the smell of my desperation has become a stench

I wish I knew then what I know now

While having dinner at my mother’s house on Saturday night I got to catch up with my sister’s two oldest children. Her oldest, Mariah, is almost 15 and sometimes I think she was sent to the wrong person because in every way she should be my kid. We have the same build, the same mop of hair on our heads, and the same tendency to mumble our words so that we always sound like we have a wad of chewing tobacco the size of a grapefruit tucked in our lower lip.

Mariah also takes her schoolwork way too seriously much like I did when I was her age, and I often want to pull her aside and tell her that it’s okay to relax. But I know that even if I did she wouldn’t be able to understand it or accept it. My physics teacher in 11th grade once yanked me out of class to give me a lecture on the fact that because I had made a 98 instead of a perfect 100 on a test I was still an okay person, and I didn’t believe her. I was so obsessed with perfection in my schoolwork that anything less was an indication that I would end up homeless or in prison, or worst of all a person who grocery shops in her bare feet.

The joke was on me, wasn’t it? Because even though I graduated at the top of my class I still ended up becoming a person who carried around a sockless baby in public. I know in my heart that I became that type of person because of that one time I made an A minus on a trigonometry test.

My other niece, Meredith, is 13 and is completely opposite from Mariah and me. She’s going to be much shorter than Mariah and has always been refreshingly carefree. She’s also been confident in her decisions since the day she was born and as a result doesn’t care if she brings home a C in math class because hell if that is going to stop her from conquering the world. Where Mariah is the one hoping that she’s doing enough to make it to Heaven, Meredith is the one wondering if when she gets there any of the angels are going to be cute.

Throughout dinner on Saturday Mariah had a look of panic on her face, a panic I recognized in my bones, and it turns out that later this week she has a geography test that is going to require her to draw the entire world from memory and name every country. I know that between now and that test she’s going to spend every minute worrying about it. Meredith, on the other hand, was having a hard time coming up with a fifth item on a sheet of paper that had the word GOALS written in very round letters across the top. I told her I’d help her but that I needed to see the other items to get an idea of what she was looking for, and this is what she showed me:

1. Learn backhandspring
2. Exercise
3. Earn some money
4. Learn how to do hard stretches

It still amazes me that such different people were born into the same family, and even though my automatic response was to want to say something sarcastic, like, you know, some people could accomplish three and four at the same time, I just smiled and said, “I think your list is perfect as it is.”

  • Jonniker

    2006/04/18 at 7:46 pm

    I don’t think Mariah was sent to the wrong person – it’s so much easier for her that you are her *aunt*, because your parents are never that cool and you never see them for what they are – and certainly, as you get older and high school, their advice is *never* as valuable. But an aunt is never out of vogue.

    If you were her mother, then you wouldn’t be able to get her as well as you do, and she wouldn’t see in you what she needs to see – that maybe letting up a little is okay, and that an alternative path is there if she wants it (and if she doesn’t, that’s okay, too). Sometimes – many times, I’d venture to say – the person who guides us the most in certain ways isn’t a parent, and isn’t even present every day. Even if she can’t see it at this exact moment, she will someday. And maybe you will, too.

    And because I have had three – no, four – glasses of wine, I feel like I need to tell you how hilariously and embarrassingly EARNEST I am being when I say this. I’m taking this comment SO SERIOUSLY, as if it will change the angle at which the earth spins on its axis. Brow wrinkled, lip jutted out. I am, apparently, Very Serious.

    And I also think I’m right.

  • blackbeltmama

    2006/04/18 at 7:43 pm

    My girls couldn’t be more different. It is truly amazing how despite genetics being the same, two kids in the same family can be so night and day. Nature’s mystery I guess.

  • E-Lo

    2006/04/18 at 7:40 pm

    I wish I was motivated enough to learn how to do a back hand spring.


  • Donny

    2006/04/18 at 7:38 pm

    I took all honors classes in school rarely studied, and still received A’s. I was lucky enough to:

    A. Remember what we discussed in class. The teachers would usually reveal what we needed to know for the tests and I’d just remember it.


    B. Have a personality that teachers just liked. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get less than an A even if I failed multiple tests.

