“Parenting Math” by Molly Pascal
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, Molly Pascal’s calculations help bring perspective.
I thought taking care of one baby was hard, until I had two. Two under two. The defense shifted from two on one to man to man. I couldn’t imagine going to zone by having a third. It was beyond comprehension to have eight or nine. I noticed that on reality television shows about very large families that even the multiple nannies seemed exhausted.
But does hardness progress by simple addition? Can the hardness of having two kids be represented by the equation of one plus one? Can the hardness of having four kids be represented by the equation of one plus one plus one plus one? We live in a society where many, perhaps subconsciously, compete about who has it “hardest.”
I have found additional kids to be an equation of exponentially, not additionally, increasing difficulty. Take the number of kids and raise it to a power. Children are not isolated; they are electrons within the family atomic unit. They interfere with each other. They instigate arguments (he did it, she did it). They pool their power in the name of opposition. I can carry one tantruming child out of the supermarket, but not two.
They amplify the entropy. The wrecking crew arrives every morning at six am, like clockwork. They unpack my house, then repack its contents in some gobbledlygook order. Who knew the strength and precision, Muhammad Ali stings and butterflies, that could fit into a nineteen pound body? Toddlers may equal the weight of one pugilist’s bicep, but they have deftness, velocity, and creativity. They mix leather with liquids, markers with furniture; they transfers clothes to bathtubs, and cell phones to toilets. Kids have an innate ability to re-locate an item to where it can be most quickly destroyed. In one community playroom, I heard about little Isabella, who pooped on her daddy’s computer, and then for good measure, into the keyboard cracks.
Sometimes I think children would make the best spies. Unleash herds of one to five year olds and they could uncover secret nuclear weapons programs with the same assiduity with which they find the half-eaten pretzel stick from 2006 under the sofa.
They frustrate timelines and timeliness. They synchronize for mischief, but de-synchronize for sleep. I spent the first year of having two under two getting them to nap at the same time. My technique resembled an advanced version of whack-a-mole. Like the dog chasing its own tail, my children destroyed the order I created out of the mess they created.
A friend with three kids provided me with a different kind of equation: n – 1 is easy. It combines mathematical and psychological elements. When you have one baby, none was easy. When you have two, one was easy. When you have three, you remember fondly the glorious ease of minivan-less, bunk-bed-less two. And so on.
Easy is always retrospective. And hard is wherever you are now.
Molly Pascal lives in Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, Jewish Chronicle, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, Fringe Literary Magazine, as well as various parenting magazines. Her essay “New Mom” was a finalist in the Profane Journal 2016 non-fiction competition, and is forthcoming in the next issue. It will also be released as a podcast. Her short story “Good Oak” was awarded honorable mention by Elizabeth McCracken in the 2014 Texas Observer Shorty Story Contest. She received her B.A in english from Columbia University and a Master’s in english from Trinity College, Dublin. Her children are currently 6-and-a-half and almost 8 years old.
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: Nov 15, 2016