the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The second second trimester

Sometimes life rolls along such that Jon and I do not even realize how different it is to live with a child who can communicate her needs and understand that others around her have their own. We get up in the morning, pour her a bowl of cereal, and settle in for a peaceful breakfast, forgetful that a few years ago the same half hour was spent not in pleasant silence but in screams, wild gestures, puddles of juice, and tears because not everyone in the house used the same language. We spoke in English. She spoke in Utter Discontent, a cacophonous dialect of Fuck You.

And then days like yesterday happen when she is so physically and emotionally tired from having played with her friend for most of the day that the portions of her brain in control of language are too fried to make connections, too spent to send the right word down through her mouth and the only thing that makes it out is a cannonball of indiscriminate consonants. And what should have been a pleasant dinner together was instead a good hour of CANNNNNN’T! WONNNNNN’T! to a hearty rhythm of DONNNNNN’T! All because a bean was touching a piece of cheese, and in case you didn’t know, such is the recipe for the end of the world.

I will admit to resorting to this kind of behavior when I am that tired, but the difference is that the adults around me are more than welcome to tell me to shut up. As her loving and doting parents, we are discouraged from using such language with Leta, and so we have had to get a little more creative: “stop it,” “cut it out,” “if you don’t stop screaming I’ll staple your lips together.”

The frequency of these types of tantrums has decreased dramatically in the last year, but when they do occur Jon and I experience an uncomfortable yet familiar panic, and one if not multiple parts of our bodies will twitch with the memory of those endless nights spent pacing the creaky wooden floors of our old house, of not knowing if the screaming would ever end. Sometimes they give me full body shivers that start at the top of my neck and move slowly down through my toes, a physical manifestation of the realization that somehow I made it out alive having lost only a few gallons of blood.

And yes, I know we’re headed right back into those endless, sleepless nights, but ah hah! I am now fluent in Utter Discontent! I can conjugate the verbs and assign the right pronouns! And there is even the tiniest possibility that this baby might not be as skillful a screamer, which sort of brings up all sorts of things that might be different this time around. What if this one actually likes dogs? What if she eats food? What would it be like to live with a kid who likes to be cuddled?

Conversely, what if this one isn’t as good a sleeper? What if this one likes to climb furniture? What if this one is actually curious about light sockets?

Of course, we have no idea, and such is the risk and adventure of parenthood. But these risks and these sacrifices, I think, are a fundamental component of this unique experience that has given me more insight and understanding into other human beings than any other of my life. And all of this is to say thank God we chose to have children. Thank God for those endless, sleepless nights. Because I now know what I know. Because raising Leta more than anything else in my life has helped me piece together the puzzle of what it means to be human. I understand my own childhood so much better, understand my own parents so much better, and there is so much about myself that I have tried to improve that I didn’t know I needed to improve until I was reduced to a late night pair of pacing legs.

So much more makes sense now, and I don’t know if there is any other way I could have gained this type of insight into life. And I think this is what a lot of us are talking about when we say it feels like we were let into a secret club, a club we didn’t know existed until we got here, like we had no idea there was this much to know until our children showed it all to us.

  • Shannon

    2009/01/20 at 5:24 pm

    My two girls are as different as night and day and it is so much fun! My first was the “easy child” and the second is known as “Hurricane Elise”. Still good but like a hurricane, if that makes sense.

  • Ash

    2009/01/20 at 5:24 pm

    Almost makes me want to have kids…. almost. Maybe someday soon. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through you.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/20 at 5:27 pm

    I had forgotten how my children learned from each other until I saw it happening in my granddaughters. It’s “monkey see, monkey do” time for the most part. The 2nd child is so much easier in so many ways, not the least that you know they won’t break if you aren’t the most perfect person to have a child! And easier b/c the older one shows them the way and understands the 2nd one and interprets for the 2nd one.

  • Janet

    2009/01/20 at 5:27 pm

    How very wonderful for you. Your family is blessed.

