the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Second grade

Last week Leta started second grade. I just had to let that sink in for a second because the memories I have of holding her in the earliest days of her life and thinking OH MY GOD, HOT POTATO! are distinct. So are the memories of her third year of life where she spent most of her time lying face down on the floor because that’s the direction she had thrown her body.

The drop-off on her first day of preschool? Unbearable. Kindergarten? Just a tiny bit less unbearable. First grade? Heart-wrenching. Second grade?

“Bye,” I said when it was time for me to leave.

“Bye, mom,” she said.

“No, really. I’m leaving, Leta.”

“That’s what bye usually means.”

“You going to be okay?”

She looked around and then lowered her voice to a whisper. “Can you please go now?

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

Jon and I woke up that morning and said something to each other about preparing for the emotional bomb that would surely unfold. She handles anxiety like I did in that everything turns into an obstacle, and there were hints of this. Like when I walked with her upstairs and said, “I’m going to go put on my clothes, and while I’m doing that… you know… just get dressed.”

She shook her head and emphasized several blinks. “JUST get dressed?”

“Yes,” I said. “Just get dressed.”

“But what about brushing my teeth? You’re going to send me to school with dirty teeth?!”

“Wait, what?” I asked.

“You said JUST GET DRESSED. What about my hair? Am I supposed to brush my hair?!”

“When I said JUST GET DRESSED that meant your teeth and your hair included. It’s a whole package.”

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN PACKAGE? Like something you pick up from the mailbox?!”

I held my mouth shut tightly for a second to gain my composure because I suddenly remembered what a nightmare it can be to get her dressed before school every morning. And this wasn’t so much a nightmare as it was HOLY SHIT, I feel like I’m having a conversation with a person who has just smoked an entire joint.

I put my hands on her shoulders, kneeled down and said, “Please go put on your shirt and then your shorts. Then, brush your teeth and your hair. After that, go put on your socks and shoes. Finally, meet me downstairs.”

This made so much more sense to her NOW THAT SHE WAS SOBER and she said, “Ok, phew. I didn’t want to start second grade with dirty teeth.”


But then, that super awesome, no-drama drop-off. And the following day she told me that she just wanted me to let her out by the front door because she was in second grade and didn’t need someone to walk her to class like a first grader. When she got out of the car I expected her to do a swanky side-step while singing “Grease Lightning.”

And just like that, another major milestone in the rearview. I am the mother of a second grader.

Second grader

(This is a photo of her the week she started preschool. I just… whoa.)

  • jg

    2011/09/01 at 2:29 pm

    What a beautiful photograph.

  • Micaela

    2011/09/01 at 2:36 pm

    You are making me sad. My little boy starts preschool next week. I don’t think I’m going to be able to handle it.

    I used to tell parents that when their kids left without a fuss it was because they had raised them to be well adjusted children. While I still think that is true, you almost want at least a little fuss to know you are still needed.

  • Lauren3

    2011/09/01 at 2:41 pm

    DUDE! SHE LOOKS AT LEAST 12 THERE! Leta burritoooooo… didn’t you used to call her that sometimes?

  • one-in-three

    2011/09/01 at 2:41 pm

    That is a lovely lovely portrait of Leta!

  • BellyGirl

    2011/09/01 at 2:44 pm

    Our little girl is growing up sooooo fast.

    Thank you for sharing her with us.

  • tetisheri

    2011/09/01 at 2:48 pm

    What an amazing picture of a beautiful child.

  • laura.elaine

    2011/09/01 at 2:50 pm

    Love everything about this post. EVERY. SINGLE. bit. And hi: she’s gorgeous! (I know: you know.) I love how people look exactly the same through the years and yet I’m always surprised at how they haven’t changed. EVERY. SINGLE. time.

  • HDC

    2011/09/01 at 3:00 pm

    I was so stunned by that kid’s photo, such a big girl! I was about to suggest that Jon needs to get himself up to speed on shotguns and other methods of boyfriend deterrence while he’s got time. But come to think of it, seeing how bright that kid is, she’s going to do quite ok on that front. Big sis seems to know what’s up and is going to take care of herself just fine I suspect.