    The one exception was Calculus. I had to study my ass off for that one and still received an A- one semester and a B+ the next. Damn you, Mr. Albertini!

    Mr. Albertini didn’t just hand me the world, however. That made him my favorite teacher of all.

  • HullCove

    2006/04/18 at 7:25 pm

    Ah, the classic Type A Eldest Child. I know all about that one. Life is so much easier when you lose your perfect 4.0 GPA. As a 23 year old graduate student I am now striving towards what I call “Type Q,” the reformed Type A. Happiness for the Q personality lies somewhere between a slacker’s ability to not feel the need to volunteer to help with everything and be absolutely perfect every time and the Type A’s ability to get done what needs to be done and do it well.

  • fixedupgirl

    2006/04/18 at 7:22 pm

    Thirteen is ridiculously awkward to experience as an age. You did a great deed by telling her her list was perfect. 🙂

  • vegasandvenice

    2006/04/18 at 7:24 pm

    You know I have enjoyed every one of your posts immensely and I would not want to miss a single one, but now that I know about that A- on that Trigenometry test I feel as though I have been deceived!! How can I ever love again?

  • idolreview

    2006/04/18 at 7:20 pm

    Yeah, when i was 13, doing a back handspring was #1 on my list, too. Doing the splits was a close #2 (for cheerleading, of course.)

    Now at age 24, I CLEARLY have more important priorities, like correctly predicting who is voted off American Idol.

  • Lori

    2006/04/18 at 7:00 pm

    Sounds exactly like my 2 daughters. #1 is a perfectionist & #2 is super laid back.

    Kudos to you for recognizing their differences and supporting both.

  • Lomo

    2006/04/18 at 6:53 pm

    I used to say my sister was born as a result of the mailman. She is blonde and thin and tall, with naturally curly hair, not so straight teeth, and hazel eyes. I am dark and not so thin, about 5 inches shorter than her, have naturally straight teeth, and my hair is bone straight. She is good at math and science, I rule at english, the arts, and music. She never worries about anything and flies by the seat of her pants, I worry about EVERYTHING, and I plan everything too. My mom even told us stories about how people would actually approach her and demand to know if we were from the same father, because they couldn’t see how that could be. Crazy.

  • fernypants

    2006/04/18 at 6:50 pm

    In high school I was a slacker that wanted to be an over achiever, so I ended up somewhere in the high middle. Then I graduated, realized none of it meant anything anyways, went to college with no desire to be an over achiever, and am now just a slacker with a lot of run-on sentences in this post. And now I look back on my A’s and B’s with fond rememberance of how, at one point, my guilt over not wanting to get my ass in gear was enough to get my ass in gear…

  • Piglet

    2006/04/18 at 6:48 pm

    Aw, that makes me want to cry out of joy! Best answer to that subject ever Dooce. It’s cool when we can help others based on our own experiences. You are awesome!

  • maddy

    2006/04/18 at 6:18 pm

    My brother, 10 years my junior, while not exactly like Mariah, had the maturity at a young age to think about what he wanted to do with his future, and while it wasn’t charted out in detailed, he knew that to achieve anything he had to work hard.
    My 15-year old sister who is 14 years younger than me (I’m sure my parents had a plan with the age gaps  ) cant think beyond the next hour. Shes at the stage where she wants to do what’s glamorous (like be a fashion designer) but not work at it (like learn to draw).

    I worry to no end about her future and WHEN WILL SHE SNAP OUT OF IT AND REALISE THAT NOTHING IS GOING TO MIRACULOUSLY FALL INTO PLACE. Today’s post helped. I just need to stop fretting so much and know that she’ll eventually figure it out.

    On a side note, Dooce, you ROCK!

  • Angela

    2006/04/18 at 6:15 pm

    What you said to the younger sister is the kind of thing that only a really good mother knows to say. Lucky Leta.

  • Caren

    2006/04/18 at 6:10 pm

    If I could go back in time and have a sit down with my 16 yr old self, I’d tell myself that high school isn’t the be all end all of life, and to not be so uptight about life.

