the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Newsletter: Month Fifty and Fifty-one

Dear Leta,

Tomorrow you turn fifty-one months old. If you are reading these in chronological order you will probably notice that the newsletter for month fifty has gone missing. Yeah, about that. Would you believe me if I told you Coco ate it? You’d have to because Coco eats everything. Just this week she ate both the arms and legs off the new Barbie doll that my mother gave you, and when I found her chewing those limbs I secretly hoped you wouldn’t notice. But that’s not what happened at all. You noticed immediately and were so enraged that YOU PULLED YOUR OWN HAIR. After several hours of wailing and head-butting the floor you walked up to me, put the legless and armless nub into my hands and said, “Grandmommy is going to be so mad at that dog.” And you used a tone that suggested it was less of an observation and more of a warning that Coco might want to draw up a will.

But no, Coco did not eat that specific newsletter. What I could do here is come up with some elaborate excuse for why it wasn’t ever written in the first place, but I know you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to hear all that crap. I got busy. Life sort of turned on its head at the beginning of last month and I just didn’t get to it. It was the first time that has ever happened since I first started writing these letters to you at the beginning of 2004, and I apologize. I can’t promise that it won’t ever happen again, but I have a feeling that if you get arrested in high school for spray-painting a giant four-letter word on the wall of the cafeteria it won’t be because month fifty is missing from your newsletters. It will be because your father and I didn’t do a good enough job of teaching you how not to get caught. Take my advice now: blame a cheerleader.

This newsletter is going to be a little different and not just in terms of it having to make up for a lost month. A lot has happened in the last few weeks that I feel I should address publicly, and the majority of it is not amusing. Usually I like to spend these paragraphs regaling you with stories of your hysterical antics so that in the future you can read about what a uniquely challenging and funny kid you were, and maybe one day it will explain why your own child screams so much and how it’s perfectly normal to daydream about dangling that kid over a pool of hungry sharks. 15 years from now you’re going to read this paragraph, here where I tell you that your favorite thing to say is DONKEY BELLIES, and whenever you say knock-knock, and I say who’s there, you scream DONKEY BELLIES, and then you gasp for air as the giggles get lodged in your throat, you’re going to read this and then call me and go THERE’S NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT DONKEY BELLIES. And then you’re going to ask me for money.

But I guess there are some people who are very uncomfortable with the fact that I and many other women are writing about our children on our websites. How dare we violate your privacy like this, how dare we endanger you like this, we obviously care more about ad revenue than what this is going to do to your adolescence. And I have been asked countless times if I am at all worried that you will totally resent me for the details I have shared here. Of course you will you resent me. I have no doubt that you will spend years of your life resenting me and being embarrassed that we have the same last name, despite the fact that I have and will spend years of my life writing love letters to you on the Internet. Despite the fact that I have declared to millions of people that you are the most amazing thing that has ever happened to my life.

You will resent me for your curfew and the fact that I will not let you leave the house in that mini-skirt. You will resent me for showing up to your school in my pajama bottoms and for raising my hand in a PTA meeting when I hadn’t brushed my hair. You will text message your friends to tell them that I am the most horrible person on the planet because I’m forcing you to study for your exam in the morning. You are going to think that I cannot possibly understand what you are going through, and you will slam the door in my face.

Will you resent me for this website? Absolutely. And I have spent hours and days and months of my life considering this, weighing your resentment against the good that can come from being open and honest about what it’s like to be your mother, the good for you, the good for me, and the good for other women who read what I write here and walk away feeling less alone. And I have every reason to believe that one day you will look at the thousands of pages I have written about my love for you, the thousands of pages other women have written about their own children, and you’re going to be so proud that we were brave enough to do this. We are an army of educated mothers who have finally stood up and said pay attention, this is important work, this is hard, frustrating work and we’re not going to sit around on our hands waiting for permission to do so. We have declared that our voices matter.

These are the stories of our lives as women and they often include you, yes. Am I endangering you by posting pictures of you? Many people think so, but then they’d have to admit that when I take you to the grocery store I am exposing your face to hundreds of strangers, people who can see what car we drove up in, the license plate number, and the direction we head home. Maybe we shouldn’t ever leave the house, otherwise? STRANGERS WILL KNOW WHAT WE LOOK LIKE. Worse? They will know I prefer Tampax to the generic brand.

