the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Best sister ever

I was walking by the dry erase easel sitting in a corner of the living room when this caught my eye:

photo by Heather B. Armstrong for

I took a photograph of it and thought I’d upload it to Instagram and make a joke that this would say something very different in ten years when Marlo borrows her favorite shirt without asking her and loses it. Or steals her mascara, or always leaves her to replace the toilet paper in their bathroom, or is humming that one song she hates and refuses to stop. I was just about to type, “Or hogs the phone for hours.” How cute is that? “The” phone. Singular.

Kids, we grew up with one phone. And it was attached to the wall. We lived through that. Do not ever challenge someone who grew up in the Eighties to a bar fight.

But then I thought, I wonder if Leta knows that she is the best sister ever? No, I’m not about to get all gross, so don’t start gagging. How unbecoming.

It’s just that Leta deserves all the credit here. She puts up with so much shit from that kid. She shares everything with her, even though Marlo breaks or loses or purposefully disfigures anything she can get her hands on. Leta will want to be by herself in her room reading books but will play one more round of hide and seek because Marlo wants to. She’ll give her one more piggy back ride, she’ll play house for ten more minutes. I’d like to take all the credit for her generosity, but then I realize I’ve raised Marlo exactly the same way and that kid will eventually be arrested for felony arson.

Add then… oof. One night last week Leta was reading before bed. I usually give her about a half hour and then go into her room to tuck her in. I was sitting in my own bedroom reading when she quietly walked through my door. I asked her if she wanted to call it a night and she nodded while biting her lip.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s just, can I ask you something?”

“Of course. You can ask me anything.”

“Well… I was thinking… can I sell some of my toys?”

“Why do you want to sell your toys?” I asked as I stood up and started walking her toward her room. She hesitated and waited until she had climbed into her bed to answer me.

“I want to buy Marlo some new toys, and I thought that if I sold some of my own that I’d have the money to do it.”

“Leta,” I said and pulled the covers up to her chin. “That’s super nice of you. Do you really want to do that?”

She yanked the covers down a bit in a display of excitement. “I do! I really do! I want to walk through a toy store with her and let her pick something out, something that I can buy for her.”

I experienced two emotions at that point: 1) OH MY GOD MY KID IS AMAZING, and 2) Dude, that kid treats you like shit! And not only do you take it, but you want to buy her presents? COME ON. Do not ever let her borrow your favorite shirt, do you hear me? Huge mistake. HUGE.

In the end the first emotion won.

  • Mayts

    2012/11/20 at 2:35 pm

    OK that totally made me cry. I’ve got a 5 year old and a 3.5 year old and the total sap in me just came out and cried a snotty cry all over my keyboard. Thanks for sharing! It is nice to focus on the sweet moments among the exhaustion, stress and drama.

  • Kate

    2012/11/20 at 2:35 pm

    Totally crying. And you are totally winning as a parent, because that graciousness does not come out of nowhere. Nice work Miss H.

  • Rebecca

    2012/11/20 at 2:39 pm

    Awww! Sorry but that is too cute!

  • jess crawford!

    2012/11/20 at 2:40 pm

    This is THE BEST. My kid sister (16 years younger than me) is like this and I am always so humbled by it. One year a family in our community was going through a rough spot and folks were taking up a collection. My sister had been saving up to buy herself a Nintendo DS and she donated every single penny to the family instead. When my mom told me I burst into tears. (My mom deserves all the credit. And to reward my sister, my mom bought her the DS anyway).

    Good work, Heather. One of the other commenters is right — that graciousness definitely doesn’t come out of thin air. xoxo.

  • shyeyes

    2012/11/20 at 2:40 pm

    thanks for making me cry. AT WORK! kidding – leta is a fantastic sister.

  • WhyWhySee

    2012/11/20 at 2:40 pm

    So awesome. I do know how proud you felt then.

  • Lauren

    2012/11/20 at 2:41 pm

    What caught my eye was the excellent use of a comma in “I love you, Marlo.” Heck, most of my university educated friends haven’t even caught on to that one yet.

  • Becky

    2012/11/20 at 2:44 pm

    Wow! Remembering how ‘persnickety’ Leta was when she was younger makes this story even more heartwarming. Congratulations on your amazing daughters!

  • Ashley Austrew

    2012/11/20 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for stimulating my ovaries, Heather. Now I have to have another kid just so I can experience this. Damn you!

