the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The timer starts now

Last night at dinner Marlo became very angry when we would not let her eat a pile of shredded cheese off of the table without utensils or her hands. She just wanted to stick her face in it like a dog. Sadly, this behavior didn’t surprise us because we have turned our back for two seconds only to realize that she is on the floor next to Chuck eating his food out of his bowl. With her face.


As most two-year-olds are wont to do, she began screaming hysterically. And as parents who have already lived through this with one kid are wont to do, we told her to get over it and then ignored her. Except, ignoring Marlo is like ignoring an ex-girlfriend who isn’t ready to get over you yet. And next thing you know she’s spelling SCREW YOU with gasoline on your lawn and is standing there with a match in her hand.

Because the pitch of the scream suddenly jumped to 170 decibels, the approximate sound of a rifle going off right beside your head. Not because of the cheese anymore, no. She went from screaming to sociopath because we stopped returning her phone calls. Because we disregarded her texts. We unfriended her on Facebook.

Jon promptly picked her up, set her on the floor ten feet away from the dinner table and said, “You’ve got two minutes to calm down.” Operation Time-Out. This is sometimes a controversial parenting topic, whether or not to put your child in a time-out. You may think it’s the most barbaric thing you could do to a child, and that’s fine. I’ll still invite you over for coffee, although I might spit in it.

Time-outs worked wonders with Leta because it stopped what my brother-in-law refers to as Garbage Collecting. She’d get so worked up that she’d lose sight of the reason she got upset in the first place and would then be screaming about fifteen other things she picked up as she spiraled out of control: we never let her have ice cream for dinner, we wouldn’t get her a swimming pool, we always made her wear pants.

Time-outs gave her the space and time to calm down, and it removed us from the equation. And since we weren’t screaming at her to, you know, CALM DOWN, she’d realize, hmmm. Now that it’s quiet and I can think clearly, my parents are totally right.

Or something like that.

We’ve just started putting Marlo into time-outs, so she’s still catching on to the whole idea. Meaning it makes her even angrier. And last night after Jon put her on the floor she dramatically flopped her whole body over and writhed. As if we has just injected her with electricity.

Leta thought that was the funniest thing she had ever seen, and because she doesn’t like it when people laugh at her, she tried to hide her laughing. Which only made me and Jon laugh because OH MY GOD, kid. You used to do the exact same thing when you were her age.

“No, I didn’t!” she said defensively, still laughing.

“Yes, actually, you did,” Jon said. “Sometimes you’d even throw your body.”

“I don’t remember doing that,” she said.

So I asked, “Do you ever remember being out into a time-out?”

Nooooooo,” she said, as if Jon and I were making the whole thing up.

THERE YOU GO. See? She doesn’t have a single memory of how barbaric we were!

  • slappyintheface

    2011/07/28 at 2:02 pm

    oh I had one of mine actually throw the time-out chair AT ME !!! oh yeah … they’re so damn cute

  • VegasNative

    2011/07/28 at 2:02 pm

    I used to have fits so spectacular that my mom would lock me in the back yard. The backyard with a pool. In the eighties. Which means there was no fence. Heh heh heh. PARENTS.

  • ADDGirl

    2011/07/28 at 2:03 pm

    This was amazing. When Marlo gets married you should read this at her wedding.

  • naugfly

    2011/07/28 at 2:06 pm

    Timeouts are controversial? Wow– they are the “soft approach” in our house. You get two timeouts, and then we graduate to more austere measures. This afternoon my son decided that he was NOT coming in the house, he tried to stow away in Grandma’s car, and when I ousted him from the vehicle, he writhed around in the front yard, screaming like he was a a target of the Spanish Inquisition. Two failed timeouts later, we got a swat (alright, or two) on the butt. He was not impressed, and carried on. At that point, I calmly took a garbage bag in his room and stuck every toy he owned in it, down to his awesome solar system/rocket ship run in the middle of his room.

    He has been steadily earning back the toys one by one since then.

    I wouldn’t even invite the “timeouts brutalize your children” folks to my house, even to spit in their coffee. No good can come of such associations.

  • Marissa13

    2011/07/28 at 2:09 pm

    We’ve also started time outs with my nearly 2-year old daughter. When we tell her no or correct some other behavior she usually throws whatever happens to be within arm’s reach and screams. I calmly tell her she cannot throw things and scream, the she’ll do it again and I put her away from us in time out. Then I tell her that she can get out of time out when she says sorry and picks up whatever it is she threw across the room.