Am I violating your privacy? If keeping 95 percent of what goes on in your life off limits in terms of what I write on my website, then yes, I am totally invading your privacy. And what about that time I wrote about your poop, aren’t you going to be mortified when your classmates read about that in sixth grade? Leta, I stopped writing about your poop many, many months ago, and chances are that all the kids you’re going to know in sixth grade will have spent the first three years of their lives shitting their pants, too. Oh wait, THAT’S WHAT HUMANS DO. WHO KNEW.

Finally, I’ve seen it suggested in my inbox and by various critics online that what we do on our websites is egotistical and exploitative. Some even refer to it as child abuse. I know I am not alone when I say that when I sit down to update my website I do it to connect with other people, I do it to reflect on the absurdity of everyday life with the hope that the people who read it will find similarities in their own routine. I did not know that wanting to be a part of a community qualified as egotism.

Some of our websites make us money, yes, money that puts food on our table, pays for preschool and helps pay for utilities. Sometimes we even use this money to pay for more unnecessary things like computers or manicures or purple ceramic hippos, and this in particular is something people grab hold of to try and twist what we’re doing into something gross and ugly. And try as they might, I will not be discouraged from continuing to document the beauty of life with my family or supporting them with an income from doing so. Leta, some people will one day try to convince you that what I’ve done here is some sort of sickening betrayal of your childhood, and what those people fail to recognize is that I am doing the exact opposite. This is the glorification of your childhood, and even more than that this is a community of women coming together to make each other feel less alone. You are a part of this movement, you and all of the other kids whose mothers are sitting at home right now writing tirelessly about their experiences as mothers, the love and frustration and madness of it all. And I think one day you will look at all of this and pump your fist in the air.

Love,
Mama

1,181 Comments
  • shaunacon

    2008/05/02 at 6:01 pm

    Very well put.

    Reading the letters you write to Leta inspires me. Every time I read one I suddenly feel a little bit less afraid to have kids. Thank you for that.

    I think it will be good for Leta to have your collection of newsletters to read later in life. It will give her insight into herself, and you, that normally takes years of therapy to uncover.

    Also, you are geniuses for being able to make money through the web as you do. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It is not exploitation at all just an outlet for you to share your life experiences with others that happens to make money.

  • Colleen Snell

    2008/05/02 at 6:03 pm

    Fist pumping for you. And, she’s gorgeous. I’m not even a mother, and I get it.

  • aimee-va

    2008/05/02 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was so afraid you were going to say that you were going to stop writing about Leta. Thank you for not stopping. Thank you for giving me a new reason to go on!

    P.S. To Leta – Please remember that cheerleaders are people, too.

  • Laurie

    2008/05/02 at 6:04 pm

    I’ve been under the same fire because I podcast about my divorce. Even had a lawsuit about it. The internet is just a tool. It drops a layer of technology over human behavior and our desire to connect. So Leta might grow up and discover you are human. Not so bad in the scheme of life….

  • Anonymous

    2008/05/02 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you for this post, and thank you for articulating the benefits created by the movement that you are part of. The fairy-tale-ization of motherhood is the very thing that creates shame and guilt for so many modern mothers as we learn, tantrum by tantrum, that this is so much harder than anyone said it was. There is no question in my mind that Leta will be a better mother one day for your honesty. You are giving her a great gift.

  • Tara Newhole

    2008/05/02 at 6:06 pm

    I’m not a mother, but I only wish I was as fortunate to have the knowledge of how mine felt/feels about me as your daughter will. My family doesn’t talk much. At least to each other.
    I found your page by accident one day looking for something completely unrelated and I have become a big fan. I think you’re brilliant. I know it’s easier said than done, but: Don’t let ’em get to you. What ‘they’ DON’T know, usually, could fill a warehouse. keep on gal. mucho amore.

  • Joanna Rubiner

    2008/05/02 at 6:07 pm

    Bravo!

    And besides, she’s gonna hate you for something, it might as well be well written and well photographed and well paid.

  • Gwenn

    2008/05/02 at 6:08 pm

    Your website (new to me about 8 months ago) is what has gotten me through getting fired by a jerk, fighting for my job, getting it back and coping with the disgrace. I needed an outlet. I discoverd blogging. I blogged about my work until I read about you then I deleted everything so fast my mouse got confused. I now have a blog with stories about my daughters, pictures, and video. I tell stories about my blind friend and living in a small town. Reading your blog has brought my voice back. I was getting into photography and you have inspired me. I was just a mom and a teacher, now I am a mom, teacher, blogger, and photographer. I have learned so much reading not only your site but Jon’s. I have even felt guilty for being mad at my husband when you professed your love for Jon and emailed mine with an I Love You. What you do is a gift to get us through our mundane day. Your daughter will read the letters and truly understand what you have done. You have humor and she will too. Thank you for showing me the options and making me laugh.

