the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Newsletter: Marlo turns four

Dear Marlo,

Last Friday you turned four years old. You had asked me the night before if you were going to be four when you woke up, so the first thing out of your mouth there in the dark as I walked into your room was a jarring, “AM I FOUR YET?!” I whispered yes because it was very early and your sister was still asleep, but before I could even turn on your light you screamed, “I ALWAYSTH WANTED TO BE FOUR!” Dude, look at you tearing through your bucket list.




The previous day I had received a call from one of your camp counselors informing me that while on a field trip to a local park you had taken off your glasses and set them down somewhere. Somewhere. I imagine that it sounded more like, “Sthomewhere,” when they asked you where they were. They had tried diligently to find them, but they were sorry to inform me that they were lost. They felt terrible and I think I surprised them when I laughed. Because “sthetting them down sthomewhere” is not the fate I had expected for your glasses. No. I expected a call from the police telling me that you had stolen a car, tied your glasses to the bumper and written YOLO, BITCHEZ on the rear window and they found you stunt driving donuts out on the Bonneville Salt Flats. With a hostage in the trunk.






And yes, you got glasses a few months ago. You probably won’t remember life without them, but here I am with my vision still going strong and I have two bespectacled children. I don’t know anything about glasses, only that I have to make sure that you and your sister keep them in good repair and are able to find them. It’s now a part of the evening and morning rituals: brushing teeth, brushing hair, appropriate attire, books in the evening, backpacks in the morning, and then finally SHOW ME YOUR GLASSES. Twice last week your answer to me in the morning was, “I don’t wear glassthesth,” while your sister ran to your room and retrieved them from your dresser. You are so lucky to have her, Marlo. Remember that. And give her a fair price when you hire her to write your term paper. She will need that money to make your bail.



When I picked you up from camp that day they explained again what had happened and apologized profusely. I shook my head and said that I was surprised that it had taken this long and that I’d have a talk with you about leisurely taking them off sthomewhere. As we walked to the car Leta asked you to explain to her how exactly you had lost them, and you stopped cold, straightened your arms angrily at your side and yelled, “I DIDN’T LOSTHE THEM. A lady took them.”

A lady took them. That night Leta and I imitated you saying that over and over again until Leta was blue in the face from laughing so hard.

“A lady took them.”

“I have a granddaughter.”

“A monkey came through my window.”

“My cat has blue clawsth.”

“Yesthterday when I wasth born.”

“Tomorrow when I can walk.”

All of these ill-informed and dishonest things that come out of your mouth, they become inside jokes between me and your sister. And that has brought us closer together, the mutual joy we experience because you exist. The one about the cat in particular had us giggling for days. We were headed out the door for school when you stopped us all at the door and said, “Be careful, Mom. My cat is outsthide in the sthtreet and you could run her over.”

Leta’s face curled itself into total confusion. “You got her a cat?!” she asked. “Why did you get her a cat? You haven’t ever gotten me a cat!”

“Leta,” I said while I stroked the top of her head. “I did not get her a cat. This is one of her lies.”

“I AM NOT LYING,” you yelled. “My cat has blue clawsth. If you run it over there will be blue all over the sthtreet.”

Leta started laughing and began to explain to you that cats don’t have blue claws when I stopped and corrected her. “Blue CLAWSTH.”





Some people are appalled that I’d ever bring attention to your lisp, and they can have their outrage. They are entitled to it. But they do not live with you and do not understand how fundamental it is to your spirit. Already you are beginning to grow out of it, and that makes me as sad as the day I had to put all of your newborn clothes into storage. For everyone who knows you, it’s one of the best parts of their days, hearing you talk. It’s as much a part of who you are as your giant blue eyes, the dimple as deep as a crater, the way you trip over your feet and immediately jump up to assure everyone, “I’m okay! I’m okay!” The elaborate tales you weave involving animals trapped inside the walls of your closet and the way your lisp emphasizes the severity of the situation. It’s marvelous. It’s hilarious. Its melody hums inside our chests. It’s Marlo.




