accessories during the day. We went to a football game and I gave a random boy my phone number at the encouragement of my mother. I’ll never forget how she stopped on the way back to the car and made me go back to the bleachers with my number scribbled on a tiny piece of white paper. She laughed and told me to be brave. So I was.

On our last night together we had an argument. I don’t remember the details, but I know that in the end, I called her a name. It was a name that a daughter should never call her mother. We both stood there, that word hanging heavily in the air between us, even after we made quiet amends.  The next morning we said our goodbyes and I tuned out my guilt to Eric Clapton’s “I Feel Free” as I unpacked my things in my new room, alone.

And on that first night in my dorm, I opened my journal and started writing.  I wrote about the hotel, the restaurants, the football game and the fun we had together. And then I signed my name at the bottom of the page and closed the book.

More than ten years later, I had a daughter of my own who was more iron-willed and pertinacious than I ever thought possible. One day in particular, she was misbehaving and was sent to her room. I watched in the hallway as she took off her underwear and shoved it under the door, which meant that she might pee on the floor any minute just to spite me. I leaned against the wall and tried not to laugh as she took the magnets off of her chore chart and flicked them under the door as well, one by one. And then I heard her say something she had never said before. She lowered her voice, just a little bit, and said, “I am not your daughter anymore.”

That night I opened my journal and started to write. I wrote about sending my daughter to her room and closing the door while she fought with her feelings. I included the details about the underwear and the tiny magnets that she shoved under the door. And then I signed my name at the bottom of the page and closed the book.

Now that I am a mother, I understand why that cruel word spoken long ago never caused a rift between my mother and I. She knew of my love and my limitations. My regret has matured into understanding that love gives us the wisdom to know when to write and when to hold our pen. 

Happy Weekend to you!
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  1. Thanks for sharing your talent with us. I loved this, somehow, you had me in tears before I was half way finished.

  2. Janelle, I loved that. You are an excellent writter and I was captivated the entire time. I am so glad we are friends. You inspire me!

  3. I know we have never met (I grew up down the street from your husband, which is how I found your blog). Your honest writing and the activities you share have become such an inspiration to me as I raise my 2 year old strong-willed daughter and another daughter due any day now. Thank you for sharing your experiences as a mother. -Courtney (Cody) Valentino

  4. That was a beautiful essay. I loved every sentence of it. Well done.

  5. So good Janelle. You write every word so perfectly.

  6. Oh wow. I am crying like a baby right now--the good, cathartic kind. That was beautiful and so well-written. It's been over 2 months since you posted this (happened on your blog today to catch up), and I am so glad I got to read this little glimpse into your heart and life.