the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The whistles go whoo whoo!

Recently Leta has been asking to leave a little earlier for school in the morning, and the second time it happened I resisted every urge to interrogate her:

“Is it a boy?”
“Is it a girl?”
“It is drugs?”
“Are you part of a gang?”

You have to understand. This is a kid who from kindergarten through third grade would sit inside the car and wait for the bell to ring. Only then would she reach to open the door. She hated showing up early because that meant sitting in the car and the car was so boring and because I have such raging envy for anyone who has the time to be bored I’d sit there in the front seat and go, okay, fine, for the next ten minutes I’m going to talk about my butt.

Now she has the door open before I’ve even stopped the car. She’s up and out, smiling, swinging her backpack over her shoulder and saying goodbye to me and Marlo as fast as she can. Even if the bell doesn’t ring for another twenty minutes. It’s bittersweet, this development, because it means she’s more confident and is quite fundamentally enjoying her life. But I don’t get to talk about my butt anymore.


I am already an Obsessive Earlier, a term I just made up for those of us who think that showing up on time to something means we’re late. I can’t be alone. I can’t be the only one. Please tell me that there is someone else out there who shows up EVERYWHERE at least ten to fifteen minutes early just in case. Just in case of what? Oh, let’s see. Nuclear war. Famine. Rolling blackouts. Rising sea levels. Icebergs.

Also, I just really don’t want to be a late person. It’s pretty much the same thing as being a murderer. Yes, I’m capable of stringing together horrifying obscenities on the Internet and sometimes (often) in front of my children, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I never drive the speed limit. Those are character flaws I can live with. If you are a perpetually late person I’m sure that you have many other lovely qualities and are probably a far better parent and citizen than I am. But you and I CANNOT EVER take the same car to an event. And if you are somehow tasked with driving me to the airport, I’m sorry, but I’ll have to shoot you.

I already get Leta to school pretty early. Obsessively early. And here she was asking me to get her there even earlier. So I was finally like, dude, what is going on, and I asked it in the most non-threatening way I knew how just in case she really was involved in something she wanted to keep hidden from me. I know, she’s only nine, but you have to establish that trust early. So that when she does up and join the College Republicans you find out from her and not from her virgin boyfriend Clifton.

“Oh!” she said, suddenly very excited that I had asked. “The breakfast!”

“The breakfast?”

“Yeah. If you get there early enough they have this breakfast that you can eat. I LOVE the hash browns!”

“Wait,” I said, totally confused and not just about the fact that she was excited about food. “Are you paying for this breakfast?”

“No! It’s free!” she explained.

Oh ho ho ho ho. A free breakfast. At school. Yes, the entire Internet has been flipped on its head in the last few years, but that does not mean that I am in an income bracket where my child qualifies for a free meal, and oh holy shit, what is the angry letter from school going to say to me about this?

“Dear Mommyblogger Too Busy Navel-Gazing To Notice That Her Child Is Stealing Food…”

Hey, hardworking taxpayers! Thanks for getting my kid to eat! You’re awesome!

Except, I guess the breakfast really is free for every child regardless of household income. I should probably phrase that as a question because I haven’t received the angry letter or a bill from school yet. Yes, I know, I could just ask someone at her school, but I’m too busy being early to remember to stop my car and ask someone the damn question. I did google it, and although I didn’t find anything official I did find a blog post by a conservative Utahn who is suuuuper upset about the whole thing and says that THIS RIGHT HERE, this free breakfast, this FOOD is indoctrinating our kids and teaching kindergartners to take someone else’s money. I hope she does an angry search for UTAH SCHOOL FREE BREAKFAST and finds out that my nine-year-old hooligan is, every morning, raiding her purse.

  • americanrecluse

    2013/09/18 at 9:10 am

    My attempts to self-correct obsessive-early tendencies have resulted in, horror of horrors, lateness! Just give in. Be early. It’s safer that way.

  • Lauren3

    2013/09/18 at 9:11 am

    OMG HER NEW GLASSES. Does she even realize how freakin cool she is?

