An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

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.

  • MEO

    I love *everything* about *everything* you say. Always. I get what you are saying today and am empathetic. But, I gotta’ ask – do you know what else happened today?

  • mdog

    These lessons you’ve learned…did one of them happen to include information about removing peanut butter from a dog’s ear?

  • Kristi

    I love what you said about understanding life more and your parents more and I just want you to know that having another one will make you understand your siblings more. As the oldest of three girls and now the mother of 3 girls I see all that happened when I was a kid and know what’s going on with my girls. I see the way I acted in my oldest and call my middle sister almost daily to apologize the way I treated her. The youngest kinda gets the shaft from time to time, so I feel for my youngest sister. But I will say they are ALL different. The oldest was screamy in the beginning, the second after about the first 4 months and is still pretty annoyed with life at 22 months, but my 7 month old, she’s an angel. I wish this kind of baby on you. She’s usually happy, doesn’t cry unless she really needs something and laughs at my other 2 when they are upset and getting in trouble, which is probably my favorite thing to see. So be prepared to love another as much as you love Leta, but in a completely different way. It’s weird how that happens. Good luck!

  • joy

    my mother was a preschool teacher and would always say things like “please be quiet”, “use your inside voice”, “you need to turn the volume down”, etc.

    one day i so royally pissed her off b/c i would not stop screaming about something that after 10 min or so she shouted “SHUT UP!”. i was shocked into silence. a few seconds later, she blurted out “shut up means i love you”. 20 years later, she’s still telling me that…

  • It’s amazing how to beings created from the same genetic material, grown in the same womb, nursed by the same breasts and beaten by the same rod can turn into such fundamentally different people. And then I find myself doing all that labeling I swore I wouldn’t do. Like, “he’s the dramatic one/shy one/smart one/funny one”. I try not to do that out loud…

    BTW, it just occurred to me that in the coming years, when Jon begins to bemoan his estrogen addled existence, you’ll be able to tell him, absolutely truthfully, that it’s all his fault.

    That’s less fun in my house, where my husband is still strutting around with pride in the masculinity of his swimmers. I’m so outnumbered…

  • Shauna

    I am one of your many many fans but I lurk a lot. I’ve never commented until today. I just had to comment that I am SO excited that you’re having another baby. I hope it is going to be as incredible experience as I had when we had ours. It’s so incredible to me even today as they are 8 and 10 that two people can be created the exact same way, be born to the exact same parents, be raised the exact same way (mostly), even look so similar to each other and yet be so. utterly. different. It’s more than the difference that one is a boy and one is a girl. Even their tastes in foods are polar opposites. I realize after thinking about it that I’m only 19 months apart from my sister and you can say the exact same thing about us with one exception…we both had a crush on Andy Gibb.
    I look so forward to reading your posts about the wonderful adventures you have ahead! 🙂

  • You may be as lucky as my mother. My older sister, older by 5 years and 10 months, was a screamer and all around loud and inconsolable child [which she is in adulthood as well], where as I was what mom lovingly refers to as a text book baby, I cried ONLY when I was wet, hungry or tired, and even then it took me a while to even get there [she says she would’ve had lots of babies if they had been like me, and that makes me warm and fuzzy]. I was often so quiet my parents forgot I was even there.
    I wish you well in the adventure of second baby 🙂 [May she be a good baby like me, though my mother might argue about how wonderful I am after I weened myself)

  • Bobbie

    First off – congratulations on having another little girl!!!! This was such a spot on post. I hope that, as for a lot of my friends, your second bub is a lot more chilled. For me, I think the crucial thing was that we were a lot more chilled as parents which didn’t make the nights feel so bad.

  • Thanks, Heather, because I really needed to hear that. My husband and I are trying to have a baby but if we succeed we’ll be late-in-life parents, and he already has two teenagers and a 7-year-old. Not having had a child of my own before (babysitting for other people’s kids and even having step-kids is a lot different), I have all sorts of fears and mixed feelings about becoming a parent at 47 or 48, including dreading the sleep deprivation and having less patience with other people’s crap than I used to. By “crap” I mean like when his 7-year-old, whom I normally adore and who is VERY cuddly with me, whines and then cries hysterically because one of his computer games won’t work or the TV is out or he doesn’t want to eat broccoli because he had it the day before. I might expect the tantrums if he were younger but at 7 I guess I expected something different and these mood swings (I think he gets it from his mother who is sort of psychological train wreck) sometimes flip the “NO PATIENCE” switch in me because I’m all “It’s NOT the end of the world!” — but clearly to this little boy, in that moment, it IS the end of the world. I get that, but it still gets on my nerves so much that I start to understand why parents sometimes loose their cool with their kids.

