the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Up and out and away

One night last week Leta’s camp group put on an art show and had an “over night” at the facility. She was really excited to show me her projects and the donuts and cookies and unlimited refills of lemonade laid out for the guests. But the thing that had her head spinning in circles was the idea of getting to stay up late. Remember that feeling as a kid? It’s kind of hard to, though, when you look at any horizontal surface and the first thought that comes to your head is I could lie down right there.

Park bench. Sidewalk. The countertop at Carl’s Jr. The lid of spreadable butter. I could nap the shit out of any of those places.

Leta still goes to bed relatively early. I’ve always been strict about my kids and their bedtimes because sleep has such a profound effect on their mood and behavior. So at 8pm I have her start her routine: pajamas, teeth, hair— wait, I should stop there and mention that I still have to help her brush her hair because… well, because she has my hair. And when I was her age I’d peer up at my mother in the bathroom mirror and she’d look like Edward Scissorhands carving a vomiting hippopotamus out of my head.

You guys, I’ve got detangler (Avon, of course!), and that is helping. But she wakes up and it’s like, I have got to call a landscaper right now. It’s nuts. Some of you mentioned a specific kind of brush awhile ago, and oh. I’m googling it now… whoa… THERE IS AN INDUSTRY BASED ENTIRELY ON MY DAUGHTER’S HAIR. What is all this stuff? When I was her age I just screamed when my mom brushed my hair. They don’t have to have tangled hair or record their favorite songs off of the radio onto a cassette tape? Jesus. Our children are going to be living with us for the rest of our lives, you know this, right?

So, yeah. 8PM. She’s in bed usually by 8:15 and that’s when we talk. All the things we didn’t cover on the ride home from school/camp or during dinner. How is she feeling about this? Or this? Sometimes she doesn’t want to talk and I know not to push her. Pushing her annoys her, closes her up even more, slams the door. So I tenderly walk way from the desire to cradle her like a newborn and demand that she stop it, stop it right now. Stop these limbs from crawling out, branches unfolding, reaching for new air and sun. Stop not needing me for everything.

During the few days a week that I spend away from her I can feel the folds of my heart curling up like dried paper, brittle from the ache of missing.

I leave her to read herself to sleep, a privilege of her age and trustworthiness. Normally I check her room to see if the light is still on and it’s always off by 9. They were going to be staying up until at least 11:30 at this overnight, and as I was talking with a few other parents during the art show I found myself to be the only one enforcing this bedtime. It was especially shocking to them that I was making her go to bed this early during the summer. Which is fine. Look. Kids are different. Parents are different. NOTHING IS RIGHT OR WRONG. If your kid can go to bed at midnight and be fine the next day, then you certainly do not need the advice that I was so thoroughly unprepared and unqualified to give you.


It gets difficult when she complains that other kids get to stay up later, and she’s so totally incapable of understanding why I want her to get so much sleep. Incapable, maybe unwilling. I say unwilling because she stayed up until almost 1AM on that over night. I found out the following day in three different ways when I picked her up: one) her mood, two) her mood, three) there is this element of someone’s disposition called a “mood” and that is number three.

She was so unreasonable and hysterical and beyond the ability to form coherent sentences that when I asked her what time she had gone to bed the night before she screamed, “I DON’T EVEN KNOW!”

“Okay—” I began.

“I TRIED TO MAKE IT TO TWO O’CLOCK, BUT I JUST. WHATEVER. WHATEVER!” She wasn’t yelling. She was just spitting consonants and syllables because that was the only way they could make it out of her mouth.

“That’s okay. Even I have a hard time—”


“Leta,” I said as soothingly as possible. “I have a very hard time—”


I was pushing her. She wanted to close up. I knew to stop. I knew to leave it and go home and crawl up next to her on the couch as she fell limp and exhausted into the curve of my underarm.

But right then I knew to leave her there in the backseat of the car, alone with her thoughts, growing up and out into 2AM nights and days where she’s old enough to find a ride home and recover without me leaning over and smelling the detangler in her hair.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2013/07/30 at 8:20 am

    Mine are 10 & 8. We still enforce bedtime. During the summer, even. Because we’re meanies. Mean, mean meanies.

    In related news: We’re taking the kids to California next month for a wedding and have decided to squeeze in a day at Disneyland. And when I think about the havoc that will be wreaked upon our lives by that cross-country trip and inherent three-hour time change (including that full day at Disney less than 24 hours after our arrival), I want to curl up in the fetal position and die for a little while.

  • Kate

    2013/07/30 at 8:26 am

    My heart has now exploded into a thousand pieces and I am weeping as I try to shove them back into my body. OK, a little dramatic. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep last night either. Leta, stop growing up!