  • Traci

    2008/05/02 at 6:08 pm

    She is beautiful.

    And, I applaud you (as do many others in these comments) for your honesty about motherhood. Anon said it best – no one tells us how truly freakin’ hard this whole mommy thing is. It is wonderful to be able to read about another mom’s experiences and go “holy crap! I’m not the only one whose 4 year old is doing that.”

    I said it before, I’ll say it again. This blog is amazing.

  • Cara

    2008/05/02 at 6:08 pm

    Amen, sister. As a new mother, blogging and reading other women’s blogs (especially the always fab Dooce!) have kept me sane as I adjusted to the stay at home gig. Thank you for your honesty and humor and keep it up.

  • Anonymous

    2008/05/02 at 6:09 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly…and someday, I hope to be as good a mom as you.

    Thank you for keeping it real.

  • Anonymous

    2008/05/02 at 6:09 pm

    Yes yes yes!

  • Ro (Lilyhill)

    2008/05/02 at 6:10 pm

    What are all those idiots worried about? Leta will be perfectly capable of telling you what she thinks of all this when she writes her own blog.

    Damn, now that’s a blog I can’t wait to read!

  • betsey

    2008/05/02 at 6:11 pm

    This made me cry and I’m not even a mom. Your daughter is lovely, but you know that.

    People… don’t hate! Appreciate!

  • Liz

    2008/05/02 at 6:11 pm

    Amen.

    The real reason my husband and I had kids was not to blog about them: it was to dress them up in funny outfits and then laugh at them.

    Then we kiss their tiny, soft bellies and they laugh too.

  • Morgan

    2008/05/02 at 6:11 pm

    Heck, I’m pumping my fist in the air right now. We’ve come a long way from “The Yellow Wallpaper”!

  • Jenny

    2008/05/02 at 6:14 pm

    I love these newsletters, and I wait each month to read them. Can I be adopted by you? I’m only half joking.

  • Liz

    2008/05/02 at 6:14 pm

    Yes! I am so glad you chose to keep comments open for this entry, because you deserve the hundreds that will come in praising you for this.

    I’m struggling to put into words how I feel about this “newsletter” – it’s eloquent, strong, funny, and ultimately everything that makes you a fantastic mother to that beautiful girl.

    And by the way, when did she turn 30? My word, those eyes!

  • Eighty eight

    2008/05/02 at 6:16 pm

    You truly are an amazing mother. I have been reading your blog now for 2 years and I only wish I would have found it sooner. I guess at least my 2 year old has a chance….You have been a breath of fresh air, and a guide for my day to day life. Thank you.

  • Sheila

    2008/05/02 at 6:16 pm

    All I can say, Heather, is keep on keeping on. It’s plain to see how much you all love each other but at the same time you don’t shirk from talking about the really hard times. I can’t believe Leta will be anything but proud of her mum in years to come – well, as much as any child is proud of their parents! Obviously people are entitled to their point of view about exploitation and, even though you don’t agree with them – and nor do I, it’s good that you give them a voice too. You are honest and brave and hugely appreciated by thousands of people all over the world.

  • Lori

    2008/05/02 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you. I’ve been blogging my family’s life for the last 2.5 years. I got endless streams of emails when I documented our 25 weekers life almost daily on the website. It was free therapy for me and ended connecting me to other preemie-moms which I’ll always be grateful.

    Keep going. Mom-bloggers Unite. 🙂

  • Steph

    2008/05/02 at 6:20 pm

    This almost made me teary. I am so proud of you (and your cohorts) and it may take a while, but one day Leta will be proud, too. It took me until last year (I’m 24) to really understand and appreciate my mother. But it will happen.

    About your trip to New York: It would be super if you could have some sort of signing on the 8th, because that’s when I’m going to be in the city. If that doesn’t work, then please let me take you two out for lunch or something. =) At the very least have an awesome time on the East Coast.

  • Leslie

    2008/05/02 at 6:20 pm

    word.
    UP.

  • JDB

    2008/05/02 at 6:22 pm

    KUDOS!!!