    But you sharing your very helpful perspective about the darker side of parenting teaching you more about yourself, other people and life in general is really what I needed to hear right now. It gives me hope that even if we have a baby and it gets rough at times, it will be well worth it in the end. So thanks.

  • gita

    do you know, when you first announced that you were pregnant, i knew.. immediately, that it was a girl. and i tried leaving you a message to tell you to be prepared to give leta another sister. but being the tech genius that i am, i could not find your ‘post new comments’ page. except that now i have. and i am so so happy for you.

  • Beck

    It would appear that about 90% of second kids are easier going than the first one. I guess because they have to wait for the attention and they are cool with it, my almost 3 year old son is getting fiesty now but he has nothing on his almost 5 year old sister. He was a much easier baby but ironically a much worse sleeper…. go figure

  • Laura

    What a great post and how true most of it.

    I’m a mother of girl/boy twin and to say that life was one big adventure is underplaying it. It didn’t help that I divorced their father when they were 4 weeks old.

    Children show you why it’s important to keep fighting, never to lose hope and to enjoy it as it comes. Children hurt you like nothing else and make you love like nothing else.

    Make the most of having the one child. The dynamics after the birth will be mindblowing.

  • Lee

    I don’t have kids, but worked for years as a preschool teacher and this much I know: No one ever has kids whose personalities are exactly the same. It seems like everyone’s first child is their trial by fire, the one who makes them say,”What the fuck?”, and the second kid is the one that makes them say, “I was worried, why?”

    I’m always reminded of the movie “Parenthood” and Steve Martin gets told this little story by his grandmother about rollercoasters. You never know what’s around the corner. It could be scary. It could be fun. Who knows? Its really hard to enjoy NOW….Now is a wonderful place if you can learn to relax and live in it and enjoy it…Its taken me 46 yrs to learn that and I am still learning everyday…


  • Rachel

    Well said. I have one very active little boy (by active I mean, makes me want to pull my hair out!) and I feel the exact same way about parenting. It’s like after going through the torture of raising a child you end up coming out of it knowing yourself better. Amazing process. Unbearable at times, but amazing. I couldn’t have said it better. 🙂

  • Heather,

    When it comes to children, God is fair. I’ve mentioned it before, but my first child is Leta’s little twin. My friends call her “Birth Control”. At 3.5, she’s the key that has unlocked the motherhood gene inside me (because My God, the work). We worked so hard to psych ourselves up for the 2nd daughter (surprise! you’re pregnant with Hell Child at home!), knowing we’d probably die in the process.

    And therein lies our blessing: Miss Kelly is so easy we joke she doesn’t even need parents. The sheer joy of this child’s daily mood has caused me to revoke every time I’ve screamed at the cover of People Magazine Covers, “Happy Mommy Celebrities”:”LIARS! THIS WAS A HORRIBLE DECISION! ADMIT IT…YOU ARE DYING INSIDE!”

    And something about being a big sister to a little ball of chub brought out the very best in Sara. Different as night and day, but most importantly, SISTERS.

    Two daughters are the BEST…my best wishes,


  • Anonymous

    Thanks for those last two paragraphs. I am a new stepmom and finding that the experience is challenging me in the same ways. Except that you can articulate it, and up till now I just felt like my head was about to pop off.

  • I agree with 161 about the 2nd one seeming easier (even if they aren’t)… probably because you aren’t quiet as neurotic as the first time around. Our baby boy seems much more content to be put off for a few minutes, and I just don’t have the time to fret over eating/sleeping “schedules” and whether or not they’ve been in the same outfit for 3 days… whereas our daughter got a bath each day and an several wardrobe changes per hour thanks to her incessant spitting up… and I’d jump to her command the moment she would start to fuss.

    Our boy, I’m sure, will give us a few surprises soon enough… but my whole attitude is so different now, I feel much more prepared to take them in stride. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find your experience similar. Before our 2nd was born, I really worried about how much work it would all be. It seems much easier than I expected. And I don’t necessarily have “easy” babies. I’m just better at this mom stuff now.

    Wishing you the best.

  • Thanks a lot Heather. It’s way too early in the morning to by crying like a baby.

    Very well said (of course!).

  • my second child was a DREAM BABY compared to the first- DREAM BABY. Now she’s the one I’m fairly certain I will be bailing out of jail at some point. When I was expecting my 3rd I thought, dear god let him be easier then 2 when he’s older.. he’s proving to be just like her. I look at 4 now and think, dear god, take mercy on me.

