Best way to roast the broomstick. Must try. Five Stars.

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.”

  • Kari

    Seriously, I hope Nifle is in another country, because even if you’re on the east coast, where it is after 8 p.m., it’s too early to be reading Dooce drunk!

    Unless you’re dying easter eggs…

  • rockr girl

    i have always danced to the beat of my own drummer (and possibly the music of my own band). however, i was always terrified that my actions, while they might be ok by me, would disappoint the people i care most about. i still worry about this, and its probably the reason for a myriad of my life’s problems.

    however, i desperately want my niece and 4 nephews to live thier lives outloud. so much so, that the 6 year old got “Sneeches” for his birthday this year. Along with a hand-written note from auntie megan urging him to learn from the Sneeches – no matter how different you are (or aren’t), you are still you. And its being genuinely you that will make you deliriously happy in life.

    is that too deep for a kid who has a hard time tying his shoes??

  • oromat

    You are a good mommy, Heather. It doesn’t matter what we did/do at that age, kids have a right to screw up/excel all by themselves.

  • My parents have four girls and for some reason we’re staggered twins. The oldest girl is almost 6′ tall, brunette, super sensitive, and is married. The second oldest is barely 5’6″, blonde, thick skinned, and vows to never marry. Then there is myself who is just like the oldest. I am tall, brunette, I cry at the drop of a hat and I am married. Finally the youngest is short, blonde, borderline insensitive, and also isn’t interested in marriage. If you saw the four of us in a room you would think that the brunettes are sisters, the blondes are sisters, but there is NO WAY you would think all four of us are sisters. My facial features are even just like the oldest sister’s but nothing like the other two. Aside from appearances, my personality is also more like the oldest where as I can’t be in a room too long with the other two or they drive me crazy. Genetics can be a strange phenomenon.

  • Nifle

    Read Dooce drunk…it’s 100 times funnier…which is PRETTY damn funny.

    I was the same as you Heather (I had to scroll up to remember, I am drunk) about grades in school. There is no point to this message…just that I love DOOCE!

  • Funny, Heather, I never pictured you as a super-type-A personality from your writing. Either you have learned a lot like you said, are an excellent writer, or both. Probably? Both.

  • J P

    The oldest of my two girls must have accidentally missed your family and landed into mine. There are moments when I have to walk out of the room when she’s doing her homework for fear that I will shake her…and then I do my best to resist the temptation to go back and change all of her answers when she’s not looking. Just to build character.

  • Every single country? I’d fail that miserably, since the only globe in my house is Cold War era.

  • victoria

    But what’s the third kid’s name? Merrilee? Marian? Maryanne?

  • Great Aunt response. I just found out one of my cousins (I could be her aunt but aren’t) is self-mutilating. I only hope my letter to her was as cool as your response to your niece!

  • Deb

    Hey Heather,
    The title struck me as I checked in today. Definately one of my personal bugaboos.

    I have 4 kids and NO I am not Mormon or Catholic, altho I am married to a reformed Mormon such as yourself. They are all so different it surprises me by the minute! I am also a recovering Perfectionist learning daily to remember to breathe and trust.

    Thanks for all you share!

  • Laurie

    I bet the older child can’t accomplish the goal list of the younger child. It’s just as hard to learn a backhandspring at 13 as it is to memorize the globe at 15. As a parent of a 17 year old and a 14 year old I find the globe thing ridiculous. But I’d be way more stressed out over it than either of my kids.

  • amy


    I just love reading your site!

  • Uh oh. I was just over at blurbomat. My condolences. Sewer week has arrived at your house it would seem. Sorry this is off topic. I didn’t have much to say otherwise, except that sometimes in midlife, people switch roles! The inner perfectionist awakens in one and the inner slacker awakens in the other.

  • My god Dooce, I commented on this and have had about a *million* hits. It’s incredible! I must confess I am a blog-hit-whore.

    Hm. Now I love you even more!

  • syzygy

    After all that hard work and freaking out I was appalled to discover most of life is an open book test. The real trick is critical thinking which often schools and somem parents can be quite against.

  • MeAhna

    Smoke a bowl? (lol)

  • Card Chick

    I can soooo relate to this. My two kids (10 and 14) couldn’t be more different. 14 yr. old worries over project due 2 weeks from now and 10 yr. old can’t remember his spelling book on a daily basis.
    This is my first comment and I gotta say I love your blog – always makes me laugh. When I first read it, my first thought was, “Wow this woman is so talented. Why isn’t she writing sitcoms in Hollywood or something??”

  • Rachel

    Brad Martin’s comment scared me. A lot. even if he was kidding…

    I’m a Mariah trapped in a Meredith’s body and it’s really stressing me out!

