the smell of my desperation has become a stench

A rapidly fading artform

Monday afternoon Leta walked into my office carrying a piece of paper she had torn out of a notebook. That’s a pretty boring way to start a story. You didn’t come here for that. I should have said something like, “Leta walked into my office carrying the carcass of a bobcat she shot with a golden bow and arrow, a birthday gift she received from her godfather Peter Frampton.”

There. The end.


“Mom,” she said. “I want to send a letter. Can you help me?”

She obviously didn’t notice that I was very busy writing a mommyblog and had no time whatsoever to indulge her childhood pursuits. What? Does she just think this mommyblog writes itself? I’ve got news for her: IT DOESN’T. I have to pound away at the computer for minutes at a time. The nerve.

“Let me finish up this very important work,” I answered. I then turned back to my monitor and starred a tweet about a cat.

A half hour later after scrolling all the way to the bottom of Instagram where it won’t load more photos (Instagram, we need to have a talk. We all know that the photos don’t end there. You’re being a greedy shithead.), I came downstairs with an envelope and handed it to Leta.

“But…” she stammered a bit. “What do you do with this?”

Oh my god. Oh-em-jee. Who the hell writes letters anymore? Certainly not children who know how to turn on an iPad and swipe the screen until they find the Netflix app. Seriously. When my iPad crashes I hand it to her and say, “It’s doing that thing again!”

She had no idea how to write an address on a letter. I guess they aren’t teaching this at school anymore? Is learning how to write an email or a text a more important skill to possess? Is Victorian England rolling over in its grave right now? Is Jane Austen’s carcass totally throwing up?

I don’t know why it shocked me so much, but I started laughing at the vast expanse between my childhood and hers. She started to take it personally, so I immediately tried to articulate my surprise.

“No, Leta. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at how much has changed. I should look up a photo of a mobile phone from the Nineties to show you how absurd it all is.”

So that’s what I did. I searched “mobile phone 1995” and found this:


“That thing is as big as his head,” she said.

“YES. It is! And would you look at that antenna? LOOK AT THAT ANTENNA. He’s going to poke somebody’s eye out with that thing.”

I showed her a few more examples, and then we sat at the kitchen table so that I could show her how to write an address on an envelope. You know, sometimes I go about my day with my kids and I get caught up in the minutia of getting everyone dressed and teeth brushed and shoes tied and homework completed, and it’s all just this giant blur of a routine that I have to maintain so that everyone is taken care of. And I’m like, yeah. This is parenthood. Okay.

But then suddenly I’m showing my nine-year-old how to send a handwritten letter to her friend: here’s where you write her street address, and underneath that you write the city and state she lives in. And then I’m explaining what a zip code is and telling her that I lived in 38134 for 18 years (go Bartlett Panthers!) and she’s astounded that I can still remember the exact number. For about two minutes she repeated our zip code over and over again so that she would remember it.

I let her put the stamp on the upper right side of the envelope and showed her how to seal it. Then we put on our snow boots and trekked through the three feet of accumulated snow surrounding the mailbox so that she could set the letter inside, the first stop on its way to its final destination. I showed her how to lift up the red flag on the side of the box so that the postal worker would know something was inside and thought about how awesome it would be if he opened it and a possum jumped out.

“I can’t wait for her to write me back!” Leta said as we headed inside. Watching her enthusiasm over this antiquated way of corresponding with other people, this total novelty, fulfilled me in such a way that I stopped for a second and thought, damn if this isn’t satisfying. I love this.

Mom, thank you for showing me how to write a check. I think I might know how you felt while you were doing it.

  • Kimberly

    2013/02/13 at 1:52 pm

    Had the same feeling when I had to show my oldest daughter that! Is that Telly Savalas? He has a big head. or had, is he still alive?

  • Weirda

    2013/02/13 at 2:00 pm

    That’s awesome. I wouldn’t expect a 9-year-old to know how to address and envelope. I would, however, expect an adult to know, and the couple of times I have seen one not know what to do at the post office astounded me to no end. The persons appeared to be recent immigrants, so, to be fair, I don’t know what conditions they came from, but it still astounds me. Just seems like something someone would learn in the same vein of, if you know how to obtain a mobile phone, you should know how to address a letter. And don’t you get letters delivered to you ever? Ever notice what they look like?

  • sarah

    2013/02/13 at 2:08 pm

    I was shocked at the Fresh Prince episode where he uses a cell phone. those brick cell phones were pretty serious!

  • KathyB

    2013/02/13 at 2:09 pm

    Love that Leta is sending a letter to her friend. My mother loved to send newspaper clippings in her letters to me. I liked using note cards with pictures she would like on the front. My daughter, who is your age, Heather, writes thank you notes and sometimes sends cards. With stickers on them.