  • jen

    2013/09/18 at 9:12 am

    It’s a breakfast program and it’s free so that the lower income children don’t feel ostracized that they are the only ones eating. it’s INCLUSIVE Heather! And great that your child is enjoying the benefits, I wonder what else she can be persuaded to try there
    . At least this is how it works in Canada.

  • kmpinkel

    2013/09/18 at 9:15 am

    I am chronically early as well. I will get in the car and just wait and talk about my butt while waiting for everyone else to get their snailasses in the car that in turn makes us late. I’ll drive you to the airport anytime and we will have time to sit and drink lattes and talk about our butts.

  • Jillybean

    2013/09/18 at 9:16 am

    I am always on time. I am the definition of an OE! I also live in Zambia where ‘africa time’ means everything is 15 minutes late, meaning I am usually 30 minutes early… BUT WHAT IFFFFFF!!!

  • Amber Gregory

    2013/09/18 at 9:17 am

    I am totally an Obsessive Earlier!!!

  • Jennifer Jacula

    2013/09/18 at 9:20 am

    They have a free inclusive breakfast program at our school, too – yes, in Canada. I cut cheques to the program on a regular basis to assuage my guilt over the fact that my kid usually prefers to eat school breakfast, instead of the perfectly good food we have at home.

  • jess crawford!

    2013/09/18 at 9:23 am

    Another obsessive earlier! My mom is one of those people who is chronically late, so my entire childhood seems to have been comprised of walking shamefacedly into school, sports practice, the dentist’s office, EVERYWHERE. The dentist in particular used to give ME a hard time about it. What a jerk! I was what, nine?!

    All of this is to say you are totally doing your daughters a favor with your chronic early-ness.

    (For the record, my mom is amazing. We all struggle with something!)

  • Payal

    2013/09/18 at 9:25 am

    I’m an Obsessive Earlier, too!

  • Kathy

    2013/09/18 at 9:26 am

    I am an obsessive earlier. My husband is chronically late and very nonchalant about it. I don’t know how we’ve made it ten years, but I suspect a lot of the credit should be given to wine.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/09/18 at 9:27 am

    YAY! No angry letter to come! I’m hoping they go crazy and serve raw fish and she gives in to peer pressure and I’m just going to let the American government solve all her food issues.

  • KatR

    2013/09/18 at 9:30 am

    The fact that some schools offer breakfast for all the kids so that no one feels singled out puts a big ol lump in my throat. And yes, I’m sure there are those who are outraged that children are being offered food instead of, you know, free assault rifles.

  • Lex Lemon

    2013/09/18 at 9:31 am

    I am early to everything too! I get super anxious to arrive right-on-time, like everyone is going to stare at me and know that I was LATE. Even though I wasn’t. I want a free breakfast.

  • Lisa Weeks

    2013/09/18 at 9:33 am

    My daughter was

  • Sanshie

    2013/09/18 at 9:37 am

    I’m an obsessive earlier. My husband is a chronic later. We go so many places in two cars that people think we’re divorced and just meeting at lacrosse practice to exchange children.

  • Sarah Close

    2013/09/18 at 9:43 am

    We have free breakfast at our elementary school in Ohio too. I do think it’s great that they don’t put income brackets on it so no one knows who’s qualified for free lunch and who isn’t, but study after study has shown the power of breakfast. Kids who eat in the morning simply perform much better, and behave much better, than kids who don’t. Studies also show that kids who eat school breakfast tend to eat more fruit and enjoy generally healthier and more varied breakfast diets than kids who eat at home. So it really benefits everyone.

    At our school, it’s also impossible to tell who receives free or reduced price lunches. You send your money in (or don’t if you qualify for the program) and they load the price onto the child’s account. Every child lines up and provides their name, and the money is taken from their account. If a student runs low on money and needs to reload, their classroom teacher gets a note to put in their folders before they go home. Other children have no idea who is who unless the child volunteers the information.

