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News & Features » April 2019 » “Bedtime Negotiations” by Cherie Parenteau

“Bedtime Negotiations” by Cherie Parenteau

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, in an attempt to keep crying to a minimum, a mother picks and chooses her battles with her three-year-old.

Bedtime Negotiations
by Cherie Parenteau

I have always tried to include three-year-old Gus in the decision-making. For example, we have discussed at length the pros and cons of wearing a snowsuit to bed. I maintain that it is too hot. My son, with a crown of sweat forming just from struggling to get the suit over his flailing limbs says, “Not too hot. Snowsuit good for me, Mommy.”

Our dialogue is fun, and it is teaching him how to express himself. There is one slight disadvantage to this method, which is that bedtime often turns into a negotiation session between myself and a waist-high tyrant, and he usually wins.

Tonight, bedtime starts with a discussion around the use of the potty. I ask Gus to go one more time before bed.

He looks me in the eye and says, “No, this is a car swimming pool,” pointing down. He then proceeds to drop in two toy cars. I guess this means that he doesn’t have to go.

To be honest, my goal with all this discussion is so that one day he will communicate better. Just the other day, he pushed himself around in a circle on the floor screaming “maa.” It turned out that he just wanted more milk.

I then ask him to choose ONE book because it is getting late. He decides to empty an entire shelf’s worth of books onto his bed. His little mop of dirty blond hair bobbing back and forth between the bed and bookshelf.

I try to reason with him: “That’s too many books for Mommy, bud!”

“Mommy read all the books,” he says.

“How about three books because you are three years old?”

He deadpans. “All the books, Mommy.”

“What if we just focus on the train books tonight and put the animal books away?” I implore.

He reluctantly puts a few books back on the shelf.

As we read, I stash as many books as I can under his bed. He then traps me on the last page of a book which has over fifty different vehicles on it. I can tell that Gus is tired now, but he wants me to read the name of every single truck, tractor, bus, submarine, helicopter, and combine. Gus has won this round.

It’s just like with the milk. Spinning in circles on the floor means “I want milk” and forcing mommy to read “all the books” is his way of saying “I’m tired.” It’s a good thing I speak toddler.

The last book is finally put away, and I start singing his bedtime songs.

“I want water!” he demands.

I sing, “I will get some waa-ter if you still want it when I am done sing-iing” in the same melody as the lullaby.

The song ends and he yells, “Water. Please!”

I come back with water and he is shining a flashlight on a row of cars that have all magically appeared next to his pillow.

The flashlight is reluctantly handed over in exchange for the water, but he negotiates that the cars must stay. Gus two, Mommy zero.

I start singing what will hopefully be the LAST song but suddenly fear a repeat of the nightmare scenario from a few days ago.

On this particular night, Gus kept calling me back into his room, each time with an even more irrational request. When I went to leave for the third time, he evoked the nuclear option, “Mommy stay, otherwise I cry!”

There is no worse communication breakdown than the tears. That night I felt like a failure. All this dialoguing and I had only succeeded in teaching my son how to blackmail me.

That night I let him cry because he had to go to sleep. There was nothing more to discuss. I had lost, but I should not have been keeping score in the first place. A child needs to sleep and to not wear snowsuits to bed. I am teaching him to discuss, not to debate. There is no winner or loser, just a kid who needs to sleep, and someday he will tell me this, I pray.

I slow down my singing, indicating the last line of the song. There is a peculiar silence. I lean over and kiss Gus on the head. Cry if he will, the discussion is over.

He whispers, “Mommy go. I no cry.”

We have made a peace deal tonight, which is a huge victory for both of us.


CHERIE PARENTEAU is a French and English teacher currently taking time off for her three babies: one-year old daughter, three-year old son, and writing. She is still surprised at how much easier it is to control a room full of adolescents than two toddlers. Minnesota will always be home even though she has lived in France and now Germany. Read about her adventures at https://frozenocean.home.blog


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 to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Apr 17, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,