  • Amy

    2013/02/13 at 2:12 pm

    FYI, different countries have different conventions of how to write an address on an envelope, so regardless of the “conditions” in their home country, recent newcomers might need a refresher on how it’s done.

  • Courtney K.

    2013/02/13 at 2:23 pm

    I had to write a check a while back, and had to think about it really hard; I couldn’t remember how to fill out part of it. Thank you, auto-pay.

  • Amy

    2013/02/13 at 2:39 pm

    My brain read the title of the post as “A Rapidly Farting Aidform” and I didn’t bat an eye, because this is farts. I mean, Dooce.

  • LukePF

    2013/02/13 at 2:55 pm

    I’m having such fun imagining that the letter was a thank-you note to Peter Frampton for the bow and arrow. Maybe handwritten thank-you notes could be the next Old-People Lifeskills & Etiquette lesson?

  • Necole

    2013/02/13 at 3:08 pm

    When I tell my daughters that there was no internet when I went to college, they gasp. They are confused to how I looked anything up.

  • DenyseP

    2013/02/13 at 3:29 pm

    Oh em gee! That is SO NOT Telly Savalas!!! Seriously?

  • Heidi

    2013/02/13 at 3:43 pm

    Artform it is! I sent my grandmother and parents Valentine’s cards today. It wasn’t completely unselfish because I know that when I send anything by mail to my grandmother, she always returns the favor. Her return letters come a week later, written in her beautiful, delicate cursive writing, carefully written, carefully stamped. At 86 years old, I treasure her letters and always keep them with my other precious things. It’s something about the handwriting… it’s a piece of a person, I think…

  • Heidi

    2013/02/13 at 3:44 pm

    My grandmother is 86 years old; not me.

  • periwinkled

    2013/02/13 at 4:25 pm

    I brought a Polaroid 600 camera to the beach one year, and my young cousin and I got busy taking photos of things one afternoon (this was before you had to sacrifice your firstborn to get your hands on 600 film, so I had plenty). When I was explaining to her how it worked (push button, get photo), she stopped me mid-sentence to exclaim, “You mean, you don’t even have to plug it into the computer??” And suddenly Polaroid was the cutting edge of technology and efficiency.

  • Zach Rosenberg

    2013/02/13 at 4:40 pm

    My four year old still calls letters in our mailbox “e-mail.” Fuckin’ kids. Also, I still write one check every month because landlords are all over 60 years old and don’t accept Paypal, and I just decided last month that I’m no longer using cursive on them. Why’d we have to use cursive on checks in the first place? Whenever there’s a machine-printed check such as a paycheck or tax refund, it’s all in OCR-friendly monotype.

  • Richard Morey

    2013/02/13 at 4:45 pm

    I remember learning about writing letters, addressing envelopes, etc. in grade school English but I don’t remember what grade. We also learned how to fill out checks in math class but again I don’t remember what grade that was.

  • Richard Morey

    2013/02/13 at 5:47 pm

    This only goes up to 2006 but its pretty entertaining look at cell phone evolution:

  • americanrecluse

    2013/02/13 at 4:57 pm

    I have no idea why I loved this post so much. Probably similar to why you liked helping her with this so much. Showing her how to lift the flag and explaining how that bit worked just gave me the warm fuzzies.

  • Amber Robidoux

    2013/02/13 at 4:58 pm

    THIS is why I do hand written cards with my kiddos… after birthday parties or just because. (They are 3 and 5 years old.)

  • Kristan

    2013/02/13 at 5:11 pm

    My best friend and I started passing notes in high school. Now we live hundreds of miles apart, but we still handwrite our most intimate correspondence. (Yes, email is easier for the daily whatevers.) 🙂

    I also love sending random cards and postcards to people. Yes, electronic writing is the more “valuable” skill, but handwriting is more personal, and I hope that it never goes away completely.

  • Dana Marie Vittum

    2013/02/13 at 6:54 pm

    Ooh! You know what might be fun for the two of you to do together? She might really enjoy You can send random postcards all over the world and receive cards back from other people. It can be completely anonymous as well, I did it under my blog name and I know people can also choose to use a PO Box. I did it for awhile and received some really cool postcards back.

  • abby536

    2013/02/13 at 6:10 pm

    If there’s no lollipop it’s not Kojak.

  • abby536

    2013/02/13 at 6:12 pm

    I never learned. The first check I wrote in my campus bookstore was a mess.