    Bedtime is always 7.30 around here for our four and half year old. He turns off his light off by 8.00. I got a little lax at the beginning of the summer about bedtime, but that was a major error that was soon corrected.

  • Louili

    2013/07/30 at 8:35 am

    I don’t know if you’ve tried this but when my hair was a lot longer, and yes I sympathize with the crazy knots, I would brush my hair before bed and put it into either one or two braids. I just used water to keep the friz down so if you’ve got detangeler that’s way better. I’d still need to brush it in the morning but it definitely cut down on the bed head and knots.
    It might help.

  • Beth Rich

    2013/07/30 at 8:38 am

    My girl? Strictly enforced bedtime, for the same reasons. My 14-year-old boy? He has to learn the hard way. He now enforces his own bedtimes, simply because he has learned that he feels terrible if he doesn’t.

  • Laura Mayes

    2013/07/30 at 8:43 am

    I so get this on at least four levels. Also, “I HATE WORDS RIGHT NOW!” is my new favorite comeback for everything. Thank you, Leta.

  • Deminimis

    2013/07/30 at 9:02 am

    Reading your site always does this to me… Gets me so involved with your life and these… emotions! What is that?!? Especially when you write about Leta, and Marlo.

    So many years reading your site, and every time I know what will happen. Little quiet chuckles, mixing with a little dust or something that gets in my eyes. Sometimes the little laughs come at once and force themselves out in one single Bah!!! Making anyone in my area turn and stare. Yep, always the same… I hope you never stop, and hopefully this feeling will last the rest of the day.

    Oh, and the problem was obvious. Leta wasn’t the valedictorian of staying up late… Nothing that you could have done except what you did.

  • Christina

    2013/07/30 at 9:30 am

    I was reading the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children recently and the chapter on sleep really opened my eyes to how important a good nights sleep is for kids. Mine always had an early-ish bedtime, but since then I’ve been a bit more strict on enforcing it, even in the summer and on weekends. It’s a great habit for them and one thing I’ve learned as a parent is that it’s easier to instill good habits from the start then try to break bad ones later.

    Another bonus is mom gets her quiet drinky time earlier.

  • adelfa

    2013/07/30 at 9:36 am

    I’m a total sleep Nazi with my three, always have been. 10 yr old — 8:45. 7 yr old — 8:00. 5 yr old — 7:30. In summer we go to bed maybe 15 min later than in the school year, but only on some nights. Very late exceptions are VERY rare. They do not stay up for 4th of July fireworks. They do not stay up late on Christmas Eve. Sleep over camp is one exception. Airplane rides home from visiting family is another. Can’t think of any others off the top of my head. My kids are complete and total jerks if they don’t have a early, stable bedtime. I see other kids that seem to handle it, and I look at my kids, and I think, “Yeah, you got my genes. If I don’t get 7 hours, I’m a total bitch from hell. Sorry kids.” Then I go ahead and put them right to bed. 😉

  • Heidi

    2013/07/30 at 9:48 am

    I love this… and hate it, because I know exactly how you feel. Although my daughter is only 1.5 years, I feel like tomorrow I’ll be sending her off to college and the fear and sadness grip my heart so quickly that I can’t breathe. I know, jumping the gun, totally… but it all goes so fast. Why doesn’t anyone tell you this before considering a family? That you’ll grow to love those little people with every cell in your body, that you’d lay your life down for them, and then… just like that, they grow up. They don’t NEED you, or worse yet, they don’t WANT you… Ouch… I don’t know if my fragile heart can take this growing up of babies.

  • Becky

    2013/07/30 at 9:49 am

    Beautiful, beautiful writing. You are a blessing to both of your girls. Thank you for sharing and continued blessings on your new path.

  • SO

    2013/07/30 at 10:14 am

    Satin Pillowcase has saved my tangled head more than once! And after a good detangling I smooth on some moroccan oil. (Nothing to glamorous, wally world and bed bath and beyond both have basic satin cases).

    Good luck. Sweet, sweet story.

  • Stephanie Reidy

    2013/07/30 at 10:33 am

    We have been called “Sleep Nazis” – not by our children but by other parents who didn’t understand that we couldn’t do something at a specific time because of the nap schedules or bed times. My 6yo is in bed by 7:30 (8 pm occasionally happens in the summer) my 8yo is on the exact schedule of Leta. We leave him to read and he turns his light out himself by 9-9:10. Occasionally they get upset that they are being called in before their friends but there is not much complaining because they know there is no choice. The “special” times they’ve stayed up later (camps, sleepovers) have killed them the next day.

    Maybe other kids can handle late nights but my boys are such asses when they are tired… and they are prone to night terrors when overtired.