  • Dammit Sami

    I love what you said about being a parent, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but think about couples who want children, but can’t have them. I certainly do NOT mean this as criticism of your sentiment, which has been so resoundingly echoed in the comments and seems to have really struck a chord with a lot of your readers. But there is more than one secret club, and a whole world of experience between “choosing to have children” and “choosing not to have children.” I’m afraid I may find myself in the club no one wants to talk about.

  • My Stephen is a climber, a runner, and an all around maniac, but he doesn’t even know that light sockets exist, so maybe you’ll get lucky! Better to have them hanging from the chandelier than sticking a spoon in the socket, I always say.

  • Anonymous

    Not that this relates to your story one iota, but did you know you are mentioned in this month’s Playboy?

    So, does Jon get to walk around and say, “My wife is in Playboy”? 😀

  • maeby

    I think its gonna be like that time Stewie met his brother on family guy, inside of peter.
    aurora (rory?) and leta are gonna form an alliance! You’re going down armstrong!

  • The niffer

    Oooo! I just got shivers.

    I’m right there with ya. Having a kid has opened my mind more than any drug ever could.

  • I’m in my early 20s, still in the stage where figuring out how to make rent and nurse hangovers are my biggest problems. Working at a marriage or at raising a kid seem like challenges of the future for me, very far off. I have often thought about how your blog gives me insight into things I’m not supposed to know about yet, as if I’m getting glimpses of things that are profoundly human, but that I wouldn’t reflect on until I’m actually at a stage where I would have to work through them. It feels a little like cheating.

  • Brad

    When my dad died, my mom raised my sister and I alone from the time I was 1 year old. I always respected our unique situation and in time I understood what it meant to be the “man” of the house. However, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I realized my mother was a Saint. I have no idea how she did it, but I would suspect there was a lot of crying involved when we weren’t looking.

  • Heather, you would be SURPRISED. I love my first nephew, cutest & best thing ever, and he is now a wonderful, adorable toddler… but he had really bad colic as a baby and that incessant crying??? –my sister knew it all too well.

    When her second son was born, she had anticipated much of the same… but it was totally different. We now call the 2nd Buddha baby, because he is so calm, relaxed and easy going.

    All this to say: You never know what you might reel in from the genetic pool!

  • Ivy

    Thank you. So beautifully put. I needed this today.

  • Anonymous

    Can you avoid the triggers that make her so overtired.

    You’re smarter, wiser # 2 will be different because the two of you are different.

  • I am only 8 weeks along with our first but I have to say, I’m not looking forward to the screaming crying baby part. It’s just a necessary evil on the way to the walking-talking kid part which I am totally psyched about.

    I wonder if I will start to understand my mother? That sounds… I don’t know, impossible. Maybe though, maybe.

  • i think these girls are lucky to have a mama who is so intent on being a good mama. i think being willing to gain insight, and change, and grow from hard circumstances is too rare. i think the way you so honestly talk about your life and how realistic you are about the shitty stuff and the beautiful stuff is helping lots of people, including me and you. so thanks.

  • Anonymous

    How do you spin the sentences like that?? If I had tried for years I couldn’t have articulated those feelings in words. You truly have a gift.

    My nightmare baby is now 14 and is a dream. She is smart, sweet and easy! Even as a teen she is easy now… surely I must have paid the price when she was a baby.

    On the other hand… my second was a dream baby… and is now a 9 year old going on 21 smart mouth that tries my patience every single day.

  • YEA! This makes me so excited to make babies! Actually, the making the babies part isn’t so bad, but I am a little nervous about what follows. It is encouraging though, to hear about the light of understanding at the end of the tantrum tunnel.

  • katie

    Just wanted to say I’m a fan who hasn’t commented much, but have especially been enjoying your posts lately. I am also due June 14, and expecting a girl! She will be my first, so I’m learning from your lessons, but also empathizing on the not-so-perky sides of pregnancy.

  • Anonymous

    I really, really enjoy your writing.

    On the surface, we probably don’t have much in common. (For example: I’m 100% East Coast, a few years older, living in sin in the city, with no plans to start my own family). Reading your thoughts is one part of my day that makes me smile and feel good.


  • Deb

    Second time around it is so much easier because you have already absorbed the mindblowing responsibility of being a mother and all the practicalities are second nature. This means the only things you have to consider are the logistics of having a pre-schooler and new baby together, and the nature of the baby. It will be fine! I found it so hard with my first, so easy second time.

  • Briana

    Usually moms talking about their children makes me want to scream, run and never have any of my own. That’s why I was so shocked when I first checked out your site. You make me want kids!

