the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Thou shalt not blog about thy daughter’s fifth grade class

The Friday before winter break Leta came home from school wild-eyed and bursting with anticipation. Fourteen school-free days lay in front of her, and in the excitement of it all she forgot to tell me that her teacher had given her homework. Her teacher might know about this website, but that is not going to stop me from saying MINUS TEN POINTS FOR YOU, MR. H.

I was going to say that someone should take his favorite Hawaiian t-shirt and shred it right in front of him, but then I’d get a call from the school and next thing you know I’m fired. So I’m not going to say that.

But I’m thinking about it SO HARD.

We were driving to my mother’s house for New Year’s Eve when I heard Leta sniffling from the backseat. I turned my head quickly to find her crying and wiping tears from underneath her glasses.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I asked while trying to focus on traffic.

“It’s just… I mean…” she mumbled. She’d had a friend sleepover the night before, and they’d stayed up several hours past her normal bedtime. I happen to know a thing or two about fatigue and how it can serve as a fun house mirror when it comes to life’s tiniest stresses, so I reached my hand back to hold hers.

“What’s going on?” I pressed.

“It’s just that I haven’t started on my homework, and I have to get it done, and it’s just so not fair!”

“Wait, what? WHAT? You have homework? He gave you homework?”

“Yes!” she yelled, comforted by our shared disbelief. “Who does that? Who gives homework over Christmas?”


“What do you have to do? How much did he give you?”

“Several pages of social studies, and then I have to write a report on some colony and then all those reading log worksheets! I’m never going to get it done! What if I don’t get it done?

She was sobbing at this point.

“Hey, listen” I said in an attempt to calm her down. “You don’t need to worry about that today or tonight, okay? We’re going to have a great time, and you don’t even need to think about it. And then this weekend I’ll sit down with you and we will get it done, okay?”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“I’m sure. We’re a team, remember?”


One of the most valuable skills I’ve developed as a parent is something I learned here, from you, you who have reached your hand out to mine to share in my disbelief, to assure me that I am not alone when the fun house mirror is distorting the landscape.

I think a lot of us, myself included, find ourselves heavy with the minutia of our hectic lives and desperately want to respond to exclamations of THIS ISN’T FAIR with LET ME TROT OUT 700,000 OTHER THINGS THAT WILL HELP YOU UNDERSTAND THE CLEAR DEFINITION OF WHAT IS AND IS NOT FAIR. When sometimes, if we stop to listen and consider, that exclamation is the only way our children know how to say, “Right now I’m feeling hopeless.”

Because I didn’t write that report for her, and I didn’t fill out those seven pages of social studies questions, and I most certainly didn’t read for four straight hours on a Friday night so that I could complete three separate worksheets the following morning.



She did all of that herself. She got all of it done. She just needed me to acknowledge what she was feeling to make space for the momentum to do so.


  • Aimee Giese

    2015/01/06 at 3:39 pm

    Yup. So totally been there. Awesome.

  • mustangtanya

    2015/01/06 at 3:48 pm

    Hate to be a downer but Mr. H is not the one who dropped the ball here. Leta could have done her homework the first day of break (or even on the plane!) and not had to think about it for the rest of her vacation! It’s a lesson we all must learn eventually.

  • ruffian

    2015/01/06 at 4:01 pm

    When sometimes, if we stop to listen and consider, that exclamation is the only way our children know how to say, “Right now I’m feeling hopeless.”

    Sometimes spouses, friends also

  • amanda bloomfield

    2015/01/06 at 4:07 pm

    Good job to both of you! Some of the things I remember the most fondly about my father are moments like these. Moments when I felt a burden lifted, not because he did something for me, but because he showed me that the anxiety or depression or whatever that I might be feeling about something was OK, and that he understood it and would hold my hand while we got through it. Those moments began at a very young age for me, and help me navigate the tough spots to this day. EMOTIONS ARE OK. I wish more parents let their kids know that. Kudos to you!

  • Jill W.

    2015/01/06 at 4:11 pm

    Wow. You really missed the point there, didn’t ya?