  • It just occurred to me:
    topics of discussion

  • Oh my good. That link to about the sockless baby just made me realize how long I have been reading your site.

    I actually remember reading that. Like when it happened.


  • Hey Dooce, my bad regarding M&M’s (ouch oh oh it hurt so much to type that!) No wonder no one knows how to use apostrophes when a major coporation can’t get it right for their OWN PRODUCT NAME!@!

    I still stand by that letters, when plural, don’t deserve the ‘.

    Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Solistella

    I saw this and thought of Dooce. It’s like the Mormon bookstore post meets the Amsterdam post:

  • Keb

    I completely agree that it is amazing how two completely different people can come from the same family. My two daughters are 8 and 6. My 8 year old is very serious, studious and well, uptight. My 6 year old is a fly by the seat of her pants kind of girl. I’m sure I have scarred (and will continue to scar) them for many years to come. 8 takes after me. I wish I could be more like 6.

  • ChristyD

    It sounds like you’ve learned enough about yourself to let the Meredith side come out and have fun too. I love that you told her the list was perfect.

  • I used to be a Type A, then I married a laid back fellow and surprise we got a divorce! No, really…I learned by being a parent that there are many ways to accomplish the same thing. So what if something is perfect-it’s not going to last forever! So, it was perfect for a second and then it deteriorated. Who remembers that it was perfect anyway?

    Now I encourage my 7 dwarves and others in my inner circle to try their best and not be afraid of failure. Not trying leads to regrets and who wants to live wallowing in regrets??? You’ll never know if you don’t try! Success is about trying your best and being passionate in your endeavors-not about perfection. Perfectionism leads to ulcers.

  • Marivic

    I’m a WAHM freelance geek. My sister’s a stripper.

    My 18 y/o daughter just came home sporting a rather fetching mohawk, courtesy of her boyfriend.

    My 16 y/o daughter has her induction into National Honor Society tonight, accompanied by her girlfriend.

    Of my 15 y/o twin daughters, thing 1 has eschewed all things girly and feminine, while thing 2 is perfectly happy to look like a girl. Although both have uber cute glasses.

    And the baby, well, Lola’s only 4 mo. Working on her own mohawk.

    Anyway, my favorite advice to teens: Learn how to drive a stick. You’ll thank me later.

    Loved your advice to your niece!

  • Amazing how much personality matters every bit as much as upbringing. I have two girls as well, and wonder how much they’ll be alike and different.

    I’d describe my oldest as a perfectionist, but I don’t think that’s quite fair, as she’s not quite three yet and children this age are anal about the strangest things. She can run around with frosting on her chin all day long, but if the straps on her shoes aren’t completely straight…hell hath no fury like a toddler with crooked straps.

  • windinthewillows

    I have two delightfully different kids.

    The first born, who’s a boy didn’t have a bad day until he was about 5. He hardly ever cried and smiled all the time. The second born, a girl, came out of the womb kicking and screaming and hasn’t stopped! I always wondered if I’d had the challenging kid first would I have had the courage to have a second child?

    Now that they are both in their 20’s they are still totally different from one another. Looking back I can see how much more alive our family has been because we are each such different people. It would be so boring to be the same.

    I wonder if you have another child if he/she will be the easy one? If you do I hope you still find time to write.

  • I always thought that either my younger sister or I had to have been adopted, because we are that different in looks, personality and the way we see the world. (One day when we were younger I convinced her SHE was adopted because she was the only redhead among the rest of us brunettes, and she ran crying into the house demanding to see her birth certificate. Good times.)

    Now I no longer think one of us is adopted but clearly *I* am the one who was dropped off with the wrong family in the first place. I’m the oldest, but I’m not the typical oldest child overachiever… that was my sister. I’m more open minded and liberal whereas my family is more conservative and tend to go through life with blinders on, such as believing President Bush is doing a great job. And somewhere along the line, my sister and I switched lives: I always thought I’d be married with two kids and be a school teacher, but my sister is living THAT life while I am nearly 45, single with no desire to necessarily marry, and no desire now to have children. And I changed my major from education to business years ago.

    There is no telling why some siblings in a family turn out completely different even when they are having the same experiences more or less, or at least have the same parents. I love my sister and I know she loves me, but we don’t understand each other very well and her life, while a good one, would drive me up a wall. I daresay she’s say the same thing about me, if asked.

  • Elizabeth

    Oh my gosh! I actually saw someone the other day at the suburban store I frequent, grocery shopping in bare feet! And she did look absolutely carefree.

