the smell of my desperation has become a stench

A note on family planning

Tuesday morning Marlo woke up a little before 4AM screaming for me to come and get her. Normally her requests come a lot later and a little more relaxed, an adorable refrain of, “Mom, come get me. Mom, come get me. Mom, come get me. Mom, come get me.” Sometimes it doesn’t seem like she’s taking a breath anywhere, and I’ll think, if I lie here for two more minutes is she going to pass out? That wouldn’t technically be neglect. It would technically be “pressing snooze.”

I immediately ran to her room where she was in tears and saying that she felt like she was going to throw up. I carried her on my shoulder to my bathroom, felt the heat coming off of her face, and had her kneel at the toilet while I fumbled around in my vanity for medicine and a thermometer. She didn’t throw up, but she did have a 101 degree fever. So I gave her some ibuprofen, grabbed a towel, and headed for my bed, a dimly lit walk to what would be my prison cell for the next few hours. Listen, I know. Only a horrible mother would say something like that, but you already know that I am perfectly comfortable with that distinction. If my kids were to give me an honest Mother’s Day present it’d be a coffee mug that says, “World’s Worst Morning Person.” And $20 to cover the copay for my therapist.

For the next three hours Marlo demanded water, colder water, water that was colder than that. Had I not heard her? She barked that the wet wipe she was using to blow her nose wasn’t wet enough. She complained that it was too hot and then too cold and then too hot again. She shook her leg constantly like she had to go to the bathroom but refused to go to the bathroom. And, of course, she never fell back asleep. That shit only happens in commercials. And only because the kid pretending to be asleep was forced into acting by his mother who is exploiting his childhood for money. Let us sit back and judge and wag our fingers. Can you even believe her? I totally hate her.

At 7AM I turned on a “movie,” her word for anything on television, and told her that if she needed to throw up it would be nice if she could keep it on the towel, or maybe cup it in her hands and wait with it there until I returned. I needed to get Leta out of bed, let the dogs out of their crates and feed them breakfast. The usual start to morning madness. I know I’m not the only person who loathes mornings, so maybe if you, too, cannot stand that part of the day you could just nod and let me feel the vibration of it over here so that I know that I’m not alone. Thank you. 

Oh wait, all of that collective energy was just undone by own mother who walks more than 20,000 steps before 7AM. With makeup on. In a dress. On the phone with the President. 

Once I got the dogs outside I realized that I didn’t really have anything else to do until it was time to take Leta to school. Because, well, she’s ten years old and takes care of all of her own needs. After checking to make sure that Marlo hadn’t decorated my room with vomit, I accompanied Leta when she got dressed and brushed her hair and teeth but only to make myself feel useful. Then we all gathered in my bed and watched “movies.” 

“Mom,” Leta leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Why does this morning seem so easy?”

I pulled my head back with a jolt in involuntary agreement. “You’re right!” I agreed. “I guess… neither of us is arguing with Marlo.”

“THAT IS IT!” she conceded loudly.

Marlo wasn’t refusing to eat, refusing pants, refusing a shirt, refusing to have her hair brushed, refusing to have it pulled into a ponytail, refusing to have her teeth brushed, refusing to put on her shoes, refusing to get off of her bed and come here right now and get with it already. She wasn’t refusing to play by the rules of whatever game she plays with Leta while I’m getting dressed, refusing to stop screaming at Leta, refusing to stop pouting because she’s going to make Leta late for school. Marlo wasn’t being an almost five-year-old.

This makes it seem like Marlo is a lot of work and that is the exact point I am trying to make oh my god. For one morning I experienced what it would be like to have to get a ten-year-old ready for school in the morning and no one else and the ten-year-old even pointed out how easy it was. I’D WALK 20,000 STEPS IN A DRESS BEFORE 7AM IF I ONLY HAD TO GET ONE TEN-YEAR-OLD READY FOR SCHOOL.


All you parents of four and five and six kids are shaking your heads at me and I am shaking mine right back at you because YOU DIDN’T STOP AT ONE KID EITHER.

It goes without saying that all of us love our children blah blah blah love love love, the dimension Marlo brings to our lives far outshines the chaos she brings to the morning routine. I absolutely adore having two girls and have never once regretted the decision to try to have a second child. BUT. Here. Let me do this: all you parents who decided to stop at one kid and have ever felt guilty that that one kid doesn’t have a sibling? Guilt serves no purpose in this world and it certainly didn’t ever get an almost five-year-old sister to put on her damn pants in the morning.

  • wh0oznicole

    2014/05/01 at 8:58 am

    I have 2 kids, a boy and a girl. As soon as my daughter was born, I had my tubes tied. Right after the C-section. Best decision I ever made. I know my tolerance for pain.

