“The Experts” by Amy Rigby
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, Amy Rigby takes a trip down Second Avenue.
by Amy Rigby
“Mommy, can we go to McDonald’s?” Hazel asked in her piping voice. She was waiting for me at the door of after-school, buttoned into a flowered winter coat with detachable cape. Her brown bowl haircut drooped and there were dark circles under her huge eyes—she looked straight out of a low-budget production of Oliver.
“No McDonald’s,” I said, my voice a haggard croak. “Oh, okay—just this once.” It had been a bad day at my temp job. It was always a bad day at the temp job in the winter of 1993, and we went to McDonald’s at least once a week.
The Happy Meal Animaniacs toy was one she didn’t have yet, so Hazel perked up. We headed into the night to catch the Second Avenue bus downtown. I ate the last few fries and shoved the empty bag in a litter bin near the bus stop.
“I wanted that bag!” my daughter said, her voice no longer piping but sharp enough to cut pipe. A few people looked our way, then averted their eyes
“Well, it’s in the garbage now,” I said. “Oh look, there’s our bus!” I made believe the bus was a magical sight, like a unicorn or Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, instead of the mirthless ship of human misery we both knew it to be.
“I want that bag! It’s a memory!” Hazel crossed her arms and stamped her feet. I gingerly stuck my hand toward the garbage can, but a tide of phlegm-crusted tissues and soggy coffee containers had already closed over the bag. The bus arrived.
“The bag, the bag! I want that Happy Meal bag!” she sobbed. Afraid another bus would never come, I lifted my heaving child up the steps, shoved a token in the the slot, and asked for a transfer. The driver scowled.
“Stand behind the line!” he shouted, and wrenched the door shut. As the bus pulled away from the curb, I pinned Hazel against a pole, my body a sound barrier to muffle her cries. I heard the comments: “Mothers who can’t control their children,” and, “Sometimes a good beating is the only answer.”
Everybody was an expert on parenting—everybody but me. I wondered what Dr. Stanley Turecki would say. Dr. Turecki, author of The Difficult Child, believed children didn’t throw fits because they were bad, just overly sensitive.
I was a fan. I’d bought the book and even stood outside his Difficult Child Center on East 64th, wondering just how difficult a child had to be to qualify. Hazel hadn’t suffered the terrible twos, but at five my occasional refusal to play doltish Stimpy to her sassy Ren could set off an emotional storm so loud the downstairs neighbors would call to ask if everything was all right.
Her crying subsided to a whimper. I looked up and an older couple loomed over us: dyed black hair and double-strength Carol Channing glasses, rust-colored toupee, shabby overcoat, baggy black trousers, and huge white sneakers.
“This mother needs our help,” the woman said.
“Allow us to pray for you both,” said the man. They tilted their heads back like they were about to launch into an exorcism. I yanked the cord. “That’s okay, we have to get off here!” I called, shoving Hazel down the back steps.
“So do we!” the couple crowed, and followed us down to the sidewalk. They encircled my daughter and me, the woman raising one hand to the sky. “I call on you, oh Holy Spirit, to fill this child with obedience!”
For a second it sounded like a pretty good idea. Then they began praying in tongues or some vaguely Eastern European language. What’s wrong with me? I thought. Can’t I stand up to anyone? Not a five-year-old; not two crackpots on a rush hour bus.
I saw Hazel peer up at the couple from under her bangs—she smiled, the bag forgotten. We were Animaniacs now; we were in a Simpsons episode.
“Run!” I shouted, and grabbed her arm. We dodged taxis across Second and leaped up the steps of an eastbound bus. I could see the couple back on the corner where we’d left them, looking bewildered.
A block later, we exited the bus and headed downtown toward the L train. Hazel smiled up at me. “This time I’ll be Stimpy and you can be Ren,” she said. “Okay, Mommy?”
For a second, I felt like I’d won.
AMY RIGBY is a songwriter, musician, and performer best known for her album Diary Of A Mod Housewife and Little Steven’s Underground Garage favorite track “Dancing With Joey Ramone.” She was part of the late seventies downtown NYC no wave nightspot Tier 3 and played in bands the Stare Kits, Last Roundup, and The Shams before beginning her solo career. For the last twenty years she has toured the US, Canada, UK, and Europe, appearing on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, PBS’s Speaking Freely, World Cafe, Whad’Ya Know, All Things Considered, BBC Radio 6 Music’s Marc Riley Show, and Mountain Stage. She lives with her husband and sometime duet partner Wreckless Eric in New York’s Hudson Valley. Visit her website at amyrigby.com.
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: May 10, 2016
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