the smell of my desperation has become a stench

And cover your mouth when you sneeze

Recently when I was sitting with my mom, my stepdad and my girls around a table at McDonald’s — hold your rage for one moment, swallow it, and then use that energy to knit tiny hats for orphan pigeons — I noticed that I had to keep telling both girls to put their feet on the floor. Both of them would pull their knees to their chest as they ate, putting their feet on the bench. Basically taking whatever was on the floor of that public building and creating a stew of it to sit in. Yummy half-digested French fried crispy McNugget double onion bisque with a side of discarded chewing gum McGriddled into someone’s sneeze.

My mother turned to Leta and said, “Sweetie, this is not a conspiracy. I didn’t tell her to tell you that.”

I could have totally seized some instant leverage right then and said, “Actually, Leta, she DID tell me to tell you that and now her bishop is going to be PISSED.”

Apparently this is something my mother is constantly reminding the girls when they are with her: put your feet on the floor, please. That’s when I took stock of the previous fifteen minutes of our meal (yes, OUR meal, McDonald’s was on every corner in the Paleolithic era). I was constantly telling them to put their feet on the floor, chew with their mouths closed, be careful and don’t drop ketchup on their shirts. Etc. Etc. All those lame, awful things that our own mothers repeatedly drilled into our heads when we were kids, and now… we eat with our feet on the floor. We close our mouths when we chew. We’re careful not to get ketchup all over our clothes. We learned. Ew. Disgusting. The sixteen-year-old me who wore black leather chokers and listened to The Cure in the dark is so embarrassed by what we’ve all become. BY WHAT WE LET HAPPEN.

There are times when I’m scared that I do too much of this, this reminding. This, well, nagging. It feels like nagging from my end even though I always try to do it in the gentlest way possible.

“Hey, remember what I said about putting your feet on the floor when you’re at the table?”


“You’re about to drip ketchup onto your lap, can you eat over your plate?”

Instead of…

“DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE? DO YOU?” while I frantically imitate a wild animal breaking into a garbage can and stuffing its drooling maw with decaying trash.

It’s a matter of balance, I suppose. Gentle repetition interspersed with other dialogue, although sometimes the 30th repetition can be a little less gentle and a little more on the side of NO, REALLY. DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT I SAID. HOW IS YOUR HEARING.


I can see it working in certain manners I want my girls to exhibit. Leta is very good about acknowledging people and saying hello. She’s doesn’t need to be reminded to say thank you or please. She doesn’t gripe when I ask her to wash her hands. And these qualities did not just grow in like her two front teeth. There were reminders and more reminders and 20-ft tall flashing billboards on every street corner saying, “YOU. YES, YOU. REMEMBER TO SAY THANK YOU. LOVE, MOM.”

I think what I’m struggling with is that I don’t want them to remember their time with me only as one long string of instructions: do your homework, practice piano, eat over your plate, wash your hands, brush your teeth, fix me a hot dog. And I know they won’t, but sometimes when I’m right in the moment of instructing them I feel guilty. It’s an involuntary feeling, and the way that I work myself through it is to remind myself how grateful I am that my own parents taught me these values. They loved me enough to show me how to be respectful of other people. They loved me enough to want me to be civilized.

So when I start to feel guilty I take a deep breath and think, “This is because you love them, Heather. This is a form of love. Now the real question is, why are you talking to yourself in the third person? Because your kids will certainly remember this.”

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/07/22 at 4:17 pm

    When I’m brushing Marlo’s hair and she complains, I say the word “hair” EXACTLY like my mother does and did. The whole room starts to spin.

  • Meagan G

    2013/07/22 at 4:22 pm

    I think this is one of those parenting things that no one warned you about but should have
    . I mean really, someone should have told me how to nag without it being nagging. Sometimes I start to hate the sound of my own voice after a day full of “reminders”.

  • jill (mrschaos)

    2013/07/22 at 4:22 pm

    It’s the point where I scream “I JUST WANT YOU TO BE DECENT HUMAN BEINGS” is where it gets bad.

  • TwoOnlyChildren

    2013/07/22 at 4:23 pm

    I JUST said this to myself today! And yesterday. And the day before that. I will learn. And one day, I hope to not have to remind myself again…and again…and again.