    Every leader and pioneer knows that the hardest part is getting up the courage to at first turn their back on the crowd.

  • michelle

    2008/05/02 at 6:23 pm

    heather…
    thank you so much for saying it true…motherhood is not always glorious..and even though most of us have the strength and wisdom to stop ourselves from putting our child into the wall…you understand how child abuse happens. I thank you for making me feel not so alone, and have the insight to see that all the good does not even compare to the hard times, and we will get through it.
    I also have a four year old little girl..who has so many similarities to Leta. She is VERY much…her way or no way..and we are working together to figure it out. We stuggle to help her to realize that she is NOT the boss of the world…and now I just hold me breath for kindergarten. We take one day at a time, and at the end of the day I’m thankful that I get to be her mother.
    I enjoy your newsletters the most…they make me laugh, they make me cry…I just wish we lived closer because I know we could be great friends.
    from one mother to another…keep sharing like you do…thank you

  • Erin

    2008/05/02 at 6:23 pm

    Dude, you made me fuckin’ cry.

  • Sunny

    2008/05/02 at 6:23 pm

    You take amazing photos of your daughter. She is beautiful, and you have a wonderful eye that captures perfect images of her. She may resent you for blogging about her when she gets older, but I think she will thank you over and over again for taking the most beautiful pictures of her. 🙂

  • Kelley

    2008/05/02 at 6:23 pm

    My mother passed when I was 3. I can’t imagine how amazing it would be to have such a thing. Cried, as usual.

    Thank you Heather.

  • Lou

    2008/05/02 at 6:23 pm

    Yes. Resoundingly, YES.

  • Lisa

    2008/05/02 at 6:23 pm

    I’m four months pregnant and one of the first things I did when I found out was go back and read your archives starting when you found out you were pregnant with Leta. I’ve thought about how cool it will be for her when she grows up to have all of these memories written down that she can go back and read. In fact, I’ve been feeling a little guilty that I haven’t started a blog yet! (I can’t even manage to keep one of those pregnancy journals.) Reading your blog and other mom blogs I know has made me far less afraid of being a mom, and probably even played a role in me even wanting to be a mom. So thank you for what you do. I also think your f***ing brilliant for figuring out a way for you and your husband to make a living while being able to be at home with your daugher.

  • KathyRo

    2008/05/02 at 6:24 pm

    Tampax? TAMPAX? Playtex, woman. P-L-A-Y-T-E-X.

  • Memphislis

    2008/05/02 at 6:25 pm

    Leta is getting more beautiful by the month. Her personality is really starting to shine through and I am so pleased that you are letting us watch her grow up.

  • Kate

    2008/05/02 at 6:25 pm

    Thank you for this.
    Thank you for giving me the courage to do what I have been wanting to do for ages.
    I’d like to add that it’s not just a community of women- it’s a community of parents, of lovers, of artists, of professionals, of intellectuals, of people.
    (my husband reads religiously, too. We delight in the similarities we find in our lives, in raising our daughter and our cats. And more often than we’d like to admit, you show us something that we need to address, and your love inspires us to fight for our own. Thank you for doing it, and thank you for intelligently, gracefully, and lovingly standing up for doing so, as well.)
    You Rock.

  • Lyndsey

    2008/05/02 at 6:28 pm

    You are so right on about wanting to connect with other mothers out there. There are many times I feel like you must be peering into my window to see what my 4 year old daughter is doing and/or saying. Or maybe my daughter and yours are coconspirators in the attempt to make us totally crazy. My daughter is in the princess phase also and every morning she tries to convince me that princesses do not ever wear shorts, all articles of clothing must contain pink and purple, and her hair definitely does not need to be brushed today. Sometimes I even miss the Dora the Explorer days! She also freaks out if our 3 1/2 pound chihuahua looks at her while she’s eating. Then my husband and I endure the screaming of, “MOM!HE’S GONNA EAT MY SNACK!” and for the next ten minutes she is choking back tears while attempting to swallow. When I first came across your website and I noticed that you wrote monthly letters to Leta, I was jealous. Probably more upset with myself that I haven’t chronicled my daughter’s life at all and there are so many memories that have been lost because I was so wrapped up in the now insignificant things in life like, how much money is in the checking account. Thank you so much for sharing your family with us.

