the smell of my desperation has become a stench

On having bespectacled children

A couple of weeks ago Marlo had to head into the pediatrician’s office to get up to speed on a few vaccinations required for kindergarten. I am not even going to get into my opinion about recent measles outbreaks because I would smash my keyboard with my unbridled fury at the downright fucking absurdity of it (I’m a little more articulate and level-headed about my feelings in a post I wrote five years ago) although I guess I did just get into my opinion about it. WHY DON’T I TELL YOU HOW I REALLY FEEL: if you don’t vaccinate your kids I will not bop you on the head BUT OH I WILL FANTASIZE ABOUT IT.

She was not up to date on her DTaP, measles, chicken pox, and polio shots. Yeah. A whole slew of diseases just waiting to circulate inside her immune system because I would like her to be a valuable contribution to herd immunity. Also, I am not about to homeschool that child, and if voting Republican were a requirement to get her into kindergarten I’d cry a lot and feel really gross and wouldn’t be able to look anyone in the eye for years. BUT SHE’D BE IN KINDERGARTEN.

Yeah. It’s just sinking in. That wide-eyed dimpled almost eight-pounder is starting elementary school this year. How did this happen? Someone recently sent me an email and said that they’d been reading me since Marlo was born, waaaaay back when they were in high school. And I was like, oh my god I was in high school YESTERDAY and today I woke up and I’m suddenly 38 years old. A flash. A snap. Gone. Listen. If you’re in high school you should probably put a bedpan and a copy of your will on your nightstand. You’re going to need it in the morning.

When I made the appointment for Marlo the nurse asked if I’d like to include a wellness exam for her, and given my stance on vaccinations you can probably assume the one I have on wellness: WELLNESS CAN SUCK IT. They weighed and measured her upon arrival and then asked if I’d like her to undergo their standard eyesight examination. Even though she’d had it tested not two weeks previously at school I shrugged and said it couldn’t hurt, right? Unless they were going to use lasers. Then it would definitely hurt and I would definitely want to watch.


The nurse walked Marlo into an open space behind an area where several other nurses and technicians were working on computers. A piece of tape on the floor indicated where Marlo should stand, and as she motioned for her to take her position she flashed a set of cards at me.

“You think it’s okay if we use letters?” she asked.

If you have read anything here about Marlo and the differences between her and her sister then you will understand why this will be a top contender for a story I tell at the wedding after she lobbies Congress, passes legislation and then ties the knot with her pet chinchilla.

“If you would like to diagnose my child as blind, use letters,” I advised. Consider this:

“Ah, we’ll use pictures then,” she acknowledged and then took several steps away from where Marlo was standing on the tape. “Honey,” she said pointing to the cards, “I want you to tell me exactly what you see when I hold one of these up, okay?”

Marlo loves to be on stage, so she nodded furiously.

I was standing behind the nurse and couldn’t see the drawings, but apparently she was nailing it.

“And this is?”


“Perfect. And this?”

“A DOG!”

“Great. What about this one?”


“Okay. And this?”

“A PO—” Suddenly Marlo stopped herself and clasped her hands over her mouth as if not to let out the wrong words. We all hung there in the silence for a second, and I was like, oh god. If that’s porn and my child correctly identifies it, my bishop is going to be so pissed.

She finally yelled, “It is a HUMAN. On the back of a HORSE.”

As one does.

Indeed, it was a very basic line-drawing of someone on a horse.

Wait. I’m sorry. A HUMAN. Not just any someone. And if that HUMAN is wanted for illegal activity, especially anything involving equestrianism, well shit. Marlo just made a positive ID.

I think she was afraid “pony” was not going to cut it for this nurse who wanted her to be “exact” in her description. No other kid could have described the card in that manner because everyone in that room was doubled over laughing, myself included. I don’t think I go around using the word “human” a lot? Maybe I do? Maybe they talk about humans at preschool? She could have chosen any number of other words: girl, guy, man, woman, child, kid, person. She didn’t even have to identify that part of the illustration. “Pony” would have indicated that she could see the picture. But something made her stop and think, that’s not enough, no. That’s not accurate. This wasn’t just a horse! THERE WAS A HOMO SAPIEN ON ITS BACK. And by god, she could SEE it.

