“365 Days of No” by E.R. Catalano
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, E.R. Catalano chronicles a year of refusals.
In the final tally I’m not sure who said it more, my daughter or me.
That year from two to three was full of refusals—there was the bedtime no and the cleaning up no; no to taking a bath and no to getting out of the bath; no to getting dressed or undressed. It was the toddler version of Newton’s third law: every action demanded an equal and opposite uh-uh.
Saying no to vegetables I understood, but why say no to the pasta or grilled cheese she’d requested mere moments before? And yet this occurred with alarming frequency. Was it possible she was gaslighting me? It’s hard to think straight when you don’t sleep. And I didn’t sleep because, “No bed!”
“But Mommy wants to go to bed,” I’d say.
“No,” she’d say. With finality.
Since I was up anyway, I often thought I might as well exercise. Try to get back into shape so that two-plus years after my daughter was born strangers weren’t still asking me when I was due. (I’d say four months and take the seat offered. Overweight, not stupid.)
But no, she’d prefer I didn’t exercise. When I tried, her terms were that her body had to be incorporated into the routine somehow. So: you may do push-ups, Mommy, but expect a small-but-heavier-than-you’d-think passenger on your back. Did I say Mommy? I meant horsey.
Even the route home from day care was something to be negotiated, or beware the full-body freak-out against the five-point harness, causing the whole stroller to shake. Clearly, we had to cross by Subway because her cousin had once bought a sandwich there and given her a bite, and so now the distinctive Bikram yoga mat smell evoked Proustian nostalgia.
When it rained, how dare I cover the stroller with the plastic rain guard so she wouldn’t get wet? Her view could be obscured! Plus it would muffle her cries of words that sounded vaguely like curses and therefore no elderly churchgoers could be scandalized. Couldn’t have that.
Two letters, two years old.
I said it too.
No to climbing on the windowsill, no to jumping off the windowsill. No to dumping water out of the tub. “Please, for the love of all that’s holy, no,” to grabbing, hitting, pinching, strangling me, the cat, various innocents.
No to the family bed, but enforcing that required leading her back to her room at three in the morning, and that was more of a nonstarter than my first car, a 1974 Chevy Nova.
She’d arrive at the bedside bearing gifts: toys and a sippy cup of water. Then she’d lie down insisting that my arm remain beneath her. This arm eventually went dead. No feeling in it at all and yet part of my mind was aware of a spreading cold wetness. Sippy cup leak? Or pee? It was something to ponder as I lay awake. Not that I had too long to wait. At five a.m. she’d sit up and, in the crypt-like darkness of our bedroom, announce,
“I’m done sleeping. Is it morning?” I’d croak, “No,” my first of the day.
“I want juice,” she’d say next, so I’d slide out of bed, shaking out my left arm, one of the ones I used to get her juice.
Why did she need less sleep than I did?
An attentive reader may point to the juice. And it’s true. She still loves her some juice. I halve it with water—all mommies know that particular trick—but she begs throughout the day until we end up in a feedback loop. I give her juice so she’ll stop humping my leg, but juice only leads to more vehement humping. A paradox.
I’d like to say the nos stopped as soon as she turned three. They didn’t, but they may have lessened, if only because her vocabulary became more sophisticated, experimental—even, dare I say, jazzy. She’s now the Miles Davis of Denial. Instead of no, she makes it plural. “Time for bath,” I say. “Nopes,” she replies. Occasionally, “Nopesie.”
Eventually, I suppose, her nos will evolve into the yes, buts of childhood and then the eye-rolling rebellion of a teenager. Then will I look back fondly on the days she spat her dinner out into my hand?
E.R. CATALANO is a writer and mother of one evil mastermind who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is working on a novel called Becoming the Girl Detective, about a girl who makes a deal with God to become Nancy Drew to save her brother’s life. She’s had short stories published by Del Sol Press, upstreet, and Swink Magazine, and a portion of her novel was published by The Drum Literary Magazine. She blogs about her daughter at www.zoevstheuniverse.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse and @ercatalano.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Aug 12, 2014
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