  • Gypsy

    2009/01/20 at 5:29 pm

    I am 7 weeks pregnant with my first child and I am 35. I have eight nieces and nephews, and most of my friends have kids. Yet, I still feel that I am as helpless as a pregnant 14 year old. Reading you makes me feel a little saner about the thoughts that go screaming through my head, every minute of every day. You know, the ones that shout “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH A KID???”

  • Elda

    2009/01/20 at 5:29 pm

    I have four kids now… The first one was nothing short of what you just described. Sometimes, I stop and take in their different temperaments and I am amazed that we continued to have MORE kids after the first one drove us to the point of insanity.

    I just hope that when it’s his turn to have kids, he gets one that makes his hair fall out. LOL

  • Cissy

    2009/01/20 at 5:29 pm

    I grew up with a sister 2 years older than me, and a sister 1 year younger than me. I’ve always used the same analogy to describe us. If you created a triangle shaped map of personality, the three of us would be sequestered to the three points, our personalities are all so different. But like the lines that connect those dots, we all share some of the same tendencies, too. 🙂

    Congrats to your family, well wishes to you all.

  • TamiA

    2009/01/20 at 5:31 pm

    I had the same moment when I had my kids. And now I keep telling my mom how much I made her suffer, and what a great mom she is and thank you and I’m secretly waiting for that moment to come when I become a grandmother. I believe that’s what people call “The circle of life”? Crazy stuff.

  • Kathleen

    2009/01/20 at 5:31 pm

    You might almost have me convinced, were it not for the fact that I spent this past weekend babysitting my 4-year old niece and 5-year old autistic nephew while their parents were in Vegas. I know, I am the best Sister/Sister-in-law ever, and yes, they owe me BIGTIME!!!

  • Teva

    2009/01/20 at 5:31 pm

    Thank you for writing this…I’m pregnant with my first baby and hearing something like this makes me that much more excited about being a mom!

  • Jennifer

    2009/01/20 at 5:33 pm

    This child will be completely and totally different from Leta. That is just how it works. My parents LOVE to tell stories of how different my brother and I were as babies. I was a very happy, easy going and sweet baby while my brother was needy, difficult and discontented. We both turned out to be rational, functioning members of society…although the jury may still be out as far as my brother is concerned. Hee hee…

  • drhielle

    2009/01/20 at 5:33 pm

    I’m a married twenty-something who hasn’t figured out whether or not to have children. But I gotta say, if parenthood were a drug, I’d totally experiment. It sounds like a mind-blowing experience.

  • jenstate

    2009/01/20 at 5:34 pm

    “She spoke in Utter Discontent, a cacophonous dialect of Fuck You.”

    Best sentence ever to describe it. My daughter used this dialect for two years. I will never forget the agony of it or the lessons learned. Thanks for a great post.


  • Pogo

    2009/01/20 at 5:34 pm

    yes…it is a secret club, and opens up absolutely everything in your life, whether you want it to or not.

  • Laura

    2009/01/20 at 5:36 pm

    Reading this, I feel much better about holding onto the tiny creature currently residing in my reproductive organs.

  • JR

    2009/01/20 at 5:37 pm

    Just became a member. Loving it more than I ever imagined. Thank you so much for sharing your life and motherhood. You are part of the reason why I decided to jump in. I am eagerly awaiting your experiences with two.

  • ktjane

    2009/01/20 at 5:37 pm

    that is so sweet!

  • Heather

    2009/01/20 at 5:38 pm

    Oh, I used to feel that way!!! Until they turned into teenagers!!! God, I miss tantrums…who would’ve thought!?!

  • cyndy

    2009/01/20 at 5:40 pm

    I don’t really know what to say right now. At the moment, I am just kinda speechless. It’s like you went inside my brain and you articulated all the thoughts that have been swirling around in the soup that parenthood has been slowly simmering in my brain since my daughter was born four years ago. Her father and I didn’t make it past those screaming nights…the four months of HELL on fire collic, that kept us from sleeping more than 2 hours in one shot. We separated when my daughter was two. Ah, I didn’t want to get into all of that. All I want to say is thanks. Thank you for being so f’n real and for saying what I never knew how to say. I probably won’t have the chance to do it again, being 42 and all…but there have been times when I dared to dream….What if?