  • mustangtanya

    2015/01/06 at 4:12 pm

    I don’t know, but you seem to think so.

  • Alli7on

    2015/01/06 at 4:13 pm

    There are probably several worthwhile points. Dooce’s post missed one, which mustangtanya outlined above.

  • MT2SLC

    2015/01/06 at 4:21 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. In your same shoes (I too have a 5th grade daughter), I would have probably jumped all over her for; not telling me, not working on it at her Dad’s/on the plane; etc…But the way you handled it was perfect, and it got done. No anger needed. Thank you for opening my eyes, and reminding me to show compassion. PS my daughter thanks you too! =)

  • Nicole Morgan

    2015/01/06 at 4:23 pm

    oooh, now let us see. A young child flying across the country to spend Christmas without her Mom for the very first time … excitement, trepidation, confusion, anticipation … I cannot even begin to imagine how she may have forgotten about something as mundane as homework …
    Seriously people.

  • lauren137

    2015/01/06 at 4:27 pm

    It’s totally okay that Leta forgot. She’s ten! It happens! But being mad at her teacher for that (publicly, on a website, in all caps) doesn’t make much sense at all. It’s a bummer to do work when you’re supposed to have a true break (adults know that as well as kids), but homework over school vacation is pretty typical for fifth graders.

  • melemel

    2015/01/06 at 4:30 pm

    Loved this thanks. Been there done that. What I don’t get is that it’s supposed to be a break? Give the kids a break then not homework as if it’s normal.

  • KatR

    2015/01/06 at 4:34 pm

    If the header next month is not “publicly, on a website, in all caps” I’m going to be very upset.

  • LMO

    2015/01/06 at 4:39 pm

    Love this. Just love it. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Lucy Cash

    2015/01/06 at 4:53 pm

    I simultaneously loathe and understand the need for homework over long breaks. I just came to say kudos to you for how you handled her stress and did NOT rescue her.

    Because I have a sixteen year old who has been receiving vacation homework for years now, let me offer you this suggestion: hereafter, ask her if she has homework at the beginning of every break. Ask her to write out everything she needs to do, then sit down with her and show her how to plan it out in manageable increments using a calendar.

    I am a firm believer in a few days off at the onset of a break, so we always factored those in. At this point, my son does the planning out himself (he had a research thesis to write this last holiday), but he still always gives himself a couple days off with no work to be done at the beginning.

  • katherine_at_grass_stains

    2015/01/06 at 5:18 pm

    The teacher not giving homework over Christmas vacation even when he wanted to or had to would have been an example of “showing grace.” In the absence of that, your actions were an example of showing grace to Leta. You didn’t do the literal heavy-lifting for her, but you were there to shoulder the emotional burden alongside her — and that’s what real parenting is all about. Happy new year. 🙂

  • lauren137

    2015/01/06 at 5:25 pm

    Dude, join the club!

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2015/01/06 at 5:30 pm

    I think you handled this perfectly.

    But I think that the notion of not getting a “true” break is something that is more of a cultural shift then anything else. With they myriad ways to get in contact with people, I have found that we are never truly just at work, or just at home, or just at school. Instead, we are living with one foot in the door of each of these places. This can make it really hard to unplug and unwind — for everybody, school aged on up.

    For that reason, I hesitate to really blame the teacher in this instance. I feel like he was teaching them something very important (more important then the social studies worksheets themselves). He was teaching them how to impose boundaries and discipline on yourself even when you don’t want to. As an adult, I struggle with this too, so it is a good thing to start practicing when you are young.

    All that being said, I love the approach you explained here and Leta sounds like a wonderful girl.

  • JRSF

    2015/01/06 at 5:32 pm

    I’m probably not supposed to be focusing on whether I want my t-shirt to say, “Publicly, On a Website” or “Publicly on a website,” am I? No? Fine. However, I would like to purchase a bag of Hawaiian shirt confetti. I bet it would be very pretty.

