“My Son, the Felon” by Nancy B. Ludmerer
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, Nancy B. Ludmerer deals with the life of crime of a four-year-old.
Where had I gone wrong? In four years as a mother, I thought I’d done a good job. So where had I failed? I pictured myself twenty years hence, cornered by a crime reporter. “I tried my best,” I’d sob. “But he began dealing in stolen property at four, and it was downhill from there.”
I’d find them in his pockets, his pant cuffs, his underpants. First the blocks, then Legos, then the marbles his pre-K class used to mark the days of the week. When I asked where he got these things, he’d say he bought them at Duane Reade. I knew—and his teachers confirmed—that he’d taken them from school.
I tried different strategies.
What would it be like if everyone took everything home? There’d be nothing left at school: the blocks would be at Isabel’s house, the finger paints at Alex’s. But the notion of empty rooms with just kids and no toys simply intrigued Jonah. It didn’t worry him a bit.
The Ten Commandments say you’re not supposed to steal. This got his attention for a while. He wanted to hear all about baby Moses in the bulrushes, the parting of the Red Sea, even the golden calf. Jonah loved the color and the detail. He remained oblivious to the message.
I consulted the obvious experts.
Jonah’s dad, from whom I’m divorced, said, “He’s only four,” and, “All kids probably do it.” That wasn’t much comfort.
My friend Ahuva, who had five kids, suggested it might be “in the genes.” Although she clarified that she didn’t mean my genes, that didn’t make me feel better either.
Then, suddenly, the stealing stopped.
Time passed. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Until one morning I noticed that Jonah’s shirt was unusually tight, as if he’d outgrown it overnight. That’s when I discovered the water pistol his father had bought him, stuck under the elastic of his underpants. He was about to break yet another rule: no toys from home at school. “I have to fight the bigger boys,” he explained amiably.
I took him to school that morning. When we parted outside the classroom, I had an image of him, disarmed, but ready to do battle. Not just against the school bullies, but against the forces within himself and against his parents and against everything in his life that meant separation. Home time and school time. Mommy time and Daddy time.
I wished then that Jonah could have had his transitional objects, softening the hard edges of the separations, making his life as round and whole as the smooth blue marbles I had found in his pockets. Jonah’s stealing suddenly made perfect sense. And it didn’t portend a future life of crime after all, or even an appearance on the eleven o’clock news.
Indeed, I can happily report that, as of today, there has been no incident of recidivism.
But please forgive me if every now and then I frisk him. Just to make sure.
NANCY B. LUDMERER’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the Kenyon Review, the North American Review, Cimarron Review, Sou’wester, Vogue, and elsewhere. Recently her essay “Kritios Boy” was a prizewinner in Literal Latte‘s essay contest, and her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and cat Sandy, a brave refugee from the storm of the same name.
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: Jul 8, 2014
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