    2009/01/20 at 5:42 pm

    That’s why I secretly call my children “sweet bastards”. They wring us dry and bring out the best in us. At the same time it is the hardest thing and the best thing. Dammit they better take care of me when I’m old!

  • Sarah

    2009/01/20 at 5:42 pm

    The second one is easier. Or so my friends with more than one child tell me. Me? I’m still too scared to find out 🙂

  • Angel

    2009/01/20 at 5:42 pm

    The good news is….kids are never alike….they may be similiar….but never alike.
    The bad news is…..they feed off of one another’s behavior. And every bad behavior of ANY other child, manifests onto the other one.
    Just wait until Chuck starts herding Coco…’ll happen.

    My first child was so easy. Had I had my daughter first, I never would have had sex AGAIN. EVER. Thank God she got out of that screaming and yelling stage. Now the youngest, my other son, he’s just sarcastic as hell~and I know my Mother is Heaven…laughing her ass off…..cause this shit comes back on you! Karma.

  • the mighty jimbo

    2009/01/20 at 5:42 pm

    frankly, i fear i’m far too much of a selfish, narcissistic bastard for kids.

    i’m told, however, that kids have a knack at solving that very problem.

    again, thanks for continuing to share your adventure.

  • Craftastrophe

    2009/01/20 at 5:42 pm

    My 2nd was a lot like Leta (and still is with the same kind of tantrums – they’re the same age). If we had him first, I doubt there would have been a second. My first was amazing. Cried only when hungry, nursed like a champ, slept loads. Wishful thinking your next will be sweet justice and a huge change from Leta’s babyhood. I know your pain!

  • Amber

    2009/01/20 at 5:43 pm

    Well said. Not well enough to make me want to be a part of this secret club you speak of, but still.

    And now I will call my mother and wait for her heartfelt thanks. 🙂

  • Jill S.

    2009/01/20 at 5:44 pm

    Yes. Of all what you said, yes. I’d have said the same thing but you do it so much more eloquently. I have 3 girls, by the way. My first was a nightmare baby, and I do mean NIGHTMARE. She’s now a beautiful, smart, articulate WONDERFUL teen. Thank God we procreated two more times …

  • Melanie

    2009/01/20 at 5:44 pm

    The only thing you can for sure count on is that they will be different from one another as night and day. It took 6 years and an “oops” one night for the second one to come along because the infant stage with the first was SO HARD.

    The second was a sleep-through-the-night, eat all his veggies, sweet, snuggly kid. Everything the first was not.

    I’ll keep them both, but god knows how they both came out of me, they’re so different from one another!

  • Tracy

    2009/01/20 at 5:45 pm

    I heart you. Per usual, you say exactly what I think & fear most in life. The reasons you list are precisely why I am both leery of & determined to have baby #2. What if baby #2 sucks? Those “what ifs” can go both ways, and you never know what you’re going to get unless you just go for it. Right? Right. But, parenthood is without question the best thing I’ve ever done, answers the question of why I’m on this planet, and if ever there was a reason to be the absolute best version of me that I can be, it’s for my gorgeous Ellis. I so hope that your new baby is a cuddler, though, because it’s the best thing ever 🙂

  • Rachael

    2009/01/20 at 5:47 pm

    I am the oldest of four children, and I am convinced that had there been better contraception back then my parents would have stopped after me. I think that I was “challenging” to say the least – apparently had terrible temper tantrums and nobody could figure out what to do with me. One of my earliest memories is as a three year old and being so angry that I picked up a stool and threw it through a glass door. I remember that immediately afterwards there was an eerie calm and I felt fantastic!!! Of course all sorts of hell then broke loose!

    You wrote a beautiful post, one to send to my mother!

  • Jennifluff

    2009/01/20 at 5:47 pm

    You’ll be just fine. The second time around, it seems to go by so much faster. I think that just knowing the screaming will end, and knowing that yes, one day you will sleep more than 3 hours in a row is comforting and makes the whole experience a little more doable, dare I say enjoyable.