  • Jo D

    2015/01/06 at 5:33 pm

    I wish my parents had taught me this before I went to college! I was always a homework-during-recess or lunch or end-of-class kid, so I rarely even brought it home with me. I had divorced parents, too, and I knew I’d forget an assignment or book at one house or the other if I did. Then I off on my own and had to learn time management and planning the VERY hard way.

  • Hallie Looyah

    2015/01/06 at 6:32 pm

    Okay – I will admit to being old enough that I went to junior high school rather than middle school – and back in the olden days we always got homework over every single break including summer. Born and committed to having the most fun possible I would come home and put it somewhere so it would not intrude on my good time. And then I would have the melt down and the pity party and the looooong couple of stressful days to get it done. Leta is a kid who works so hard at striving for the top in everything she does. You have expressed concern before that she may be too hard on herself. Learning the balancing act is a tough one… and for some of us it’s a life’s work. I’m glad to hear she had such a great time on her break. My sense is that this will probably never happen to Leta again and it was nice that you didn’t beat her up about “dropping the ball” since she was already doing that herself. What I read as the most important thing in that moment was to let her know that she could get the work done. And perhaps down the road, but before the next break, you guys will talk about what she could do to make sure she doesn’t have that experience again. I bet she will come up with some great ideas.
    On another note I will be so interested to hear about Marlo’s adventures in homework when she gets there.

  • Michael Mathews

    2015/01/06 at 6:34 pm

    Just had a recent forced break from work (paid, but deducted from our balances) of 11 days. I can’t tell you how many times I was tempted to log on just to keep from being so behind on the first day back. Only certain countries were off from work, so emails were still coming in and customers might not be on break at the same time.

    I resisted, but the pressure to be available most of the time wears you down. It’s sad that it is happening to our kids.

  • Teal

    2015/01/06 at 6:34 pm

    Poor kid. She was probably bumfuzzled about being away for Christmas, forgot about her homework, then when New Year’s came, she was like, “Oh sh**!”

  • Katybeth

    2015/01/06 at 6:52 pm

    Homework is so overrated. Homework should not be given over breaks or on weekends unless work needs to be made up. Kids need down time. The time to digest what they have learned. Leta learned once again mother is there to support her through it – no matter what. And I’m glad she felt good about completing the assignments. I would have been one “of those Mothers,” – goodbye Hawaiian shirt. And while Mr H. and I were talking about homework–we’d discuss Santa.

  • Katybeth

    2015/01/06 at 6:56 pm

    I think it makes perfect sense. And if homework is typical over Christmas Break I think parents should get riled up about it – why would parents support it? I sent my kid to school where they didn’t have homework until High School. (aside from spelling words) it was wonderful.

  • illinois

    2015/01/06 at 8:41 pm

    I knew Mr. H was an ahole when he told her about Santa. THAT IS NOT HIS JOB. The homework will get more ridiculous (fair warning). My kids survived, but there were lots of tears. Jr. High is the worst. You’re doing a great job, Dooce.

  • RzDrms

    2015/01/06 at 8:41 pm

    I hope you always remember that I continue to reach out my hand to yours to share in your disbelief.

    I also give a huge vote to the “Publicly, on a website, in all caps” as your next tag line. Hell, you should make it your 2015 motto! 🙂

  • mcw

    2015/01/06 at 9:22 pm

    Gleaning insights from other parents is what makes reading blogs like this one worth my time. From your past posts, I got how kids venting their frustrations (come to think of it adults, too) often comes out like, ‘WAAHH! The whole world is unfair.’ There’s usually a lot of drama and whining surrounding those kinds of statements, if my 6 YO is anything to judge it by. Once I get her calm enough for her to hear, ” I will help you. You are not alone. We can do this together”, her attitude changes instantly. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  • Joy

    2015/01/06 at 10:00 pm

    I think for my t-shirt, I prefer: “Publicly. On a website. IN. ALL. CAPS.” (We should prolly go ahead and leave the quote marks while we are at it.)

  • Kim

    2015/01/06 at 11:52 pm

    I wish I could upvote this a hundred times.

  • Erin

    2015/01/07 at 1:08 am

    My kids get homework over every single break including summer, and it is checked afterwards. They would be flabbergasted if they found out that it is not the universal truth.

