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News & Features » August 2019 » “Birthday Party at a Pool” by Tamar Jacobs

“Birthday Party at a Pool” by Tamar Jacobs

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, a mother tells us what she really thinks about birthday pool parties . . .

Birthday Party at a Pool
by Tamar Jacobs
Six-year-old and three-year-old

For how many more years will you host the birthday pool party with the pizza and the cake from the grocery store—Acme, Costco, Safeway—all of us proclaiming like idiots, It’s good, isn’t it? Isn’t it good?

You circulate in your bathing suit looking medicated.  

Your condition, I don’t know, despite the years we have racked up at these parties together saying what? I don’t know. Who knows. Apparently nothing. 

I realize I don’t know you. 

I know you don’t know me. 

You are very fit from running this marathon and that one oh right and that triathalon. You keep a list of them bumper stickered on the ass of your car. 

Am I sounding undone? 

Listen, I am not enjoying myself standing thigh-deep at this YMCA indoor pool dead of February chlorine-coated and goosebumps naked skin. I did not feel like shaving with the same parents all of us here every year same party, different child. 

I am full of edge watching through the chitchat to make sure my kids’ heads are above this awful water.

My son’s jaw is clenched to keep me from seeing his teeth chatter.

I don’t want any leftover pizza always too much please take some, please please take some, we won’t eat it, it will go to waste. Please. 

And I take it anyway because to say no is to say no I don’t want that shit. (Which is what you are saying, really.) Which I am this close to saying. Which I am saying now.

(I don’t want that shit.)

I don’t want that shit. 


Sometimes I eat it as it congeals on the drive home and oh, it is not good. 

I don’t want another chunk of cake “for the road,” its destiny to become spackle on the upholstery of my backseat. 

My sons don’t like your son, who is always mean, who hoards the whole tub of water toys you brought ostensibly for sharing, making awful faces at anyone who comes near. 

I don’t like him either. 

I have to guard my littlest one and tell him not to splash my baby again or else I will . . . I stop but I know some grown-ups heard me. He contorts his face and sticks out his tongue and oh my G-d give me strength. 

You packed water guns in the goody bags. My older son loudly proclaims, but my mom doesn’t like guns. He’s loud but he’s right I don’t like guns and maybe you could use some loud in your life. 

You smile, Mona Lisa–like. Offering cold, steadfast civility and that’s all folks. 

A grave fight erupts over one balloon, its silver face long past taut but somehow still floating, jerking down and sideways erratically when one of the warring parties manages, despite ongoing mediation, to grab its string. 

Desperate crying flares up in the corner because someone spilled her juice box and there are no more replacements. Someone else choked on a bite of that cake and his face holds an alarming pink brilliance for a long time after. 

I am tired too. 

I want to tell you this. 

I want us to sing this together in tandem as easily as we fall into the notes of happy birthday, which we seem to have some unified feeling for, all of us; thirteen mothers; three fathers; one grandmother; two nannies; nineteen children; And many more. Happy birthday. Yaaay. Loud to the edge of mania. We look at each other and smile as we sing as if to say: Look what we can do together.

I am tired, too, I want to tell you as you distribute tepid bottles of water, their labels flaccid with cooler water gone warm. Like this is a catastrophe and you are the Red Cross, you are grim. Like anyone would want those bottles of water for anything but a Flood capital F. A hurricane. The end of the known world. Is where I am right now with you. All of us milling around together still when the singing ends. 

You couldn’t have brought something else to drink? To eat? I am tired, too. I am tired, too. 

And many more. 

Happy birthday.



TAMAR JACOBS is a writer and teacher based in Philadelphia. Her short stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Louisville Review, New Ohio Review, Grist and other publications. She placed second in a Glimmer Train “Short Story Award for New Writers” contest, and is a Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize winner. She is seeking a home for a collection of poetry which is centered around her experience of parenthood, birthday parties and all.


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: Aug 20, 2019

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