the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Featured community question with accompanying fear of Gorbachev

Today’s featured question comes from user tam4797:

Well, definitely this one. I can’t sit with my legs dangling over the side of the bed because surely there is a demon underneath who is going to grab me and drag me to some horrible dark place. Like Chuckarama. Or Reno.

Oh no. I’ve upset Reno. Listen, Reno, I’m sure you’re lovely. Or maybe you could be if you started whitening your teeth and cutting back on the chocolate gravy.

Most of the fears that have carried over from childhood are more anxieties than they are actual fears. Like, I still can’t leave water running unnecessarily when brushing my teeth or washing dishes. This is good for the environment, yes, but that’s secondary to why I have to turn the faucet off. What if America runs out of water AND IT’S ALL MY FAULT. Then the communists will take over, and we’ll all have to learn Russian.

That thought actually takes up room in my brain. That and the fact that I can tell you the name of almost every child born to a celebrity in the last five years. Shiloh, Honor, Seraphina, Levi—dammit, I want that space back!

It’s no surprise that Leta is as anxious as I was as a kid, but sometimes her fixations are so maddening that I have had to pull the car over and regain my composure. Because the fixations always seem to explode when we’re driving somewhere, and I’m concentrating on a traffic light while she’s in the back seat screaming PROMISE ME I DON’T HAVE TO GO TO BYU!

Ok. Back up a second. Don’t for a second think that I have put any boogeymen in her head over BYU, although I TOTALLY COULD. When she grows up she can go to whatever college she wants to go to, but before she chooses I will chime in and say that at BYU they take your brain out and replace it with jello.

Here’s what happened: my niece Mariah who helps take care of Marlo — she who is such an enormous fan of BYU that she won’t even drink out of a container that is the color of their rival — she told Leta that at BYU you don’t get a spring break. And this is true. Spring break is for letting loose and enjoying life, something the BYU honor code strictly forbids.

So Leta gets it into her head that if she grows up and goes to BYU, she won’t get a spring break ever, not ever, and she will go to her grave having never had a spring break. Ever. She says all of this to me one morning on the drive to school. Out of nowhere. There. In the back seat. Worried that when she dies she will have no memories of waking up with a hangover in the bathroom of an iHop in Daytona.

“Leta, ” I say. “You don’t have to go to BYU. Most other colleges have spring break.”

“BUT WHAT IF I HAVE TO GO TO BYU!” she screams back, on the verge of tears at this point. I would be, too.

“You don’t!” I yell as positively and gleefully as I can. “Hopefully, you can get into Harvard! I bet Harvard has a spring break!”

She sits back a little more reassured then asks, “Does Harvard have a playground?”

“OOOOH YES!” I say. “The best playground ever! In fact, it has many, many playgrounds.” Of course, I’m referring to restaurants and pubs in the greater Cambridge area. And I bet there are plenty of slides and monkey bars nearby in case she remembers this exact conversation, gets into Harvard, and realizes OMG SHE WAS LYING.

Twenty minutes later as I’m kissing her goodbye for the day, she pulls my head down so that she can whisper something no one else can hear. “So I don’t have to go to BYU?”

I tell her no, of course not, and as I walk out the door I mumble, “And the communists are not going to win, either.”

  • SuzRocks

    2010/04/14 at 4:03 pm

    I’m not going to be able to explain this well, and probably come off as a nut job- which I may or may not be. Anywho- I’m afraid of black pokey string things. Like if there was a bunch of black thread poking up like a little bed of black grass, but on my sock or item of clothing- I still will shudder and not want to touch it.

    I think it stems from when I had a wart on my hand as a kid and there were little black pokey things poking up.

    Weird, I know…..

  • sandi

    2010/04/14 at 4:15 pm

    I have a Leta, (and a Heather for that matter.) his name is Hunter and he is fifteen and I am so sorry to tell you that IT DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER! BUT Zoloft helps. He started it at three. Just a thought to keep in your mind, that when she stops functioning in society, those fabulous meds are availibe to children too.

  • Serephin

    2010/04/14 at 4:16 pm

    “before she chooses I will chime in and say that at BYU they take your brain out and replace it with jello.”

    Green jello, with shredded carrots. At least, that how I heard it.

    ps — the captcha is “in henchman”. Heh.

  • Phoebe Fay

    2010/04/14 at 4:32 pm

    I have always been afraid of spiders. However, at age 6, my much-adored grandmother told me it was bad luck to kill spiders. So, to this day, I have an intense fear of spiders coexisting with an even greater fear of accidentally killing a spider.

