the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The red rock wonderland

One of Leta’s favorite things to do with my mother other than visit the local thrift shop and come home with a bag of tiny useless things she will promptly lose is “travel” to a local city and stay in a hotel. My mother and stepfather will gather up a few of the grandkids at a time, head to Ogden or Logan, and stay at a hotel for a couple of nights. The kids love the indoor pool, the fast food French fries, and all those times my mother says, “And now we’re going to engage in an activity your parents have strictly forbidden.”

In the weeks leading up to our trip to Arches National Park, we looked at a few options in terms of lodging. And here’s a pro tip if you’re ever headed to that area: look at condos. In Moab they’re almost always cheaper and have better amenities than hotels. Since there were so many of us on this trip, we needed the kitchen and the multiple bathrooms the condo provided. Did we need the enormous hot tub on the back porch? It doesn’t matter if we needed it. We are American. We deserved it.

Unfortunately, no one told Leta that we’d be staying in a luxurious condo as opposed to a cramped hotel room. As she took an initial walk past the kitchen, along the open living room and back into the spacious master bedroom, the mood on her face grew dimmer with each step. After surveying the two-person shower lined with travertine in the master bathroom, she pulled me aside and said she wanted to talk to me.

“This is NOTHING like a hotel,” she whimpered.

I didn’t quite understand, not after all the planning that had gone into making the trip as comfortable and fun as possible. She sensed my confusion which only made her more upset.

“There’s no ice machine!” she yelled as she threw herself backwards on my bed. “There’s no Coke machine! There isn’t even an elevator!”

Here’s where I’ll admit that I’d had such an intense week leading up to this trip that the best parenting I could muster was to hold up my index finger to indicate HOLD ON A SECOND and then go get my mother.

“Mom,” I said as calmly as possible when I found her unpacking groceries in the kitchen. “My brain is about to explode and I don’t want to get it all over my daughter. Help.”

Avon World Sales Leader to the rescue again.

She worked her magic, showed Leta the hot tub and then walked two doors down to show her the indoor pool. All while I was googling images of homeless children for the powerpoint presentation I was going to project on the wall next to the giant television.

My goal with this trip was to expose Leta to the terrain of her home state. When I was a kid we’d take trips across Tennessee and I’d witness the flat expanse of the Mississippi Delta gradually transform into rolling hills and walls of exposed rock. I remember thickets of trees so dense that they would swallow sunlight, kudzu devouring freeway overpasses. My childhood is a canopy of humid summers where everything was green and growing into everything around it.

Leta’s will be totally different. Hers will be dry and cracked, dusty and orange. Her horizons are jagged on all sides where mountains cut into the sky. I want to show her the fields of blooming wildflowers in the canyons, the ten-foot base of snow at Brighton Ski resort, the visible layers of sediment across the Uintah Basin. I want to show her a polygamist compound and have her ask, “Isn’t that illegal?”

However, Leta has historically been a reluctant participant when it comes to anything outside of a book. When we traveled to Florida in the summer of 2008 she wouldn’t put her feet in the sand until the last night of the trip. She didn’t touch grass for the first four years of her life. So when I talked to the camera crew who were going to come and film our trip, I mentioned this quirky trait.

“You’re going to notice the personality difference between my daughters almost instantly,” I warned.

“Oh? Is one more outgoing than the other?” they asked.

“Outgoing is not the word I would use,” I explained. “One will become a champion wrestler and the other will write a best-selling book on her sister’s long journey to victory.”

“Which one is which?”

“Leta will most likely want to sit in the car and read a book about Arches. Marlo? Marlo will want to become an arch.”

After spending the night in the luxurious condo with no ice machine, we all had a leisurely breakfast and then made our way to the park. Considering how well the sleeping accommodations had gone over with Leta, I was very nervous that this birthday present to her was going to bomb so badly that it would topple Delicate Arch. But as we started to see formations along the side of the road, Leta suddenly and surprisingly perked up.

“What IS that?” she asked in disbelief pointing to The Three Gossips.