I relayed this story to Leta that afternoon and she loved it so much that she has probably recounted it to every one of her friends. It is now my go-to phrase when I’m checking her homework and come across something she’s overlooked.

“What? What’s wrong with that answer?” she’ll ask.

“Is there a human on that horse?” Which is to say, look more closely, my first-born child who could have at Marlo’s age pointed at and correctly identified A Tale of Two Cities, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov.

  • Jen

    2014/03/25 at 6:45 am

    Did they have the card with a picture of a rotary phone? That one always stumps my kids.

  • KathyB

    2014/03/25 at 7:03 am

    Wonderful. She is definitely going to enjoy kindergarten, definitely.

  • Jen L.

    2014/03/25 at 7:03 am

    Hitting my life on so many fronts! Just yesterday – did a little math & realized Lena Dunham could *EASILY* be my child. WHAAAT??? And not only does my 6YO also think vowels are overrated, she refers to groups of humans as “persons”: e.g. “Persons shouldn’t do this or that.”

  • Danielle Lambert

    2014/03/25 at 7:15 am

    The first time I read the sentence “THERE WAS A HOMO SAPIEN ON ITS BACK” freaked me out. I had to go back and re-read it two more times. The first time I read it, my brain saw “THERE WAS A HOMO STAPLED TO ITS BACK.” After the shock of seeing that Miss Heather B. Armstrong would post something so out of character on her “out of control” blog wore off, and what you really wrote sank in, I let out a very obnoxious snort/giggle/bark that made a gentleman co-worker sitting 3 feet to my left jump in his chair, which then led to a fit of snort/giggle/barks. Thank you Miss Heather for making my Tuesday start out AWESOME!

  • SmithShack71

    2014/03/25 at 7:39 am

    My son turned 18 yesterday, but… I (!) was 18 yesterday. I’m so confused.

  • NOYB12345

    2014/03/25 at 8:09 am

    Terrific story!

  • The Absent Minded Housewife

    2014/03/25 at 8:14 am

    As the mother of boys, when those tests happen, there is always a moment of anxiety when they go to answer and a few more moments of relief when they don’t say that every symbol is “poop!”

    Or “fart” or fart noises…

  • americanrecluse

    2014/03/25 at 8:19 am

    Oh god, this is adorable.

  • Torchness

    2014/03/25 at 8:21 am

    THANKS for being pro-vaccine; as someone who had whooping cough for 3 months last year due to disabled herd immunity…all anti-vaxxers can SUCK IT and I wish whooping cough on them (the adults only, not the kids).

  • Jan

    2014/03/25 at 8:25 am

    When they showed my daughter the pictures, she almost cried when they pointed at the rotary phone. She thought she was failing. I said, “yeah, she doesn’t know what that is”.

  • Lauren3

    2014/03/25 at 8:39 am

    DEFINITELY. I cannot wait for the stories.

  • Nancy B.

    2014/03/25 at 9:03 am

    I just chaperoned my daughter’s high school debate team to the state finals, and I discovered that I was old enough to be the COACH’s mom.


  • JenniferW2323

    2014/03/25 at 9:06 am

    When my son was about seven, he identified a pyramid as an “ancient artifact.” I was amused. The tech wasn’t.

  • Jo D

    2014/03/25 at 9:10 am

    I just realized I’ve been reading your blog for over 8 years, starting as a freshman in highschool when I googled “depression help.” Thanks

  • Kristenf7

    2014/03/25 at 9:12 am

    This is my favorite post in years. I totally agree with you on the vaccines and the Human on the Horse. Oh my. Laughing so hard.

  • tmb

    2014/03/25 at 9:28 am

    The highest number of injury suits since the mid 80’s was 2,699 people, in 2012. Even if all of those people were compensated because the vaccine actually caused the injury, that’s still just 2,699 people (the number of people actually compensated, or the vaccine was found to be the cause of injury….wait for it….was a whopping 260 people).