  • Megan

    2014/05/01 at 9:06 am

    As an older sister who at 9 years old got up at 4am with Mom to get myself ready and help get my five-and-a-half-years younger toddler sister ready, I both commend you and deeply empathize.
    (Perhaps this is why I’ve yet to have kids? Permanently traumatized my biological clock?)

  • melizerd

    2014/05/01 at 9:08 am

    I have an only child by choice. I felt guilty for like 1 second about not giving him a sibling. What I do is revel in the fact that we can go places and do things easily. Wrangling one small human IS easier than more, it’s simple math. I love my small family and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  • Amy G

    2014/05/01 at 9:10 am

    I only have one seven year old, but she sounds a lot like Marlo in the mornings. My husband mentioned something about having another baby last night, and I just laughed and laughed and laughed.

  • Erica Moriarty

    2014/05/01 at 9:11 am

    My second child is almost 5 months and it is so so hard. Having one kid was a breeze. Having two kids is going to kill me. And yeah mornings can suck it.

  • Kristan

    2014/05/01 at 9:17 am

    I’m a happy non-serial-killer only child. Don’t worry. 🙂

  • The Absent Minded Housewife

    2014/05/01 at 9:20 am

    In my opinion, three and four year old children suck. It’s my least favorite age. Childrearing, yes, even teenagers, is better than three and four year olds.

  • Marissa

    2014/05/01 at 9:20 am

    The fever dance — just finished 10 days of that, five days with the 4 1/2 yr old and then 5 more with the 2 1/2 yr old. Before the fever fun, the girls were at my mother’s house for two days and it was just me and my 13 yr old son, and we both commented on how calm the house was and we didn’t bicker at all. It’s like they had to double down on the chaos to make up for those two days.

  • Jennifer Wagner

    2014/05/01 at 9:22 am

    I did the same! No more, for sure. Two is a lot! My oldest is a boy Marlo’s age and my youngest is a 1 1/2 year old girl. She makes everything more work, especially since she already has a shoe fetish and opinion on what shoes to wear….which are rarely practical for the day. She also has a temper which we have termed as she “hulks out”. BUT…she is my sunshine and the amazing moments outweigh the craziness.

  • issascrazyworld

    2014/05/01 at 9:23 am

    What’s sad is that by the time Marlo does hit the ten year old can get herself dressed thing…you’ll likely have a 15 year old who is refusing to get up to contend with. 😉
    I’m totally with you though. Right now my girls are easy in the morning. However my five year old is a rightful pain in the butt every morning. Well except on weekends when he shows up fully dressed and fed and is ready to go do things….at 6:15am.

  • issascrazyworld

    2014/05/01 at 9:24 am

    ps. I fear the puke. FEAR!

  • Jen Wilson

    2014/05/01 at 9:24 am

    You just described my 7-year-old TO A TEE. Getting a 12-year-old ready for school is a breeze when the 7-year-old is sick and therefore not concerned with anyone but herself (though she’ll whine and groan and moan and be demanding and wake us up 857 times in the night) and is not instigating fights or taking 300 years to get one sock on or whining when I tell her it’s too cold for the sun dress she picked out to wear on a -67 degree January day or complaining about what was in the lunch her sister packed for her. But I’m with ya with all the blah blah love love stuff. 🙂

  • maggie wilkin

    2014/05/01 at 9:25 am

    THis is funny to me, only because my 2 girls are almost exactly like yours, the older one who follows every rule and just does what is expected of her and the free-spirited younger child who doesn’t give a single flying fuck what anyone thinks or who she makes late (including herself) and will only put her pants on when she is good and ready and if you even consider rushing her you better be prepared to pay. Unfortunately, at 8 years old, it is still very difficult to get her to focus and she acts more like a toddler than an almost pre-teen. We recently removed everything artificial from her diet (Feingold Diet) and it has made a HUGE HUGE difference. She can actually sit through an entire meal! And finish a sentence without being distracted! And best of all, get ready in the morning without too much yelling on my part. But if you rush her, you still better watch your back.

  • Manisha

    2014/05/01 at 9:38 am

    One and done.

  • ST

    2014/05/01 at 9:40 am

    All of my kids got sick this week, my almost-5-year-old included. And instead of not being difficult for a change, she threw a fit, stomped her foot, and told me how much she hates me. I’m just grateful my other two kids still appreciate me (or, at the very least, are non-verbal compared to her). Also, 10 sounds like the most magical of ages; I like this whole “little kid” thing, but 10 sounds even better.

  • ST

    2014/05/01 at 9:43 am

    What is this magical child you speak of, who follows rules and does what is expected? I have three kids and they all sound much more like the latter child you describe (of course, two of them are toddlers, so that’s part of it, I hope).