I won’t lie, I was very scared of three. I was terrified of the inevitable tantrums and meltdowns that I had previewed with your stubborn older sister. And here on the other side of it I will tell you that the last year with you has been joyous. You’re a lot more spontaneous and easy going than your older sister, and I am not dissing her in any way by saying that. You two are just different. Example: your sister is self-motivated to do her homework. You, I imagine, will indulge your pyromania with sheets of multiplication tables and wooden siding you’ve ripped from the back of the neighbor’s house.



When you broke your arm and we spent over six hours in two different hospitals, you didn’t complain once. You went along for the ride. That’s how I would explain your personality to people. You are up for anything, you want to go along for the ride. In fact, you hope that ride is bumpy, turns upside down, shoots through a ring of fire, and is being chased by cannibals.



You personality is, “Who’s up for committing a felony?!”

You personality is pushing a new doll in a new stroller around the living room at your birthday party, stopping in front of your cousin and shout-whispering, “Watch this baby. If she cries, you yell at her.”

You are the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family, but that’s not the reason everyone fights to to be around you. That’s not the reason they show up at the house and before they even say hello they ask, “Where’s Marlo?” pushing past me and running to swing you in their arms.

You’re the child people envision when they think about what it might be like to have a family. You are the kid sitting on my shoulders, your head thrown back in laughter, an expression of eternal joy. You cuddle with your whole body, your arms and legs wrapped around my torso, your head burrowed deep under my arm, an unspoken love filtered down into a fleeting embrace. You clap and squeal when confronted with good news. You make funny faces, you attempt to make crude nosies, you run and hug every animal you see whether or not they want to be hugged. You tell everyone to be quiet so that you can show them your “wedgie dance” where you pull your shorts into the crack of your butt and waddle it around while singing, “NA NA NA NA NAHHHH.” It’s funny, yes, but the best part is that no one finds it funnier than you do.




I want you to stay like this forever. Please don’t go. Remain here in this tiny body with your stubbed toes, your hands covered in purple marker, your hair tangled in coconut-scented sunscreen and the remains of a pink popsicle, here where you save me every day from the overwhelming circumstances of my adult life, here where you heal the dread that wakes me up because what if one of the things I’m juggling hits the ground? Stay here with the bubbles and let me pop them with you, let me get lost in your purity, free from deadlines and bills, free from anger and heartbreak and tears that come from intangible pain.

You are happiness in all of its definitions, in all of its forms, unable to be contained, unable to stay here forever. And because you won’t, because you will run head first into the burning building of what it means to grow up, of what it means to develop a sense of guilt and dread but also an appreciation for beauty and the ability to value who and what you are in these words that I have written, I’ll just look forward to the bumpy ride. Take me with you.



  • Katie Sutton

    2013/06/17 at 2:24 pm

    Stop making me cry damn you!

  • sunbruz8

    2013/06/17 at 2:29 pm

    Really, really lovely.

  • Michelle Barraclough

    2013/06/17 at 2:29 pm

    Just beautiful Heather. A gorgeous piece of writing and a wonderful tribute to Marlo and the magic of three year olds x

  • Tara Parker

    2013/06/17 at 2:30 pm

    Those last two paragraphs sum up my daughter in words I didn’t know how to express. She’s 3 1/2. Thank you, Heather.

  • Molly

    2013/06/17 at 2:30 pm

    So beautiful.

  • kate

    2013/06/17 at 2:38 pm

    Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Her, your love for her, this post.

  • Lori

    2013/06/17 at 2:39 pm

    this just killed me. I have 2 girls. My youngest is Marlo too…

  • Missy

    2013/06/17 at 2:39 pm

    I so love your newsletters to your girls, but wow, those last two paragraphs just did me in. Perfection.

  • Whitney

    2013/06/17 at 2:40 pm

    Some of your best writing yet. Her personality jumps off the page.

  • bambooska

    2013/06/17 at 2:42 pm

    Possibly one of your best posts ever. And I’m a daily fan since 2004. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • juxtapose

    2013/06/17 at 2:43 pm

    The videos are adorable, but the photos are beautiful. In some of them you can see the beautiful woman that I imagine Marlo will become. You are so lucky and blessed to have two such amazing daughters.

