the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Friday night lights

The girls’ spring break officially began on Friday afternoon, and to kick things off I let Marlo change out of her regular clothes into the bathing suit I bought her at Costco for eleven bucks. Then we all did tequila shots and took selfies with our tongues out while making gang signs with our hands. The house is totally trashed. I found Tyrant passed out in our tub. He was lying there in a puddle of vomit and had a several four-letter words scrawled across his forehead.

It wasn’t really bathing suit weather, but I was glad that Marlo would be staying in that one outfit for the rest of the day and not in and out of fourteen different dresses that I’d find discarded around the house. Our afternoons go like this:

“Marlo, a minute ago you were wearing a different dress. Why did you change?”

“Because I needed a different dress.”

“Why did you need a different dress?”

“Because I was done with that dress.”

“You were done with that dress?”

“Yes. My arms and legs got very long. And I grew out of it. And I needed a bigger one. This one is bigger.”

(no it isn’t)

I don’t necessarily think she’s trying to lie, she’a just got a very robust imagination.This morning she said to me, “Mom, I am a vampire. In real life. For real. This is why you need to give me red Gatorade.”


After we finished dinner, Marlo began rearranging everything on the bookshelf in the living room while Leta and I sat side-by-side on the couch to watch one of her shows. Her shows star teen actors and invariably include a laugh track, something that seems so vintage to me now, so vintage and so terribly annoying. I realized I don’t watch shows that include laugh tracks anymore and that absence has now made it so that when I hear one I feel like owning a gun for the sole purpose of destroying a TV might justify the Second Amendment.

About ten minutes into the show a mysterious zap shot across the room and all of the electricity went out. Boom. All the lights turned off and the television went dark. Leta sat up abruptly.

“Why did you do that?!” she blurted.

“Hey, calm down,” I said. “I did not do anything. I guess the power is out.” I would have liked very much to take credit for killing that laugh track, but alas.

“THE POWER IS OUT?!” she yelled, panic very clear in her words.

“It’s okay,” I started to explain. “It’s not a big deal. I’ll go check with the neighbors to make sure it doesn’t have anything to do with our house.”


“Hey, listen. This happens all the time in various places. Let’s go see if it’s out next door.”

Marlo was watching this conversation and paying very close attention. And then she squealed.

“It’s going to get really, really dark! So dark that we can’t see! I LOVE it when we can’t see!” She probably couldn’t have spoken three more unsettling sentences to Leta.


“Leta,” I said trying to be patient. “It’s going to be fine. We have flashlights and a ton of candles if we need them.”

“CANDLES?!” Marlo screeched. She leaned over, put her hands on her bare legs to push her body as high as she could jump. “WE CAN HAVE A CANDLE PARTY!”

A candle party in our bathing suits on a Friday night. Wait until you see the Pinterest board for this shit.

I grabbed my phone to take it outside with me just in case I’d need to call the power company and report the outage. That’s when I realized that my battery power was down to 29%. Cue the heart attack. Listen, we all have our things. Some people get freaked out by snakes. Some people, like my older child, get freaked out by the dark. I am a person who gets freaked out when the battery life on my phone drops below 80%. Which is why if you are sitting next to one of the few power outlets at the airport and are not using it I am legally allowed to pee in your coffee.

When I stepped outside I noticed several neighbors already in their driveways checking with each other about the power. I waved to one across the street, and she yelled, “You guys, too?”

I nodded and then dialed the power company. After weaving through a maze of “press this” and “say this” and “sign over your first-born child” I got to a human who checked the grid and confirmed the outage affecting about 140 customers in my area. Estimated time it would be restored? 2 AM. I failed to realize that Leta was dissecting every line of my face, every word coming out of my mouth, and when I heard that it wouldn’t be restored until the middle of the night I laughed and said, “I guess we’ll have a candle party!”

“MOM! she screamed. “I do NOT want to have a candle party!” Well, okay. Fine. I will send back the Oompa Loompa. To comfort her I told her she could sleep with me that night. In my pitch black room. Where we’d be unable to see a thing. In the dark. Where there is no light.

Just then my phone died. It croaked. It fell over and stopped breathing. UGHHH! I DO NOT WANT A CANDLE PARTY EITHER! I had to remain calm to keep Leta from hyperventilating and come up with some sort of plan as I do not own a clock other than the one on my phone and Marlo needed to get to bed soon. I headed to the garage so that I could plug my phone into the charger in the car. It took me a minute to figure out how to open the garage door manually, and as I was bending over to lift it Leta slammed her hands on her hips and then threw them in the air.

“THIS IS CRAZY! Why are you messing with the garage door? WHAT IS GOING ON?”

I managed to lift the door over my head and then I turned around and said, “We’re going to change into our swimsuits and burn some candles, but first I need to charge my phone. Priorities.”