  • maggie wilkin

    2013/07/30 at 11:09 am

    It really is devastating, isn’t it? This growing up and not needing us so much. The days of toddlerhood and babyhood just seemed so long, like there was no end in sight, now my daughter is 12 and it is flying by! TOO FAST!!

  • Stevie

    2013/07/30 at 11:13 am

    My heart hurts.

  • sunset&camden

    2013/07/30 at 11:38 am

    I get it, Leta. My mom was always making me go to bed early too, which was not so bad except when we were at family’s and my little sister and all the cousins could stay up, but I had to go to bed I “need my sleep”. Infuriating. My poor mom. A lot later I understood though. Apparently I have this “mood” thing too.

  • Andrea

    2013/07/30 at 12:00 pm

    I normally enforce bedtime too and I feel bad that my friends let their kids stay up until 1 or 2 am and I think you are crazy I need my ME time! Plus my kids are horrible the next day too and no matter how late the bedtime they still rise by 5:30-6am. I have been lax this summer and I am paying for it. I have started in the last couple of days or enforcing the earlier time!

  • Eunice

    2013/07/30 at 12:32 pm

    I used to go to bed early, even in the summer, as a child and I’m okay. (I think!) And my daughter had an early bedtime too. Nowt wrong with it.

  • Kelly B

    2013/07/30 at 12:47 pm

    Mom let me read until whenever — probably because I had a flashlight and I wasn’t afraid to use it under the sheets anyway as I had read about in a book — but she also let me know that if I was tired and cranky the next day it was because I didn’t let myself get enough sleep. Staying up was exciting until I got a real job. Though the hour of “this is romantic and cool” switched at some point from past midnight to seeing the sun come up. Now if I’m not asleep by one am I know I’m in serious trouble and I try to be going to sleep before midnight.

  • dellasaffy

    2013/07/30 at 12:55 pm

    I had Leta’s hair as a kid and at almost 40, I still do. All I can say is that brushing it has given me a tough noggin and arms of steel. Good luck to you both!

  • tracey

    2013/07/30 at 1:00 pm

    “Stop not needing me for everything.” I’m feeling this so, so strongly right now. Sigh.

  • Jen Wilson

    2013/07/30 at 1:26 pm

    This is my middle child. She cannot stay up late, because she cannot handle it and ends up HATING WORDS RIGHT NOW. Also, she doesn’t have the ability to sleep in so when her big sister gets to stay up late and she does not, I point out that her big sister does not get up at the butt-crack of dawn when she stays up late. Life is not fair, basically.

  • susanfishy

    2013/07/30 at 2:21 pm

    Heidi – When my milk came in with all the emotions that accompany that event with my first child, I cried and cried that someday he would grow up and leeeeeeeave us. He’s now 6 foot 3 and 16 years old and you know what? It has indeed gone way too fast. The good part is that he’s still amazing.

  • Kathy

    2013/07/30 at 2:21 pm

    This line right here “During the few days a week that I spend away from her I can feel the
    folds of my heart curling up like dried paper, brittle from the ache of
    missing.” is what I feel every day, since my son was killed in a car accident. Thank you so much for being able to put into words, the pain that I feel.

  • Heidi

    2013/07/30 at 3:34 pm

    Oh, I love to hear that he’s still amazing. I love that you keep that feeling about him EVEN in the teen years. I don’t understand people who are eager to push their kids out the door. I understand there are moments, where yes, we parents need a break and the kids can drive us batty, but every day waiting for them to grow up and move out!! What?! I think, no matter my daughter’s age, the sun will always shine out her bum.

  • tmb

    2013/07/30 at 4:01 pm

    Oh My God. Leta, I was you when I was your age. Even at 33, my husband knows not to talk to me if I’m in *that mood* directly related to sleep deprivation or the cycle being thrown off (although it did take him ten years and two babies to figure it out). Heather, you are wise to respect that about her. I finally figured out my problem is low blood pressure that makes it hard for my brain to “wake up.”

  • tmb

    2013/07/30 at 4:03 pm

    I heard someone say once about parenting “the days are endless, but the years are short”

  • daisy barringer

    2013/07/30 at 5:20 pm

    I wish I’d had a mom like you. xx.

  • Ali

    2013/07/30 at 5:54 pm

    Kids in bed by 8 here too! REGARDLESS. My family and the husband’s family used to talk serious smack about it…then the SIL who is most relaxed with her kids’ bedtime kept mine (3 and 8) for a weekend and “treated” them to a midnight bedtime.

    When they still woke like clockwork at exactly 645 (as she was warned) and were absolute terrors the WHOLE day, she learned that perhaps we know our kids better than they do. Suck it.

  • Amy K.

    2013/07/30 at 6:19 pm

    Oh, Kathy. I am so sorry for your loss, and hope that someday the pain may dull a tiny bit.