    High school is such a crappy mandatory four years,

  • Krisco

    2006/04/18 at 6:08 pm

    I have no idea what a hard stretch is either. And how do you combine it with making money? Is the smart remark a reference to – robbing a bank and doing hard time?

    I don’t know. I do know my list at 13 would’ve included things like End world hunger and Be huge important CEO. On the other hand, I still can’t do a backhandspring. Maybe her list makes more sense.

  • Minxy

    2006/04/18 at 6:07 pm

    Yay for saying what you said instead of what you thought; what you thought wasn’t really bad or negative, but what you said was better.

    I was kind of a mix of both of them. In my earlier years of school (7,8,9 grades) I didn’t care much about my grades and only worried if I got a C- or something. As I got older, I started to freak out if I got a B-, but that’s as far as it got. I worried about the almighty GPA, but only because I wanted to graduate with a higher class ranking than my older sister (which I did by 1 or 2 places…hehehe). I was still pretty easy-going about schoolwork and only tweaked when I had major projects or papers to do, both in high school and college. My perfectionism was more that I was worried that I wasn’t a perfect daughter, girlfriend, employee, etc. Mostly the daughter part. Growing up as both the middle child and the “easy” child was a double whammy in the fear of disappointing people realm. I still worry that I need to be perfect so I don’t disappoint people and the fact that I’m not perfect means that I AM a disappointment. I’m sure it’d be worse if I wasn’t in therapy and on the meds. Do you ever get over perfectionism?

  • Elizabeth M. Johnson

    2006/04/18 at 5:49 pm

    Probably a good thing you didn’t tell her that. Wait ’til she’s legal. Or whenever she decides she wants to leave the church in style.

  • tarable

    2006/04/18 at 5:49 pm

    I have just begun enjoying you so prior to today I had no knowledge of the sockless baby incident and want to tell you to be sure to do an underwear check as they get older. My son was having his 5th grade check up and the Doc asked him to strip to his underwear and to my absolute HORROR he was not wearing any that day. Thank goodness my doctor knows that I provide underwear (due to my other 4 kids being her patients)and was not a neglectful reject of a parent.

  • Jujubee Jenny

    2006/04/18 at 5:47 pm

    I soooo am not looking forward to having a teenage daughter. I know I have some time before it happens, but if she is anything like I was? Well, I’m preaching to the choir…I know you as a mother must have the same worries. We all do. Unless she asks you to smoke a bowl tomorrow morning in bed…then you know you done good.

  • doog

    2006/04/18 at 5:44 pm

    Shhh…. peeps won’t burn in hell…. THEY’RE DEMONS!!!! AHAHAHAH


  • monkey

    2006/04/18 at 5:44 pm

    Criminey, I JUST finished my Bachelor’s (@ 28) and remained as obsessive over my grades till the very end. I can’t help it. (My brothers, on the other hand, could give a shit less about their grades or school- With the exception of my oldest brother now…he’s competitive AND a perfectionist.) My husband has tried to console me that a B is not the end of the world, but it will not work…unless he’s providing me with a LOT of alcohol in the process. Then I’ll believe anything.

  • Vicky

    2006/04/18 at 5:43 pm

    I love you for saying what you said and not what you thought 🙂

  • MomVee

    2006/04/18 at 5:41 pm

    At my son’s first grade parent-teacher conference, his teacher said, “If I could teach R. one thing this year, I would make him believe that everything he does doesn’t have to be perfect.”

    To my intense surprise, I found my eyes filling up with tears. I didn’t believe that, and I was 32.

  • Kala Lily

    2006/04/18 at 5:37 pm

    My list at 30 is very different from my list at 13. I wanted to perfect that backhand spring too and get straight A+s. Being an overachiever kinda sucked!