  • Aunt Jenny

    2015/01/07 at 3:26 am

    You are the loveliest of all possible moms; you remember what it was to be a kid.

  • Family Affairs

    2015/01/07 at 4:37 am

    Well at least you have girls who actually care … my youngest son would NEVER get even remotely emotional at the thought of holiday homework….he just doesn’t do it. Not good. Still wondering how to get him vaguely interested ….

  • Lucy Cash

    2015/01/07 at 5:51 am

    I think many of us learned the hard way, and in some respects Leta had a taste of that this go-round. The thing that is difficult to acquire independently at such a young age is a way that works, and I think it’s important to do so now so every subsequent break isn’t filled with that sense of dread and shame and fear.

    The other thing students are being left to learn the hard way is notetaking. When I was in school, we were taught how to take well-organized notes, using Roman numerals and such. Now this skill is not taught – there simply isn’t time. Yet by middle school, students are expected to take notes from which they can study. Often these notes are graded, and yet little to no guidance is given, only feedback.

    It behooves parents (or really any caring adult) to sit down for an hour or so and teach this skill. For us it was a fun lesson because I taught it using my son’s choice of topic, which was a particular computer game and its characters. As my son introduced each new character, I took notes. He paid close attention, because it was funny and also because accuracy was important to him, and he learned how to take notes. Now if his notes are poor, it is on him, not because he never learned that particular skill.

  • Jenay Hoover

    2015/01/07 at 7:17 am

    I think some readers forget that you are the QUEEN OF SARCASM, and please feel free to use that as a header, but after KatR’s suggestion, because it’s the best thing I’ve heard all day. I have been there when my kid’s have had last minute homework they have forgotten about, and we got through it, they’re kid’s………… if I had a dollar for all of the times I have had to run a forgotten item up to the school…… All teacher’s are different, and you have every right to have an opinion when it comes to your child’s teacher.

  • susanfishy

    2015/01/07 at 7:45 am

    My husband is a high school science teacher. He gave his students a couple of bigger assignments back in September that needed to be done by the end of the semester. Before the Christmas holidays, he reminded his students about them and said that the break could be a good time to finish those up. Beyond that, he gave NO homework at all and was irked that our eldest got tons of homework from his teachers.

  • Lilly O'Handley

    2015/01/07 at 7:55 am

    “She just needed me to acknowledge what she was feeling to make space for the momentum to do so.” A-fucken-men. As you have acknowledged, don’t we ALL need that from time to time???? ;oP

  • Lilly O'Handley

    2015/01/07 at 7:58 am

    God love my parents, they didn’t care about my homework. “It was MY deal, see?” My single mother felt she had enough on her plate. I also wish I had been prepared for college…it was a bitch-slap!

  • Dash

    2015/01/07 at 8:10 am

    You are such a great mother, Heather. Your girls are so lucky to have you. Lately, I’ve truly been wishing, hoping, and praying for a Mom like you to reach out and hold my hand and tell me it’s going to be alright. But my Mom walked out of my life over 2 years ago and I’m turning 25 next week. Thank you for being you and being the mother you are for 2 beautiful girls.

  • Class Versus Sass

    2015/01/07 at 8:27 am

    I never had homework over break and I took a considerable amount of AP classes. Quite frankly I don’t understand the need for it.

    Granted I was always a big reader and did so whether I had school or not…but a break is just that a break. To often, we lose the importance shutting it off and just having downtime. 3 weeks of no homework isn’t going to make or break someone’s education. Teachers need to factor in breaks and work around them. It sounds like poor planning on the teacher’s part…he needs to pace his class better.

  • Emily

    2015/01/07 at 9:47 am

    This is so good. xoxo

  • Jen

    2015/01/07 at 9:47 am

    As the parent of a 7th grader who regularly feels swamped & overwhelmed by her workload, “She just needed me to acknowledge what she was feeling to make space for the momentum to do so.” might be the most important sentence I’ve read! I hope I can move forward with less badgering and more compassion.