  • Rachel Sea

    2013/07/22 at 4:30 pm

    You are totally doing the right thing. Too lazy to look it up, but I ready a study earlier this year explaining why kids need to be reminded 6 hojillion times before they just keep their feet on the floor already. Growing, and developing means resetting rules, and behaviors, so on top of natural forgetfulness, there is also this thing where they have to check over, and over, and over to see if a rule still applies. Totally sensible, though maddening, stuff.

  • Rachel Sea

    2013/07/22 at 4:31 pm

    Sometimes when I laugh I hear my mother’s voice. It kind of makes me hate laughing.

  • brent anderson

    2013/07/22 at 4:33 pm

    Chord, struck. That precarious balance of potentially over-protective parenthood and permissive Darwinism where left to their own devices “they’ll learn one day” (perhaps when they’re getting their own ketchup stains out.) I find myself teetering daily between feeling like the aforementioned drill sergeant nag and standing slackjawed in bemused astonishment at how these otherwise smart little minions either don’t care or somehow still find themselves incapable of absorbing messages repeated with mind-numbing frequency. To nag without nagging sounds exactly like the zen martial art mastery it is.

  • TWM

    2013/07/22 at 4:34 pm

    There is so much to say no to or remind about. Sometimes I try to remember to remark on something that is working.

  • Sarah Danielle

    2013/07/22 at 4:40 pm

    I can honestly say I don’t have memories of my parents nagging me to be polite, but I know they must have and I’m grateful for it! The fact that my mom wouldn’t let me watch the Spice Girls Movie, now that’s something I still haven’t forgiven her for.

  • donna

    2013/07/22 at 4:54 pm

    You’ll know when they are 25+ years, compare their upbringing to their contemporaries, and thank you for bringing them up correctly.

  • ɯoɔ˙ɹǝƃƃolquǝʞoʇ

    2013/07/22 at 5:22 pm

    Woman! Have you no charm school in your area? Have you been gone from your southern roots that long? Point this out to Grandmother (“Miss Lee says to remind you, Mom…”) and have her send the girls to “charm school camp” this summer! ;o)

    Oh! My! Goodness!

  • christina

    2013/07/22 at 5:24 pm

    I can offer nothing other than I was sneezing, mouth uncovered, when your post loaded… just like my mom always told me not to do.

  • ErinLynn

    2013/07/22 at 5:32 pm

    Have you been sitting at our table too? This is the exact issue we’re dealing with in our 2.5 (almost 3) year old. Turn around. Feet down. Sit up. Sit on your bottom. Don’t put your feet in the slats of the chair back – they’ll get stuck. Sit up. Turn around. Feet down. Exhausting!

  • jenn from much to my delight

    2013/07/22 at 6:09 pm

    I actually am from the paleolithic era because I am a 36-year-old woman who (when alone) eats dinner with one whole leg draped across the kitchen table. I learned this from my mother. You’re doing the right thing.

  • Dita

    2013/07/22 at 6:18 pm

    Whenever I miss my Mom, I look in the mirror.

  • Stephanie Reidy

    2013/07/22 at 7:42 pm

    I fear I’m always nagging, too. We are doing it for their own good… We are doing it for their own good… Just keep repeating this mantra! Always glad to hear I’m not the only one with these anxieties.

  • Anna Cabrera

    2013/07/22 at 8:25 pm

    Uh, yeah… I was having this conversation with a friend after we had lunch with her 21-year-old son … we never like *reminding* but we might actually hate it if we weren’t, someday. I wish my mother had told me to sit up straight a million times, now, but then I might not have liked it at all. Hundreds of physical therapy bills later, I most certainly see the virtue of a few reminders. Remind away … some day you will beam with pride.

  • ruthalkons

    2013/07/22 at 8:59 pm

    Marlo looks like Leta here, if you shook her so hard her brain turned to mush.

  • ruthalkons

    2013/07/22 at 8:59 pm

    not in a mean way, but cartoonish with canaries circling her head.

