the smell of my desperation has become a stench

For my girls

The American Cancer Society, a sometimes sponsor of this website, recently asked if I’d bring attention to a campaign they are running called More Birthdays which is basically what it sounds like: doing what we can (finding cures, eating healthier, etc.) in an effort to live longer, to see more birthdays. And since today is Leta’s birthday, I thought I’d share with you some conversations I’ve had with myself (not with the voices in my head, no, not yet) about getting older and what it means as a parent.

I know that in ten years I’m going to want to smack myself for saying this, but I cannot believe I’m thirty-five years old. That number is outrageous to me because the last ten years seem to have passed in a blinding flash. I still feel like I’m in my early twenties and am only reminded that I’m not when I see what people in their early twenties are wearing.

Like, ew. Or, please pull up your damn pants.

But then there are also the physical reminders: wrinkles around my eyes, the time it takes to recover from a hangover, how many times I throw my back out in a year (see the four trips I’ve taken to the chiropractor in the last month).

And, of course, the skin cancer. Here is my yearly reminder to you to wear sunscreen. No, really. Go put some on. Now.

A year ago after I stopped breastfeeding Marlo I dedicated myself to an exercise regimen and changed the way I was eating. I cut out almost all processed food and started spending most of my time when at the grocery store in the produce section. I signed up with a trainer and scheduled workouts for five days a week. The change in my body and mind, especially given the stress of the last year, has made it effortless to stick to this new way of life.

And that’s what it is: a new way of life.

I’m not getting any younger. The metabolism of my youth that had my peers calling me Skeletor and Bones Brigade has slowed noticeably. So, yes, part of this is motivated by vanity, but more importantly, I decided that I wanted my kids to see me living to my fullest (while at the same time not repeating a lot of what comes out of my mouth when I’m frustrated, STILL WORKING ON THAT PART).

Leta has already started asking why I go to the gym so much.

“Because it makes me feel good.”

“Because it makes me stronger.”

“Because you and your sister aren’t getting any lighter, and I rather enjoy giving you those piggy-back rides to bed.”

She’s watching and taking in everything we do now (which means I can’t watch political news shows when she’s in the room because of my involuntary outbursts). She’s whip smart, and we are now at that parenting stage where we have to exercise our better selves so that she can develop her better self.

You always hope your kid is going to take the manners and ideals you’ve tried to teach her and use them when you’re not watching, and recently we learned that Leta stuck up for a kid in her class when he was being taunted by an older boy. I don’t know if I’ve experienced a prouder moment as a parent, and I wasn’t even there. Maybe that’s why.

In the same way I hope she learns to love exercise, to love good food. I hope she sees how her father and I try to work through our problems productively, and that going to therapy isn’t a sign of weakness but of a willingness to live a better life. I hope she wakes up every morning when I’m not there and puts on a moisturizer with an SPF of at least 15.

And I hope I’m healthy enough to be there so that she can call and tell me about it.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2011/02/03 at 11:45 am

    Amen to everything you wrote. Well said.
    (I just turned 41, whippersnapper. You wanna talk about physical reminders of aging? Let’s do it … right after I go groom my EAR HAIR.)

  • cselkins

    2011/02/03 at 11:48 am

    I have never commented before on a post (new to the dooce community!),but just wanted to say I loved this particular one. It is obvious that you love your girls and husband and want to be a part of all that their future holds! Thank you for sharing your sincerity and honesty.

  • e11even

    2011/02/03 at 11:50 am

    I hope that for you all too. Your kids are adorable – I laughed out loud at Marlo’s “just woke up” shot the other day. You should be real proud. Happy Birthday Leta!

  • AlisonB

    2011/02/03 at 11:51 am

    I love this post. Well said, indeed.

  • arishell

    2011/02/03 at 12:02 pm

    Raising a girl to have a good self image is difficult. Trying to make healthy choices when you would really rather eat oreos is hard, too! I admire that you are working so hard at it, and it really is a process everyday.