    There are over 2 million people currently serving active or reserve duty for the military. They are all required to be vaccinated. Period. No exceptions.
    At the reception phase of basic training, they can be given 6-8 vaccines ALL AT ONCE. Which means that those 2 million people were all given vaccines, without any discussion about it
    (they don’t tell you what it is, you can find out from your medical records later).

    If we use the 2,699 injuries number against the military population, MUCH less than the general
    population, we get 0.0013, less than one percent. About 1 in 1000 (if we use the real number of 260, that goes down to 0.00013 or 1 in 10,000—your chances of getting measles induced encephalitis are much higher).

    So even using an inflated number of injuries against a smaller portion of the population we still get a number that is called by researchers “STATISTICALLY INSIGNIFICANT.” Statistically insignificant doesn’t mean you can’t be injured by a vaccine, but that you’re more likely to die in your car going to the doctor than you are to receive a non-life-threatening injury caused by the shot the doctor gave you.

    But, you know FACTS never seem to outweigh the FEAR. Where is my tinfoil?

  • LS

    2014/03/25 at 10:06 am

    Oh Heather. Your kids are the same ages as mine. Marlo’s Olaf spelling gave me such a feeling of relief. I am so glad Marlo is going into K in the fall. So I can watch and go through this with you because, wow. This will be different than last time – not that my son was a genius, but he was definitely more ready for kinder, or I just didn’t know to worry. I’m on the edge of my seat this time.

  • Human Mommy

    2014/03/25 at 10:22 am

    My son is almost 4 and when he plays dress up with his female cousin, he wears her dresses or princess costumes and tells us that he is “a human woman.”

  • Elizabeth

    2014/03/25 at 11:30 am

    My three year old son has started watching “Miffy.” In the theme song there is a part that says,”Miffy, cute little bunny.” Well, my oldest daughter started singing it, but instead of saying “Miffy” she said “Jack” (the three year old’s name), and he sang back “cute little human.” I didn’t know he knew that world, let alone know he is one!

    And I am with you about vaccinations. I can’t even talk about it, I get so mad.

  • footburger

    2014/03/25 at 11:34 am

    This made me laugh so much.

  • Laurie

    2014/03/25 at 1:05 pm

    My younger son had almost the same reaction when he did his eye exam. He was shooting for perfection (which is not surprising since, hey, he’s MY human!).

    My older son had to be on an alternate vaccination schedule due to immune suppression (liver transplant when he was 3 months old). We relied on herd immunity to cover him until he was able to get the rest of his immunizations, and he wound up getting chicken pox from a child who was never vaccinated. Chicken pox isn’t supposed to be a scary childhood illness (like measles), but in him it could have caused full graft rejection. He was hospitalized for a week, and required IV anti-virals to help him fight the chicken pox. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if he had gotten something like polio or measles.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/03/25 at 2:08 pm

    I’m glad your son is okay. It’s stories like yours that need more attention to emphasize how important herd immunity is, how as a civilized society we owe it to those who are the most susceptible like your son. I can’t see straight when I hear of yet another outbreak of measles or whooping cough because so many of the children afflicted aren’t old enough to get the vaccinations yet.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/03/25 at 2:09 pm

    I can’t favorite this comment enough.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/03/25 at 2:10 pm

    Oh, man. I, too, am on the edge of my seat. It’s going to be so different this time around and I get the feeling that maybe I am going to get to know the principal a little better.

  • Ali

    2014/03/25 at 3:30 pm

    I have two boys similar to yours. The older has a college fund but the younger has a bail fund. You know what I mean?

    So, one day my oldest asked the younger to name his favorite car.
    4yo: I like trucks.
    Literal (smart-ass)8yo: Trucks are not cars.
    4yo: A car is a vehicle and a truck is a vehicle so a truck is a car.
    Literal (not so smart ass) 8yo: *mindblown*

  • Mel

    2014/03/25 at 4:30 pm

    Stopped by to see of this blog is still here. Why the fuck do I care about your opinion of vaccines? Give me whooping cough over autism anyday of the week, assholes.

