the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Like, totally epic 360 all the way

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


Friday afternoon while sitting at gate B18 waiting for our flight to Los Angeles, Leta looked up from a game on her phone and asked, “Are we going to have a lot of fun, Mom? Like, not just a little bit but A LOT?” We had just walked past 17 other gates and she wanted to stop at each restaurant and gift shop along the way to “take a look around.” I put that in quotes because it’s a euphemism for “pester you to buy me crap.”


When the idea of this trip was in its early stages, my ad partners asked if I wanted to fly out with both kids to participate in the Epic Play Date. Here’s where I go on record again and admit that I do not enjoy traveling with young children. I have friends who have traveled with two kids under the age of three from here to Europe and back and if this were an option in a choose your own adventure book, I’d choose the other option of being awake while a wolf slowly gnawed off the lower half of my body. I’d actually hand the wolf my intestines.

I also very rarely get to spend alone time with Leta. She’s always been a delightful kid, but she’s now at an age where the majority of the time I spend interacting with her is more about our relationship than it is about getting her dressed or making sure she doesn’t choke on small objects that have no business being near her mouth. And I’m eager to nourish this with her. We talk. We discuss. We laugh and tell jokes. We comfort each other. And, most importantly, she can entertain herself on a plane.

So I got to make it a special trip for the two of us. And to assure her that we were going to have A LOT of fun, I bought her a bottle of Dr. Pepper right then and there at the airport. You’re like, WHOA. CALM DOWN, ARMSTRONG. WAY TO BLOW HER MIND.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think she’s ever had a sip of a Dr. Pepper. At least she hasn’t in front of me. I may be really relaxed when it comes to the rest of her diet, but I’ve actively avoided introducing her to soda. She told me she’s never had a Dr. Pepper before, and for all I know it’s all she drinks at my mother’s house and my Mormon mother told her to lie to me if I asked her about it. I AM ON TO YOU, MOM. And I’m telling your bishop.

If she was lying to me she deserves an Oscar for her reaction when she took that first swig. There was puckering and gagging and then her eyes bulged out of her head and smoke billowed out of her ears. And then there was the belch.

She did. She said that to me. I told you, we discuss things.

Leta’s reaction to the plane ride was nothing in comparison to getting into the cab at LAX to drive to the hotel. The plan was to stay in Marina Del Rey for the night and head up to Santa Barbara the next morning, and when we got in the cab she suddenly realized, wait. We’re in LA. WE ARE IN LA. Do you know who lives in LA? Selena Gomez! Victoria Justice! Miley Cyrus! Miranda Cosgrove! I can list off those names in that order because she told the cab driver and then she told the woman at the front desk of the hotel. As we rode the elevator up to our room she asked me if I know who lives in LA, and I said, yeah. My butt. It’s got its own apartment in West Hollywood.


I let her use the key card to get us into the room, and you guys. It’s official: I’m getting Leta a hotel room for Christmas. That will be the gift guide I put together for nine-year-olds: a hotel room with two beds. One for you! One for her! Oh, look! FREE SOAP. Is that free shampoo? IT IS! And whatever you do, DO NOT FORGET THE ICE MACHINE.

Seriously. This whole event could have been a very long hallway with an ice machine at the end and it would have gone down as the best time she has ever had.


The following morning we joined five or six other families who had flown in and took a bus two hours up the coast to Santa Barbara. I got to meet some of the women who had won the trip (Hi, Tiffany! Hi, Heather!) and here is where I personally thank Heather for giving birth to a daughter eight years ago. It took a few hours for her daughter Libby and Leta to warm up to each other, but when they finally did they were inseparable. And it happened at that critical point in the day when Leta had already participated in every activity and was teetering on the Cliff of Boredom. You’re familiar with that geographical formation, right? Down below is a pool full of sharks, and if there is nothing to do, NOTHING AT ALL TO DO EVER, those sharks will actually jump out of the pool and swallow your kid whole. The blood, oh my god.