    I hit 48 this year and just plucked my first under-the -chin hair. Ew! I still think I am in my late 20s, until I glimpse the gray hair in the mirror.

    Happy birthday, Leta!

  • Jeca51601

    2011/02/03 at 12:03 pm

    Dam it, Heather, you always make me cry…
    Happy Birthday, sweet one…

  • TriMomRemade

    2011/02/03 at 12:03 pm

    This is exactly the conversations I have had with my kids. We are an athletic household by choice. It is our life. I hope it becomes their “normal” as they grow up.

  • boilermomof4

    2011/02/03 at 12:12 pm

    I could have written this post, except for the part where you were called Skeletor. Yeah, no. I ballooned up to 245 lbs (I’m 5’3″, so not good) over 17 years and decided just before my 40th birthday that enough was enough. Taking charge of my eating and exercise has been the greatest blessing of my “advanced” years. Almost 2 years and 85 pounds later, my kids have learned to like whole wheat pasta and understand that my time at Zumba and resistance training will allow me to one day meet their children. Discussing calorie content with my 7 year old son is really pretty cool – I think it’s awesome that he wants to know what he’s eating.

    Happy birthday wishes to sweet Leta!

  • mmj100179

    2011/02/03 at 12:15 pm

    Happy birthday Leta and to my baby girl who turns 6 today!

  • Alison R.

    2011/02/03 at 12:15 pm

    Wow I know no other mother who can work out 5 times a week AND commit to an almost 100% healthy diet. That’s a pretty high bar. Good for you, though. You have earned a lifestyle that makes that possible. Can’t say I don’t sort of find it super irritating, though!

    Happy Birthday to your beautiful, unique, talented, smart daughter! I love hearing about your life with her.

  • Crazy Card Lady

    2011/02/03 at 12:16 pm

    I turned 56 yesterday….I believe we learn more about ourselves than we ever teach our kids. Being a parent is probably the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done. It has shown me what I am made of and has made me grow as a person in ways I never thought I could.

    My daughter who is 16 and driving told me to stay in bed yesterday as long as I could. She borrowed the car, went to Starbucks and the store and greeted me with a pile of powder-sugar donettes with a candle in one and a cup of Starbucks singing Happy Birthday. It filled my heart with joy.

    Kudos to you Heather and Jon for taking parenting seriously and joyfully.

  • Just Jill

    2011/02/03 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks for this, Heather. I needed the wake up call. I lost my mom 5 years ago when I was 37 and I have never recovered; it was a life-shattering blow. I completely let myself go, mentally and physically. But I too have children and I am not setting a good example for them. When they’re adults, I do want to be there for them when they need me. It’s time to get off my ass and realize that not only am I hurting myself, I am hurting them as well.

    Thanks for putting your heart and soul out here so you can help inspire others. Now I’ll try to take a turn. Bless you!

    And Happy Birthday Leta!

  • pehuff

    2011/02/03 at 12:24 pm

    “going to therapy isn’t a sign of weakness but of a willingness to live a better life.”

    That was the best description of therapy I’ve ever seen.

    Here’s to more birthdays! 🙂

  • sturney

    2011/02/03 at 12:26 pm

    Forget 10 years….in five years you’ll find you are so excited to be 40. It really is the best time! You still look and feel great, you’re more financially stable and you’ve come into your own. You may not believe me now but just wait!!!

  • austinmomof7

    2011/02/03 at 12:43 pm

    I’m 39. I have seven kids. And I was just diagnosed with cancer. I’d give anything in the world to make sure I see my kids next ten birthdays.

  • Kendi

    2011/02/03 at 12:45 pm

    Happy Birthday Leta! I was hoping to see an “84 Months” Post 🙂 Here’s to many more beautiful birthdays.
    Oh my God! I just saw your masthead change. I’ve been reading this for 10 years?? I’ve never said this and just recently started posting comments, but thanks for helping me survive my first year of motherhood. Your words proved to be some of the biggest blessings of my life. I really want to say Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/02/03 at 1:05 pm

    Well said.