    My boys are so different. My eldest was the difficult baby. I was TERRIFIED to have another kid after him because he took all of my energy all of the time. But I knew I wanted two kids, and I knew he’d be a great big brother. And my youngest is so much different, THANK GOD. He’s not easy, but he’s different. And the icing on the cake is that they totally get along. Leta will be an awesome big sister.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/20 at 5:48 pm

    You are brilliant and articulate as always. I am recently married to my second husband. I had four young children when we got together…he had none. He has struggled over the last year to learn to accept that our kids will not and cannot appreciate us as parents…not until they are parents. It is not something a person can comprehend until they are in it. I love my parents more with every day I experience as a parent. He has found a new deep respect for his step father…now that he is a step father. It is just the way of it.

  • Lori

    2009/01/20 at 5:49 pm

    Ah, yes. My son didn’t sleep for more than 90 minutes in a row for the first 18 months of his life. I would have happily traded my husband for 8 hours sleep.

    My daughter, born 10 full years later (it took that long to get the courage up) slept through the night on her first night home from the hospital, and every night after that. Of course, when she was three, she crawled into bed with me and spent at least part of every night there until she was 11, but all was quiet.

    I often wonder how much of my own anxiety affected them. I felt so inadequate with my son (I was inadequate — I was a teenager) and I was afraid all the time. With my daughter, I was afraid only part of the time.

    I learned recently that the most important thing we can do for our children’s self-esteem is to have fun with them. The psychologist I interviewed put it something like this: “Their parents are the greatest people in the world to them, and if even their parents think they’re fun, they eventually go off to school feeling like they’re pretty fun people.”

    I wish I’d have known that when I was raising my kids. I would have done a lot less worrying about their self-esteem and their grades, and a lot more playing. I would have thought a lot less about getting ahead, and a lot more about getting happy.

    So, Heather and Jon and Leta … I wish you happiness. And I know that the happiness you experience will translate into a happy, healthy wee one.

  • Rachel

    2009/01/20 at 5:50 pm

    I have two boys who somehow manage to be both completely different, and yet exactly alike. I frequently wonder how we could have created these two little beings who are so uniquely their own personalities out of what is essentially the exact same genetic matter! Seriously?! How did they get so different?

  • d3 voiceworks

    2009/01/20 at 5:52 pm

    Our girl is a bit older than yours, I think (5 in early February) and much of the time that “cacophonous dialect of Fuck You” behavior is present. She’s regressing as the due date nears, so I suppose you ought not get too comfortable. It drives us completely batty. Or maybe it drives ME completely nuts. Regardless, every day is a new day. Maybe that’s kinda like what you’re saying.

    I’m hoping the brother will help shift things after what I anticipate will be a rough road of adjustment from Center of Universe.


  • Jessica

    2009/01/20 at 5:52 pm

    I am so excited for you. You are right – children teach us SO much. My 3 year old was such a good baby that if I were able to have another, I worry it would be satan’s spawn. 😉 I cannot imagine raising 2 alone so I happily embrace the one I was blessed with. I wish for you a baby who sleeps through the night at 4 weeks of age and who is curious but not too much of a handful!


  • Emily

    2009/01/20 at 5:52 pm

    What a great post. Really, thanks.

  • Kristan

    2009/01/20 at 5:53 pm

    What a lovely post. 🙂

    Sometimes you make me terrified to ever become a parent, and then sometimes you make me… well, ever so slightly less terrified, with a side of Maybe It Won’t Completely Suck.


  • Amy H

    2009/01/20 at 5:54 pm

    extremely well put.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/20 at 5:55 pm

    There’s some sort of weird cosmic balance when it comes to acutely temperamental children: I never, ever hear of anyone who is blessed with one, having two.

    It’s natures way of keeping everybody alive.

  • Karin

    2009/01/20 at 5:55 pm

    awesome. absolutely wonderful post. I agree wholeheartedly!

    FWIW, we have one of each of the small human variety here, and although they are quite different in personality, they are very similar in temperment. that may have more to do wth the fact they are redheads, and grab life by the horns with every single move they make.
    at the end of the day, the real beauty of having more than one small person is the endless source of entertainment.