  • Robin Dearing

    2014/05/01 at 9:45 am

    I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 24-year-old stepson who was 9 when I met his dad. Having a 10 year old and a baby was really perfect for me. I knew from the minute I got pregnant that I could never raise a bunch of little ones at once. I have friends with triplets and friends with three boys, both those situations make me want to run for the Xanax. The smartest mom decision I ever made was only having one of my own.

  • ABR

    2014/05/01 at 11:04 am

    When my sister and BIL announced they were pregnant with their second child a friend of mine looked at her and said, “Having two is not like having two kids. It’s like having 5 kids.” I fully understand what you mean and I AM a morning person. There are mornings when I have my 2 nieces (9yrs and 4yrs) and my son (2yrs) and I find myself wondering if it’s too early to have a drink.

  • Pia

    2014/05/01 at 11:17 am

    We have an eight-week old and during the first two weeks I routinely cried out of gratitude that we didn’t have twins (I also once cried because the Chinese food was taking too long to be delivered, but that’s another story). I am still SO CONFUSED as to how people manage more than one child. Maybe I am exceptionally weak? Maybe it gets easier when they’re older (please let that be true)? And I AM a morning person!

  • Katybeth

    2014/05/01 at 11:24 am

    Happy only child, raising happy only child. No guilt ever. I never want one more and neither did my husband or my son. I did however borrow 6 week old Henry yesterday—he is youngest of SIX (3 girls, 3 boys alternating, oldest 19 year old girl) and my friends husband dared to leave town. Loaner babies and siblings are FUN. Thanks to all the other parents that make that possible.

  • QueenofCupcakes

    2014/05/01 at 11:42 am

    My mother lied to me, she kept saying “2 kids really isn’t twice the work, it is almost twice the work, but not quite!” She really wanted another grand kid, I guess! My kids have a similar age spread but one is 6 and the other is almost 2. Nothing quite like getting breakfast while one is in tears over something and the other is attached to my leg screaming “UP! UP! UP!” I loathe mornings too.

  • Kristin

    2014/05/01 at 11:45 am

    Amen, sister. Mornings are no picnic right now with a three year old who refuses everything, including being potty trained. Hopefully, she pick that skill up by the time she’s ten.

  • Rach

    2014/05/01 at 11:53 am

    My best friend is a single mom of 19 month old boy/girl twins. Enough said.

  • janedole123

    2014/05/01 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you for this. Signed, the worrier. 🙂

  • Rhonda

    2014/05/01 at 12:15 pm

    Amen. And I have THREE.

  • your name

    2014/05/01 at 12:21 pm

    Your poorly behaved child is your own fault.

  • Rachel

    2014/05/01 at 12:26 pm

    Ahahahaha your attempt at mom-shaming is adorable.

  • The Absent Minded Housewife

    2014/05/01 at 12:27 pm

    Don’t I hear your mother calling you?

  • Janie T

    2014/05/01 at 12:30 pm

    ARGH!! I have one child. A beautiful, sweet daughter who is now 18. Yes, I had years of easier mornings than you. Yes, I have felt STOMACH CHURNING GUILT over not giving her a sibling, even though it was not possible. Yet now I am soooo envious of you because my only daughter will go merrily to college, and leave me with an empty house. Send me Marlo for a few weeks, please? I promise I will send her back! : ) You can send Chuck as well, I will wear a gas mask for him.

  • Janie T

    2014/05/01 at 12:34 pm

    Gee, whose fault are you?

  • Ari

    2014/05/01 at 12:37 pm

    I’m a pretty serious proponent of the idea that while we always love our children, we don’t have to actually like them from moment to moment. I mean, fuck, I hope we don’t. Children of mine, if you are reading this from the future, A. That’s creepy, stop, and B. YOU WERE ONLY SOMETIMES LIKEABLE AT 4 AND 2, SORRY.

  • kmpinkel

    2014/05/01 at 12:37 pm

    I nodded. Did you feel it? I have four, I nodded really hard and fast. So much so that I just started hitting my head against the wall. This is not unlike any other day. Amen.

  • Esther

    2014/05/01 at 12:42 pm

    Ha! I love having two, because it means that every once in a while, they play with each other and leave me alone. But of course there are all the hours in all of the days that I am literally prying them off of each other.

  • Tiffany

    2014/05/01 at 12:44 pm

    It gets easier as they get older! Well, harder in some ways and easier in others. I’m also a morning person and an only child and we ended up having a second baby even though I was convinced I was going to fail at two kids because HOW do you MANAGE that. What I tell myself constantly is that many people have three or more kids and they can manage, so surely I can do two. Surely. So far it’s working.

  • Ari

    2014/05/01 at 12:45 pm

    I’m sure you’re not exceptionally weak–having two kids kind of works the same way managing one kid works when you’re tired or sick: you manage it because it needs to be managed, even though you feel like you can’t possibly have those resources (I kind of assume I’m spending years off my life, me). Much also depends on the disposition of your particular kids, also. I’ve heard that eventually they entertain each other, but I haven’t gotten to that stage yet. Basically, all parents are superheroes, to whatever degree superheroism is required for the job with which they are faced.