    My only complaint is that kids who have to charge two lunches in a row are (by policy if not in practice – usually we teachers will chip in and cover a kid and call home later) provided a peanut butter sandwich and milk for lunch only until they replenish their accounts. Most of the time, the problem is carelessness and not poverty…but, in cases when poverty is the culprit, we are usually able to provide forms for free and reduced price lunches and get the child back on track in a hurry.

  • issascrazyworld

    2013/09/18 at 9:45 am

    I’m always early. It used to make me insane waiting for other people. Especially the late people. Now with my phone, I’m okay with it. Thank you Apple!

  • Jan

    2013/09/18 at 9:50 am

    Oh, no, I think this isn’t right. At least in our state/district, if you’re not income-qualified (and you have to apply), you will be billed for it. There is a law that if the kid asks for it, they have to give it to them (nobody gets turned down and goes without food just because her mom is too busy talking about her butt on the internet to send in a check.), but unless you’re on free or reduced lunch, they WILL find you.

    Nobody will be angry, though, because it happens all the time. 🙂

  • julie

    2013/09/18 at 9:50 am

    I am SO with you about getting places early! I MUST be seated at the movie theater BEFORE the previews come on or I don’t want to go! I show up way early at the airport, restaurants, pretty much everywhere too. Also, my 9 year old, 4th grade, daughter has to be at school prior to the bell or she considers herself to be “late”, even though “late” is something like 20 minutes after that bell. Guess she is taking after me…

  • cheekymuffy

    2013/09/18 at 9:52 am

    That’s what I thought about the breakfast. I’m so glad Leta is eating. Also, I used to be an Obsessive Earlier and when I realized that was turning me into my mother, I became a Chronic Later. And now I can’t fix it. I’ve tried.

  • Momma S

    2013/09/18 at 9:52 am

    Our school district in rural Ohio applied for a grant that pays for free breakfast AND lunch for all kids K-8 in our district.
    Of all the ways the government can spend our money, I like this program.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/09/18 at 9:57 am

    Well, the angry conservative Utahn said she got a note saying the free breakfast was for everyone, but maybe she was just so angry she read it wrong. I will ask her school today.

  • Ashley

    2013/09/18 at 10:00 am

    OMG I have a name!! An Obsessive Earlier! THERE ARE OTHERS LIKE ME!! This makes me so happy. I’m always awkwardly early everywhere. “Would you like some help cutting vegetables?” “I can help you clean your apartment for the party, no biggie.”

  • Lindsay

    2013/09/18 at 10:05 am

    Our band teacher in HS was former military. If you showed up on time, you were “late”…if you showed up early, you were on time. Each minute late for a practice equaled one cymbal lap, which was running around the soccer field with the cymbals screaming “I’ll never be late again SIR [crash of cymbal]”. People would rather quit band than perform the penalty for being 15min late to a practice.

  • Lorna Herbert

    2013/09/18 at 10:06 am

    My husband is a fellow Obsessive Earlier. He gets the airport not the recommended 2 hours early, but 3! And I’m the Obsessive Later, except it’s not obsessive because I try to be on time. But according to my husband, on time is still late. Can you imagine the level of anxiety that goes on in my house? And that was even BEFORE we had a baby.

  • Suebob

    2013/09/18 at 10:07 am

    Please have a moment of silence for me – I am an Obsessive Earlier who is BFFs with a Satanic Later. You will often see me tweeting my frustration as I steam, waiting for her to FINALLY SHOW UP. I try to lie about what time things start, but I’m a bad liar. The one time I actually got her to go somewhere early, we showed up for a dinner and lecture at a private home when the hostess was still in her dressing gown and had to cool our heels on the patio for an hour, waiting for everyone else (who got the memo about not showing up “on time”) to arrive. So my BFFs point was made about how horrible it is to arrive early, and now we will never ever get to go anywhere on time again ever.

  • Debra

    2013/09/18 at 10:09 am

    I call it being Pathologically Early. I simply cannot handle the stress involved in the very IDEA of being late.

