the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The evolution of language

Although Marlo has never really shown the sensory sensitivities that her sister has exhibited since birth (things like avoiding grass and sand and food with any flavor whatsoever), one thing they have very much in common is a quick temper. On my side of the family we trace this back to my Grandmother Daisy Hamilton who used to throw rocks at cars parked near her house and once broke a lamp over my father’s head. I love you, Dad, but now that I’m a parent I bet you deserved it.

In fact, a common threat I throw around when the kids aren’t listening to me is, “You DO NOT want me to get all Granny Hamilton up in here.” Yes, a threat. I threaten my kids. Should I motivate them in more positive ways? Probably. But, “We will bond so much as a family if we clean up this mess together!” has proven less effective than, “Remember that lady who broke a ceramic fixture over your grandfather’s head? I’M RELATED TO HER.”

Not that I would ever break a lamp over anyone’s head. Calm down. It’s just that Daisy gave me the gift of being able to joke about it. That gift and the bump on my father’s head should be sacredly honored.

Leta’s temper manifests itself in frustration, and it’s usually directed at herself. She’s a perfectionist like her mother and she becomes easily annoyed if her handwriting or piano playing isn’t award-winning. She has a very hard time chilling out. It’s the classic cycle of life: our kids do to us what we did to our parents. I often wonder how many times my mother questioned her stance on marijuana and considered feeding me brownies for dinner.

Marlo’s temper is more traditional. Other people and things frustrate her and she takes it out on them. She’s never violent, but I have had to discipline the occasional shove. It’s the vocal temper I have to be more worried about. The vocal temper informed by a variety of words she has picked up, oh… here and there. More here than there but okay fine… here. I did it. She heard those words from me. I don’t really have to tell you any stories, just that my go-to exclamation is SHIT. And Marlo, my budding English graduate who already understands context, now has a way to express her irritation when she spills her cereal.

I’m working on it, I am. But there’s one expression that she uses in anger that I have only ever used as a means of genuine surprise: SHUT UP. I do not remember the last time I ever told someone to shut up because I wanted them to stop talking. I will say it, however, if you tell me that you got those fantastic leather boots on sale. I will say it if you tell me that a car rolled down a driveway and crashed into your mailbox. I will say it if you tell me that someone in the U.S. House of Representatives used the phrase “legitimate rape.”

So I don’t know where she learned to yell, “SHUT UP!” at people who have made her angry. I’ve noticed that she does this. So has my mother. So has my cousin who watches her during the day. We have all disciplined her for it multiple times. And she was being really stubborn about it up until one morning last week when Leta took her by the shoulders and emphasized for the seventeenth time that she was done playing hide and seek.

“SHUT—” Marlo stopped herself because I was standing three feet away.

“SHUT—” again she stopped herself, but she couldn’t let it go.


Leta shook her head in disbelief. “What are you talking about, Marlo?”

Marlo only got louder. “SHUT. THE. DOOR.”

Leta and I both started laughing. “Marlo,” she said. “I’m not standing anywhere near a door.”


This has now replaced both SHUT UP and SHIT in her vocabulary. Upside.

Cue to Saturday afternoon when we were all being lazy and watching an episode of iCarly. It’s a little mature for Marlo to understand so she was occupied with a dollhouse, but she was in the room when a character on the show couldn’t believe what she was hearing and, just like I do, communicated her incredulity by shouting, “SHUT UP!”

Marlo jumped up like she had been electrocuted.

“WHAT?!” she howled pointing to the television. “She just said it! SHE JUST SAID IT!”

Before I could even try to explain the difference between how she said it and how Marlo says it, she covered her ears, fell to the floor and yelled, “SHUT THE DOOR. JUST SHUT THE DOOR.”

  • Amy Mac

    2012/12/10 at 2:18 pm

    Please teach her to say “Shut the Front Door.” Both for when she wants to exclaim “Shut UP!” out of incredulity AND when she wants someone to shut their face. That would be true excellence. Also, god bless our crazy Southern grandmothers … without them, where WOULD our sense of humor be? Nowhere good.

  • Angeerah

    2012/12/10 at 2:20 pm

    Our son has autism so his language is coming around more but OF COURSE, he picks up on the things we do not want him to say, at least in public. The funniest though is that I’m always telling my husband to WATCH OUT! or BE CAREFUL! when we are in the car. The other day my husband took a fast left and what did we hear from our backseat driver? WATCH OUT, Dada!!!

  • Jess Z.