  • Remember Polio?

    2014/03/25 at 5:48 pm

    Let’s ignore the correlation between early diagnosis with access to care increasing the incidences of autism spectrum disorders as well as those many nuero-atypical children who were never received vaccines in favor of a debunked study and a psuedo-celebrity yelling “fire” in a crowded room.

  • Meg

    2014/03/25 at 6:46 pm

    Look, not vaccinating your kids is fine if y’all live completely cut off from society. That’s all cool. But if they go to a school, a park, a store, a movie, get on a plane or a train or a boat . . . vaccinate! (My attitude is the same about turn signals : if you’re driving hundreds of miles from the nearest vehicle, do whatever you want, but use them if you’re on a road. It’s called “Ayn Rand was an asshole” in my head.)

    The younger brother of one of my brother’s friends from elementary/middle/high school just died at age 20. He had had terminal brain cancer since he was a toddler. (Yes, I’m crying just thinking about it. Still.) He couldn’t be vaccinated most of his childhood and life because of the treatments, so OF COURSE every single damn member of his family got their vaccinations.

    Eye exams : I have to ask them to get a different chart for the second eye because I will have unintentionally memorized it with the first one. They always balk until I close both eyes and recite it.

  • Sara in Montréal

    2014/03/25 at 7:07 pm

    I am so so so so so so happy about your stand on vaccine. I can’t say it enough. As a biologist, as someone who’ve seen the effects of polio first hand in Africa and as a mom, it drives me bonkers when I encounter anti-vaccination parents. For all the reasons you list here. I am so happy someone with your reach and your background (as of not a ‘but-yeah-you’re-a-scientist’ background – as if it’s a criminal thing to be) agrees with the importance and the chance to have vaccination. Thank you

    And human – humans are cool! I almost woke up the kids from laughing at this one.

  • Carol

    2014/03/25 at 9:48 pm

    Holy crap! We have a 5yr old in our midst and she identifies everyone as humans. Recently when a friend told her that the baby couldn’t play with her because she was too small, she said “it’s ok, I’ll help her turn into a human.” I wonder what she thinks the rest of us are?

  • Lesley

    2014/03/26 at 7:45 am

    Such a fun age!

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/03/26 at 9:42 am

    “Ayn Rand was an asshole” is my new favorite thing in the whole world. Thank you.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/03/26 at 9:43 am

    I like to believe that street smarts are just as valuable as book smarts.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/03/26 at 9:45 am

    Hahaha! That tech needs someone to poke him in the butt.

  • ninjaf

    2014/03/26 at 10:28 am

    Of course there was a human on a horse. She had to get it perfectly right so she could be the Valedictorian of Eye Exams. She is your daughter, after all. 🙂

  • pat

    2014/03/26 at 1:09 pm

    my 7 year old was suppose to read a book a day during her spring break and then record the book and what day she read it… well i wasnt told of this assignment until Saturday night.. The 2nd to last day of spring break. So she decides she is going to read her 7 books, all in a row, all in one night. So the next day I was going to help her list her books, and she looks at me and says ( with her big eyes pleading) “umm, lets just use random days for when i read the books. She doesnt have to know all the details. 7 books are 7 books. It doesnt really matter does it?” And well I couldnt argue with that logic, or that look. So thats what we did 🙂 If i remember correctly i would have just cried on saturday night if i hadnt did exactly what the teacher had told me to do, when she told me to do it. I would just know she would know somehow that i didnt do it right.

  • chuck

    2014/03/26 at 3:24 pm

    you should check your “facts.” all members of the military are required to be vaccinated UNLESS they provide a note from a doctor. since doctors are prevalent in the military many military personnel opt out by obtaining a doctors note from a military doctor. i have read many accounts of this.

  • Mel

    2014/03/26 at 4:06 pm

    Again, I give a fuck why? You know nothing about my kid or my life.

  • onlineflowers

    2014/03/27 at 5:42 am

    We can do our best by showering mother with presents that would make her realize how deeply we think of them and want to thank them for being an idol in our life. Send Flowers to India and show your intense love.

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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