“Theory/Practice” by Adam Mansbach
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.
by Adam Mansbach
At the risk of coming off like a complete fucking asshole as usual, I would like to use this space to address a common misconception about parenthood.
In theory, parents are supposed to empathize with one other, find common cause in the fervent desire to preserve and protect the world for the next generation, and connect on some deep, almost mystical level that those poor souls who have not experienced this level of all-consuming love cannot possibly comprehend.
In practice, however, we mostly can’t stand the rest of these assclowns.
Sure, I feel a certain solidarity when I see a guy struggling his way through an airport lugging a child’s car seat (by a wide margin, the most unwieldy device ever constructed by humankind; it’s easier to look cool carrying a gallon jar of elephant shit than a car seat) or a woman attempting to make a toddler stop screaming on an airplane (there is also no greater feeling than hearing that first piercing wail and realizing, “Hey, that’s not my kid! My kid’s at home! I’m ordering some bourbon!”).
Far more often, though, observing other parents inspires me to feel some mixture of judgment, anger, disbelief, and scorn.
Now, as previously stated, I’m a cantankerous SOB, and watching kittens play with balls of yarn also causes me to feel judgment, anger, disbelief, and scorn. But I don’t think I’m entirely alone here—though admittedly, I never think I’m entirely alone here, even when I’m entirely alone here, in my secluded, heavily-fortified cabin in the woods; the doctors have been suggesting I might need to increase my meds, but what the hell do they know?
As parents, we’re all flying somewhat blind, even those of us who have read 4,478 asinine parenting books with titles like Nurturing the Incredibly Exceptional Baby and 101 Snacks for the Preternaturally Gifted Child—all of them national bestsellers, unlike the immediately-remaindered Rearing Your Statistically Average Offspring. If you cannot pick your battles (which is code for “abandon the belief that matching socks, breakfast, or cause-and-effect are important concepts”), you are royally screwed.
And thus, the only way we have to measure our successes and failures as parents—unless we are psychotic, in which case we also have college admissions—is against the yardstick of random motherfuckers we observe in public, all of whom are clearly doing a far worse job than we are.
That couple enjoying a peaceful meal at a restaurant while their two preschool-age kids sit watching movies on their iPhones, their mouths slack, their brains dribbling out their ears—haven’t they read a goddamn thing about child development and the pernicious effects of screen time? What kind of monsters do they want their kids to be? They should be fined for that shit.
That schmuck at the “play café” who I watched lunge across the room a couple of weeks ago to forcefully strip a costume-bin tutu off his two-year-old son, as if wearing it was going to instantly turn him gay? He should be given a stern talking-to, and then assassinated.
That woman loudly attempting to reason with her irate three-year-old, as if he is capable of understanding the concept of compromise ( “OK, sweetie, here’s the deal: if you eat all your vegetables, I’ll read you one story.” “No, here’s the deal. I eat none of my vegetables, and you read me a million stories.”) should be—ah, you know what, she’s suffering enough as it is.
That fucknut who insists on maintaining a meandering, free-associative conversation with his daughter from across the playground all afternoon? Well, that fucknut is me, because it’s important for people to know that you are with a child when you’re an unshaven, sunglasses-clad dude at a playground, with a flask in your back pocket and a lit joint in your hand. But still—I should probably be punched in the throat.
Ultimately, very few people parent their kids in ways that strike anybody else as reasoned, appropriate, or sane. And sure, we all do the best we can and go with whatever works for us, even if censorious strangers or the FDA might not approve. And when it comes right down to it, developing a critical sensibility about parenting isn’t really about disapproval, it’s about honing your own sensibilities, figuring out how you want to parent.
That last sentence is total horseshit, by the way, and if you believe it you’re probably as much of a jerk as me. Ask Akashic for my number. We’ll set up a playdate.
ADAM MANSBACH is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Go the Fuck to Sleep, as well as the novels Rage is Back, Angry Black White Boy, and The End of the Jews, winner of the California Book Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Esquire, The Believer, and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. He is currently adapting the children’s classic The Pushcart War for Park Pictures, and his debut thriller, The Dead Run, has just been published.
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] Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Nov 5, 2013
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