  • Michelle S

    2009/01/20 at 5:56 pm

    What to “they” say, nothing worthwhile comes easily?? They show us a whole new world that has all the screaming, pacing, spitting food, they also bring us the greatest love known to man. I loved your post today!

  • Aisha

    2009/01/20 at 5:56 pm

    It’s stuff like this that makes me love reading your blog. Thank you for being willing to share your life with us.

    I may or may not be ridiculously sentimental and peppy right now ’cause of that inauguration thing.

  • Heide

    2009/01/20 at 5:58 pm

    That is such a great description of parenthood. Thank you for verbalizing the highs and lows of such an amazing journey.

  • Joe

    2009/01/20 at 5:58 pm

    Well, I will tell you that when my son was born, it was 6 full months of no sleep, what seemed like endless crying, and two adults asking themselves why in the hell would they want to be parents. Then my daughter was born and behold – total silence. One wake-up per night. Slept soundly.
    I wish the same for you.

  • Lindsey (Yankee Girl Designs)

    2009/01/20 at 5:59 pm

    Dooce Got Me Knocked Up!!!

    I made that “Wired Mama” necklace and sent it off to you a few weeks ago and god help me the other day I found out that I’m pregnant w/ my first child! After months and months of trying it’s finally happend, I think sending you the necklace is what did it 🙂

  • Anna

    2009/01/20 at 5:59 pm

    Oh my gosh! I haven’t heard of anyone else talking about that recurring panic. I know it well, but instead of it centering on crying, for me it centers on sleep. My husband and I spent our son’s first seven months last year waking up every hour or two all night every night, and during the day he would fight sleep and fight sleep and when he finally, mercifully dropped off, he would often wake crying just a few minutes later, just about the time my blood pressure came out of the rafters. It was inexpressibly horrible and hard, and I learned two things: to fly into a panic when he wouldn’t go to sleep, and to hoard and protect my precious little bits of sleep. I still do both even though he is a much, much better sleeper. It would be swell to get past that.

    You are right, though, about what we learn from our children. It is an almost magical process, watching these tiny people master the essentials, and gradually the complexities, of being human. And it’s really an honor to be the people most responsible for caring for them and teaching them until they are old enough to make their own mark on the rest of the world.

  • Mandy

    2009/01/20 at 6:02 pm

    Reading this reminds me that being a parent is a learning process. That you don’t know it all right out of the gate. Being a person who must know EVERYTHING before jumping into it, I need these reminders. There really aren’t crib notes for parenthood (no matter how big that section in Barnes & Noble is).
    This reminds me that I will do just fine when my child comes along. Thank you for that.
    Much love to you and your growing family.

  • Anonymous

    2009/01/20 at 6:04 pm

    My sister and I are so different, we might as well be living on separate planets. Is it possible that siblings who are similar to each other in taste and temperament are actually the exception?

  • corrin

    2009/01/20 at 6:04 pm

    I am so happy my husband and I have decided not to have children. We like kids just fine, we just don’t have the paternal instinct to see the experience of child-rearing as life affirming and enlightening.

  • Lana Wood

    2009/01/20 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Heather,

    Congratulations to Leta on her impending big sisterhood!

    I am not, nor do I plan to become, a parent, but I get “the secret club” thing. I got a taste of it caring for nieces and nephews when I was in high school and the closest thing my family had to a responsible adult, a terrifying thing to contemplate in retrospect, but nothing we questioned at the time.

    What I think the secret club comes from is from being responsible for the well being of another human being. Knowing that if you fuck up, someone else is fucked. I, and other people I know who have been through it got that from caring for dying parents. It is amazing how much you can accomplish in a day, how organized you can be, how clear priorities can become, and how in the process you become a “Steve Austin” version of yourself; “Better, stronger, faster.” To learn how to be selfless, and not resent it, and to take pleasure in small miracles every day.

    P.S. I love your dogs, I don’t care if one is species confused and the other eats poop. They make me smile every day.

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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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