    Sometimes when making new friends I want to right up from ask “Are you a republican” and “Do you arrive on time to events?” cuz, can I really be friends with you? It sounds like of shallow, like surely I could make room in my life for a republican. Well, maybe if she’s really hot. But late? No way.

    My little sister is always late. When we set a time to do something she’ll name a time, and I always want to ask “Okay, and what time will it say on my watch?”

    I think being late can be so passive aggressive, all, my time is more important than your time. And once people get away with it, is seems to become a pattern.

    But recently it has occurred to me that depending on the circumstances, sometimes being TOO early might possibly be as obnoxious as being late. I can’t even sit in the car and wait for the appointment to pass some of those minutes, because, I could trip on the way in and then I’d be late. What is that anyway?!

    If Id’a known that there was free breakfast involved……..

  • LuluinLaLa

    2013/09/18 at 10:29 am

    I am a lifelong Obsessive Earlier. I’ve gotten a bit more lax since living in LA, but it goes against every grain of my being not to be 5-10 minutes early for everything. Both of my parents are the exact same way, so I guess I got it from them. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if everyone I knew wasn’t 20 minutes late for everything.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/09/18 at 10:59 am

    I will give you several moments of silence.

  • Nichole

    2013/09/18 at 10:59 am

    I’m also an Earlier, but it’s more about leaving early than getting there early. Because I’m always worried I’ll need to go stop for the bathroom on the way, and when that happens and I didn’t leave early I end up being late.

    If that makes sense.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/09/18 at 11:00 am

    That is quite simply the best thing I have heard all day.

  • maggie wilkin

    2013/09/18 at 11:12 am

    My poor child is an Earlier, raised by a perpetually late mother. She also sees being on time as being late, which leads her to tears every morning when I pull up to school in the nick of time. Her sister, on the other hand, doesn’t care at all about being late, so she takes her sweet time getting out of the house in the morning while the Earlier is ripping her hair out screaming at us to hurry up. My husband, by the way, is also an Earlier, but since I do 99.9% of the shuttling of the kids, my daughter will have to deal with being on time or 5 minutes late everywhere, which doesn’t even count as late in my book 😉 It builds character, right??

  • Janie T

    2013/09/18 at 11:15 am

    ^^^ This! My daughter has been turned into an Obsessive Earlier by an over zealous Marching Band director! If he says 9 am it means 8:45 am and don’t they know it! I thought I would wean my compulsion to be early at every function out of her, and he ruined it. The very weird thing with me is that as crazy mortified as I am to be late, sometimes my brain will do this thing where I think that on time is 7:00 only to get there and find out that it was 6:30. Stupid brain!

  • maggie wilkin

    2013/09/18 at 11:15 am

    I totally feel your pain. I always feel like my husband (and first child) are rushing me and it just makes me want to be even slower. I, like you, try to be on time, but always misjudge something along the way and inevitably just make it to wherever I am going in the nick of time.

  • Jen Wilson

    2013/09/18 at 11:24 am

    I’m *trying* to be an Obsessive Earlier, but I just can’t get it together. I suck at judging time and how long it takes to get somewhere and how early is “too early” and are they going to be mad if I’m early? And what if I’m the first one there and I have to make small talk with someone? I’m just going to put my foot in my mouth and it’s much better if I walk in with the masses than show up early and want to shoot myself in the face for saying something stupid.

    On the other hand, walking in late while everyone stares at me is almost worse. Which is why I’ll just never leave my house ever again.

  • KristenfromMA

    2013/09/18 at 11:31 am

    I did find a blog post by a conservative Utahn who is suuuuper upset about the whole thing and says that THIS RIGHT HERE, this free breakfast, this FOOD is indoctrinating our kids and teaching kindergartners to take someone else’s money.

    I’ll go out on a limb that this conservative blogger is “pro-life” [sic]? It’s all about the children, until they’re actually, you know, living and breathing, amirite? Culture! of! Life!

