the smell of my desperation has become a stench

It’s all semantics and technicalities

Last week I attended parent-teacher conferences for Marlo at her preschool and it was pretty much what you expect for preschool. You’re not there to discuss how well she completed her homework or how well she’s memorizing multiplication tables. You’re there to find out how much you owe the school because of property damage.

I know that her teacher thinks Marlo is a lovely child HOW COULD SHE NOT, and she had nothing but fantastic things to say about her. She’s adjusting to new routines, cleans up after herself without having to be prompted to do so, can create patterns with three different colors, and has several friends in class. She actually went on and on about what a pleasure she is, her easy going nature, the way she tries to include everyone when playing. I explained that before I drop her off in the morning I turn her DEMON switch to off.

Then she finally paused and a wry smile crawled across her face.

“You know how much we love Marlo’s stories,” she said and I was like OH MY GOD WHAT DID SHE SAY THIS TIME.

“Yeah…” I nodded. “I hope no one is scarred by the one about the hand.

“Oh, everything is fine!” she assured me. “She’s got such an imagination, and the detail she goes into is really amazing for a kid her age. Yesterday she was talking about the baby boy who lives in her house.”

“She must be referring to my cousin’s baby, although my cousin’s baby is a girl. And she only visits once or twice a month,” I explained.

“Right. So… what we’re doing here with her is emphasizing which stories are ‘real’ and which are ‘pretend.’ And she’s catching on. Mostly.”


Essentially: your child is a delight and wonderful to be around except she’s an outright liar.

She suggested that I do the same at home with Marlo, have her admit when she’s making something up, and then perhaps illustrate some of her stories. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Because some of the stories she tells are true, they just aren’t hers. Anytime Leta talks about anything Marlo immediately adopts it as her own. Yesterday Leta talked about doing jumping jacks during PE. And so during dinner Marlo told me that she had done jumping jacks during PE. She stole Leta’s story. A liar and a stealer. But a delightful one!

“Marlo, do you even know what a jumping jack is?” I asked, already veering from what the teacher told me to do. I’m supposed to emphasize “pretend,” not try to trap her in the lie WHAT CAN I SAY IT IS JUST SO TEMPTING AND FUN.

“Yesth!” she responded and then she took another bite of her food.

“Convenient that you did not elaborate. What is a jumping jack?”

“You know,” she said. “It’sth that thing, Mom.”

“What thing?”

She set down her fork so that she could place both elbows on the table and shake her hands at me as she said, “THAT THING.” As if she was soooo tired of having to remind me to pay attention.

“Show me what a jumping jack is,” I said.

I suppose she stole eye-rolling from her sister as well because she did that four or five times before she climbed down from the table, sprawled herself face-first on the ground and started writhing. Not so much a jumping jack as a really good interpretation of an exorcism.

There are endless ways you can bond with your child — while reading books together, at the park, through music — but by far my favorite way to bond with Leta is giggling uncontrollably at the Marlo Show together.

  • brittneyg

    2013/10/30 at 2:56 pm

    Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. Marlo’s got it.

  • megmcg

    2013/10/30 at 3:02 pm

    My 4 year old was doing the same thing with his brother’s stories. We taught him just to preface those stories with “I imagined that…” and the covers his butt, we give him the attention and interaction he wants and hopefully he avoids being a con artist .

  • Lindzgrl

    2013/10/30 at 3:09 pm

    I have an adult friend who still does this. Apparently no one ever taught her better!

  • katalia

    2013/10/30 at 3:20 pm

    One of my best (lifelong) friends appropriates other people’s stories all the time. It’s always a little disorienting when you hear her tell one of your stories to a group of strangers as if it happened to her …

  • Beth Shupp-George

    2013/10/30 at 3:28 pm

    My daughter (just turned 5) has moved away from it a bit, but she used to do that all the time. Any time she heard a story, she retold it with herself as the protagonist. I figured it was just a normal developmental stage, and figured it was a good thing, like being able to remember and retell a story that she’s been read, not as any sort of lying or untruth.

  • Tish

    2013/10/30 at 3:28 pm

    LOL…Why is the second child always so gangsta?!

  • Natasha

    2013/10/30 at 3:39 pm

    Marlo is absolutely my favorite. Even though I’m sure, like my 4yo, she drives you bat sh*t crazy, at least she’s entertaining and adorable. And she tells good stories.