    I had to initial all over it. That’s something I’d seen my Mom do but somehow we never reviewed the specifics of how to avoid making a hash of it in the first place.

  • MarilynInTheUK

    2013/02/13 at 7:05 pm

    Please don’t tar all of us over 60 year olds with the same brush. We’re not all technophobes. And some of us even welcome technology into our homes. Having said that, one of my good friends who is twenty years younger than me absolutely hates all modern technology and wouldn’t have a clue what you meant if you said ‘paypal’ to her. Doesn’t even own a computer. Can’t use her cell phone properly and loses it on purpose. So please bear in mind, some of us still have our wits and our intelligence about us. And will have for a long time yet. God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

  • MarilynInTheUK

    2013/02/13 at 7:11 pm

    I think they should still teach letter writing the snailmail way in schools. The way I first learned was by my teacher suggesting that we had penpals, kids in another country that we could write to. We, enthusiastic 10 year olds, all loved the idea. And for one English lesson per week, we all wrote letters to our foreign penpals. They wrote back to us. It’s a fantastic way for kids to learn about other cultures. And it IS exciting to receive letters through the post. Whatever age you are!

  • ɯoɔ˙ɹǝƃƃolquǝʞoʇ

    2013/02/13 at 7:12 pm

    I can’t believe I finally found the comment section!

    I had pen friends in France and England when I was growing up, plus my friend and I wrote to each other nearly every day (we had moved away).

    Blogging reminds me of pen friends. Probably why I enjoy it so.

  • MarilynInTheUK

    2013/02/13 at 7:15 pm

    NO it is NOT Telly Savalas and sadly NO he is not still alive. (You could check the internet for the real Telly Savalas… As DenyseP said, ‘Seriously?’!!

  • Apache

    2013/02/13 at 9:39 pm

    Recently realized my kinda smart 15 year old didn’t know how to read a clock with hands. I told him how I used to watch the hands move while sitting in church. He couldn’t relate to either of those things.

  • Neasa

    2013/02/14 at 5:07 am

    I have just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which is a beautifully story told through letters written to and from the narrator. The art of letter writing should never die. Delighted Leta is giving it a go… I hope her friend writes back. If not, I will!

  • amanda

    2013/02/14 at 6:40 am

    Welp. That just made me cry. WTF.

  • Arnebya

    2013/02/14 at 7:00 am

    My 9 yr old recently sent a letter to a friend who lives a good 7 minutes away and I treasured that moment. That she can pick up the phone or text via her iPod Touch but she opted to put something in writing, a handwritten “I miss you” note (again, seven damn minutes, y’all; we could walk to her house, knock on the door and say “Sup? I was missin’ you.”) I love that our kids are still open to some of the ways we communicated and willing to keep it going. Now I just have to remember not to mail shit after August and expect it to be delivered on a Saturday. WTF USPS?

  • Anny

    2013/02/14 at 7:39 am

    I’m 24 and I write letters because I like it, sometimes when I sit at work, co-workers not many years younger than me come up to me wondering what I’m doing with paper and a fountain pen. One of them actually admitted to never having written a paper letter in her life. I fear for the next generations, it feels like the art of hand-writing is dying and it makes me sad.

  • Amelia

    2013/02/14 at 8:05 am

    Err… while Leta sounds like a wonderfully thoughtful and kind child (the way she stands up for other kids! the way she loves Marlo!), my first reaction to this story (because I am an old curmudgeon with Opinions about Etiquette) was “wait a minute, does this mean the child’s never sent a thank you note? HOW CAN THAT BE?”

  • anoldkazoo

    2013/02/14 at 8:31 am

    I’m surprised they don’t teach it in schools over there anymore. But then I teach in England…where the education system is fairly Victorian still! We not only teach letter writing, but my classes all have penpals. Maybe that’s just my preference…I’m just old school that way.

  • Valerie Hogervorst

    2013/02/14 at 9:11 am

    Yesterday my 12 year old daughter came to the post office with me and my 27 baby shower invites to get stamps and I handed her half of them and some stamps and told her to get to work and she didn’t even know what to do with them!!! PREPOSTEROUS! They don’t even teach THAT in school anymore, apparently. It’s like she’s never seen snail mail or something! She GETS mail, for Christ’s sake! How does she not know. Now she knows.

  • maxg

    2013/02/14 at 9:31 am

    So cute! My kids’ school does teach the whole letter writing and envelope format in 3rd grade. Isn’t that where Leta is? Maybe they just haven’t gotten to it yet, and now she will be ahead of the game!
    And I am the type of mom who still makes her kids write formal thank you notes which are mailed for gifts they receive. So old fashioned!