  • Chai_Bella

    2011/02/03 at 1:17 pm

    I love this post and I really wish my own mother would have thought more wisely about how she was/is taking care of herself. Granted, she waited until she was 38 to have me and 41 to have my sister (we are 24 and 21, now), but I am seeing her decline in health and it’s hard to watch.

    You should be so proud of yourself. Your family is lucky to have a mom/wife that cares so much about them that she takes time for herself.

  • tallnoe

    2011/02/03 at 1:25 pm

    Great post. Thank you. This is the reason I choose to work out too (and I don’t even HAVE kids or even a twinkle of a kid).

    I give you props for being able to lead by example with Leta and Marlo. And thank you for sharing your life with us all on the interwebs.

  • Sylva Leining

    2011/02/03 at 1:36 pm

    That was a good year.

  • CountingBlessings

    2011/02/03 at 1:39 pm

    This post really resonated with me. I am 36 years old, have no idea how I got to this age, have 2 daugthers AND really need to focus on my health and well being – both for my sake, as well as theirs.

    Great post all around. I haven’t commented since the Maytag disaster of 2009 (great, great, great posts – power to the consumer!!), but I couldn’t withhold props for such a great message.



  • luv and kiwi

    2011/02/03 at 1:46 pm

    : ) good post lady. i WISH i could work out with a trainer 5 times a week. i exercise 5-6 but it’s not the same as getting your ass fed to you on a dumbbell.

    way to go on the non-processed foods too. care to share how you do that without passing out in the gym?

  • jjford

    2011/02/03 at 1:51 pm

    Thanks for posting The Julie Project… tried to google for an update … hope they find her other children.

  • Daffodil Campbell

    2011/02/03 at 1:53 pm

    I have had the same “where the hell am I and when did I become the grown up in this situation” moments. Usually when one of my kids has thrown up or the car has broken down or the mortgage is due.

    I am turning 36 next week, and I quit my one-cigarette-per-bartending-shift habit at Christmas. It was my gift to my family. Merry fucking Christmas guys, hope you are enjoying the new non-smoking, cranky as hell me.

    (And when you say that when Leta was born you gave birth to Jon, dude, you ARE NOT KIDDING. What, did you clone her or something? Is that one of those babies you can make with a printer? Awesomeness.)

    p.s. we all know you threw out your back having sex in Mexico.

  • specialkrispy

    2011/02/03 at 2:03 pm

    I don’t always agree with you, but I love the kind of mother you’re trying to be. I respect you for it. Your girls are blessed to have you and Jon as their parents.

    P.S. It’s ok to have a donut sometimes.

  • sugarleg

    2011/02/03 at 2:17 pm

    “The change in my body and mind, especially given the stress of the last year, has made it effortless to stick to this new way of life.”

    YES. same here, thanks for sharing.

    y’all should go to Rancho La Puerta sometime. that’s the place that made it all click for me.

    especially touched at your noting that Leta gets it.

  • ladygray

    2011/02/03 at 2:26 pm

    i’m not sure if it’s the hormones (30 weeks pregnant with my second boy) or the fact that cancer has taken many important people in my life too soon (my mother-in-law, my aunt) leaving young children behind… but that post instigated some serious waterworks.

    beautiful tribute to your girls. and we are endeavoring to rock the “do as i say AND as i do” parenting here as well… i had more tears reading about how well it is working with Leta.

    well done, mama.

  • motherofalltrips

    2011/02/03 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you for this post – too often we treat taking care of ourselves like it’s a selfish. I’m de lurking to leave a comment here because I’d also like to advocate strongly for getting screenings done at the proper time. My father died of colon cancer two days before this past Christmas. He was 65. A simple colonoscopy at 50 might have saved his life – he refused to ever have one.

    I’m 40 and both of my biological parents are gone to cancer. My mother died of asbestos cancer 12 years ago after also suffering from breast cancer. She had refused to have a mammogram and so her breast cancer treatment ended up being much more radical than it needed to be. She couldn’t have prevented the asbestos cancer, but she could have had a higher quality of life at the end if she hadn’t had to have a double mastectomy.