    Her reaction? She doesn’t cry or scream; she stares me down and starts a battle of wills. She looks at me like she’s thinking “I’ll sit here all night, but I won’t pick up that crayon.” I walk away and about every minute or so ask her if she is going to pick up the crayon, she’ll say yes get out of the chair walk over to the crayon and just look at me. I ask her to pick it up and she just stares me down. Back into time out she goes. This usually repeats about 3 or 4 times. Then she will decide there is something she’d rather do than sit by herself — like look outside at the ice cream truck — and she’ll walk over and pick up the crayon (or whatever) and put it away — like I did it because I wanted to, not because you told me too.

    So scared for the teen years.

  • trewqaz

    2011/07/28 at 2:20 pm

    Oh my goodness, there are people who frown on timeouts?

    In my neck of the woods, I’m considered a sissy liberal for putting my kids in timeout (and, for the record I vote somewhere to the right of McCarthy). The response to every childhood misbehavior around here is: “Well, beat the hell out of him. He’ll quit.”

    My four year old has an extreme temper at times (you know, because he’s four). Sometimes he’ll sit in time out for ten minutes screaming how much he hates me because I’m so mean. I ignore him until he eventually apologizes and decides to sit quietly for his four minute time out.

    If this happens around People, they inform me that their kid would never do that and I’m spoiling him so badly that he’ll end up a serial killer and get kicked out of church camp or some junk.

    Sometimes I think I AM a liberal sissy. Now I can rest easy knowing that I’m still a barbarian to someone, somewhere.

  • smithie1996

    2011/07/28 at 2:25 pm

    You have given me hope that my son will not be scarred for life from the number of timeouts and screaming matches we have gotten into because he will have forgotten them. Right now he remembers everything and reminded me this afternoon that I yelled at him yesterday – FOR RUNNING OUT INTO A PARKING LOT. I was on totally solid ground for yelling about that.

    Add me as another person shocked that timeouts are controversial. I was thrilled when my son turned two and we upped the time out to two minutes. You know how much you can get done in two minutes? I’ve emptied an entire dishwasher. Who knows what I’ll do with three minutes come October.

    Anyway, please keep these stories coming. I feel so much less alone when I know that others have to gather up screaming writhing masses of kicking legs and windmilling arms and put the kiddo into time outs.

  • ChickWhitt

    2011/07/28 at 2:40 pm

    You know what this means!?!?!

    Time outs are NOT something Leta will bring up in therapy!!!!!


  • jbeslc

    2011/07/28 at 2:50 pm

    I might take some of the heat off you for this one.

    One of my colleagues suggested a cold shower if the time out doesn’t cut it. So, when we had the writhing, body-throwing, Exorcist version of our 2-year old, we told him he needed to calm down or he was going in a cold shower. He didn’t calm down. He went in a cold shower. Fully-clothed. Including his shoes. Then, miracle of all miracles, he stopped screaming, and came in for a hug. I swear to you, it worked.

    Some people (my relatives) think this is torture, and I bet I get more than a few replies on here if anyone reads my comment. But, honestly, it’s the only thing we’ve found that snaps him out of it. We’ve tried spanking (in desperation) and found that did nothing but encourage him to hit us back.

    We have only put him in a cold shower a handful of times. Now time-out works 99 percent of the time, but if he is in freak-out mode all we have to do is mention the cold shower and he snaps out of it. It doesn’t get that far very often anymore, thank god.

    Now you can all tell me what a terrible mom I am, but I think it’s much better than spanking, or yelling, or me pouring myself another glass of wine. Well, I might do that anyway…

  • janenyy26

    2011/07/28 at 3:06 pm

    If time-outs are barbaric, I must just be a plain ol’ psychopath. Not only did I make the child I babysit sit on a 8-year old version of time-out for misbehaving at daycare (10 minutes on the couch, no TV), I made her write an apology note to the teacher she disobeyed today at daycare.

  • LindaSalem

    2011/07/28 at 3:16 pm

    My kid used to have really scary tantrums. I was 26, just divorced and had no clue what to do. He was almost three but he was also my only child. I did all the stuff my older friends(?) told me to do. Throw water in his face. Yeah that worked. He screamed louder and slammed his head on the floor more. I’m telling ya, it was scary stuff. Finally, I talked to a shrink.