  • writtendad

    2011/09/01 at 3:05 pm

    This was basically the female version of how our son went to his first day, and second, and third and . . . Here we were, prepared for craziness and then . . . nothing. Plus, I find this very amusing because he and Leta are almost exactly the same age, he too has a unique L name, and his analysis of the directions we give him make it seem like he dropped acid into his cereal before eating it.

    Another milestone, another year, with yet another to come before we know it.

    And that picture is not of a 7 year old . . . she’s clearly at least 10.

  • HungryGrad

    2011/09/01 at 3:08 pm

    Too school for cool.


  • harugirlie

    2011/09/01 at 3:14 pm

    My son starts High School next week…I’m a mother of a HIGH SCHOOLER?

  • i.delia

    2011/09/01 at 3:17 pm

    Last weekend we returned home with our 9 year old daughter after a neighborhood block party. It was nearly midnight-by far the latest she’s ever stayed up (normally a 9pm bedtime). i sent her upstairs and said “get into bed”.

    At nearly 1am I crawled into bed and realized there was a glow coming from her end of the hall. i walked down there and said “What are you doing? i told you to get into bed. I never said you could read!” and she turned to me and said “well, you never said I COULDNT READ EITHER!”

    yup, I’m 41 years old and got outsmarted by an overtired nine year old.

  • Issa

    2011/09/01 at 3:18 pm

    I love that you had to explain it to her like that. Seems that maybe not everything changes?

    Yay for second grade. Mine started fifth and second this year. I am now supposed to just let them out of the car as well. I am happy with it, but also a tiny bit sad.

    That photo is gorgeous. She looks so grown up. Especially since I went and looked at the one from preschool.

  • rivetergirl

    2011/09/01 at 3:21 pm

    So on the same page, sistah. My 11-year-old daughter started 6th grade in middle school last week.

    Middle school.

    She and both suffer from anxiety issues, too and I feel like I have that hair-and-teeth conversation every day.

    The joy is knowing our little anxious girls are neat and special in their own going-to-freak-out-about-everything way.

    At least they’re not boring, eh?

  • ChickWhitt

    2011/09/01 at 3:19 pm

    You and Jon could make a fortune selling fertilized eggs.

    Seriously, I want to have your babies.

  • katzmoye

    2011/09/01 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t ever EVER want a 2nd grader. I’m happy with my 5 year old, thank you.

  • Shawna for dooce

    2011/09/01 at 3:36 pm

    She is so BEAUTIFUL!! Her hair is amazing, I wish I could get mine to curl like that!

  • dooce

    2011/09/01 at 3:46 pm

    @Lauren3 we used to call her Leta Dorito. Because that’s all I ate during my pregnancy with her.

  • mommica

    2011/09/01 at 3:47 pm

    Leta is beautiful! My daughter has never had a problem with me going away. Everyone kept telling me when she turned one she would have at least SOME separation anxiety. I waited for it to happen every day that I dropped her off at daycare, and nothing. It was great, except for that little tinge of “Um, hello! Don’t you love me?!”

  • Essembee

    2011/09/01 at 3:58 pm

    Oh god, I feel like an affectionate, slightly crazy aunty.. I want to pinch her cheek and say “My gosh Leta, you’re such a young lady now!”.

    Heather, Jon, you have a very beautiful Dorito baby.

    (obvs. she is also wickedly clever and very kind.)

  • Ethel Poostain

    2011/09/01 at 4:02 pm

    That’s a beautiful photo – and the old photo looks soooo much like Marlo!

  • malisams

    2011/09/01 at 4:15 pm

    Seriously beautiful kid you’ve got there. She looks self-assured and sassy. Also, is it weird to be jealous of a second grader’s striped jumper and hair accessory? Whatever.

  • apostate

    2011/09/01 at 4:28 pm

    My son started his first day of the second grade today. I’m really hoping that this will be the year that we can end the routine of beginning every school morning with an incredulous: “WHAT? I have to go to SCHOOL today?” and also that when I ask him how school went, he won’t reply “It was horrible!”

    (His teachers actually tell me that he likes school and does quite well but he won’t give me the satisfaction of knowing that.)

    Most of all, I’m looking forward to school lunch resuming because his teachers sit by him and tell him to eat his food and he miraculously does it because he knows they don’t put up with his picky, sensory issues, “I’m just going to eat one piece of bread today” bullshit there. Every day brings with it a new miracle. A bite of macaroni. Meatloaf. BBQ chicken. It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes.