    I’ve had regular mammograms since I was 30 and I had a colonoscopy last fall – they found a precancerous polyp.

    I’ve got two boys who are 8 and 5. I want to be around for them as long as I can. Screening can literally save your life.

  • thecounselormom

    2011/02/03 at 2:58 pm

    I love this post! So true and I can completely relate. When I became pregnant, I also cut out processed foods, and now only buy my daughter organic produce and make her own baby food. I am trying to cut out HFCS, no fake sugars and try to work out a few times a week. If I had the time and money, I would hire a trainer- good for you!! Keep it up!

  • Cooky

    2011/02/03 at 3:10 pm

    Happy birthday, Leta.

    You are one very smart and amazing lady, Heather Armstrong.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful insights. You are an inspiration to all of us.

  • Laura Jones

    2011/02/03 at 3:28 pm

    I got my first skin cancer at 29. I don’t tan and burn very easily and unfortunately got more than one severe sunburn at 5 years old. I was the weird kid that wore a t-shirt over her bathing suit because sunscreen didn’t exist back then.

    Happy Birthday Leta I love all the pictures your mother posts of you. You are beautiful both inside and out.

  • slappyintheface

    2011/02/03 at 3:38 pm

    I so agree about therapy. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness … it is a sign of strength.

  • Robyn L

    2011/02/03 at 3:38 pm

    I will send love and good vibes to you for a strong recovery. xo

  • gradstudentsarepeopletoo

    2011/02/03 at 3:51 pm

    Pregnant with my first– a girl– and this post just made me all teary-eyed. You guys are the kind of parents that we hope to become.

    Happy birthday, Leta!

  • Jen Cottrell

    2011/02/03 at 4:26 pm

    Reading this post left me with a lump in my throat. As the mom of three boys, I understand exactly what you mean. We can only do our best, and then hope that our children do theirs!

    Happy Birthday to Leta!

  • Twinkie

    2011/02/03 at 4:36 pm

    Happy birthday, Leta!

  • Pandora Has A Box

    2011/02/03 at 4:50 pm

    Happy Birthday, Leta! Seven is a *good* birthday. 🙂

    You want old? I’m going to be forty-two and my *oldest* is four. ::sigh::

    With each kid’s birthday, I feel a huge sense of amazement. They exceed my wildest expectations every day (when they aren’t bursting my ear drums).

  • AndreaMarie

    2011/02/03 at 4:52 pm

    I’m not a Mom, but I read your blog because I love your writing style! This post I could totally relate to because I am turning 35 this year, and I still can’t believe it. I don’t feel 35. I don’t look 35 (although, not in a I’m so hot kind of way…more like the I’m 5 feet tall and still have the chipmunk cheeks of my childhood kind of way.) I just loved this post. It really spoke to me!

  • Mexi-Packin

    2011/02/03 at 4:58 pm

    Feliz Compleanos to your little one! Seconds before reading this post, I was on a site searching out raw food lifestyle….guess something is trying to tell me something. Now it’s time to give up the refried beans and corn tortillas! crap

  • sassyanna

    2011/02/03 at 5:00 pm

    What did it for me was losing two friends, both mothers, both young, and both died of cancer. I want to be a good example to my kids, and I want to grow old and watch them grow up and have children of their own. It scares the shit out of me that people my age are dying, and I want to do as much as I can to prevent it happening to me.

  • cris

    2011/02/03 at 6:07 pm

    Happy birthday, Leta!

    And, yes, Heather, yes, all you can do for more birthdays lived to the full.

  • mmbchaos

    2011/02/03 at 6:45 pm

    A very timely post. I am a mother to 2 girls, 7 and 4 and just had my 36th Birthday. My husband and I have been discussing a lifestyle change for the past week, we are going to do it! Lead by example and all that.

    Thank You and Happy Birthday to Leta.