  • Leigh Barrett

    2012/11/20 at 2:51 pm

    Crap, another crier here. What a sweet girl. One day, Marlo will appreciate her. It may not be for oh, 15-20 more years, but it will come.

  • carolinegolon

    2012/11/20 at 2:52 pm

    Awwww, this is adorbs. My girls are the same ages apart…we’ll see if my older daughter is quite so sweet.

  • Jessi Sanfilippo

    2012/11/20 at 2:54 pm

    There goes my computerus. Exploding all over the damn place, Heather.

  • Stefanie

    2012/11/20 at 2:56 pm

    It’s so lovely to see glimpses of your kids’ hearts and it makes you love them more and more deeply than you ever imagined that you could. Raising siblings is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Sure, I’m pretty certain that one day they are going to kill me from exhaustion, but living this life and being their mom is amazing. Your girls are so lucky to have you as their mom. Congrats, Heather, you did that.

  • Kimberly

    2012/11/20 at 2:58 pm

    Love! Love! Love!

  • issascrazyworld

    2012/11/20 at 3:02 pm

    Leta just rocks. That is all. 🙂

  • Tavin Sparrow Robinson

    2012/11/20 at 3:07 pm

    You know what that says to me? Hella good parents. Make no mistake Armstrong. You are one good Mamma.,

  • Sharon Barrett

    2012/11/20 at 3:08 pm

    I am now crying. Every mom has that moment, so glad you got to have such a wonderful one.

  • Lisa Gibson

    2012/11/20 at 3:14 pm

    My kids (28, 27, 24 and 18) now all adore each other. It gives me comfort for when I am gone, they will be there for each other. I don’t take credit for any of it. I think they just worked on their relationships themselves….

  • Vale

    2012/11/20 at 3:20 pm

    So sweet. Who is chopping onions around here? I love my sister so much, I want to give my daughter one too.

  • michele

    2012/11/20 at 3:23 pm

    amazing. my eldest is a month younger than Marlo… so we aren’t to this magical place yet. hell, we might never be. but i continue to hope for it. well done, big sis.

  • Tina Beveridge

    2012/11/20 at 3:24 pm


  • HeatherArmstrong

    2012/11/20 at 3:34 pm

    I noticed that, too. So so proud.

  • Janice

    2012/11/20 at 3:49 pm

    Beautiful story – caught this line “Kids, we grew up with one phone. And it was attached to the wall. We lived through that. Do not ever challenge someone who grew up in the Eighties to a bar fight.” I’m a child of the 60’s; one phone, one BATHROOM. FOR. EVERYBODY. Don’t even….

  • Lesley

    2012/11/20 at 3:51 pm

    Simply said? Awesome. In the truest sense of the word.

  • Sarah

    2012/11/20 at 4:27 pm

    Love this. Having been reading since the beginning and feeling like I am watching Leta and Marlo grow up is awesome to say the very least. I love my sister who happens to be the older one, I don’t recall her being as generous though. The time my memories really begin hit at the exact moment I was the annoying little kid sister, so that may be why.

  • amanda

    2012/11/20 at 5:12 pm

    We’re having identical child rearing experiences. My oldest is Leta to a T. Just last night, I took him to Target so he could spend the money he has earned mowing lawns. He bought 1 toy for himself and a toy for each of his siblings – just because he wanted to – even though his little sister is hell on wheels and meaner than an angry hornet. He loves her completely and selflessly and wholly. He is amazing and I can take zero credit for it – for then I’d have to take the blame for his sister.

  • Rachael

    2012/11/20 at 5:18 pm

    One: I swear, the way you describe Marlo and what the dreaded future Marlo is going to be, it’s like she is destined to become Bunny Lebowski and/or Penny Lane.
    Two: Your first never ceases to amaze me. I want five just like her. Minus the picky eating =P

  • Katie Arnold

    2012/11/20 at 5:31 pm

    An ever so precious moment. You may need to remind her of this when they get to be teenagers and the sister angst and rivalry is running high.

  • Kristan

    2012/11/20 at 6:04 pm

    Ditto, and agreed.

  • Katybeth

    2012/11/20 at 7:47 pm

    Lovely Leta. You can gross me out with these kind of stories any old time….

  • SW

    2012/11/20 at 8:30 pm

    Awesome moment. And an awesome, huge-hearted big sister. You are raising good people. And that is all that matters in this world.

