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News & Features » January 2019 » “Gavin and the Paci Pirate” by Joseph Schwartzburt

“Gavin and the Paci Pirate” by Joseph Schwartzburt

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, Joseph Schwartzburt uses fantasy to assist his son in adjusting to change.

Gavin and the Paci Pirate
by Joseph Schwartzburt

The Paci Pirate covets pacifiers. Binkies. Numnums . . . what have you. Gnawed, spit-slobbered, or freshly sanitized with eco-conscious dish soap. Doesn’t matter. As long as overbites and misshapen palates threaten the mouths of two-year-olds, the Paci Pirate strives to free toddlers from the false nipples’ siren calls. Once he has claimed a sizable trove, he sets sail and, allegedly, gifts the contraband to infants in need of central incisor relief.

And so is the tale of the Paci Pirate, or how I imagined it to go. My son’s dentist invented this ingenious character. Dr. Eisenhower has even decked out her offices with schooner-shaped waiting room benches and tall-ship-inspired examination chairs. Post enamel-scrape, children can dig into a treasure chest replete with miniature action figures, puzzles, press-on tattoos, and foam sabers. A six-foot mast with canvas sail flanks the check-in area. A two-foot tall pirate doll dons a blue overcoat, tri-cornered hat, eye patch, and a hook as he mans the Crow’s Nest, wherein he straddles abandoned pacifiers various shades of the rainbow.

After Gavin’s first-ever cleaning, he gazed at the Paci Pirate while I arranged for his next “voyage.” I asked the dental assistant, “What’s the Paci Pirate’s schedule like?”

She chuckled. “His plank is open whenever we are.”

As I led Gavin to our minivan, I further developed this altruistic buccaneer. “He gives the pacis to Santa Claus, who delivers them to babies on Christmas.” With only a few weeks until joyeux noel 2016, every behavioral incentive had to be associated with Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.

I lifted Gavin into his car seat and Tetrised his safety strap together.  “Isn’t helping babies cool?”

He nodded.

I spent the next week reading many a parenting book . . . actually, my wife did the reading. She also polled the social media collective consciousness of Savannah, Georgia’s young mothers while spending a few kidless hours on our back deck. “The consensus is to go cold turkey,” she said, and sipped her wine. “On a Friday night.”

“A Friday?” I said.

She smirked and winced simultaneously. “Everyone recommends designating at least three nights to adjust.”


She held up her stemless wine glass. “Refill, please.”

Upon the day of reckoning, my wife had second thoughts. “He needs it to sleep. And we need him to sleep.” By then, Gavin and his infant sister had been alternating their restless nights. Collusion of the most Kremlin sort, I tell you!

Recalling my own braces hell, however, I convinced my wife and Gavin that the time had come. His acquiescence was most likely due to a candy bribe and the limits of a two-year-old’s critical thinking skills. My wife relented out of potential future parent-shaming. When I took Gavin to drop off his last paci, Dr. Eisenhower and her whole crew were out to lunch. “He’s no doubt scouring the Seven Seas,” I said. Then I pointed to the ship’s wheel adorning the front door, “But, we can leave it there for him.”

Gavin nodded. As we walked away, I may have ignored his glossy eyes peering over my shoulder and fixing upon the door.

On the first night of “adjustment,” he asked for the pacifier as I tucked him in.

“Remember, we gave it to the Paci Pirate?”

“Oh,” he moaned, as I slogged through the 1000th rendition of The Berenstein Bears and the Big Road Race. He writhed as if in a fever. I eventually switched the lights off, which was when he flung aside his sheets and leapt out of bed. I bear-hugged him before he could escape to the living room.

“W-wuh-where’s m-m-m-my paci?” He shrieked as he bucked and broncoed in a calamitous role reversal of a stallion riding a cowboy.

“Gavin, we talked about . . .”

His snot and tears dribbled down my shirt as he hissed in my ear.

I tried to rub his back, but he clawed my chin and howled, “You’re a bad guy.”

“No,” I said. “I am not!” I tossed him onto his bed.

His face lit up pink. Tears dripped into the canyon of his open mouth. Sobs cawed from his throat. Turns out, the villain in this story wasn’t a silicone surrogate after all. Gavin eventually succumbed to his crying.

Nights two and three went similarly, albeit each with lessening ferocity. By Monday morning, we had reached an accord. Gavin had accepted his pacifier’s fate, and I vowed that I wouldn’t push him into concepts he didn’t fully understand. Ever. Again.

. . . And so, tonight’s bedtime book features the Tooth Fairy. 


JOSEPH SCHWARTZBURT (along with his wife and three children) calls Savannah, GA home. He serves on the board of Seersucker Live, a literary nonprofit promoting community through performance, and he leads the Peacock Guild Writers Salon located at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home. His work has appeared in Savannah Magazine, The Write Life (Wilkes University blog), the Savannah Morning News, as well as many a crumpled up sheet of paper or discarded Word files. Other than writing, he coaches talented college students on best practices for articulating their experiences and projects in relevant and cohesive stories that define their personal brand.


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: Jan 8, 2019

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