  • Linda

    2013/09/18 at 11:35 am

    Heather, You’re an Obsessive Earlier because you grew up living on MST (mormon-standard-time). Now you’re just compensating for being 10 minutes late for everything when you were a kid. I also grew up on MST – we were late for everything – dinners, church meetings, school, movies, so I speak from personal experience.

  • Kim Smith

    2013/09/18 at 11:35 am

    A lot of areas are going to this free breakfast for all. In some places, it’s the whole state. In other places, it’s only certain areas. Example…by 2015 (or something) all of Georgia is supposed to have free breakfast, but right now, it’s only a handful of districts around the state. Mostly in Atlanta.
    Obviously it’s all part of Obama’s plan to turn us into a Socialist, Communist, Muslim, country

  • Kelly B

    2013/09/18 at 11:35 am

    I can totally believe your district invested in breakfast for everyone. No claim that you are making a class-conscious school where the poor people eat there breakfast at school/don’t pay and the not-so-poor eat it at home/pay. AND you get the totally documented bump in performance that happens when everyone eats breakfast. I do wonder if they send something home about it that you — busy mommy-blogger and freelancer — overlooked in the onslaught of start of year information.

  • Kara

    2013/09/18 at 11:53 am

    I’m an Obsessive Earlier too. I’m in a relationship with a Chronic Later and it’s a constant issue. Sigh. He’s not allowed to take me to work or appointments or anything other than his family events (whole family of Laters). We’ve been sharing a car and I’m surprised I don’t have an ulcer. I develop a severe eye twitch if I’m “on time”.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2013/09/18 at 11:57 am

    I am also obsessively early, so you are certainly not alone. Thank you for developing a term for it, because what my family calls is (Being An Asshole) is not appropriate for all company.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2013/09/18 at 12:03 pm

    If I am going to miss the previews I just don’t go to the movie. The previews are the best part!

  • Jennifer Wysokowski

    2013/09/18 at 12:15 pm

    They have this in NYC, too. I know my son got milk each morning because of this program. Took a full school year to realize this was available (because I always mark us “ineligible” for food programs). But apparently it doesn’t matter during breakfast. In the summer children (any child) can get free breakfast, too.
    I’m an early bird!! All the time. Every meeting. And I work in advertising, so I spend quite a bit of time sitting alone in conference rooms waiting for others.

  • Karen

    2013/09/18 at 12:17 pm

    I could ride to the airport with you because I would have been waiting on the curb having an anxiety attack 1 hour before you are suppose to pick me up. I have never missed a plane, never not been first or almost first at any event.
    I have many other faults but I am never late (I guess being too early could be construed as a fault.)

  • Ms. Jen

    2013/09/18 at 12:17 pm

    “I can’t be the only one. Please tell me that there is someone else out
    there who shows up EVERYWHERE at least ten to fifteen minutes early just in case.”

    There is a whole nation, it is called Finland.

    The first time I was in Helsinki, I was so proud of making it out of the hotel 5 minutes early to the cab downstairs and the cab driving gave me a talking to about being 10 minutes late.

  • Cathy

    2013/09/18 at 12:18 pm

    This post made me want to change careers just so I can make hapless teenagers run around the field, screaming as they clash their cymbals. That band teacher has the best job in the universe!

  • Cassandra Marie

    2013/09/18 at 12:29 pm

    I am definitely not an obsessive earlier.

  • Brandy

    2013/09/18 at 12:59 pm

    Thank God, someone else always arrives early … I sit in my car until I can’t take it anymore and still walk in a good 10 minutes early!

  • Wupppy

    2013/09/18 at 1:00 pm

    There is no such thing as too early. There’s ‘on time’ from different perspectives and my husband’s is about 25 minutes apart from mine. I always need 10 minutes before school starts to wonder if I missed the memo, because why is the rest of the class NOT HERE YET!! What would happen if everyone was always 10 minutes early? Would that make us late?

  • Amanda

    2013/09/18 at 1:10 pm

    My father always told us,”If you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late.” He was a Marine.

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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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