    I am a master at the art of catching a spider under a glass, and it still terrifies me every time.

  • Minnow

    2010/04/14 at 4:40 pm

    I used to regret all the brain space devoted to Seraphina, Shiloh, Charlie Tamara Tulip and their ilk. But then someone started paying me to blog about them. WIN.

    Now, if I can just find someone to pay me for things I know about Top Chef.

  • sbares

    2010/04/14 at 4:41 pm

    I don’t like going to the bathroom in the dark. I rarely have to get up in the middle of the night to pee, but if it happens, even though I know it’ll hurt my eyes & wake me all the way up, I turn on the damn light. Why? B/c I have an irrational fear of something being in the toilet when I sit down. By something, I mean like a snake or a rat. It’s always snakes & rats. And if I attempt to pee in a dark bathroom, I will freak out & my chest will get all tight b/c I will inevitably think about getting bit in the ass by a snake or a rat. *shudders*

  • Rachel and her Brasileiros

    2010/04/14 at 4:49 pm

    just to set the record straight, BYU is a PRIVATE SCHOOL and therefore has a different schedule than state schools. THAT is why they don’t have spring break. It has nothing to do with their honor code.

  • rollergirl

    2010/04/14 at 4:54 pm

    fwiw: they just built a *seriously* kickass playground right near the harvard campus. of course, who knows what state it will be in 13 or so years from now, but at least you can rest assured that you are not, in fact, lying RIGHT NOW 😉

  • ElizabethG

    2010/04/14 at 4:57 pm

    In response to Rachel, I went to a PRIVATE SCHOOL, which was also religiously backed, and we had spring break.

    And I thought I was the only person who had heard of chocolate gravy. That must be a south thing. No one here in my new home state of Colorado have ever heard of such a thing.

  • misheru

    2010/04/14 at 5:00 pm

    I have an irrational fear of mirrors in the dark, ever since I was a kid and I heard that story about reciting “Bloody Mary” 13 times in front of a mirror and calling up the spirit of Bloody Mary. I know in my head that the only Bloody Mary I really need to fear is the type served up too many times during a girls’ night out, but I still try not to look at mirrors if I am up at night.

    Oh, and in a bizarre twist, we bought mirrored closet doors for our bedroom, which seemed like a great idea to me until I realized I could see them all night. I drove my husband crazy making sure the door on my side was slid over so I couldn’t see the mirror.

    Did I mention the Zoloft?

  • sophronia

    2010/04/14 at 5:01 pm

    My son is almost exactly Leta’s age and is currently obsessing about his wedding day, brought on by a viewing of Monsters vs. Aliens. What if he gets hit by a meteor on his wedding day and ends up 50 feet tall? What’s our plan for this situation? We must have a plan, now!

    I personally plan to wait until he’s an adult who refuses to commit to a life partner, and then sue Pixar for millions.

  • The Fabulous Mrs. Chevy

    2010/04/14 at 5:14 pm

    Rachel – are you familiar with Heather’s writing/ranting? If so I am surprised that you seem to have taken offense to her one-of-plenty BYU comments. I wouldn’t take it personally. Heather is opinionated, but respectful. Besides, I also went to a private, religiously-backed college and we also had spring break. Every year even!

    Sophronia – hahaha! I’m sure you could find other parents and give your suit class action status.

    I have a fear of stepping onto a floor while the room is dark, like if I go into the bathroom at night or the kitchen in early morning, I have to turn the light on before I can step into the room and onto the floor. Like I am going to accidentally step on a mouse or a pit of snakes. I do not look forward to when my mother’s prophecy comes true and I have a child who is JUST LIKE ME.

  • kakoivisto

    2010/04/14 at 5:21 pm

    Leta’s meltdown is reminiscent of a story my mom tells about me when I was 5 or 6. Allegedly, I used to wake up in the middle of the night crying uncontrollably about how I had NO! CLUE! how I was going to get a vacuum in college. At 25, the crazy has (moderately) subsided. And I own two vacuums.

  • Vander

    2010/04/14 at 5:29 pm

    This is reason #356 why we aren’t having kids. They don’t need to inevitably have my allergies, my husband’s spider phobia, or my delusions that we bought a dog that will never die on us.

  • proudmary

    2010/04/14 at 5:29 pm

    I still can’t look at a mirror in the dark…still sure I’m going to see BLOODY MARY.

  • sandi

    2010/04/14 at 5:36 pm

    Forget bloody mary, I am terrified of the chic from The WATCHER IN THE WOODS! Remember how the mirror would crack and her face would appear?