  • KathyB

    2013/07/30 at 8:44 pm

    She will be sleep deprived soon enough. Mom is the definition of mean. Look it up in the dictionary, along with all the gooey stuff that we get too 🙂

  • Kristen

    2013/07/30 at 10:28 pm

    I started reading your blog when my son was a newborn. He’s two years younger than Leta, and you know how huge she seemed then. So I’d read about Leta and feel like all that was waaaay in the future.
    Well now I’m on to this parenting thing. Two years is hardly anything. So today I see Leta looking practically pre-teen, all limbs like whoa, and it’s just. Come on. Stop. Next thing I know I’ll have one of those, but he was just this chubby little drooling cherub just like, yesterday, so I’m finding this a little alarming.

  • Cadet 25

    2013/07/30 at 10:49 pm

    I have the hair, too. And I was on swim team as a kid and it would get impossibly tangled from the chlorine and the swim caps. So every now and then, my parents would insist on “untangling” which meant brushing and lots of pain. I would cry and cry and my dad would pick the tangles out of my hair so gently and patiently that I would fall asleep and wake up when he was done.

  • Kelie

    2013/07/31 at 12:41 am

    I had the 9pm bedtime FOREVER as a kid….in fact, I wish I could still do it. Sigh. About the tangles, I had that too. The WORST. My mom started braiding my hair each night before bed, and voila – no more tangles! Try it out, you never know!

  • Carol

    2013/07/31 at 2:04 am

    Oh no. How awful, I am so sorry. Sending strength and peace to you.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/07/31 at 7:30 am

    You are in my thoughts and heart.

  • Lauren3

    2013/07/31 at 8:04 am

    I am so glad that you’ve allowed us to watch the lovely and lovable Leta grow up. And I guess you’re OK too. 😉

  • Joanna Sequeira

    2013/07/31 at 9:56 am

    I’m a bedtime enforcer, I always have been… kids need their sleep or they are unbearable the next day, and mama needs her time to drink wine and do whatever she pleases. I have that hair, my daughter has that hair… I apologized to my sisters the other day after chasing her around to get it brushed, I can only imagine the waterworks when they tried to comb my mess as a kid.
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who sniffs my kids hair… it just warms my heart. Yes, even my five-year-old son, I still sniff his hair.

  • Kim Rowell

    2013/07/31 at 11:38 am

    We have 3 children, now 31, 23 and 21. They all had “bedtime” until they graduated from high school. They were horrified if I said “bedtime” in front of their friends. And sure there were nights when they had the flashlight out and books under the covers. But at 10pm every night they were expected in be in their rooms, teeth brushed and lights out.

    So I say go for it! You know what is best for your kids and that’s what matters!
    And I have to add I think we should feel superior because obviously our kids are healthier because they get their sleep :).

  • jamie

    2013/07/31 at 12:54 pm

    I’ve heard that satin pillowcases are wonderful for preventing tangles.

  • issascrazyworld

    2013/07/31 at 2:58 pm

    1am? Oh good god the thought makes me cry. My girls are 9 & 11 and they still have a bedtime. In summer I add time to it, but they’re still in bed by 9:30. I’ve already started backing it up, since school starts in three weeks. 9pm right now. When school starts it will go back to 8:30 with a half hour to read in bed. Mine need it too. Shit, I need it. If I go to bed after 10pm I’m an asshole the next day.
    When a baby/toddler is harder, as my oldest was, the saying of enjoy this!!!! made me want to hurt people. It’s the now that seems to be going so fast and gah she’s so amazing and how can I keep her at 11 forever? Or her sister at 9. I love LOVE love 11 and 9. The 4.5year old boy….well he can keep growing until we find an awesome phase again.

    ps. this: “I HATE WORDS RIGHT NOW!” may be my favorite line ever.

  • talonsage

    2013/07/31 at 9:47 pm


    Most awesome explicative ever.


    2013/08/01 at 4:14 pm

    In bed at 8.15pm, being trusted to read and have lights out by 9pm is great, I think. And relaxing the bedtime routine for summer will only come back to bite (the collective) you in the butt when kids are back at school. I’ve always believed that kids need routine, they need boundaries and they thrive when they have these things. My daughter, like Leta, was an absolute moody mess when her bedtime routine was disrupted. In the past, some parents have told me that they cannot go to bed until their children have decided to go – even if it’s past 11pm … what???! Parents are in charge of that, not the children! We never had any trouble whatsoever with bedtimes. Started our routines as soon as the four hour feeding thing was over and that was it. Occasionally, obviously, kids do stay up later but then everyone has to suffer for it later! It’s not being mean. It’s being a loving parent. And for goodness’ sake, surely we parents deserve some peace and quiet when the kids are in bed? My parents enforced our bedtimes, and we loved them for it – secretly, of course!

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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