  • becky

    beautiful post! we were married along time before we had a kid (not by choice, but there you are). and while I was pregnant, as badly as I knew we wanted the baby, I was really terrified about how it would change our lives. Turns out, our son is the best thing we ever did. You are so right about everything you learn about yourself and life when you have a child. I feel like the world is in *color* now! I was 37 when my son was born, had poured 15 years into a career and was doing pretty well. But it was like I hadn’t actually started living until he was born. Strange, but true. Yeah, he can definitely be a pain in the ass at times at 3, but most of the time he blows our minds.

    congrats on the pregnancy, and I hope the 1-screamer-per-household rule holds for you too!

  • Only 20 more weeks and you can have a big-girl drink.

  • Paula

    I found out I was pregnant when my twins were a year old. I had been so busy with them that I was already 10 weeks when I realized it. Talk about panic!

    Nonetheless, Ryan turned out to be the best baby. He slept 20 hours per day for the first 2 weeks and only got up once per night. Plus he was only one. I figured it was divine intervention for the burden of having twins.

    Of course, once he reached the terrible twos he was the kid who bit other kids, the kid who could not resist spilling any liquid, the kid who could not go to sleep without one of us being in his room and the kid who took forever to be potty trained. He’s the reason I know that a toddler covered in Comet is not cause for an emergency room visit, that the big blue stain on our carpet is from spilling a complete bottle of Windex, that taking a shit on the floor during dinner does not phase me, that an entire gallon of milk pulled from the counter in the kitchen is a bitch to clean up and that having a serious teacher’s conference with his kindergarten teacher because he broke the plastic cabbage made me realize that it’s OK to not take things very seriously when you have a house full of chaos.

    Congratulations and good luck.

  • Tricia

    I’ve been a reader for a long time, and even sent a few notes to you along the way. I have a 6 yr old & a 11 yr old, I’m 42 and we just discovered, after giving away ALL the baby stuff finally, that we are expecting again. My husband and kids are thrilled…and I’m terrified. I thought all that stuff was in the past, and I just finally began to forget anything negative from those day…and now I face them again. Please don’t misunderstand me..I love being a mother, and I have had a blast with my kids the entire way, but we had a lot of the same momments with ours that you have had with Leta, and there were times that I wanted to jump from a moving car onto a busy highway. This post makes me happy about everything completely now….it’s a wondeful club that I wish anyone that wants to be a part of can be! Thanks for the positive refresher!

    Hugs ~ Tricia

  • When you have a child your life will forever change. If not…thing you should never have a child.

  • I wonder if the baby will make Leta regress at all and have more tantrums (being like baby), or if she will leap headfirst into being Mommy/Daddy’s Little Helper and suddenly seem years older than her age? Probably both, depending on the time of day! I think seeing her in the role of big sister is going to be so neat (exhausting, but also neat) for both of you, and for us who see those pieces of your life that you choose to share. I can’t wait to hear how this baby shapes her life, and yours. Cheers.

  • Chances are the new baby will have a totally different temperament than Leta. My son has a very “challenging” temperament while my daughter leans more to the normal side.

    Knowing that our brains would explode from the stress, God wouldn’t give anyone two challenging/spirited children.

  • Kate

    Thank you for sharing this. It takes the edge off my terror induced by thoughts of raising children. We’re trying for kids now, so this level of fear has increased exponentially!

    Your kidS are very lucky to have a mama like you 🙂

  • Oh man – a bean touching cheese? The apocolypse is nigh. 😉

  • Anonymous

    You have arrived at Galt’s Gulch.

  • carpot

    Beautifully said, Heather.

  • Like others have said, my first and second are so different. (I have three boys.)

    Just yesterday I had to threaten a beating with my oldest’s tantrum and he’s 14. He has always needed constant neverending vigilant untiring supervision. The terrible twos never ended with him. Gah, four more years.

    The second is 9. He’s so sweet natured and thinks these deep little thoughts. Because of this it’s easy to forget he’s there sometimes and he gets shorted in the parenting department. His naturally sweet behavior pisses off my 14 year old.

    The third is 3. He’s a BOY and there is spiderman and spiderman and spiderman and spiderman. And Screaming. Screaming about spiderman and not getting copious amounts of sugar in his diet. I’m threatening making the 14 year old share a room with him.

    Human behavior? I’ll reserve my judgement on it until the three year old gets into school and I can poop by myself. Or maybe when they all move out and I don’t have to wash their sheets anymore.

  • It has been my experience that siblings are pretty much always total opposites of one another. I find it fascinating… they come from the same DNA, are raised in the same household, but they are always completely different from one another. Anyway, after what you’ve been through with Leta, I have a feeling the next one is going to be a piece of cake. It’s like training with Mike Tyson to fight Woody Allen. No matter what happens, you’ve probably already gotten through much worse!

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