  • LuvsDieter

    2010/04/14 at 5:44 pm

    Courtesy of a viewing of “Lost Boys” when I was about 5, I REFUSE to open the curtains or look out my windows at night because I’m convinced a vampire Cory will be floating outside. Growing up in my parents house, trying to get a drink of water in the middle of the night was awful because I had to walk past at least 10 windows with plantation shutters (you know, the wooden blinds with wide slats?) instead of curtains. Always looked straight down, got my water and went straight back upstairs.

    I wasn’t a particularly anxious kid, but this one has stuck with me until now…and I’m 26!

  • Mania

    2010/04/14 at 5:44 pm

    hee hee, me too @proudmary. Blasted Bloody Mary. I’m paranoid about the guy in my backseat, who will slit my throat. And the guy hiding under my car, who will slash my Achilles’ tendons, natch. It’s very hard to be me.

  • allie27232

    2010/04/14 at 5:59 pm

    I think Rachel was merely saying its not because of the honor code. I went to Ricks and we had a spring break… I believe even as BYU-I they still have a spring break. When I asked one of my counselors why there was no spring break they said so that the BYU students could have access to the summer jobs first… don’t know if that was her reason or the real reason but it seemed cool to me….

    But I have too many illogical fears to list. My main one is looking out the window in the night thinking I will see someone watching me… stems from a stalker… fun right… oh or walking down or up stairs that have spaces between them… That was really fun at our last apartment….

  • cmb

    2010/04/14 at 6:24 pm

    Ah, but you could also have a complex like I did about not doing anything right and not getting into Harvard…at age eight…when it took me longer than ten minutes to learn my times-tables.

    Nearly all of my anxiety rotates around irrational perfectionism like this. “WHAT IF I DO THE WRONG STATISTICAL TEST AND SOMEONE CORRECTS ME?” is my mantra lately. Which is awesome, when it helps get you into Harvard, and less awesome, when it means I’m running my statistics for the fifth time.

  • freckleface

    2010/04/14 at 6:34 pm

    Be honest though… the first time she said that one of your most cherished parenting dreams came true.

  • anya

    2010/04/14 at 6:40 pm

    In reply to just one part of the posting, I have to say that as a person born in Moscow RUSSIA in the pre-Gorbachev era, and having been raised there until the fall of the Soviet Union, I’ve never had that fear of the “Capitalists taking over”. It’s weird! I guess we weren’t taught to be afraid of “you guys”. Hate, maybe. But not fear. I think the emphasis was on the Motherland propaganda, i.e. memorizing Lenin’s childhood’s stories, his siblings names (if memory serves me right: Anna, Sasha, Vladimir, Olga, Dmitry and Maria – and that’s without the Wikipedia!) and the history of the Soviet Union. We were kind of ignoring the West. Sorry to hear you were obsessing over us.
    Having lived in the West most of my life now, I can honestly say there’s plenty to fear about Russia now though. So maybe you were taught right after all.

  • Edwin Allen

    2010/04/14 at 6:52 pm

    Just so you know. The brain doesn’t run out of room. Maybe if information processing weren’t so slow (you have to read or think or experience out the informational event), or the human life span weren’t so short. But even in the most longevitical life you wouldn’t have enough time to fill the infomational capacity and memorial capacity of the average human brain.

    Course, it all hast to be linked. You’ve got to have the nodes attached so that you can recall. It’s essentially all potentially there. Every event, sight, experience in our lives is written in the body in the traces of neurological events. That all add up to who we are. Somehow.

    Yah, there are a whole boat load of open grassy areas around Harvard, and there’s all kinds of shops and boutiques and sometimes pretty good street performers, and the pit where it’s best not to go at night per se. Not really but, it can be a sketchy place. Or cool if you’re looking for sketchy. You know. You never know what people are into.

    Still Harvard yard is lovely, and the water fountains over by the Radcliff side. And Sanders theatre is beautiful, over and behind some buildings behind the fountain. There’s all kinds of green space. Not a playground in the sense of a place with all kinds of toys and whatnot, but, of course, everywhere should be a playground. Am I right? This shouldn’t be something just for kids. We should all have playgrounds.

    zzzzzzokay then, I think it’s time for captain bravo to sign off.
    Bravo out

  • reymiland

    2010/04/14 at 7:02 pm

    Oh Heather, you are SO going to deserve the daughters you are going to end up with!

  • emtims

    2010/04/14 at 7:03 pm

    I totally have anxieties like that! I’m glad I’m not alone.