    Ah, the magic of school days.

  • poopinginpeace

    2011/09/01 at 4:33 pm

    Oh boy do I feel you! My oldest started second grade almost 3 weeks ago now.
    At least I have 2 still in pre-school! Still-this is going WAY to fast.

  • Danica

    2011/09/01 at 4:49 pm

    Leta is so beautiful and poised and strong. I’m sure you’ll see flickers of this throughout her whole life.

  • LizinVa

    2011/09/01 at 4:50 pm

    This past week, I sent my two oldest off to grad school (with apartments and cars and strange cities oh my!) and my youngest started her senior year of high school. I remember many of their first days of school, now I just marvel in the amazing people they have become.

  • Totah Sam

    2011/09/01 at 5:06 pm

    She is so frickin’ pretty! Ya’ll did good. Once gay marriage is nationwide I’m going to adopt five of those little darlin’s 🙂

  • MelissaJ

    2011/09/01 at 5:07 pm

    wow! second grade; it doesn’t seem possible. she looks so grown up.

    i always think marlo looks a lot like leta; and then i think she doesn’t; then i looked back at that picture of leta and yep, they are sisters, to. be. sure.

    looking back at all that has happened and bringing it to this point…worth it…and well done!

  • kidsakeeper

    2011/09/01 at 5:10 pm

    Long time reader (soooo long!) first comment (EVER),
    and the only reason I am leaving this comment is because everyone like to hear nice things about their kids, and she looks beautiful. Really 🙂

  • Rich

    2011/09/01 at 5:47 pm

    Great post.

    My daughter started the 2nd grade too this week.

  • acemom3

    2011/09/01 at 5:48 pm

    I KNOW you hear it all the time but you will be dropping her off at college VERY soon! My children are in high school and college now and I really am having a hard time believing it. Enjoy your beautiful girls!

  • Caroline_O

    2011/09/01 at 6:00 pm

    I’m due in six weeks, and this post managed to make me a) get teary-eyed and b) want to get pregnant again. No small feat, considering my ankles are the size of bowling balls and from the neck up I look like a walrus. Thank you!

    [edited due to violation of the no soliciting clause in the Guidelines:

  • NolaMomma

    2011/09/02 at 6:57 pm

    I’ve been following this blog since Leta was about 2 yrs. old. I am stunned at how mature and how much older she looks here. And she’s just strikingly beautiful and brilliant. Can’t believe she’s already in 2nd grade.

  • mybottlesup

    2011/09/01 at 6:07 pm

    oh wow. i just… i can’t even. wow.

    i haven’t had internet since the hurricane (i know, i’m bitching about a problem that’s not a problem)… so then i get the internet back and the angels sing and i scope what i’ve missed on your blog and now i’m crying because… LETA!!!!!

    how does this happen?


    (she’s gorgeous.)

  • LisaAR

    2011/09/01 at 7:33 pm

    She is simply stunning. And those eyes look wise beyond their years.

    BTW…I hope you know what a BRILLIANT second grader you have to be able to give sequential directions like that and have them followed. If I didn’t remind my 8yo son to put his pants on, I’m pretty sure he’d head out the door total commando…

  • dooce

    2011/09/01 at 7:38 pm

    @!kidsakeeper thank you for the comment. And to everyone else as well.

  • haspotential

    2011/09/01 at 8:17 pm

    But that’s not going to happen to mine, right? Mine is going to stay a 2-toothed, pre-crawling, fat little 7 month old forever, right? RIGHT? I started reading Dooce right when Leta was born (my best friend had a baby the same week and I wanted to know what the deal was with babies.. Dooce must have been on the first page of Google results for “babies + blog”. It is impossible that Leta is so grown up).

  • lunacydress

    2011/09/01 at 8:47 pm

    Oy, such a punim!

  • ValJean

    2011/09/01 at 10:25 pm

    “That’s what bye usually means” is so great. 🙂 My aunt Heidi told my grandmother, “You can go now. I don’t need you anymore” on her first day of school 50 years ago, and Grammy is still upset about it. 🙂 And Leta is beautiful.

  • Amy J.