  • Steve Klinetobe

    2013/10/30 at 3:53 pm

    Unfortunately, my kid will tell elaborate stories involving me as some sort of partner in crime. This results in awkward parent/teacher conferences.

  • morganmichelle_

    2013/10/30 at 4:11 pm

    love how you mess with her! and that she is so into her lie that she will act it out in some far out way just so she doesn’t have to say she is wrong!

  • Debra

    2013/10/30 at 4:55 pm

    I’m all for imagination. Totally. But based on some of your stories that project into her future, do we need to be concerned about her ability to testify at her own trial. Bahahahaha

  • Bratfink

    2013/10/30 at 5:21 pm

    I think those teachers should just leave her alone! Think of the books Marlo will write!

  • TWM

    2013/10/30 at 6:14 pm

    OMG I would not worry about the pretend/real thing. She will figure that out herself. She’s a delight and probably a lot like you! What a sweet thing!

  • SmithShack71

    2013/10/30 at 6:40 pm

    The imagination is a beautiful thing.

  • Ali

    2013/10/30 at 7:33 pm

    I’ve determined it is second-child-ism. My 4yo bogarts his older brother’ stories ALL THE TIME.

    And it was fun explaining to the teacher that neither our house caught fire nor did I run in and rescue my son (though, I totally would have done so) during said not-real fire. In fact, there was a house fire next door when my son was 3 WEEKS OLD. This little fact does not stop the 4yo from adamantly stating he remembers it as told to the teacher.

    I’m alternatively scared and proud.

  • Katybeth

    2013/10/30 at 7:48 pm

    Really? Isn’t early childhood all about imagination and play. Santa? Easter Bunny? Tooth fairy? A chair turned into train. There is such a short window in a child’s life when they can enjoy this kind of play—and then their friends call them out on it and it’s over. So glad we invested in Waldorf Education (not for everyone, I get it) and never had to deal with bring reality into our 4 year olds life.

  • Joni

    2013/10/30 at 8:01 pm

    Our middle child…a boy….would go on and on about “things”. When we would ask him where he heard said “things”, or experienced said “things”, he would just say “on the radio”. He is soon to be 26, and we still laugh about this. He is an incredible human being. Don’t worry, Marlo will be fine. I heard it on the radio…….

  • Maggie Spitler

    2013/10/30 at 8:25 pm

    I. LOVE. YOUR. KIDS! Only Marlo could turn jumping jacks into an exorcism. If it makes you feel better, my 5 year old son
    has his “stories”. He swears on the first day of school he rode to
    school on a flying bus. He comes home everyday, telling me stories about
    his “friends”, Gilligan and The Skipper, and what they did at recess.
    Yes, Gilligan, like the TV show. Last year, in pre-school, his best
    friend was little boy named Caden. He would come home every, single, day
    and tell me about how Caden’s DAD got ran over by a bus, or bit by a
    poisonous snake, or fought a bear. All this, despite never even having
    met the man! This year, he is still full of Caden stories. However, the
    real Caden does not go to kindergarten with my son. The “unreal” Caden spends his time beating kids up, smoking, drinking beer, and making fun of teachers.

  • Auntie Em

    2013/10/30 at 9:48 pm

    Has she been hanging with Rand Paul?

  • Louisy

    2013/10/30 at 11:30 pm

    I grew up with a habit of telling stories that weren’t true. It felt very different that predetermined lies, it was kind of a spontaneous thing. I would never cheat on a test, for example, or lie about going to a party to my parents, or something, but if everyone else around me had been to Europe, I would immediately join into their stories to fit in. And then it would very, very quickly snoball, because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, so the lies got out of control. But I would accidentally lie, because I was nervous or confused or just got lost in my story, or feeling insecure. I still occasionally catch myself doing it. What’s helped me the most was this. A therapist taught me to just stop as soon as a realize what I’m saying is false. I’ll just say, “Wait, that’s not true” or laugh it off and say I’m confused. And then I start over again. It’s really helped me so much. I wish I had learned this when I was a child. It would have decreased a LOT of anxiety, this fear of being found out.

    Of course, 4 is super young for that much anxiety, and I’m sure she’s just having fun. Go Marlo!