We participated in a poetry class.

(Photo by David Crowther)



We painted with colored sand.



We made balloon animals.


She accompanied me on a photography walk that I had to conduct.



In a brief moment of downtime I could see one of the sharks in the pool below the Cliff of Boredom about to leap out of the water when suddenly I turned around and Libby and Leta were hand in hand walking over to request a song from a DJ playing music in the lunch pavilion. They remained this way for the rest of the day, into the evening when we ended up at the beach around the campfire with musician Brett Dennen who let Leta strum the guitar for a song or two.

(Photo by David Crowther)

I’m also going to give Libby credit for getting Leta out onto the beach in her bare feet, her toes in the California sand. Peer pressure for the win! How far my lovely little Leta has come since 2008.




Later we got to drop off our things at the amazing campsite high up on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, and since the two of them were having so much fun I let Leta stay up several hours past her bedtime to play in Libby’s tent.






I talked with Tiffany and Heather while the kids played — all three of us live so far apart and have such different jobs, and yet, the experience we have had with motherhood has been so incredibly similar. It was such a comforting two hours, and I want to thank them for being so generous to me. Yes, we were strangers, but they made me feel so wonderfully normal.

When it was finally time to retire for the night, Leta and I made our way in the dark to our tent. And this has to be my favorite part of the entire trip. This is going to seem totally lame because I know a lot of you have been sleeping with your kids for years and it’s no big deal. Parents have been sleeping with their children for millions of years and they all deserve a cookie. However, I do not sleep with my children because both of them rotate like the propellor on a plane when they are in bed. I’m surprised Leta doesn’t fly in her sleep.

Our tent was the closest one to the bluff, the closest to that breeze whipping up and off the ocean. It was all capital letters FREEZING, and after she changed into her pajamas and climbed into bed Leta was so cold that she couldn’t even form the words to tell me. So I climbed in beside her, pulled the down blanket up around our chins, and we slept all night snuggled in and around each other, all knobby knees and elbows and legs and HAIR. I loved it! I loved waking up in the middle of the night and feeling her shoulders move up and down as she breathed. I loved how she would move closer to me for more warmth. She couldn’t pull her usual propellor moves because we were snuggled so tightly. Maybe that’s the secret. Prehistoric kids didn’t move around in their sleep because everyone was so cold. I’m a genius. And probably making all the anthropologists in the audience embarrassed that we are members of the same species.


If you totally disregard the three hours we had to wait for our plane on Sunday afternoon, a very boring three-hour stretch at LAX that I am sure will dim over time in her memory, Leta will tell you that she had the best time ever. Ever? Ever. EVER?! LIKE, EVER! At least until we have ice cream after dinner tonight. Then a new standard will be set for the best time ever and only tomorrow night’s dessert will beat it. But only if a really good episode of “iCarly” doesn’t come on first.


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

  • Jennifer Wagner

    2013/05/02 at 9:35 am

    I L.O.V.E your masthead! 😉 Love the post and so glad you got that special time with Leta!

  • Jodi

    2013/05/02 at 9:42 am

    I love, love that you are so happy in those pics of you and Leta – what an amazing weekend. 🙂

  • Meagan Leavitt

    2013/05/02 at 9:43 am

    You both look adorably happy in those bottom photos. Memories to last forever!

  • Pick a Name

    2013/05/02 at 9:45 am

    It’s nice to see you smiling Heather. It’s been a long time, it seems.

    BTW, I like the sponsorship notice at the beginning of the post. Good post all-around, (such that the couple of spelling mistakes didn’t bother me like they normally would – not a reflection of you, that’s just me and seeing errors in “print”).

  • Elizabeth

    2013/05/02 at 9:49 am

    Your butt sponsors posts AND has its own apartment in West Hollywood. I think I’m impressed by your butt, Heather. It’s far more interesting than my own!