Dane, the resident expert on Everything Outdoor, someone who has been to Arches National Park more times than the Park Guides who give tours, started to give a lengthy explanation. I wanted to seize her excitement so I interrupted.

“THAT is what we came here to see. In a second we’re going to get out of the car, walk up to something that neat and hold it in our hands.

“That’s much too big to hold with our hands, Mom,” she said. “We’d need, like, a moving truck, or something.”

That’s what I get for trying too hard to sell it.


We chose an area in the park with a few different formations including North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. Before I could even turn the car off, my daughter who likes to read about experiences rather than experiencing experiences took off up the marked path. Before I knew it she had reached North Window by herself and was staring at the sprawling valley behind it, breathless, her mouth wide open.


Meanwhile, I was following up behind with Marlo who decided to go totally limp halfway up the path. Like, deadweight limp. I had to carry her the rest of the way while she repeated, “Where’sth the bowling?”

We spent over six hours out there running along stone walls, hiking up crooked inclines, and snapping photos of the intense orange backdrop. Yes, it was cold, frigid at times, but Leta didn’t once complain. She didn’t utter a single syllable about wanting to head indoors or wishing she were at Disneyland. Marlo, however, would routinely lie on the wet ground and pretend to be dead.









We took a few breaks for Marlo’s sake, and each time Leta would beg to get back out and explore another formation. Luckily, since there were so many of us there, she didn’t have to take too much down time. Some people may look at this and ask, why does your assistant have to go with you? And why Dane? What is up with that circus? Do they do everything together? Where’s the dancing elephant?

My answer to that is that Dane and Tyrant are like family. They love my kids and my kids love them. Why not have them be a part of this celebration? The more the merrier. When Leta thinks back to this birthday she’ll remember Dane showing her how easy it was to scale that arch, the many stories he told about his previous visits. She’ll remember breaking ice puddles with Tyrant. She’ll remember all of us climbing through Turret Arch together and the fading sun beyond. She’ll remember being surrounded by all that love. I’m not sure there’s a better gift I could give her.






This post is brought to you by The New Santa Fe from Hyundai.

  • Ruthie

    2013/03/26 at 8:04 am

    That last picture? Tears. So sweet. And I am the Dane/Tyrant of my friend’s families. I am FOREVER grateful they let me tag along and be part of their kids memories.

  • Shiri Sandler

    2013/03/26 at 8:18 am

    Anyone who doesn’t recognize that the real question is “how on earth is Dane wearing shorts in that weather and can I get genes like that, please?” is just judgemental and silly.

  • Kate S.

    2013/03/26 at 8:28 am

    Yes! That’s what I was wondering.

  • Kate S.

    2013/03/26 at 8:29 am

    These pictures are great, and that one of your mom is really cute.

  • katdenk

    2013/03/26 at 8:33 am

    That last picture…that is why I had two kids. When my girls drive me insane, I pull up the pics I have of them like that and remind myself that it’s worth it.

  • Megan Gordon

    2013/03/26 at 8:45 am


  • Necole

    2013/03/26 at 9:11 am

    Oh my goodness that picture of your baby girls. I hope to take my family there one day. I absolutely love that place.

  • Tina Beveridge

    2013/03/26 at 9:59 am

    Why is Dane wearing SHORTS?! If you have to wear a coat and gloves, it’s time to zip the bottom half back onto those adventure pants, man.

  • HeatherArmstrong

    2013/03/26 at 10:35 am

    It was a miracle that he was wearing shoes. He is one with nature.

  • JR

    2013/03/26 at 10:40 am

    Is the Avon World Sales Leader in full make-up?! A woman after my own heart as someone who took (and used) a hair dryer the one and only time I went camping.

  • Zola

    2013/03/26 at 10:43 am

    Really, why would Marlo want to walk when she can Fly (via Dane)?

  • Kimberly

    2013/03/26 at 10:46 am

    Family is rarely the blood that beats through the heart but the heart itself! Love it! very inspiring!

  • Joanne Zeis

    2013/03/26 at 11:13 am

    Aw shucks, Heather, now you made me all teary-eyed. And yes, you’re absolutely right.
    “She’ll remember being surrounded by all that love. I’m not sure there’s a better gift I could give her.”