  • issascrazyworld

    2015/01/07 at 10:54 am

    Such an important thing to learn. For both of you probably. My oldest had a project due today on the first day back. She rocked it out yesterday after ignoring it all of break, which I’m proud of her for. My little perfectionist is learning to relax a bit. Why they give work over break, I will never understand. It’s called a BREAK for a reason.

  • issascrazyworld

    2015/01/07 at 10:56 am

    Ten. She’s ten years old. It’s called a break for a reason.

  • adobekj

    2015/01/07 at 11:08 am

    My high school always had first semester final exams scheduled for the first week back after Christmas break. Fun times.

  • LaurenH

    2015/01/07 at 12:15 pm

    This! Is one of my exact memories as a child and one that is a big part of my stronger than super-glue bond with my mom. I know that my mom will stand by me and help me, even if it’s just supporting words, through any situation.
    A job well done by you! I hope Leta holds on to this moment for the rest of her life as a reminder of what a great mom she has. Especially during the “you’re the stupidest mom, ever!” moments that all teenage girls have.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2015/01/07 at 12:27 pm

    For every parent who thinks that homework is terrible over a break, there will be one who thinks it is acceptable and a great idea.

    Educators are in a position where they cannot possibly make everybody – certainly not every parent – happy. Sometimes a good lesson for kids to learn is that we all have to do things we do not like, for the sake of something we do like.

    I wouldn’t want to do homework over break. I also don’t like to pay my taxes or take out the garbage, but I do them anyway. I think sometimes we forget that this is also a lesson for kids to learn.

  • ahem_its_LM

    2015/01/07 at 12:51 pm

    Yes. This post struck a chord with me and I could feel my mouth go dry and stomach drop as I read it, because I know what Leta was feeling.

    I was a very anxious kid (I’m an anxious adult, too, but it’s very well controlled with two medications, and booyah to Heather for inspiring me to have that talk with my physician years ago). I can still recall times where I went to my parents with situations like this and my mom’s way of dealing with it — upbraiding me for making a mistake, making me feel guilty — left me feeling worse than I did when I went to her for help.

    (I did eventually learn to approach JUST my dad and he and I came to an understanding that my mom would only be alerted to my problems on a need-to-know basis.)

    Anyhow, my point is: I wish my mom had realized what you do, Heather. I know I would have felt a lot safer as a child if my mom had had your mindset and philosophy. Damn man, you kick some parenting ass. Thanks for sharing.

  • Katybeth

    2015/01/07 at 12:56 pm

    Why do children need to learn this? Would you happily accept work from your employer over your vacation? Maybe in an emergency,but just because your employers have the power to ask you? Doesn’t everyone deserve a break? Why manufacture reasons to prove life is hard at times? Kids catch on. True, homework is probably driven more by parents than educators who do realized kids need time to digest what they have learned. I worked in an educational system and sent a kid to a school that graduates high achievers and finishers without homework. Thank you for your thoughts. I have been passionate about this topic for a lot of years. The truth may be somewhere in the middle.

  • Nicole Soucy

    2015/01/07 at 2:21 pm

    Sometimes I think we have the same children (I have 2 girls who are 6 and 10). However, my 5th grader decided to wait until the Sunday before school started again to inform me she had a packet of homework to do. Needless to say after many tears and several “I can’t do this” it was completed. Only for her to tell me Monday that there were some kids in her class who didn’t do it and the teacher didn’t seem to care to which I said, “well didn’t it feel good to be one of the ones who actually did it”

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2015/01/07 at 4:16 pm

    The truth usually is somewhere in the middle.

    In general, I think teaching kids to fight for what they think is right is really important. But I think picking the battle on what is important is crucial. You can’t just lash out at every perceived injustice — you would never get anything done and people will start taking you less seriously.

    For that reason, I wouldn’t go into the school guns blazing. I would teach my kids how to handle life when it isn’t going they way you want it to, instead of how to complain when it isn’t going the way you want it to.

    Some issues are important enough to try to change the status quo. But a 10 year old with a handful of worksheets and reading to do doesn’t even remotely hit that level for me.

    Picking your battles is an important lesson for kids, too.

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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