    2012/12/10 at 2:24 pm

    My four-year-old son learned this somewhere too…not sure where, since I only say the words in context like you do. “You got that coat for $25? Whaaat? Shuuut uuup!”

  • erin

    2012/12/10 at 2:48 pm

    This is perhaps the best thing I have read all day.

  • Kristan

    2012/12/10 at 3:18 pm

    *dies of cuteness*

  • Lauren N

    2012/12/10 at 3:22 pm

    My two year old snapped at my sister yesterday “Don’t talk to me like that, AUNT ALEXIS.” And by two, I mean, she turned two last week, so in toddler-speak this came out as “No my talk wike dat AUNT LECKIS” I’m not sure we were supposed to laugh in response,

  • TeraJo

    2012/12/10 at 3:38 pm

    Instead of shit it’s “Sugar Honey Iced Tea” effectively saying SHIT without saying shit. Works like a charm. 🙂

  • Hanni

    2012/12/10 at 3:46 pm

    OMG…that’s awesome. I love that kid!

  • americanrecluse

    2012/12/10 at 3:47 pm

    Sometimes I read these parenting posts and the mind just boggles. I mean, it’s adorable, no doubt. Also mind-boggling.

  • Michael Mathews

    2012/12/10 at 4:27 pm

    So Happy It’s Thursday was our phrase, but it only worked once a week. 🙂

  • Mouse in the House

    2012/12/10 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks for another much-needed laugh, Marlo!

  • Megan Hannah

    2012/12/10 at 7:57 pm

    This post reminds me of a song that I sang in high school called “Shut De Do”. It’s a religious song, but a lot of fun to sing. Anytime she tells you to “shut the door!” you should respond “keep out the devil!”.

  • Margaret Lukes

    2012/12/10 at 8:49 pm

    Put. The Candle. Back. Is always a good one, too

  • buttercup

    2012/12/10 at 10:15 pm

    May I please adopt Marlo? love her!

  • Susan B

    2012/12/10 at 10:33 pm

    So I have a Grandmother Daisy Hetherington. She was my mentor. Thanks for the reminder

  • Devlyn

    2012/12/10 at 11:03 pm

    Hey, I totally sang that song in choir, too. ^_^

  • Erin Gill

    2012/12/11 at 12:27 am

    At least you weren’t f-bombing it!

  • allconsuming

    2012/12/11 at 4:00 am

    Our eldest has a profound speech disability. Want to get a kid with a profound speech disability able to say “f” and “sh”? BINGO. Quality parenting AND speech therapy right.there.

  • KatiesMom

    2012/12/11 at 6:18 am

    Yeah, from personal experinece, traditional methods don’t work with an 11 month old who is speaking in full sentences. Walking away when she started to tantrum produced “Come back so I can tell you I’m not talking to you!”
    Good news? She survived and is now in college (studying performing arts, but that’s another story).

  • Jessie

    2012/12/11 at 6:47 am

    I feel like our kids (I have two girls) are so similar in their personalities, it almost freaks me out. We just moved to Boston a few months ago and my 3 year already sounds like some South Boston chick from a Ben Affleck movie: “She took my Bahbie doll! How you like dem apples?”

  • Maggie Spitler

    2012/12/11 at 8:46 am

    LOL! My four year old son’s favorite (and just about only) word for the
    longest time was dammit. NOOOOO idea where he learned it. I would never
    use such language myself. No sir! Eventually we got through to him that
    dammit is an adult only word. He could use dang, shoot, poop, gee
    whilickers. Anything but dammit. So…..being the avid animal lover that
    he is, he started saying dam beavers. Because beavers build dams,
    right? So therefore dam was ok. How can you argue with logic like that?

  • The Hook

    2012/12/11 at 1:40 pm

    This was brilliant, heartbreaking and hilarious – all at once!

  • Karen

    2012/12/11 at 2:19 pm

    love it!!!! LoLOL

  • pagooey

    2012/12/11 at 6:55 pm

    When my friend’s son was in a hippie-dippy preschool, the school established a list of acceptable “toddler curses” the kids could use in place of “shut up” or worse. One of these was “diaper.” OMG, that is SO DIAPER! Stop being such a DIAPER, dude. (The kid is entering high school next year, so he probably doesn’t use this any more, but his mother and I still do.)

  • Margaret Lukes

    2012/12/11 at 8:46 pm

    Funny- and true story about that: It was one of the first things we taught our twins to say. We’d squish their little cheeks together and they’d say, “phhht tthhhhhe ccnnnddll bbbkkk” Sick?

  • Karen

    2012/12/12 at 3:31 am

    just hilarious…:-)

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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