    On an unrelated note, Reno does suck.

  • NolaEbola

    2010/04/14 at 7:04 pm

    Hey hey hey now! Chocolate gravy and yellowed teeth are only one small part of my city. We also have gas guzzlers, xenophobia and poor schools to boot! Get it right, Heather!
    Your Devoted Renoite Reader With All Her Teeth(for now)
    P.S. I’m scared of Mormons

  • btwrn

    2010/04/14 at 7:17 pm

    I think BYU doesn’t have a spring break because then they get out earlier. Which is awesome because when all your friends around the country are in the middle of writing their final essays and studying for their exams, you’re already a week into your summer. 🙂

    I have an unfounded and persistent fear of doing math in public. So what if I’m a nurse and have to do math every day on the job? You bring out Monopoly and all bets are off. It’s pathetic. I’ll roll the dice and my ears start burning and I start freaking out – what if I forget how to add 5 and 3? That’s 8, right? No? 9?

    P.S. NolaEbola, we’re not that scary. 😉

  • adi82

    2010/04/14 at 7:28 pm

    You know you live in a house surrounded by Apple products when you spell IHOP as “iHop” 😉 Hehe. I love it!

  • hanniy

    2010/04/14 at 7:31 pm

    Oh…Heather…I LOVE your blog!!! Makes me think about so many things I wouldn’t think about otherwise…

    Until I was about seven years old, I lived on a small island in the Great Lakes. I had free reign of the place, so my mom kept me out of certain places with wicked witch stories. “Make sure you don’t go out on the dock by yourself – the wicked witch of the water lives there, and she likes to eat little girls. If you go out there, she’ll grab you and eat you!” or “Stay out of the woods – the wicked witch of the North lives in there…and she LOVES to scare little girls. If you wander in there by yourself, she’ll scare you so much that you’ll never want to go into the woods again…” and on and on.

    Amazing that I’ve really never had nightmares and I really have no irrational fears now, isn’t it? Although, I hate heights, but that is SO rational…

  • knscottie

    2010/04/14 at 7:37 pm

    i think someone already said it, but they just built a new playground a block from harvard yard which is by far the most awesome playground my kids have ever been to (and they’ve been to a lot of playgrounds). and they do have spring break!

  • Daddy Scratches

    2010/04/14 at 7:56 pm

    Knowing that I’m not the only one passing my neuroses onto my first-born makes me feel a little better. Thank you for that.

  • Emry

    2010/04/14 at 8:08 pm

    …and I know the parents of each celebrity child you named. I want that brain space back, too.

  • djgonzales

    2010/04/14 at 9:29 pm

    SuzRocks is totally right about black thread things! This will add to the phobia… As in, don’t tug on that you don’t know what it’s attached to!

    Past roommate sitting on the couch says, “look at this.” There’s a black piece of thread coming out of her scar in her upper chest. She tugs on it and more of it comes out. STOP THAT! You don’t know what that’s attached to! We both cry (me and the other roommates).

    She went to the doctor and apparently he wasn’t concerned because he just pulled on it and a really long thread of surgical sutures came out…

    If that had been me, I’d have changed doctors after decking him.

    (Oh, she had Non-hotchkins and had a medpump “installed” in her chest, that’s what the scar was all about.)

  • lisdom

    2010/04/14 at 9:59 pm

    I didn’t have many weird issues as a child (though maybe my mom would disagree) but I have plenty as an adult. I got this book called “Too Loud, Too Tight, Too Fast, Too Bright” or something like that, which is all about sensory defensiveness. Anyway, I could name all the weird phobias I have that stem for me not wanting to deal with getting sensory overload.

    Leta might have her quirks, but that girl is dang smart. I mean, she’s got some pretty abstract thoughts for a six-year-old. And those glasses??? You’re killin’ me. Kids with glasses are the cutest.

  • dema

    2010/04/14 at 10:00 pm

    To relieve Leta’s stress and give her a little encouragement, Harvard does indeed have a spring break, and it has in my experience been riotous and distinctly non-Ivy-League in its wildness. (On second thought, you might want her to go to BYU after all ;).)

    Also, there are excellent playgrounds nearby – complete with the really good kind of swings, and the special playground rubber that keeps you from getting hurt when you jump off the swings.

    (There’s also an excellent Psych department, filled with undergrads who secretly think they’re crazy, but are actually pretty normal – and lots of fun to hang out with. Tell her to look us up in 12 years!)