    He told me to either put my son in a room by himself or to simply walk away and leave him where he was. I was to set a timer for 15 minutes and I wasn’t allowed to say one word to the kid in that 15 minutes.

    Actually, the first time I did this it took him almost 25 minutes to stop making noise but he finally did. The shrink assured me he would not give himself a concussion or anything like that and he didn’t. Finally, he got very, very quiet. After a minute, I asked him if he was okay. He said he had a really bad tummy ache. I asked him if he thought a hug would help and he said he thought it might. I kissed and hugged him and we went our merry ways. He did this every time – lol.

    His tantrums got shorter and shorter as time went on but it actually took about a year before they ended for good.

    I’ve always been grateful to the shrink for giving me this advise because I could deal with the problem without making it worse by being overly “involved.”

    Obviously, I don’t think your a terrible mom. Two and three year olds have a lot of emotional stuff going on. Sometimes a good fit is the only way for them to work that out. (Actually, I’m 64 now and I know the feeling.)

    Also, the way you’re going about it, she’s learning that not matter how bad the hissy fit, she’s not getting her way which would be worse. You’d have a real nasty person on your hands if you did that. As it is, you have every reason to believe she’ll grow up to be a reasonably socialized person other people can stand to be in the room with. Isn’t that one of our goals as parents?

  • NicoleC

    2011/07/28 at 3:17 pm

    At least you follow through. I have, in my dining room, two little time-out chairs that are strictly for show. (Well sometimes my kids use them as stepping stones to color on my mounted, expensive custom artwork).

  • Essie T

    2011/07/28 at 3:38 pm

    I work in childcare (or, to refer to myself in the way they now want us to- I’m al early childhood professional), and there are all sorts of words and phrases that we aren’t meant to use in the childcare setting- Time Out being one of them.

    However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get used. When I worked with the pre-school age group, we had a Thinking Chair, but those kids knew exactly what is was, and if they were misbehaving so much that talking, re-direction, one-on-one time, etc didn’t work, then they got five minutes of thinking time, as a ‘final resort’.

    I currently work with the toddler age group, and many of them are getting to exactly Marlo’s stage, the sneaky tantrum spiral that starts over one thing and morphs into a full-staged screaming, yelling, writhing fit. And at that age you can rarely reason with them, and they reach the final resort stage a lot faster. And because they won’t sit and think on a chair, they get to go on a cushion. Nine times out of ten I will have scooped them up at the start of the spiral to prevent injury to themselves/other kids, and as soon as that little body goes limp you know the flailing is coming. So they get deposited onto a large cushion where they can carry on to their heart’s content while I turn my attention back to the other kids. And, nine times out of ten, they will snap out of it instantly, come and give me a cuddle, and go back to playing.

    And on another note, my sister probably ate dog food more than she ate people food when she was between the ages of three and five. She turned out fine, so Marlo must be getting some sort of nutritional value from it!

  • Laurelee

    2011/07/28 at 4:21 pm

    So, I’m guessing the people who think time-outs are barbaric never got spanked when they were kids? I WISH my mom had given me time outs!

  • addie877

    2011/07/28 at 5:10 pm

    A reminder for Leta

    So it begins…much easier knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel though, ey?

  • libbyshane

    2011/07/28 at 5:23 pm

    I cannot stress how many times I read these entries and wonder who would come out of a cage match alive, Marlo, or Van (my 2 year old). If there is ever any interest in letting them both loose on a deserted island and having them reenact Lord of the Flies, let me know. I will help build the raft to take them there. With my teeth, if that’s what it takes.

  • tracy

    2011/07/28 at 6:05 pm

    timeouts barbaric…..pfffttt….

    double pfffttttt…..

    And regarding 2 year olds who are wont to do things we parents prefer they do not do? Mine is FAR more civilized than yours.

    I caught my little darling eating the cat food (dry food, not wet… because THAT would be gross) out of the cat’s bowl with a spoon that she took from her play kitchen. See! Civilized!

    I’m only surprised she didn’t take the red checkered tablecloth out of her ceramic tea set so that she could properly enjoy her meal.