  • KPreston

    2013/07/22 at 10:03 pm

    Apparently, the mom of the middle aged lady who sat next to me at the sushi food belt did NOT have this inner debate. SMACK CHOMP SLURP MOUTH AGAPE. Uck. The future person who sits next to your kids while they eat thanks you.

  • tmb

    2013/07/22 at 10:45 pm

    OMG I was thinking about this TODAY. And then I picked my four-year-old up from day camp and he waved at the teacher and yelled “THANKS!! SEE YOU TOMORROW!!”

    Every once in a while, I have hope. 🙂

  • tmb

    2013/07/22 at 10:46 pm

    when I tell my mom stories like that she says “yeah, payback is a bitch, huh!”

  • anne

    2013/07/23 at 7:44 am

    oh that makes me feel so much better. Thank you! I myself sound like my dad, he was doing the nagging.

  • Beth

    2013/07/23 at 7:57 am

    I totally read this with a strong southern accent in my head. 🙂

  • Kelly B

    2013/07/23 at 8:14 am

    I, not having children, sound like the crabby old lady who never let us play in her yard. It’s embarrassing.

  • KathyRo

    2013/07/23 at 8:52 am

    Oh the gentle reminding… the ceaseless gentle reminding…its never-ending grind is the soundtrack of my life…

    Please shut the door.
    Shut the door.
    Did you forget to shut the door?
    Come back and shut the door. Please.
    Shut the back door.
    Yes, sliding glass doors are doors too. Please keep it shut.

    Shut the door.
    Shut the door.
    Shut the door.

  • Mac

    2013/07/23 at 9:10 am

    In our house –
    “please sit down while you eat”
    “Please put your behind in the chair”
    “please sit down while you eat”
    “no, we don’t get up to run a circuit of the house mid-meal. Please sit down in the chair”
    So… how many years exactly does this gentle reminding go on for? Because I’ve been at it for a couple of years now and I’m starting to think they should have gotten a clue by now…

  • Tamara Rabil

    2013/07/23 at 9:11 am

    I think they’re in that interesting stage where they remember and absorb what you say without holding grudges. After all, look at that lovely smile! You wouldn’t be rewarded a smile like that if you were considered a “nagging parent”!

  • TJ

    2013/07/23 at 9:18 am

    I mostly recall the horror displayed on my mom’s face when we were outside one time when I was about 10 and I spit. Like the boys did on my street. She might even have burst into flames. I was told so sternly, so intensely, with such passion that under no circumstance does a lady spit. I swear even when I exercise, outside, alone, no one for miles and I have a cold and snot is dripping down my throat that it takes every ounce of will I have to spit it out of my mouth. My mom, with a lot of involvement from her parents, raised me. They all were big on my manners. My cousins were raised in a looser environment. We’re all in our 30’s and 40’s now. Each time I eat with them I am appalled by their lack of manners. Their arms are all over the table. They reach across it. They slouch in their seat. They chew while talking. They do not hold their silverware properly. Once my cousin took a tortilla chip from the basket at a Mexican restaurant, licked it, applied salt, then ate it. I nearly died. I have become my mother. Nag, nag, nag! They will thank you later. So will the rest of society.

  • Courtney K.

    2013/07/23 at 9:26 am

    Trust me, they will grow up and complain either way. “Why didn’t you stop me from doing x? Why didn’t you let me do y??” You just have to do your best and hope they don’t end up in prison.

  • Schae

    2013/07/23 at 9:43 am

    Open-mouthed chewing has been a pet peeve of mine as long as I can remember…I, as a small child, would be the one nagging my brothers (and occasionally parents!) about closing their mouths – to the point that I would get in trouble for the nagging…I still find it terribly unfair! 😉

  • Katrina, Sparkle is a Color

    2013/07/23 at 9:45 am

    It’s good for them to learn this now so they can teach their boyfriends later. I can only guess that boys must be a hopeless cause because my mother still reminds my brother not to eat like a feral animal and I remind my boyfriend not to drip ketchup on his shirt almost daily.

  • peejoe12

    2013/07/23 at 10:03 am

    Love this! I remind myself of my mother more every day. I knew I had crossed some sort of line when I started singing to wake my 13 year old daughter up (after many failed attempts)…”Rise and shine and give God the glory glory…” She’s like, “Seriously, Mom? We don’t even go to church!” Sidenote…if you have never heard anything by Jake Bugg, please youtube immediately. “Broken” is amazing and I can’t stop listening to it.