  • Shiri Sandler

    2013/05/02 at 9:49 am

    Sounds like a wonderful time! I totally remember vacation friendships from when I was Leta’s age, too.

    Ok, my real reason for commenting: I’m in love with your sunglasses. Deets, please?

  • Justine

    2013/05/02 at 9:53 am

    It was always amazing and disheartening that I could have a craft all set to go (painting! collage! Popsicle stick buildings!) and my kids would finish it up in what seemed like half a second and be all, what’s next? What’s next is we clean up this gigantic mess and start thinking of making lunch. Oh. I’m bored. Sigh.

    This trip looks wonderful because they fun craft after fun craft AND you didn’t have to prepare them or clean them up. And still, the I’m bored phrase lurked around the corner. I’m glad she had a friend.

  • cathyhub

    2013/05/02 at 9:56 am

    Wonderful post! Wonderful pix! Wonderful memory-making! Wonderful masthead! And super-wonderful sponsorship placement. THANK YOU for listening. I’m back to full-throttle admiration for how you write, parent, and run your business. Thank you!

  • Jennifer Cafferty

    2013/05/02 at 9:57 am

    What a great trip for just the two of you. I’m glad that Leta did several things that were out of her comfort zone…and survived! Gasp! Great that you got to experience those things with her. I’m sure she will remember this trip forever. 🙂

  • Ashley

    2013/05/02 at 9:58 am

    Love the post and love the picture of you a Leta. Same smile. I am sure the “semninar” turned out great. 🙂

    Btw – I do not care where you put the “brought to you..” I will read the post either way.

  • Nevsky

    2013/05/02 at 9:59 am

    Aw. Sniff!

    (And also yaaaay!)

    Beautiful post, beautiful shots. Rapt for you guys that you got to enjoy this wonderful getaway! May there be many more down the road. (You two look gorge in your pics, natch!)

  • Aelizabeth

    2013/05/02 at 9:59 am

    Dr. Pepper has a lot of caffeine. Isn’t your family Mormon? If so I’d assume they haven’t given her and DP 🙂

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/05/02 at 10:02 am

    They are my most favorite pair of sunglasses I’ve ever owned. A tad expensive at $87, but I consider them an investment. They are Coach style KRISTINA.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/05/02 at 10:03 am

    Mormons drink a ton of Diet Coke. It’s just tea and coffee they are commanded to avoid.

  • Paula

    2013/05/02 at 10:04 am

    This is AWESOME. What beautiful memories to cherish. So happy for you both!!! Oh wait…. is this a SPONSORED POST? My bad. I take it all back. 😛

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/05/02 at 10:06 am

    Oh my god, the “seminar.” OH MY GOD. Seriously, that’s all I can say.

  • Jaime

    2013/05/02 at 10:06 am

    What I respect about your sponsored posts is that they never seem ‘sponsored.’

    I loved it. And I want one of those tents.

  • Aelizabeth

    2013/05/02 at 10:07 am

    Really? I thought it was all caffeine. And here I’ve spent my entire life wondering how Mormons manage to get out of bed in the morning, let alone have those blogs where their house is the cutest house ever and their children the most perfectly dressed children imaginable. It’s all that DP and Diet Coke. I feel a little better now. 😉

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/05/02 at 10:07 am

    The “I’m bored” phase is going to haunt me for the next five years, isn’t it. It lurks around every corner no matter where or what we are doing!

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/05/02 at 10:09 am

    LITERS AND LITERS of Diet Coke. The secret is out!

  • Megan Gordon

    2013/05/02 at 10:09 am

    See? That sponsored post didn’t hurt at all… looks like it was a great time. Beautiful photos, too.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/05/02 at 10:10 am

    Thank you. I was so happy. I needed this trip with her so badly.