  • poochiepoohpooh

    2010/04/15 at 2:41 am

    Hi, I love your blog. It reminds me of the worst fears I had when I was younger. Just the typical kinds of fears: spiders, heights, ghosts, you know. They scare the hell out of me. But the scariest would probably be deep waters. I really don’t wanna be near them, or even lay eyes on them. But look where I am now, I’m managing a swimming pool resort and I’m loving it. What I mean is, everyone will soon getover with his fears. Stay brave 🙂

  • vv

    2010/04/15 at 2:38 am

    I go to university in Russia, and we don’t get spring break either.

  • mom interrupted

    2010/04/15 at 5:52 am

    You know, Leta might be on to something. Harvard & BYU might NEED a real, honest to goodness playground. Come to think of it, maybe all adults could use a trip to the playground. I kind of miss my kids being playground age so I have an excuse to slide and swing without looking like a mental patient. We might be less stressed after 30 minutes at the park with your BFF on the swings. Just like our kids. I’m just saying. . .

  • stacey_eight

    2010/04/15 at 6:50 am

    Did anyone ever read Stephen King’s short story “The Boogeyman”? I read it in middle school and haven’t been able to sleep with an open closet door since.

  • Gagirl4604

    2010/04/15 at 7:23 am

    Whenever you right about Mariah, I picture Tina Majorino’s character in Big Love.

  • TexasKatie

    2010/04/15 at 8:02 am

    I was exactly the same way as a kid – and as an adult (hence being on anxiety meds since I was a teenager) – when it comes to anxiety. I used to make my mom kiss every single one of my stuffed animals before bedtime – not only because I loved my stuffed animals and didn’t want anyone to feel left out – but because I was scared if she didn’t then one of the stuffed animals might come to life and smother me in my sleep, or something. Especially my mon-chi-chi doll. He was a little freaky. I had a very overactive imagination.

    Oh, and then there was the irrational fear of drains, which I still have remnants of to this day. My sister once told me I could get sucked down the drain so I think that started it.

    And college… oh wow. Yeah. I remember worrying when I wasn’t even out of elementary school yet whether or not I would pass the SAT’s and get accepted into a university.

  • Alexandra

    2010/04/15 at 8:30 am


    and even more coincidental – I saw Jennifer Garner AND SERAPHINA AND VIOLET at one of them.

  • lucesco

    2010/04/15 at 9:11 am

    When I was a kid I freaked out and cried because I thought when I was an old lady I would still have my long hair and no one would like me because I would look like a witch. I could not comprehend that I could get a cute little blue curly cotton top one day..

  • Schnauzie_Mom

    2010/04/15 at 9:34 am

    How did you know exactly what happened on my spring break in Daytona? Apparently everyone has this same experience there. Never let her go to Daytona for Spring Break. Or if she does, bleach all of her clothes when she comes home and ask no questions:-)

  • odonata9

    2010/04/15 at 10:42 am

    oh my goodness – i am not alone! i CANNOT have my hands or feet dangling over the bed because there are gremlins (not quite like from the movie but close) that are going to get them. my boyfriend makes fun of me almost every night and tries to get me to “dangle a foot”. i mean, it’s like you’re just asking for it! anyway, i am very happy to hear i’m not the only one.

  • d3 voiceworks

    2010/04/15 at 10:52 am

    i have a perfectly rational fear of more comments made by the jello and shredded carrots-addled peeps.

  • shangyle

    2010/04/15 at 11:14 am

    Ever since I became a mom last year I have been laying in bed at night cataloging all the heavy objects I can get to for use as a bludgeon when the inevitable crazy man breaks into our house and tries to kill the baby/me/my husband. I think the wrought iron lamp next to my bed will be the winner, but then there’s the problem of the cord, and maybe if I just wrap it around a bit and then… ACK!!!

    My area of Salt Lake isn’t exactly riddled with psychos breaking into houses and killing people, but still, it could happen!!

  • JWysok

    2010/04/15 at 11:40 am

    Ha! I have the same “something under the bed will get me” fear. Being 43, this makes me juuuust slightly ashamed and embarrassed. But, at least I’m not alone.

    (I’m also convinced that squirrels will jump out of trees onto my head as I pass by them. THIS particular fear is entirely rational–squirrels are out to get us all.)

  • Jayceekay

    2010/04/15 at 11:53 am

    iHop !!!?! PIMPLMAO!! 21st century!

  • Tam4797

    2010/04/15 at 12:15 pm

    So did you also get my irrational fear of sitting on toilets too long Heather? What sucks is that this is combined with my troubles with ongoing constipation…no quick trips for me… Sigh…

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