  • I am the younger sibling — the one who wants to learn to do a backhandspring. Unfortunately, I always believe that I was more of a “dooce” — smart, good grades. Turns out it was only my mother telling me that, while all the while she should have let me go on being (and believing) in the value of a good backhandspring. Now, I have neither. Feck.

  • dehb

    “you know, some people could accomplish three and four at the same time”

    That right there is exactly why I keep coming back here. Go, Dooce!

  • Her list is definately perfect as it is. I am a total Meredith and even though I sometimes wish I could have been a Mariah, I think I turned out okay. This is a great post

  • Brilliant. I love the way you wrote this one. It reminds me of the way a good friend of mine tells stories.

  • Jenny

    Wow, I was one of those students, too, who cried when she got high-80s on a math test.

    It’s a rough way to live; I grew out of it, hopefully Mariah will, too. You’re absolutely right, though, you won’t change her mind with anything you say now.

  • God, I’m dying to learn to do a backhandspring, too.

    It’s hard.

  • I never cease to be amazed at the variety of personalities within families.

    I grinned while reading about Meredith, because your description of her reminds me so much of myself in high school. I never studied and skipped a LOT of school (I probably attended classes about 90 days out of the 180 days of my senior year). Somehow I also graduated at the top of my class and was a National Merit Finalist. I can only imagine what I could have accomplished if I’d actually given a shit. (Although, given the universe’s keen sense of irony, I probably would have flunked out of 10th grade or something.)

  • I’m the youngest of five in my family and there are times I look at my siblings and wonder if indeed the milkman came to visit because all of us are so differen’t from the others. My mother was never perfect, but the one thing she did that was great was love us each for our differences. I never felt like I had to live up to any of the others acomplishments. I like that you can see that with your neices

  • sasha

    Having kids also turns what you already knew about yourself on its head…I thought that I’d be the earth-mother, high-volume mommy. Instead, that’s my sister, who we had previously pegged for not becoming a mom at all…go figure.

  • Birchsprite

    I’ve just been reading Jon’s site and I want to say hello and I hope all the plumbing problems are ok. It’s rotten when things go horribly wrong like that and I hope it all works out ok!

  • Isn’t it funny how we seem to be the first generation of women willing to audibly acknowledge that we learn from our experiences and that maybe it would be good if we TOLD young and future women that life isn’t easy even if you’re perfect, yet it’s equally not as hard as we sometimes make it for ourselves? Striking that balance might be the hardest thing about being a grown-up! if that’s what I’m supposed to be….

  • Lisa

    test (please delete this comment)

  • You are a good aunt for understanding your neices and letting them be themselves.

  • Mariah is my kinda people but I’ve always wanted to be a little more carefree. Maybe I should learn back handsprings…

  • I have 5 kids and it’s sometimes amazing to me that they all came from me, my parenting style, my genes. The oldest two are night and day. If they didn’t all LOOK so much like me, I’d swear they had been switched at birth.

  • I have to wonder if your two nieces’ personalities don’t have anything to do with birth order? They sound an AWFUL LOT like my older sister and me.

    Since she stayed in the church and wanted mostly to be married for time and all eternity in the temple, I ended up the career woman and she ended up with multiple children and finally graduating from college at the age of 40 with a degree that will allow her to be the librarian at her kids’ school.

  • Kirstination

    Your nieces sound like me and my husband. He’s the perfectionist worry-wart. Me, well, I’m much more interested in drinking a good cup of coffee while reading a book then making sure there aren’t any creases on the back of my shirt that is hidden under my jacket. Though this may be the key to Mariah’s survival: Make sure she marry’s someone like her sister.

  • How beautiful that you told Meredith that her list of goals is perfect just as it is. She will probably grow up with some idea that she is not as good as Mariah (not necessarily from her parents but from authority figures at large), and it is wonderful that you have affirmed her for being who she is. You recognize that she is just a very different soul than you are and than her sister is, rather than trying to impose your way of life on her.

    Way to be a loving aunt.

  • Ailuron, Delurking to respond to your question. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but post partum depression is a real humbling experience.

    You may hate hearing this, but at twice your age I can tell you factually that alot will happen in the next twenty years. However, knowing what excellence looks like and how to strive for it isn’t such a bad skill to have at any stage in life!

    Heather, you didn’t ask but, here are my top 5 goals:

    1. Win the Lottery
    2. Save the Planet
    3. Travel in Space
    4. Turn 2 boys into thoughtful responsible men (currently a work in progress 😉
    5. Smoke a bowl with Jon & Heather

    I can’t remember what they were when I was 13 exactly, but I’m pretty sure “Save the Planet” and “Smoke a bowl” were somewhere on that list too.

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.

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