  • MM3

    2013/05/02 at 10:17 am

    Awesome. Two shock and awe moments from this post. Make that three. 1) Heather Armstrong — did you SMILE in a photo??? Smile looks good on you. 2) You lost me at tent. 3)OMG was this post SPONSORED!!!! OMG, OMG, OMG. I CANNOT BREATH. j/k Looks like the stuff memories are made of you. Good for you, good mom!!

  • Kate

    2013/05/02 at 10:25 am

    Confession: I’m one of the readers who got my knickers in a twist over the fact that it feels like your entire life is sponsored lately, BUT I came back today and a) appreciated that the “sponsored post” notification was at the top. Just feels much more honest. And b) I just loved this post. Loved reading about the trip through Leta’s eyes and mostly about the sleeping together, all bony knees and elbows and legs. I get to sleep with my 12.5 year old daughter sometimes, and it is still the best. thing. ever. So glad the two of you got to have this special, amazing time together; she’ll remember this trip forever. Good job mama.

  • Heidi

    2013/05/02 at 10:27 am

    I’m so glad you guys had a great time. The memories of my childhood that stand out the most to me are the ones when my parents spent some QT with me. LOVED it. And I love remembering those times. Leta is a lucky girl.

    My favorite parts of my day are at (amazingly) 5:00 a.m. when my daughter wakes up and I am not ready to get up, so I bring her to bed with me. I wake up again at 7:00 in a tangle of tiny limbs and beautiful curly hair and her forehead pressed to my temple, and her sweet breath on my cheek. Absolute best way to begin the day.

  • Kate

    2013/05/02 at 10:27 am

    Brett Dennen! Brett Dennen!!!!! BRETT DENNEN!!!!!!!!!

  • adelfa

    2013/05/02 at 10:33 am

    Awesome. I enjoyed that so much, seeing you and her smile, and I loved seeing the sponsorship first. I still read it, don’t worry. 🙂 You won’t lose us if you put it up front. Keep smiling, it looks great on you!
    Also? Where can I get someone to sponsor my butt? It’s big enough to slap a billboard on, so who do I call??

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/05/02 at 10:33 am


  • InstaDerek

    2013/05/02 at 10:38 am

    What a delightful, heartwarming post. I love your descriptions of Leta’s unbridled enthusiasm for the hotel, and her last-second rescue by Libby from the looming sharks beneath the Cliff of Boredom. It made me remember being a kid that age. It also made me want to have children.

  • Torchness

    2013/05/02 at 10:43 am

    All I have to say is, boy did you ever get the right kid home from the hospital.

  • Liz

    2013/05/02 at 10:46 am

    I have one of those tents, and it’s awesome!

  • Sara Pellicori

    2013/05/02 at 10:47 am

    Your site makes me want to have a nerdy kid to do cool nerdy stuff with. Love this trip.

  • Nicole

    2013/05/02 at 11:04 am

    I know EXACTLY what it feels like when you get to have these special touch-points with your kids. I am so happy for you and Leta. What a beautiful trip.

  • Elizabeth Bailey

    2013/05/02 at 11:15 am

    You are a wonderful mother, and I’m so glad you and Leta got to have this great vacation together. My best memories of my mother are times spent alone with her. I have six brothers and sisters, so time away from everyone else with my mother was awesome, even when it was just driving for eight hours to see my grandparents. I’m sure Leta will cherish the memory of this trip with you.

    Also this post makes me miss my daughter so much! She lives far away and has kids of her own now, so I don’t get to see her much. I’d forgotten all about having kids to cuddle with until you reminded me; now I feel all cuddle-deprived.