Marlo thought that reading her bedtime stories by candlelight was the most magnificent thing that has ever happened to her. She wanted to keep the candles burning next to her bed, but I do enjoy being alive. Request denied. So I convinced her to pretend that her battery-powered nightlight was a candle. And yes, of course I let her sleep in her swimsuit. I’m not a monster.

Leta was by my side the entire time, and when we returned to the garage the battery on my phone had reached 20%. It was charging, yes, but charging slowly. I wanted to text friends and family to let them know what was going on in case they needed to reach me in the middle of the night, so Leta and I sat in the car together, two worriers keeping each other company on a Friday night in a dark and dusty garage.

That may not seem to you to be a worthwhile memory, but knowing that she felt safe with me, that she leaned over and wrapped her arms around my shoulder and stayed that way for over a half hour, that I could feel the rise and fall of her breathing as she nestled even closer with her tiny body, this is exactly the kind of moment I hoped to share with my kids when I thought about becoming a parent.

I am so glad the lights went out. And when they came back on much earlier than expected, I still let her sleep in my bed.

  • Jennatorture

    2014/04/15 at 1:34 pm

    The new less-anxious, happier you is so fucking awesome. Nice work, mama.

  • RobynH

    2014/04/15 at 1:35 pm

    You should get a Mota battery stick that you can keep charged for travel and outage emergencies. A little peace of mind, though it is one more thing to bring and keep track of.

  • Running for life

    2014/04/15 at 1:45 pm

    Have you ever noticed how slowly phones discharge when they’re around 80-90%, but as soon as they hit 20% they’re like whoosh! and they’re completely dead?

  • Scarlett

    2014/04/15 at 2:02 pm

    this was so good! i laughed and i cried 🙂 thank you 🙂

  • Alison Toback

    2014/04/15 at 2:06 pm

    “She wanted to keep the candles burning next to her bed, but I do enjoy being alive. Request denied.” Oh Marlo. I’m glad everything turned out okay. 🙂

  • Denise

    2014/04/15 at 2:22 pm

    I still read all the Marlo parts with a 3 year old lisp.

  • Breanne

    2014/04/15 at 2:54 pm

    I love the image of Marlo running around in a bathsuit on a Friday night… but I also love the real image of her in that dress with those eyes of hers! Stunning!

    Also, this whole story was pretty awesome. Except the part where you had to deal without power. That part was lame. 🙂

  • jenn

    2014/04/15 at 3:00 pm

    I’ve heard that iPhones charge faster in airplane mode. (But we love that the universe gave you the beautiful gift of a slow, quiet, dark evening–so maybe the magic phone wasn’t supposed to charge faster. If it had, you might’ve missed that hanging-in-the-car moment with Leta.)

  • Ari

    2014/04/15 at 3:43 pm

    This is lovely. Thank you.

  • Katybeth

    2014/04/15 at 5:18 pm

    What!! You didn’t camp out in the living room, roasting marshmallow over candles and making s’mores? Sheesh. Ok. Next time. It is wonderful when your kid has confidence in you and knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that your survival skills reach far beyond a cell phone when it comes to keeping them safe and sound.

  • lizandrsn

    2014/04/15 at 6:44 pm

    Wait — I saw this on Sharktank: the PowerPot V Emergency Preparedness Bundle, Cooking Pot, Stove, 5 Volt USB
    Charger. You can make hot water for beverages while you wait for power, all while fast charging your phone and running a LED light. It’s available online or in the Big Box Sporting Goods stores. Even if you never camp, you can run this via any heat source, like a gas stove or one of those green propane bottles (there’s an adaptor). Lights, hot chocolate and phone juice — I think that covers just about everyone under your roof.

  • Wryly-SoCal

    2014/04/15 at 6:57 pm

    Two words – Halo charger

  • Teal

    2014/04/15 at 10:25 pm

    How in the world do you not have a clock in your house?! Just thinking about that gives me an anxiety attack!

  • LynArnold

    2014/04/16 at 5:27 am

    How did the dogs react to your reaction(s)?

  • Jodi T.

    2014/04/16 at 7:53 am

    LOVE THIS. It’s the little memories we seem to remember most and hope our children remember too. Candle party — I need to stock up, cuz that sounds fun!

  • kaptaink

    2014/04/16 at 12:37 pm

    I loved every word of this post.

  • Kristine Clinton

    2014/04/16 at 7:43 pm

    My 5 year old, Lilly, changes clothes more often than Kim kardashian changes husbands. She also puts all the discarded outfits in the laundry hamper, so i dont know just how many outfits have been worn until I end up doing the laundry and folding half her wardrobe twice a week. I ahve a feeling our girls could be besties! 🙂

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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