  • patches23

    2013/03/26 at 11:45 am

    I always get a little teary when I see photos of your family and how strong Leta has become, how well they are doing, but what I really feel compelled to say is…wow, Heather, damn, you are one beautiful woman. (Fans himself with a paleo recipe book.)

  • Kristan

    2013/03/26 at 11:52 am

    That last picture? Is everything.

  • Brenna Campbell

    2013/03/26 at 1:12 pm

    Your girls could not be any sweeter!

  • Mary Sue

    2013/03/26 at 2:09 pm

    That is a beautiful production of your trip from Hyundai.

  • Meg H

    2013/03/26 at 3:17 pm

    I assumed Dane & Tyrant go with y’all because one needs more than two arms per child when said child is Marlo.
    Also, you should have some kind of contest in which the prize has ‘go to Utah’s parks with Dane’ in it.

  • =^..^=

    2013/03/26 at 3:25 pm

    I can never remember who I love the most: Dane, Tyrant or The Avon Lady. What a FAB family, Sis.

  • Kathy Bryan

    2013/03/26 at 5:38 pm

    Absolutely nailed Leta’s perfect birthday celebration! Good job, Heather. Photos are great.

  • familyfandango

    2013/03/26 at 6:27 pm

    She is truly fabulous, isn’t she?? 😀

  • merranie

    2013/03/26 at 8:35 pm

    as several people already said, who even asks “why dane and tyrant”, at once obvious and also none of their business. regardless, he’s wearing shorts, my god!

    also, great photos. have been following dooce for a little while but this is my first time commenting. thanks for sharing your stories. i have two little boys whom i adore, and are killing me, and my life is hectic in a whole other way. i love reading about the drama of two girls instead, heh.

  • Meg H

    2013/03/26 at 8:56 pm

    I distinctly recall waiting for the bus at dawn in middle school and the boys wearing shorts & flip-flops in a foot (or two) of snow. Boys are strange.

  • Beth

    2013/03/26 at 8:58 pm

    My youngest, (Mason, 9) is peering over my shoulder while I look at your pictures and asks, “Who are those kids?” Rather than explain the strange social media relationship that we share, I simply said, “That is my friend Heather, her kids Leta and Marlo, and the rest of their family.” He smiled and told me “the next time they all come to Arizona, they can stay at our house and I want to show the girls your ambulance… or Dad’s.” So there you it, Mason is taking advantage of our lifesaving careers to make friends and look cool… lights and sirens ARE pretty cool. Just thought you should know that you ARE welcome and have friends in Arizona. 🙂 (p.s. I swear just as much as you and LOVE your blog.)

  • Shalini Kaiser

    2013/03/27 at 7:02 am

    Love the last photo of the girls together! Beautiful! I live in Alice Springs, Australia which the sightseeing around here is a lot like MOAB, minus the snow! Great photos, and hope to get to that part of the country and see the national parks there!

  • ellen

    2013/03/27 at 7:24 am

    Hyundai likes the rocks. Got it.

  • Shellbelle486

    2013/03/27 at 7:52 am

    Oh, that last picture of Leta & Marlo together! How beautiful and precious, how wonderful that they will have a tangible bit of this memory forever!

  • Sara Lanthier

    2013/03/27 at 9:38 am

    LOVED this video!!! and that last picture is fantastic.

  • Sue

    2013/03/27 at 5:47 pm

    My god, your mother is beautiful!

  • Living The Scream

    2013/03/27 at 6:45 pm

    That is really a cool video. I have never been there and I live close by as well!

  • Melisa

    2013/03/28 at 1:35 am

    Such a priceless memory! She’ll remember this birthday for sure! So much love!
    PS. LOVE the last pic!

  • Jancave

    2013/03/28 at 10:15 am

    I just realized that the Avon World Sales Leader, who IS a superhero, also has the power to flip you off with her eyes. Amazing woman; all that love she gives and can still melt your face with one look.

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.

read more