  • LuLa

    2011/02/03 at 7:40 pm

    Thank You. So timely. I am trying to process the fact that I need, in the very near future, a double mastectomy (I have an 87% chance of getting breast cancer) and to remove my ovaries (40% change of ovarian cancer) thanks the the brcaI gene. Im 35 and divorced. While there is no question that I will do this so I am around for my kids and don’t have to get sick, its a very hard realization.

    PS: I think you just gave me the motivation I needed to get my lazy self to the gym too!! yea!

    …for my boys.

  • dolphy36

    2011/02/03 at 8:26 pm

    Yes, at 43, I did have a little smile curl up my lips when you said your “I can’t believe I’m 35…” If you think it’s gone by fast so far, hang on to your skinny butt! It gets perpetually faster.

    I TOTALLY agree with your priority of modeling all of the things you mention. I don’t think there is a more important role you can fill in your life. And it is a motivator of my own. Whenever it is easier to be lazier than work toward a better me, I think of my son…and what the message is that I am conveying to him. What a blessing that is!

  • Lily Hydrangea

    2011/02/03 at 9:56 pm

    This is an amazing post.
    & Leta has an incredibly awesome Mom!
    You are so right on the mark about modeling good behavior for your children. Kids really do watch their parents every move. I remember doing so myself when I was a kid.
    & thank you for working for such a good cause too dear Heather.

    Happy Birthday Leta, I hope your birthday was everything you hoped it would be & more.
    : )

  • jan001

    2011/02/03 at 11:47 pm

    It doesn’t make me look good but I admit to wishing I had the money and time for a trainer and a gym and home cooking from the produce aisle BUT! what impressed me most in that whole post was the part about Leta standing up for another kid.

    Leta, how hard do you ROCK!

    Now THAT is someone on her way to being a productive and caring adult one day. I hope her teacher gave her serious props for it and I know you and Jon are immensely and justifiably proud of it!

    Nicely done, Leta, and Happy Birthday! (and nicely done, Heather and Jon!)

    I’m another one who sunburns instead of tans, and when I used to go to the beach/into the ocean regularly, I used heavy-duty sunscreen, the consistently of petroleum jelly that was extremely resistant to washing off in the water. Even so, I’ve had to have two “things” removed from my skin – scalp and back – in the past 7 years (left the ocean 12 years ago). Both turned out benign, thank heaven. I see my dermatologist for checkups but I found both of those “things” myself.

    Sunscreen, people. Seriously.

  • Soft Kitty

    2011/02/04 at 9:05 am



  • Pluckychick

    2011/02/04 at 9:05 am

    Happy Birthday to Leta!

    My oldest was born in late February 16 years ago. I’m 43 and still can’t quite believe it. (The dark days of winter is a super fun time to begin postpartum depression btw. Whoo Hoo!)

    For me something about my second child ( and then even more so the third) makes me feel my mortality like a fresh wound every day. With my first there was an element of playacting at parenting but with subsequent kids there was no denying it. I was in it for the long haul. And super vulnerable because I knew without a doubt how much I wanted to be there for every minute of their lives.

    I realized 10 years ago I can’t not take care of myself because that would be neglectful parenting. Even though nowadays my kneecaps are melting down to my ankles no matter how many lunges I perform.

  • sweetpotatopie

    2011/02/04 at 9:52 am

    My 10yo daughter is a big reason I ran my first marathon at 44; I want to show her that I am willing to work hard to be strong and healthy. She was there cheering me on, and she tells *everyone* that her mom “runs marathons”. She has even started running with me. It feels so good to get outside to exercise together, and we have great conversations along the way.

    Good job Heather, for starting now. I so wish I hadn’t taken my health (and skinniness) for granted when I was in my 30s.

  • melissa_anderson725

    2011/02/04 at 10:11 am

    I’m dedicated to an exercise regimen, but I don’t quite know how to alter what I eat outside of just eating less so I lose the pounds I want to. I’d love to see a post about exactly what you did to change, what you eat now, what you avoid at all costs and anything else that might help get others on the same track.

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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