  • Jessica Bates

    2013/02/14 at 9:55 am

    I wrote a letter to my long-distance friend yesterday. I could have written an email, but, you know, gag. And I was surprised that halfway through my letter my hand cramped and I had to take a break! I write for a LIVING, for God’s sake (from a computer, yeah), but I couldn’t sit still long enough to write one damned letter. There’s something so satisfying though about walking to the mailbox and flipping up that cute flag. And it’s even better receiving something in your own mailbox that isn’t junk mail or your property tax bill.

    My sister and I recently found a box that belonged to our late grandfather. There were letters from him to his family written from France during WWII. God! Letters are amazing! They yellow and the paper gets thinner and flimsy, but I hold in my hand something that travelled from France to Tennessee! And it’s pure poetry. He ended every letter in “So bye, bye, bye.” Anyway, thanks for promoting old fashioned letter-writing.

    Go, Leta!

  • Jeanne

    2013/02/14 at 10:09 am

    I work in a school… I think at some point during
    the year, some of the older kids (5th grade?) write a letter to someone
    requesting information. Since I’m not a teacher, I’m not sure if that’s
    the only time they write a letter. I do know that their spelling and
    penmanship are abysmal and there is nobody teaching handwriting. All of their spelling work is done on the computer.

    have a granddaughter, age 4 1/2. She lives 5 blocks away. I see her
    once a week for sure, sometimes briefly one other time in the week. I
    send her a postcard EVERY week. At some point I hope her parents will
    show her how to send one back, but if they don’t, I will, when she
    learns more about how to read and write.
    if you know a child, or know a teacher, you could send them a letter or
    card and start a pen-pal relationship. If I had no kids in my life, I’d
    find some elementary school teacher or better yet, a home school
    family, and “adopt” them and send them mail. I think homeschoolers “get”
    this better than public school teachers, who are more hampered by their
    curriculum regulations.

  • Jeanne

    2013/02/14 at 10:09 am

    sorry for the weird formatting.

  • Jen Wilson

    2013/02/14 at 11:29 am

    My then-ten-year-old discovered some old children’s tapes of mine (Adventures in Odyssey) and wanted to listen to them. I taught her how to rewind them, and how to flip them over when one side is done so she could listen to the other side. An hour or so later, I heard a lot of rewinding. Then I heard her flip the tape over followed by more rewinding sounds. WTF? I went to see what she was doing, and she said to me, “I came to the end of the tape, so I rewound both sides so I could listen to it again!”

  • Jackie Bragale

    2013/02/14 at 5:50 pm

    I can’t wait till my kids are older and I can show them all the crazy things I had as a kid [or didn’t have]. It makes me giddy in sorta of a weird way.

  • Peever

    2013/02/14 at 6:41 pm

    I love how this comes down to teachers not teaching something in schools. Before you know it we will need to also teach children how to trim their fingernails, apply a bandaid, wipe their bum properly… What? He can’t wipe his bum? I am shocked that they don’t teach that in schools anymore!!! What a great example of the partnership that parents have in the education of their children.

  • dampscribbler

    2013/02/14 at 8:03 pm

    It’s possible that Heather has done all of the envelope addressing for thank-you notes. 🙂

  • dampscribbler

    2013/02/14 at 8:14 pm

    I’m so old that when I look at a digital clock I have to translate it in my imagination to a clock with hands to figure out what time it is.

  • dampscribbler

    2013/02/14 at 8:19 pm

    Wow, what’s with people harshin on the girl who doesn’t know Telly Savalas? I’m over 40 and could have made that mistake.

  • Linda

    2013/02/15 at 12:51 am

    Did you know that many states are going to have printing only taught, not cursive? I guess they figure no one will be writing any more due to computer use.
    My grandkids are amazed that my family had the first TV on our block with only 3 channels to chose from and not on the air all day and that we had to get up and cross the room to the TV to change channels-and rabbit ears to fiddle with to get a clear picture. And a phone you dialed with shared lines, always black in color with a three digit phone number.

  • Sam

    2013/02/15 at 8:43 am

    Same here! I just kept on reading like, “farts…normal.”

  • Rhonda B.

    2013/02/15 at 11:09 am

    Fantastic! I sometimes find myself having trouble explaining things that were normal for us as kids, to my 5-year-old. She doesn’t understand that we didn’t have computers or digital cameras. It’s a fun (and odd) conversation.

  • Rhonda B.

    2013/02/15 at 11:19 am

    HA! Me too!

  • Mary

    2013/02/15 at 11:32 am

    Great post. Followed you since Leta was born- so I felt old before reading it. It was warm and mushy. We need more of that. Carry on H.

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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