  • Meg H

    2012/11/20 at 9:53 pm

    Add me to the list of people now crying. Seriously! Are you sure Leta wasn’t born an adult?

  • susan

    2012/11/20 at 9:56 pm

    Totally proves what a wonderful mom you are!

  • Lue Read

    2012/11/20 at 10:30 pm

    My older sisters would lock me in the cellar. Leta deserves two toys for each one she sells to buy something for Marlo. 🙂

  • debisis

    2012/11/20 at 10:39 pm

    Impressive grammar…well done, HEATHER.

  • debisis

    2012/11/20 at 10:45 pm

    writing kind of resembles an adult trying to write like HER child. desperate for a special story..? are you actually making money on this site these days?

  • leesuhrenay

    2012/11/20 at 11:17 pm

    feeling all snarky and then there goes the water works…jerk!

  • lorrie

    2012/11/20 at 11:42 pm

    desperate for attention with your special response…? are you actually making money reading and/or negative commenting on this site these days? sleep well under your bridge little troll…

  • lorrie

    2012/11/20 at 11:44 pm

    impressive typing skills… good for you, DEBISIS

  • lorrie

    2012/11/20 at 11:52 pm

    being a good mother is much more than cooking, cleaning, & feeding your kids. that’s not what they will remember. it’s these little moments that you capture in your heart and let them know how awesome they are in that moment, that’s why they’ll always know you’re THEIR perfect mother.

  • Vera

    2012/11/21 at 3:56 am

    She is such a sweet sweet sister. If I had a sister, I’d love her to be it 🙂

  • Jane Kaminski

    2012/11/21 at 6:46 am

    Lorrie — I know it pisses you off, but don’t answer her/him at ALL. Seriously. THAT is what a troll gets off on–why they even exist. (My mother told me something similar about my brother’s teasing when we were kids LOL; wish I’d believed her!)
    And BTW, I smiled…and bet many others did…when I saw that comma. At a ridiculously young age I was OCD about grammar and spelling. I bet we could all tell that special little kid was going to be the same way.

  • Jane Kaminski

    2012/11/21 at 7:05 am

    Such a sweet story. You know Marlo will figure out that big sisters are the best.
    My beautiful big sister was diagnosed with oral cancer in September and it doesn’t look like I’ll have her for too much longer. I’m going to print this out for her because I know it will make her smile.

  • MaggieG

    2012/11/21 at 7:42 am

    I’m thirty years old this year, but I will always be the little sister… and I am so lucky I have a big sister who has always been like Leta. Cryin’ in my cubicle!

  • Bkk

    2012/11/21 at 8:49 am

    You are the valedictorian of parenting!

  • Gretchen

    2012/11/21 at 9:07 am

    I don’t know, every time you describe Marlo, it sounds like my daughter, who’s about to turn 8. And, in spite of the destructive attitude towards every material object handed to her, and being the only girl in her troop that comes home covered in paint, she is also amazingly generous. Marlo might turn out to be a generous kid too. A generous arsonist. Nice, huh?

  • Gretchen

    2012/11/21 at 9:07 am

    Me, too!

  • Erika

    2012/11/21 at 3:16 pm

    That made me cry and almost think about having a fourth child so my daughter won’t be the so far behind her brothers little sister. Almost.

  • lorrie

    2012/11/21 at 3:39 pm

    i know Jane, and thank you for the reminder, it does get under my skin sometimes. I grew up in a household with an alcoholic narcissistic mother who allowed my older sister to physically, emotionally, and psychological abuse me from infancy on. I’m now in my early 50’s and just learning that I’m not invisible and I do have a voice to use and be heard. I know Heather can stand up for herself, she has shown that through the journey she has been brave to share with us. But sometimes it just makes ME feel good to be sticking up for someone I care about, even if it’s just on the Internet. For me this was not about giving the troll what they want, but giving ME practice for when the ooccasions may arise in my real life. It’s not often I get to be Mother/Sister/Me for self healing and protection. I can’t let all that therapy Heather paid for to go to waste, I took notes!

  • Jen Wilson

    2012/11/22 at 10:15 pm

    Oh seriously, I can hardly stand this (in a good way). So wonderful and precious. My girls are six years apart (11 and 5) and are so mean to each other and I just can’t figure out how to get them to BE KIND. Leta and Marlo have given me hope that maybe it is possible. One day. I hope. Thank you for sharing this.

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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