  • terrisinclair

    2013/10/31 at 1:11 am

    Forget what the teacher says…go with your gut (unless you plan to have more children to entertain you) She will age so fast…this will all be gone…don’t speed it up – the teachers just want you to make their job easier. Screw them. They’re getting paid.

    I say enjoy every crazy moment!

  • Beth Rich

    2013/10/31 at 5:18 am

    I can assure you that if her preschool friends don’t call bullshit, her friends in first grade will. I speak of experience. When she gets about Leta’s age, you can start calling her BS by asking her where she got that information. Hang on, the stories don’t go away, they just get more credible.

  • Michelle

    2013/10/31 at 6:28 am

    Your stories about your daughter crack me up. What a character!

  • HeatherNC

    2013/10/31 at 6:43 am

    I had a college professor that once said, “you can steel something from your neighbor, just be sure and cite it”. I think that applies here.

  • Christine Herbert Carter

    2013/10/31 at 7:40 am

    Dooce is set as my home page- and honestly cannot imagine a better way to start my day…. Thank you for the daily giggle….

  • bopper

    2013/10/31 at 8:51 am

    At that age I had to ask my younger one “Is that true, or what you want to be true?”

  • Joanne-eeee

    2013/10/31 at 9:17 am

    I learned this from watching the Rosie show back in ’98. I used it on my son too. She told her son Parker that he grew a “MOMMY DOT” on his forehead when he tells a fib. Only your Mom can see it. It is so fun to call them out and watch them flat palm their forehead when telling a story.

  • Joanne-eee

    2013/10/31 at 9:18 am

    sorry…i hit the wrong “reply button”

  • Cathy

    2013/10/31 at 9:48 am

    I went through a lying phase, probably in middle school. It doesn’t really happen anymore though because I’ve figured out I have the worst poker face in history. That said… if someone catches me off guard about something, sometimes the first thing out of my mouth is a really stupid lie.

    “Will your husband be coming to dinner, too?” (when I thought it was a girls night and didn’t invite him)
    “No… his flight doesn’t get in until after dinner.” (husband is IN TOWN. I am an idiot)

  • Karen

    2013/10/31 at 11:20 am

    I always get bothered when people call their 4 year old a liar, although when you do it I am sure (hopeful?) that it’s for the entertainment value above all else. Because no 4 year old is a liar. They are terrific magical thinkers and don’t even understand what a lie would be. Marlo is awesome. I hope you continue to enjoy her stories with her. I’m not sure I agree with the preschool teacher’s idea of getting her to “admit when it’s made up.”

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/10/31 at 11:37 am

    Rest assured that when I call her that I’m joking. Her stories and imagination could not be more marvelous.

  • Rrrandall

    2013/10/31 at 12:10 pm

    Just teach her to plead the fifth early.

  • Danalan

    2013/10/31 at 1:23 pm

    You didn’t get this on video? Shame on you. Bad mommy-blogger! Bad!

  • cattail722

    2013/10/31 at 1:30 pm

    Those skills could come in really handy one day, for sure ; )

  • Jennifer Cafferty-Davis

    2013/10/31 at 4:22 pm

    Marlo needs her own TV show 😉

  • joanlvh

    2013/10/31 at 7:46 pm

    love Marlo posts!

  • Mandi R

    2013/10/31 at 8:22 pm

    I LOVE Marlo stories! I laugh like crazy every time I read them. I wish we had the Marlo Entertainment Channel here! 🙂


    2013/11/01 at 2:35 am

    The imagination is a beautiful thing

  • Beth

    2013/11/01 at 7:16 am

    My younger child does that too. Repeats, almost word for word, a story her older brother has JUST told us. Kids are so weird.

  • disqus_jJjwvI1SHq

    2013/11/01 at 10:13 am

    I am a second child and a great story teller. The stories are always true at their core. My husband calls me an “over/under exaggerator”. After a story he will look at me skeptically and ask, “is this over/under exaggerator?” I just nod and smile.

  • Phoe

    2013/11/01 at 10:28 am

    I never get tired of Marlo’s stories!

  • Kgodbold

    2013/11/01 at 5:36 pm

    I have a 2 yr old and a 5 yr old girl and I can see the same thing beginning here.

  • Jessica Bates

    2013/11/02 at 12:04 pm

    Maybe she’ll write fiction. I write fiction, and I believe any story I hear is “mine.” Then I can use it for whatever I want. 🙂 Rock on, Marlo! What a funny kid.

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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