This Mother’s Day, Celebrate Somebody Else

This Mother’s Day, Celebrate Somebody Else

By Janelle Hanchett

Web Only Mother's DayI am the mother who missed your kindergarten graduation. I am the mother who was drunk the morning of the first birthday party you were invited to, when you were four years old, the one who made you wrap up a toy from your own room (apologizing and promising another, though I never did a thing), because we had nothing. I dropped you off wearing my sunglasses so nobody would see the red in my eyes as I watched you walk away, with a gift that wasn’t a gift and blond ringlets and fear.

I am the mother who let you go on a February morning, with your brother, into the arms of your grandmother, who was taking you “to the park,” but for good and I knew it, because it was cold and raining and February.

I let you go because I wanted to go back to bed. You were five. Your brother was 18 months and still nursing and you were older and still small.

I am the mother who spent two more years “finding myself,” so deep in self-obsession, sure this pill and this doctor and this drink would be the next thing to fix it, the thing to set me right, to make me whole. Back and forth, in and out of centers and hospitals and your house and no house, I stopped by occasionally as “mama,” felt sorry for myself, blamed everybody else and wrote letters.

You kept them in a box by your bed. A wooden box stuffed with all I had written, on napkins and notes and cards I bought in thrift stores.

Every single one.

With the little pictures I’d draw from wherever I was of trees and flowers and houses, and love notes to you, my daughter, “I’ll be home soon” and “I miss you so much” and “How’s kindergarten?” and “You’re the best daughter in the world.”

I meant it.

You kept them all.

Each one with its hope of life and family and all the things I couldn’t make but could draw, the few pathetic things I could draw, a little house with windows and grass and sunshine, what I wanted for you, for me, somewhere, drawn on the table in the “art room” of whatever hospital I was in, with the crayons for “art therapy,” before I went outside to have a cigarette and miss my kids and wonder.

One day in March four years ago I woke up and was dead, having been killed by alcohol I knew there was nothing left and it should be so, because all I was and all I had failed, was me.  So I left myself in bed and walked on with nothing to lose, with something I couldn’t see or feel but knew must exist, because others were living freely with the same disease, and they told me how to do it. And I did it.

And I found their freedom and my own, within.

So with no fight left, I found a way to live, to come back to you and life, and for four years I’ve been born, having not had a drink since that day. A family again, you and me and daddy and your brother and new sister – even though families like ours don’t end this way, having been torn apart by alcoholism. They fade into nothing like the ends of tiny streams in a dry land. Like broken branches of nothing scattered on a park green.

Or they become us, something else, experiencing some miracle that reduced it all to a box on your bedside table – to a piercing in my gut that comes sometimes, like Mother’s Day, when you hand me a card written in your hand, with the little pictures drawn and the words you want to say: “You are the best mama in the world.”

There’s a part of me that wants to give it back and it crawls down deep into me and begs you to give it to some other woman, some other mother, who didn’t leave and isn’t me, but why?

When I’m here and I am your mother.

I couldn’t possibly ask.

And so I just hold it and look at you and remember, the house and flowers and sunshine, the messages sent with the dying blood of a mother, now pulsing through my veins and yours, giving new life to the drawings that once lay dead on the page.

On our page, to be lived, now, my daughter.

On Mother’s Day.

And tomorrow.

Author’s Note: I didn’t write the story of my alcoholism for a long time, not because I was ashamed, but because I didn’t feel like I should be congratulated for taking on responsibilities that were always mine. I write about it now because it’s the truth, and it isn’t just a story of alcohol addiction, it’s a story of life and family and truth after failure, after obliteration. It’s the happiest story in the world. I found a giant, bursting life as I emerged from the darkest spot imaginable, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Janelle is a mother of questionable disposition to three children aged 11, 7, and 2. She lives in northern California with her kids and a husband who thinks “getting dressed up” means shaving his forearm tattoo. If you want, you can join her in the fight against helpful parenting advice at her blog, Renegade Mothering (

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Do You Lock Up Your Liquor Cabinet?

Do You Lock Up Your Liquor Cabinet?

different bottles and glasses of alcoholic drinks isolated on a white background

By Vicki Doronina

I read it often, this time in a parenting journal: “If you have a teenage child, lock your liquor cabinet.

Well, I’m not going to put a lock on it: Not the cabinet, or in our case, the cupboard. Our bar is stored in a kitchen cupboard: gin and tequila for me, rum and brandy for my husband. There’s no list – or lock – attached to the cabinet. No form of accountability. We don’t sign in and sign out.

As a biologist, knowing that alcoholism is often hereditary, I should worry. I do worry: There are plenty of people in our extended family who qualify as alcoholics. But my husband and I are casual drinkers. Still, I  am on constant watch to prevent over-drinking – not that I have desire to drink daily but in my forties I did start drinking hard liquor verses wine and beer (see above contents of cabinet).

I just don’t think that locking the drinks cabinet is the best way to prevent my son from drinking. If a teenager desperately wants a drink, no lock or clever hiding place will stop him/her. Prevention comes, I think, from preparing a teen to make smart choices, and in the case of drinking, perhaps taking away the temptation–the mystique.

Just think about forbidden fruit and all that jazz. When our 14-year-old son is visibly interested in what we are drinking, he is offered a taste. So far, he has not liked any of what he has sipped and I think he puzzles over the fuss. It’s as if he’s thinking; “What’s the big deal?”

I don’t doubt that he’ll try alcohol — one drink or many — under peer pressure, which many of his classmates already do. But perhaps if he tries a drink at home, it will lessen his desire to drink. Maybe if he has a sip of the good stuff, it will prevent him from over-imbibing the cheap stuff purchased by teens in dusty dorm rooms. Perhaps it would be like giving him a good, hand-grinded bean coffee, to attempt to deter him from cheap energy drinks.

We’ve talked to our son, and I hope, taught him to be smart about his health and well being. From his early childhood we rationed two things he likes a lot – cheese crisps and Pepsi. Again, as a biologist I know that these two items are not the healthiest food, so I have always given my son a quota of one bag of chips and one can of soda per week. We always have a supply of both, and my son has never indulged, which gives me hope that he’ll be sensible about alcohol as well. In talking with him, and explaining the dangers, in taking away the mystique, and allowing small sips of quality alcohol to deter his curiosity, I hope we’ve set him on the right track.

Of course, I cannot exclude that as a part of teenage rebellion or heartbreak he may not listen to our alcohol admonitions or deeply consider our dinner table discussions. In the end a parent can’t totally prevent a child from drinking. And lock and key won’t prevent it either.

Vicki Doronina is a recovering scientist, a veteran of Living Together Apart (LTA) and a mother of one red-haired teen. Originally from Belarus, she works and lives in Manchester, UK. Her writing appeared in Science (Careers), The Scientist, Her View From Home, Soapbox Writers and biotech blogs as well as in Russian and Belarusian media outlets. She can be found online at her blog and twitter.