    2011/09/01 at 10:25 pm

    I can relate Heather. My oldest turns 10 in February and just started the 4th grade a few weeks ago. She has matured and changed so much it stuns me. Tonight she had an impromptu, in depth discussion with me (at her prompting) about if I had a will and what she would do if I ever was put on a ventilator (all stemming from a talk about having to put animals to sleep!)She actually said to me, “Some people don’t need to have kids…it’s not about how much money you have or how you look…your kids won’t care, it just about if you love them and teach them to do right.” I nearly fainted. I thought honestly in my head, “I haven’t fucked her up…I HAVEN’T! She’s got sense, real, honest to God sense!…and she’s only nine!”

    The youngest is nearly 7 and in first grade. She gave a speech running for student council today! It’s all so surreal. I remember the smell of their spitup and now they are like mini adults.

    Second grade was a pivotal year for my Sarah, who reminds me of your Leta. First grade was BAD…lots of drama. After second, she was a different kid and has progressed into this very mature, responsible, funny and MELLOW kid. Gone is the drama and the screaming and frustration. She now gets up in the morning and fixes her breakfast…and her sister’s and both their lunches and gets dressed on her own and it’s all weird. I can actually envision her out in the world…on her own, not reacting to every issue like she’s about to have a stroke. My youngest…that’s another story. She’s the spitting image of her sister at this age and she’s driving me insane, daily. She’s cute as a freakin bug…but spastic doesn’t even come close. Cute, sweet natured…but oh SO spastic. Hang in there…you’re in for the really good stuff with Leta…seriously, who will then join you in trying to help Marlo along in the world, which is now where we’re at. I’m telling ya, SURREAL.

  • lea724

    2011/09/02 at 4:57 am

    I love that photo of her! So pretty!

  • GreerPowers

    2011/09/02 at 5:47 am

    She is BEAUTIFUL! I love her confidence and spirit!

  • Wombat Central

    2011/09/02 at 7:05 am

    Mah babeh will start second grade next week. I think we’re the last state in the country to begin the school year. I’m hoping this will be the year I don’t have to pry her out of bed with a crow bar each day.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2011/09/02 at 7:26 am

    I feel you. My son started 2nd grade this week. I remember reading about your first baby when my first baby was still a baby. Now I’m pretty sure he could whup my ass and take my car keys.

    Congrats on the milestone. She’s beautiful.

  • denise karis

    2011/09/02 at 8:12 am

    Oh my goodness – that difference in photos – Good God! My son just started K and I don’t want him to grow up – hes so baby.

    When she got out of the car I expected her to do a swanky side-step while singing “Grease Lightning.”

    The banner is AMAZING – i LOVE – im a huge marlo fan – shes insane

  • LillyO

    2011/09/02 at 8:23 am

    Ahe time does go by sooo quick, too quick, but at least you are appreciating these moments and knowing how fleeting they are. I can’t believe the differences in those pics…she’s soooo grown up! LOVELY little lady!

  • solaana

    2011/09/02 at 8:39 am

    Thank god your daughter is such a huge nerd – otherwise I don’t think she’d have much of a personality because she is like Halle-Berry’s-baby beautiful.

  • LittleBlueWorld

    2011/09/02 at 10:20 am

    Good lord, she looks 16 in that picture. Scary! But absolutely gorgeous.

  • mitzyjalapeno

    2011/09/02 at 10:48 am

    This was a wonderful post.

    My kids are in kindergarten and 4th grade. (4th grade!) I remember my now 9-year-old son in my arms as a preemie, when his head was smaller than my already small hand, and now I’m flabbergasted that this human being (in 4th grade!) is only six inches shorter than I am*. That he used to be so tiny I could carry him for hours and never grow tired of that feeling is mind-blowing. Of course, I can’t pick him up now. I can’t even pick up my daughter and she’ll be 6 next month. I feel so very, very old, and both of my kids are already so independent it makes me want to cry.

    *I am just over 5 feet tall, so I can’t really classify my kids as “tall” yet – but they’re tall to me.

  • jilllovesbacon

    2011/09/02 at 11:04 am

    Oh my, I was fine until I got to the picture and then my eyes welled up. I DO feel like a proud auntie, watching this amazing girl grow into the world. Well done, Blurbodoocery.

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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