    Now here is my new list:

    . Learn how to do proper tequilla shots
    . Meet cute men
    . Learn to scuba dive
    . Travel
    . Meet more cute men

  • babbling

    2006/04/18 at 5:33 pm

    I’m positive that she needs to make that map, so when she’s on the Amazing Race in the future and might possibly lose her map, she can draw one from memory, and still win the million dollars. I find this to be a very thoughtful lesson to learn in school. Just imagine those adults that didn’t have that lesson. “Ohhhhhh if only I’d memorized and drawn that world map when I was in school, we’d have won the million dollars,,,,,” As far as the baby sock goes, it’s far more embarassing when you take your 8-9 year old son to the store and realize he found it totally unnecessary to put on socks with his shoes. Suddenly you feel like you have “THE MOTHER WHO DOESN’T CARE ENOUGH TO PROVIDE SOCKS FOR HER CHILD” written on your forehead.

  • BrittanyGifford

    2006/04/18 at 5:15 pm

    I’m not like anyone in my family…

    Holy crap! She has to draw the whole world from memory!? What for???

  • tonya | adventure journalist

    2006/04/18 at 5:00 pm

    Hey man, *I* grocery shop in bare feet.

  • islaygirl

    2006/04/18 at 5:12 pm

    umm, wth is a hard stretch?

  • Tara Whitney

    2006/04/18 at 4:54 pm

    nobody cares about high school ONCE YOU ARE OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL. nobody cares about college either, once you are out of it. only that you have a stupid piece of paper to prove it.

    poor kids. 🙂

  • Star Shine

    2006/04/18 at 4:53 pm

    I love that God lets us have moments like that. It’s like a glimpse of the past in the present. Sometimes I feel the same way…like I wish I knew then what I know now, but I guess we just have to go through it to get that knowledge and wisdom. And the journey’s pretty good, too.

  • omar

    2006/04/18 at 4:51 pm

    My brother and I are polar opposites as well. It kind of makes me nervous about having a second kid, since the one I’ve got is pretty good. I’m figuring that this means any subsequent children will be hellions. Or worse, salesmen. *shudder*

  • Sean Duffie

    2006/04/18 at 4:40 pm

    I’m a Junior in high school, which means that I’ve had three years of people telling me that the Mariahs of the world will one day conquer all and that the Merediths will become Bagpersons (Rather than baglady, because, face it, if she was a Mike, would you have any doubt why she was distracted from being anal with schoolwork?)
    In 3rd grade I told myself I would be valedictorian. The next day, I forgot to turn in a homework assignment and, so I thought, my dreams were shattered. I still don’t do my homework because a part of me quietly reminds me that I will fail in life and that, if my “dreams” follow through and I become a teacher, I probably will fail the kids too.
    So, I’m slowly tugged from being Meredith to being Mariah. Every day I’m still constantly reminded that upper middle class snobs, such as myself, will have to fight to get into college and get scholarships – and that my Meredith moments will disgrace my family as though we lived in a Confucian society. But, I wish that for one day I could drop all remorse for my school transcript and my dismal 3.2GPA and live like a hippy and worry about all of the cute girls instead of Mao Zedong and the Pythagorean theorem – but this just isn’t the environment for that.

    I don’t know what to say. Maybe Meredith missed the day the other kids on the playground decided to make Mariah as determined. And while both have noble efforts, ten years down the road, they could be a completely different person. So, I still don’t know who is better. However, I do know how hard it is to break this caste of slacker-wanting-to-be-an-overacheiver, and that one day, none of it will matter and we will all order fastfood at the same day.

    Praise Buddha that I, uh, still have my wits…


    2006/04/18 at 4:14 pm

    Oh Heather, I was like you in high school. And now I’m a reallllly small fish in a large university full of people who speak Latin. Even though I’m still (probably) the most anal, I am now Average – maybe even below. Soul destroying, every minute of it recorded on my blog!


  • LeafGirl77

    2006/04/18 at 4:11 pm

    It’s a similar situation in my family.

    Me? I’m pretty boring in that I’m the older child who is very organized and pretty responsible. Although I never figured I’d make it to university (lackluster grades in high school), I worked hard and was always relatively confident that something would work out.

    My sister? She’s sixteen now and figures everything will be handed to her, because everything HAS been handed to her. She’s threatening to move out, get a job and still go to school. Everyone knows that she’s dreamin’, but it won’t stop her. I just know she’d do it just to spite everyone.