  • Jennifer Campisano

    2013/06/17 at 2:44 pm

    Your girls are so lucky to have these newsletters. I am living with Stage 4 cancer, and one of the things I consistently say to my therapist is that I hope my little guy (age 2) always knows how much he’s loved, no matter what happens to me. Clearly, I need to start writing him letters like these. Thank you.

  • KristenfromMA

    2013/06/17 at 3:02 pm


  • KristenfromMA

    2013/06/17 at 3:03 pm

    Best wishes to you!

  • Susan

    2013/06/17 at 3:12 pm

    I love your whole entire family.

  • Kathe

    2013/06/17 at 3:26 pm

    Nailed it.

  • talonsage

    2013/06/17 at 3:30 pm

    That’s beautiful. And a perfect storm of a summary.

    Goddamnit, you woke up my ovaries.

  • talonsage

    2013/06/17 at 3:31 pm

    Jumps off the page with a cape, sets it on fire and somehow creates Utah’s very first tsunami, you mean…

  • chiquita

    2013/06/17 at 3:32 pm

    Ah Heather. a simple birthday newsletter captures the eternal angst of having a kid and knowing you won’t get to see the whole journey (assuming everything goes the way it should.) My little one is 5 and she is a crazy-making, awesome, exhausting bundle of energy and joy every day. Thank you.

  • Susan LaPooh

    2013/06/17 at 3:37 pm

    Beautiful words – the last two paragraphs gave me goosebumps and all I could think is, yes, yes, I understand!

  • buta86

    2013/06/17 at 3:41 pm

    I am always amazed at how similar my girls are to yours. Although, I have 3, my oldest and Leta are so alike and my youngest and Marlo are incredibly similar. My middle one would make sure they ALL get to commit that felony. Thanks for your incredible writing.

  • MandaJo

    2013/06/17 at 4:09 pm

    “I want you to stay like this forever. Please don’t go. Remain here in this tiny body with your stubbed toes, your hands covered in purple marker, your hair tangled in coconut-scented sunscreen and the remains of a pink popsicle, here where you save me every day from the overwhelming circumstances of my adult life, here where you heal the dread that wakes me up because what if one of the things I’m juggling hits the ground?” Oh, my god. This. Yes. This is exactly it, this is PERFECTLY, EXACTLY how I feel about my son. Please don’t go. Exactly.

  • Jeanie

    2013/06/17 at 4:30 pm

    Beautiful. She’ll treasure this letter in years to come.

  • Shaste

    2013/06/17 at 4:52 pm

    This is beautiful.
    My daughter turns 4 in two days. Is it me or does 4 feel like the beginning of the end of the perfection that is little-kid-hood? It kills me how damn grown up she is already. Every time she stops mispronouncing a word a little part of me dies inside. I hope she keeps saying punk’um (for pumpkin) for ever.

  • Keri

    2013/06/17 at 5:31 pm

    I love this. My daughter (also my second/last child) is so much like Marlo, and I couldn’t imagine life without her. Hope she has a great birthday!

  • joan newcomb

    2013/06/17 at 5:37 pm

    Loved, loved, loved this post. Best of all of yours that I’ve read. I only have boys but Marlo reminds me of my youngest, who talked like Elmer Fudd until he went to kindergarten & got corrected. He said ‘F’ instead of T, which made it really exciting when a firetruck would go by & he’d scream out the window “WOOKIT DE FRUCK”! Oh, and he thought the index finger was the middle finger, so he’d give people the “Number 1” gesture…

  • Marian Rose

    2013/06/17 at 6:23 pm

    Happy birthday Marlo! You are my favorite kid in the world! (don’t tell my niece that *wink) 🙂

  • Jeca51601

    2013/06/17 at 6:51 pm

    Oh, Heather, thank you for this…And I am not crying, really, I am not.

    Excuse me while I go upstairs and hug my children to oblivion …

  • JennyOH

    2013/06/17 at 6:53 pm

    Your last two paragraphs made me tear up. My daughter is a week older than Marlo and it’s been a joy watching Marlo grow up at the same time as Charlotte. I can’t wait until your sweetie pie is old enough to read and embrace what you’ve written about her.