  • LizC

    2011/07/28 at 7:43 pm

    My friend’s daughter is at the throwing her whole body into her temper tantrum age. Her most recent violent temper tantrum resulted in a dislocated elbow. I’m pretty sure she should win a prize for that.

  • becaru

    2011/07/28 at 8:58 pm

    Perhaps Marlo saw Blue Valentine, where Ryan Gosling encourages his daughter to eat breakfast by putting his face down on the table, imitating some kind of wild animal. Can’t remember what animal exactly, but it was Ryan Gosling, for god’s sake! I almost tried eating my cereal that way myself the next morning.

  • Pandora Has A Box

    2011/07/29 at 6:21 am

    I’ve joked that Marlo and The Littlest Box can never meet, but when you wrote about taking gasoline to the lawn, I realized that the WORLD. WOULD. END. if they ever cross paths.

    The Littlest Box is potty training, though, so his “screw you” would be written in pee. While he giggled maniacally.

    As for the time out, it gives every one a chance to cool off and prevents the drama from escalating. If that’s barbaric, I don’t think Webster’s has been informed that the definition of “barbaric” has changed so drastically.

  • PantsPie2000

    2011/07/29 at 7:36 am

    Yeah, I seriously can’t believe people think Time Outs are barbaric. I was born in 1979, so I grew up in a time when even STRANGERS could smack you if they saw you misbehaving and your parents weren’t around to discipline you. I had never even heard of a Time Out until I was an adult, and I’m still kind of surprised that most of my friends don’t spank their kids. I thought that would be the way the world worked forever.

  • KateH

    2011/07/29 at 8:08 am

    We mostly use time-ins here, though time-outs do make periodic appearances. Lawrence Cohen (Playful Parenting), among others, says time-outs are Evil and Horrible and OMG THE TRAUMA OF THE DESERTION.

    And I *like* Cohen.

    Y’know… mostly.

  • jenwilson

    2011/07/29 at 8:32 am

    Time-outs are a necessity with my four-year-old. When she was Marlo’s age, we’d put her on a time-out and let her scream her little head off as long as she stayed put. Now, though, she has to be absolutely silent or the timer starts over. She learned that REALLY fast. And maybe when she’s FIVE she’ll have grown out of tantrums? No? Six? WHEN SHE GRADUATES?

  • MelissaJ

    2011/07/29 at 8:58 am

    i’m pretty sure she’ll survive your barbaric punishments.

    but is it okay i got a visual from A Christmas Story and Randy, the little brother, eating his dinner. oink oink


  • j-momma

    2011/07/29 at 10:00 am

    I admit I am not one for time-outs, not because they are barbaric but because they never seem to occur to me to use one…I do however walk away from a tantrum to remove myself (effectively putting me in a time-out maybe?) That said, now that I have my second and he is 23 months and his tantrums are way worse than my daughter’s were, it may very well occur to me to try one! Also, he totally likes to eat like the dogs do, face on table, face on floor etc. Mostly I ignore it since he thrives on any reaction and I also think he will outgrow it. He sometimes eats the dog and cat kibble too. At this age, I am happy if he eats anything since many days will go by where hardly anything other than milk passes over those lips. My first is well adjusted and happy, I am sure he will thrive in spite of me! Happy weekend all!

  • MissCaron

    2011/07/29 at 10:51 am

    I want to know just what “these people” would like us to do instead of time-outs? We can’t spank them, heck we can’t hardly even use the word “NO” (at least we weren’t allowed to at the pre-school where I once worked. It’s amazing. So, I say, GOOD FOR YOU! Also, show Leta that pic… too funny!

  • ScooterMarie

    2011/07/29 at 11:08 am

    That is too funny. I love when people say you can’t do this or that to your kids because the memory will haunt them forever and/or make them psychotic. Yeah, I don’t think so. Our daughter turns 1 in a few days, and I’m already dreading what disciplinary tactics we’ll have to use for such outbursts. Because she’s already started the full-body-splayed-on-the-floor crying when she doesn’t get her way. Fantastic.

  • CrisLawson

    2011/07/29 at 11:09 am

    My daughter once threw a screaming fit at 1030 at night, when we lived in an apartment. After a few minutes of time outs that didn’t work, I threw a cup of freezing cold water in her face. The shock of it snapped her out of the scream.

    She doesn’t even remember the apartment, let alone the water.