    I wish I learned earlier on that high school isn’t the be all and end all…but just a stop along the way to real life…whatever that is!! I would have said, done and been whatever I wanted, and not given a shit what other people thought. Hind sight is so hard sometimes.

  • moongarden

    2006/04/18 at 4:11 pm

    Dooce, I thought of you when I saw this:

  • kelly.

    2006/04/18 at 4:11 pm

    Meredith’s list of goals is admirable. And much easier achieved than my own. I might have to swap a few on my list for a few on hers.

  • Amybobamy

    2006/04/18 at 4:39 pm

    I was definitely more like Meridith, and my mother was you and Mariah. You can imagine her disappointment that I did not take on her ‘capacity’ for straight A’s… or rather caring if I got them at all.

    I also could have been my aunts daughter, and my cousin could have been my mothers daughter… go figure.. Genetics are a crazy land of drunkards who don’t always line things up right.

  • Ramona

    2006/04/18 at 4:32 pm

    When I was in high school, I would hyperventilate if I thought I wasn’t making an A. I wish I could write a letter to myself back then, advising me to inhale like the other kids and chill out.

  • Strizz

    2006/04/18 at 4:27 pm

    I’m 27 and all four of those things are still on my list.

  • Nothing But Bonfires

    2006/04/18 at 4:11 pm

    I’m twice as old as Meredith and if I wrote my list of goals right now, I’d have exactly the same 2 and 3. In fact, the only good thing about being 26 is that I’ve now at least learned how to do hard stretches.

  • jes

    2006/04/18 at 4:00 pm

    oh, wow. the whole world? and every country?

    i would fail so very miserably.

    I could try to be obnoxious and name them all here, but I fear that my lack of knowledge would just embarrass me.

  • ailouron

    2006/04/18 at 4:05 pm

    Hey! Innate confidence is admirable, but confidence built from difficult accomplishments, even if they weren’t necessary, means a lot as well….right?

    My parents sent me to college with a letter telling me all the reasons they would still love me even if I got an A-.

    Although at 21 and four weeks from graduation I’m finally getting over it, I’m not too sad about what I’ve done and believed. Sure, I stressed a lot and probably gave myself an ulcer at some point, but I actually learned how to study and bear down on something unlike a lot of my friends. Except I’m not actually over it. At all. As a theoretically cured perfectionist, would you mind telling the rest of us how /you/ got over it?

  • lelu

    2006/04/18 at 3:51 pm

    Very accurate description of Heather in high school!!! I’m gald to see you’ve chilled out. I love your blog!

  • Melissa

    2006/04/18 at 3:50 pm

    I am cracking up. That is my girls. Although they’re young, I can already see it. They will be so much like that when they’re older.

    Oh and I read the half-socked baby post too. To freaking funny. I adore baby feet. I would have been nice enough to tell you, not to whisper behind your back.

  • Lane Meyer

    2006/04/18 at 3:49 pm

    Funny thing, this entry made me a bit teary eyed. I could sum it up to PMS but I think honestly just the energy from it struck a cord with me. I can relate to the perfectionism personally and I see the very same thing in my son daily. He settles for NOTHING less that sheer perfection. He is 8. E-i-g-h-t.

    As corny as it sounds coming out of the keyboard on my laptop, every single time I read your blog I say to myself (and often out loud in a shrill scream), “God, she freakin’ rocks!”
    Rock on, Heather, rock on!

  • TripDaddyNJ

    2006/04/18 at 3:40 pm

    I have 6-month-old triplets. Cannot wait to see how all that turns out.

  • jaime

    2006/04/18 at 3:34 pm

    ohh, my sister and i are those children. sort of. i did the weird thing of being very competitive about grades, but also really lazy about schoolwork. she’s just bad at math, and has crazy tattoos.

  • Kassi Gilbert

    2006/04/18 at 3:39 pm

    Thats very sweet. It is so cool to see such differences in the people in my family, and it is great that you have such a positive influence…even if you have to hold your tongue. I know that they will appreciate you in their lives.

  • sarahinLA

    2006/04/18 at 3:21 pm

    Is it just me or does Meredith quite possibly have the meaning of life figured out?

1 2 3

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more