  • Sarah Osinkosky

    2013/06/17 at 7:17 pm

    Oh, thank you. In about 7 weeks I will give birth to my first child. And although it’s scary and terrifying and everything is unknown, I am beyond thrilled and excited. I’ve been reading your blog for about 6 years because it is real. And this newsletter is so well written and shows the joy of being a parent. I want that joy. I will embrace all that comes along with this mystery kid inside me. Thank you for letting your girls live and for giving us a glimpse into your queendom.

  • Elizabeth Ruby

    2013/06/17 at 7:20 pm

    Ah, Marlo Armstrong Iris. She’s Larious. 🙂 Good job, Mama. Thanks for sharing her with us.

  • Melinda

    2013/06/17 at 7:39 pm

    one of the best things i’ve ever read from you. wow, beautiful!

  • Meg

    2013/06/17 at 8:18 pm

    Once again, you’ve captured the ineffable into words.
    Happy birthday, Marlo. I’ll never forget that I was at Pride when I learned of your birth — it only gets more appropriate as the years continue. You embody everything I’ve ever seen at such a celebration. (And you already love us!)

  • Erin

    2013/06/17 at 8:35 pm

    Oh man… The end of that got to me. Tears, so beautiful. There’s nothing like a child’s bond with their Mom!

  • Teal

    2013/06/17 at 8:57 pm

    Oh man, that next to last paragraph just broke my heart. What a privilege it is to be let into someone else’s life so intimately. And for that, Heather, I, and we as a human race, thank you.

  • Teal

    2013/06/17 at 9:02 pm

    This part of the post made my teary-eyed. That image of tangled hair and markered hands is so evocative and beautiful.

  • KathrynT

    2013/06/17 at 9:20 pm

    I’ve read this three different times today and each time I ended up in tears. Just beautiful.

  • Kristen

    2013/06/17 at 10:18 pm

    I loved reading this 🙂
    My little girl is five now, and she still has speech problems. But I love them. I know she needs to fix them, and we’re working on it, so yeah… but I’ll miss this. We call her Squawky. She’s got this little squawky voice and can’t say any c/k sounds, and well, I just love it.

  • allconsuming

    2013/06/17 at 10:30 pm

    OH MY.

  • Lindsey

    2013/06/17 at 10:31 pm

    wow – what a stunningly beautiful tribute.

  • KPreston

    2013/06/18 at 2:26 am

    Beautifully written!

    Am I the only one who was hoping that lady would return her glassthesth?

  • Kathleen

    2013/06/18 at 2:41 am


  • Denise Duffield-Thomas

    2013/06/18 at 3:32 am

    Totally beautiful.

  • Zoe

    2013/06/18 at 5:45 am

    Thank you for sharing this – wipes tears of laughter and emotion from eyes.
    Am Mum to a nearly three year old funny girl and love, love, love reading about your beautiful daughters xx

  • Alabama

    2013/06/18 at 5:50 am

    Wow. Great writing.

  • LindaLu1122

    2013/06/18 at 6:47 am

    Ok – you almost made my biological clock start to tick w/ that one. Happy Birthday Marlo!!!

  • Stephanie Reidy

    2013/06/18 at 6:58 am

    Simply beautiful…

  • joyce

    2013/06/18 at 7:17 am

    I’ve been reading you for years…and never bother to comment…but this post is brilliant. Marlo sounds like the PERFECT completion to your family. I often used to whisper to my second son when he was an infant, that he was “exactly what I needed” – that he saved me from going to a dark dark place. Happy Birthday to your Wedgie Dancer!

  • maggie wilkin

    2013/06/18 at 7:20 am

    Beautiful post. The references to your daughters resonate with me because I have 2 daughters that are very much like yours, in that they are complete and total opposites. Where my oldest was born more mature and responsible than me and my youngest wants to see what would happen if she cuts her own hair or throws away part of her homework so that she doesn’t have to do it. They both add such amazing things to my life as your daughters do for you.

  • Allyssa Wheaton-Rodriguez

    2013/06/18 at 8:06 am

    The last 2 paragraphs brought tears to me eyes because that is exactly how I feel when I look at my 2 yr old.

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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