  • Janie T

    2014/05/01 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you! I’m crying over “cried because the Chinese food was taking too long”). Your baby is only 8 weeks, so sweet. What happens is, we forget. We forget the huge yucky pieces of time when the first was chaos, and BOOM! have another. You too will forget. Sorry!

  • Ari

    2014/05/01 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you for this reassurance. My eldest is 4, and after all the hype about terrible 2s (which were fine, actually?), I’ve sometimes worried that things will just get worse and worse every year until infinity.

  • Ari

    2014/05/01 at 12:52 pm

    You’d think they’d have included their mom’s info so we could give her a call.

  • Alexa

    2014/05/01 at 12:54 pm

    Haha, I’m 23; my dream forever was to have 4 kids. Reading this detailed illustration makes me not wanna have kids for the first time.

  • LavenderWynter

    2014/05/01 at 1:01 pm

    Hi. I’ve been following your blog for a long time now, and it’s from here that I’ve gotten a lot of good advice that has helped me with my own two children – boy, four and girl, three – who needs nebulizer treatments in the morning (I have to do one at a time, 20 minutes each child) while I get both dressed, fed, hair brushed, tied, socks on, shoes on, sweaters on, lunches and water bottles packed, and walk them both to each his/her own bus as they go to different schools. I’m not a morning person, and it does help knowing that frustrations are normal.

    Okay, “frustration” really is an understatement. =D

    But I do hope Marlo is feeling better so that this weekend would at least not be wrecked by food traveling the WRONG way through the digestive system =).

    Much love and (hopefully) happy weekend (almost)!

  • Aundrea

    2014/05/01 at 2:19 pm

    One and done, as well. The only guilt I feel is when I try complaining to my friends who have more than one. For some reason, they don’t wanna hear it! 🙂

  • KC

    2014/05/01 at 2:59 pm

    Hang in there. This too shall pass 😉

    I have heard stories my whole life about what a booger I was to my older brother and sister. My mom has told me how I would scream my head off if either one of them was playing with a toy, until she would make them give it to me just to shut me up!

  • Marina

    2014/05/01 at 4:01 pm

    Tylenol is used to lower a fever, not advil/ibuprofen (it won’t do it.. different class of drugs.)

  • Hanni

    2014/05/01 at 4:15 pm

    What?? You don’t use ibuprofen to lower a fever? Hmmm…my and my daughter’s fevers must have gone down all on their own after taking ibuprofen…weird. Sorry, but Tylenol doesn’t work as well…

  • Wizard of Odyssey

    2014/05/01 at 4:37 pm

    Know when to hold em, know when to fold em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.

  • wilberfan

    2014/05/01 at 4:40 pm

    I thought fevers were the body’s way of fighting–whatever triggered the fever response. Wouldn’t it be best to monitor the fever (to make sure it doesn’t get to dangerous levels) and let it do it’s job? Well intentioned question…

  • LavenderWynter

    2014/05/01 at 5:14 pm

    Tylenol and ibuprofen both reduce fevers. Some children take more to one than another, while it doesn’t make a difference for others. The difference in these medication is how the body processes them. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is processed through the liver. Ibuprofen is processed through the stomach, so ibuprofen could irritate a child if used too much or not enough water has been ingested. At least, that’s what I remember from my pediatrician =).

  • LavenderWynter

    2014/05/01 at 5:17 pm

    Yes, from 99.1 to 101 can be monitored, but at 101 is where most mothers introduce the fever reducer treatment as it gets uncomfortable for children (achy, and they get really fussy when they’re achy). Hope that helps =).

  • Kate

    2014/05/01 at 6:17 pm

    I never forgot how hard it was and therefore we have one five and 1/2 year old son. I couldn’t ever wrap my mind around how I could manage another without completely losing my mind. Know your limits and respect them. It does get easier – the overall arc of parenting really is generally up with a lot of dips along the way. But I never wanted to repeat all the other hard stuff, I’m looking at you morning sickness, 36 hour labor followed by emergency c-section, THE FIRST SIX WEEKS, five bazillion diapers, breast-feeding a lot of the time, teething, sleep training, potty training, eighteen to twenty four months, and the entire third year. I am a morning person and getting my kid out the door to preschool everyday pretty much drives me to the brink every damned day.

    Thank you Heather as always for saying so well what it is hard to explain to others.

  • Kim

    2014/05/01 at 7:13 pm

    I was only going to say – three and all out of the house (but two still on the payroll). Hang in there – you’ll get there one day.
    But when I scrolled through the comments I saw a comment about “your poor parenting skills” and I have to add – shut up, bitch! Heather – we all know you are a great mom.

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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