  • Morgan Suicide

    2008/05/02 at 6:29 pm

    A friend of mine recommended your blog to me. I’ve been kind of skimming it on and off for the last couple of weeks, but this entry…

    this entry made me understand why my friend recommended this to me. This entry was, simply but, fucking wonderful.

    Thank you.

  • jkopftwins

    2008/05/02 at 6:33 pm

    There are few things more valuable, in getting through life day to day, than knowing you are not in it alone. And while it would be great to live near all you great women, it’s not possible — and so the Internet proves it can be used for something good, to connect people, to allow you and other moms to express your love for your kids, to acknowledge that, many days, we step back and think, Wow, how did we get here?, or wish we’d done things differently, or get to celebrate when we muddle our way through and things work out just fine in the end.

    And maybe, when Leta is doing that teenage break away from Mom, your love notes to her, and the tremendous response they generate, will help her realize that it wasn’t just Mom off in her own world — it was all of us, bloggers and vicarious readers, helping each other through the most testing and tremendous experiences.

  • Sue

    2008/05/02 at 6:34 pm

    Don’t let the critics get you down. You are a great writer and make me smile every time I read your posts. No, I don’t agree with all your points of view but I so enjoy reading them. I also enjoy being able to relate, as a mom and a wife. Keep it up! To me your blog is no different than reading a book, no one would complain about that, so the negative Nancy’s can just go……away!

  • Hollie

    2008/05/02 at 6:35 pm

    Preach it!! I’m not even a mother yet and people are already telling me how to raise my future children. You have the right idea, and thanks for passing it on to all of us out here.

  • TheFishermansDaughter

    2008/05/02 at 6:35 pm

    A spontaneous haiku to hate

    Hey hater-ators
    spew all your hater-ation
    onto your small selves

  • kidsmom

    2008/05/02 at 6:40 pm

    1. Those eyes!

    2. If she doesn’t hate you for this, it will be something else. Might as well enjoy what you are doing and earn money for Cheerios, too. Makes you a better mother.

    3. I tell my kids to “put it on a list for the therapist that is in your future. It will save you the cost of exploratory interviews.”

  • Jenn C.

    2008/05/02 at 6:42 pm

    A-freaking-men.

  • Tammy

    2008/05/02 at 6:42 pm

    I can think of many issues that we should be spending our time up in arms about other than one mother writing about her adoration (and frustrations!!) for her *gorgeous* daughter and pretty *hot* husband.

    Haters are so good at slamming you, they should really consider using their passion for GOOD NOT EVIL!

    Jealousy brings out the Ugly in people and there is a whole lot of Ugly in this world….Especially in your comment section!

    I’m just sayin’

    Keep on with your bad self.

    Tammy

  • Lisa

    2008/05/02 at 6:42 pm

    What you have given Leta is a wonderful gift. She is lucky to have you for her mom, and I know someday she will be proud that she got to be a part of the web site that supportted her family.

    My mom has a bunch of journals she kept when I was a baby, and she says I can’t read them until I have my own. I am really looking forward to those words…

  • Nichole

    2008/05/02 at 6:43 pm

    I’ve been struggling with some of those very questions lately. Thank you for addressing it so honestly and eloquently.

  • renee

    2008/05/02 at 6:44 pm

    I was just writing a letter to my daughter when I read yours. I can only hope to be as eloquent as you. Beautiful post, I know that Leta will appreciate it when she is older.

  • julie

    2008/05/02 at 6:44 pm

    you are wonderful and your family is lovely…. glad to know you all. your words are inspirational and full of day to day life. rock on.

  • chere

    2008/05/02 at 6:45 pm

    oh, she is sooooo beautiful

    and about those people and their negative comments about your site and how you make your money
    f**k ’em

  • Kathleen

    2008/05/02 at 6:46 pm

    I think we run into rocky terrain when we try to predict what our children will think of us and what we did.

    Leta may decide this part of her family is not a point of pride. She may never pump her fist in the air.

    You’re raising Leta to know that it is okay to disagree, on the deepest level, with people you love more than life itself. That’s what counts. Your doing your best, with a lot of love, that counts too. I hope my son is proud of the decisions we’ve made but more than that, I want him to know that it’s okay to tell us if he’s not. We’ll work it out. We will always work it out.

    Keep on rockin’, Mama.

  • Jacque

    2008/05/02 at 6:46 pm

    That’s fantastic! So true

  • Carrie

    2008/05/02 at 6:50 pm

    People are upset with you for buying ceramic hippos? Jesus fucking christ life is weird.

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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