  • Joanne z Filmlady

    2013/05/02 at 11:15 am

    What an awesome time and I loved the pictures!!! And you were smiling!! It sounds like you had so much fun that you could even make this a tradition… maybe choose a separate weekend every year to go away with each of your girls. I’ve done that for years with my daughter (now in college), where we’d spend a spring weekend together in Newport (RI) every year. Shopping. Food. Movies. Shoes. More shopping. OMG. While we did that, my husband and son would go away for a weekend of camping and trout fishing in the Adirondacks. We all got to do what we wanted, but at least Sarah and I had real beds at the end of the day 😉

  • Amanda Krieger

    2013/05/02 at 11:21 am

    i’m in virginia and my best friend is mormon. she doesn’t drink ANY diet coke or caffeine at all.
    do you think this is a secret that only the utah mormons know? or do virginia mormons have to maintain higher caffeine standards since they’re so far from utah?

  • Jasi Lee

    2013/05/02 at 11:21 am

    Gorgeous. I have a similar personalitied children. I spend an awful lot of time with the second, putting out fires and such I can’t help but glance over at my more sensitive older and wish I could hang out with her more. I sincerely feel like the cat babysitting the child in looney tunes. If danger could be wild and happy, this would be the embodiment of my boy. But my girl is so cool and fun and intelligent, I long for more time with her to nurture her heart and good sense. Tough act. =|

  • Christa Lamb

    2013/05/02 at 11:23 am

    Fantastic. Made me cry!

  • Ari

    2013/05/02 at 11:27 am

    Some Mormons go hardcore mode and interpret the ban to extend to all caffeine (and some drink non-caffeinated tea based on that premise)–you might have formed your impression from an encounter with someone along those lines. But yeah, mainlining Diet Coke is practically a sacrament.

  • Beverly

    2013/05/02 at 11:31 am

    You both looks so happy and relaxed! I love it.

  • Kelly B

    2013/05/02 at 11:32 am

    It sounds like y’all had a great time together. She’s grown up so much.

  • kate

    2013/05/02 at 11:35 am

    No doubt that she’s Jon Armstrong’s kiddo, that’s for sure!

  • Kate

    2013/05/02 at 11:37 am

    Where does one get one of these tents?? This would make camping so much more attractive to me.

  • ɯoɔ˙ɹǝƃƃolquǝʞoʇ

    2013/05/02 at 11:47 am

    She has your smile!

  • Necole Kell

    2013/05/02 at 11:50 am

    How fun! My Mr. and I camp with our three daughters all the time. I am jealous of the tent and bed because I sleep on an air mattress that never seems to stay full of air.

  • Elisabeth Boothe

    2013/05/02 at 12:10 pm

    Love this post. It gives me hope that if I survive the next few years of diaper changes and craziness with my now 10 mo daughter, that we can have an experience like this together. You look so incredibly happy with her. Wonderful pictures of a wonderful experience with your not-so-little girl.

    And what? Sponsored? Your butt can sponsor a post any day and it will still be a great post. 🙂

  • Staci

    2013/05/02 at 12:20 pm

    Umm, if the scout camping trips my boys always want me to do were in CA, on the beach, had music with BRETT DENNEN, and had such cozy tents, I would be all over it. Seriously, looked amazing without BRETT DENNEN, but BRETT EFFING DENNEN WAS THERE? So completely jealous right now.

  • Shiri Sandler

    2013/05/02 at 12:22 pm

    Aweseome! Thank you. I would happily take an investment pair of sunglasses over consistently being unhappy with, and therefore replacing, $20 sunglasses.

  • Manisha aka Lotus

    2013/05/02 at 12:35 pm

    I never slept in the same bed with my three-year-old. Actually it did happen for the first four months of her life, but then it became obvious that she needed her own space, her own bed. So, i think I know what you mean about snuggling with the kiddo. I look forward to that day when she stops moving enough for us to snuggle together while her Dad is out of town. I loved reading about all that in your post!

  • Melissa F

    2013/05/02 at 12:46 pm

    oh…the, ‘i’m bored…’ She speaks the same language as my daughter…secretly i wish i was bored for five minutes. on the beach.sleeping in luxury california. she too would have the same sentiments during down time. her smile…as well as yours, blow that statement right out the water.

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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