  • Catherine L.

    2013/07/23 at 10:04 am

    I’m 25 and my mom STILL tells me to keep my feet off the chairs everytime I visit. Never really thought much of it until now, and I was raised by a woman who keeps her house very “museum like”. Can’t say I’m scarred for life, my ex girlfriend however constantly told me I sound like my mom, so who knows! Cheers:)

  • luckymom22

    2013/07/23 at 11:38 am

    and then…be prepared to teach it all again when they’re teens. I felt sometimes as if someone had pressed a reset button–seemed like they’d managed to “unlearn” manners they had mastered by age 3! They’re just a wee bit less receptive to correction in their teens than they were as young ‘uns too, which makes it more fun. I’ve risen to the challenge, however, and my beautiful girls are becoming beautiful women–one is about to (heartclutch) leave for college. I also laugh like my mom, and find it comforting. I miss her so, especially now.

  • issascrazyworld

    2013/07/23 at 11:47 am

    I am so very with you. I tend to wonder if we’ll ever just enjoy dinner, or if my kids will one day tell their therapist: man we ate together often but all mom did was remind us that our SHIRT WAS NOT A NAPKIN. Heh.
    I’ll admit, I was happy to read that you still have to tell Leta. I’d started thinking that my newly turned nine year old is the only one who still “forgets” and puts her fork against her head.

  • issascrazyworld

    2013/07/23 at 11:49 am

    I’m up to nine years so far. I never have to tell my eleven year old any of the above. Then again, she now ‘helps’ me tell her younger sister and brother.

  • Michelle Fabrello

    2013/07/23 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve been feeling the same way! The constant nagging. My kids are so lucky they get to hear it from both of their parents, over and over, everyday.

  • Val

    2013/07/23 at 12:16 pm

    I sit with my legs up on seats all the time, particularly in restaurants. I’m short and it’s uncomfortable to have them hanging, since they generally don’t reach the floor. I’m 32. I haven’t caught a weird floor disease yet!

  • Britiney

    2013/07/23 at 12:50 pm

    I think it must be doubly hard for single parents because you never get to let the other guy be the bad guy while you take a turn as the “fun” and “lenient” parent. It’s just you, all day every day. Also, I’m the WORST at “close your lips” and “chew with your mouth shut” because my husband does not notice (and might also be an offender) and I HATE that I nag my kids about that. But I also hate eating with adults whose parents didn’t nag them! It’s a double-edged sword.

  • Katybeth

    2013/07/23 at 3:53 pm

    When you observe your kid stand up to greet another adult, open the door for someone other than themselves, and sit down to eat with table manners, or someone else tells you how nice it is that your kid says thank you for for the ride, the nagging will be worth it. Good manners is an advantage that is available to everyone and will offers our kids opportunities that surpass education–and now I sound like my sweet mama. Good Job.

  • Rachel Sea

    2013/07/23 at 4:20 pm

    So off topic, but…is that how her glasses usually sit? It looks like they might not quite fit her correctly. I’d take off my glasses too, if that’s how they sat over my ear.

  • Karen

    2013/07/23 at 8:41 pm

    All that babysitting money wasted on head to toe black clothes and AquaNet, indeed. Sit up straight, use your fork, wipe your mouth… not with your sleeve… . Sigh.

  • Karen

    2013/07/23 at 8:47 pm

    Haha! Me, too. Floors are gross, but at 4’11”,my feet still dangle from grown-up furniture!

  • Erika T

    2013/07/24 at 8:31 am

    My daughter is 5 & I find myself having this very same internal battle. At what point does my gentle reminding become nagging?? Is this all she will remember of me? At what age will she actually say to me “Mom, all you do is nag me!” I think I might cry when those words come out of her mouth, because then I will have my feelings realized. She, too, is a very thoughtful, polite 5 year old (without prompting) & I do realize this is the product of what we have instilled in her, over and over and over (and over) again. I just hope she remembers all of the fun things we do along with the “nagging”.

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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