  • juliemewood

    2011/07/29 at 1:05 pm

    I think you have an amazing talent for taking something so relatable (a 2YO tantrum) and making it even more relatable through examples (Ex-GF, gasoline, and grass).

    I love how you can do that.

    It just makes us feel, yes, I feel like I can speak for the majority of us, a little more normal and like we have been through something excruciatingly similiar.

    Plus, it’s funny. 🙂 Nice job!

  • apostate

    2011/07/29 at 1:30 pm

    Let me take a breath. Because I’m still coming to terms with the fact that if I swat my child on the ass at Walmart, somebody might actually call the cops and Super Nanny could show up at my door just to shame me British style. And if I yell at my child, Dr. Phil will have a mild heart attack. So clearly spanking and yelling are out. But am I now to really understand that there are certain types out there who consider time-out to be controversial or barbaric? God help me.
    My dad had it so much easier. Sooooooooo much easier.
    He wasn’t afraid of people criticizing his methods and I didn’t dare defy him.

  • Kristie64

    2011/07/29 at 6:57 pm

    Collecting garbage, I like it….we call it ‘diggin’ up bones’ around here. My oldest, who is now 22, was an expert. The later it got, the older the bones, usually coming to a dramatic peak w/ a long ago dead pet or a litany of Disney movies we didn’t buy.

  • Crazy Card Lady

    2011/07/30 at 1:53 am

    I ‘m a recently scorned woman with a 17 year old daughter. For some reason when we all get older all of a sudden your kid does remember the time outs and holds them over your head emotional blackmail. I don’t fall for it and pretend like I am going senile and don’t remember. He, he, he….

  • Shana in Texas

    2011/07/30 at 1:13 pm

    @dooce @chick witt. Uhm, #RepressedMemories# (see also

    Leta of The Future:

    “Doc, let me direct you to a website.”

    Later that day…

    “You poor thing! Fawnzelle? Let’s begin ’cause this is gonna take awhile.”

  • MisterPrecedent

    2011/08/02 at 12:45 am

    Time-outs are IDEAL because they mimic the punishment for misbehavior as an ADULT: JAIL (no toys, no friends, no freedom)! NOBODY (legally) gets “spanked” as a grown-up (nevermind your kinky bedroom antics). Plus, Time-Outs prepare them for the horrors of being Grounded (without their toys, friends or freedom) when they are teens. You’re teaching them how to regain control of THEMSELVES so you don’t always have to be there to do it FOR them.

    My nephews and niece are hellions because their parents are lazy, bad influences. I’ve never laid a finger on any of them, but they DO behave for ME because I taught them VERY early on, using Time-Outs, that I do NOT put up with that crap!

    Before age 2, I simply said “no” and picked them up and held them, preventing them from continuing the bad behavior. Time-Outs started at age 2 – one minute per year of their age (sometimes, “2 minutes” was a lot longer than 120 seconds, if needed, though – I love that little kids can’t tell time). They had to stand or sit in an empty corner (the most dreadfully boring place available) with NO toys and NO interaction with anyone – totally ignored and bored – in full sight of behaving kids having fun. I used a kitchen timer, and eventually, they learned that they had to shut up in order to hear the DING.

    At the end of the time, I asked them if they were ready to come out and play nicely. If not, they were to stay until they felt ready – with a warning that they would go back in immediately if they released themselves too soon. Ultimately, *I* did not control how long they actually stayed in Time-Out – THEY did.

    Fighting resulted in ALL participants going to separate corners for the number of minutes equal to ALL of their ages ADDED TOGETHER – regardless of who “started” it. Picking on a younger sibling was a really dumb move.

    One nephew was SO funny – he would scream and writhe and seethe and mutter, but he would NOT budge from the Time-Out corner, despite not being restrained in any way. It was like there was an invisible shield around it, preventing him from leaving. I had to bite myself to keep from laughing at him.

    I haven’t had to give any of them Time-Outs in years – just the THREAT of it calms them down. Now I ask the older ones if THEY need to put THEMSELVES in a Time-Out, so to calm down (God knows, some adults do). So far, they haven’t needed to – just thinking about it usually does the trick.

    I may be “mean” but I am also “fun”, and their favorite, because I actually PLAY with them and give them lots of POSITIVE attention when they ARE behaving.

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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