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News & Features » November 2018 » “Mother of the Year” by Susan Pohlman

“Mother of the Year” by Susan Pohlman

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 temper-tantrumming three-year-old tests the patience of a wannabe Mother of the Year

Mother of the Year
by Susan Pohlman

My son, Matthew, didn’t go through the Terrible Twos until he was three. During that tumultuous year, I learned more about the inability of men and women to communicate effectively than I did from my previous ten years of marriage. Every conversation was about power and control, but I didn’t realize it until it was over. I fell for it every time, like a child that is continually surprised to see the Jack-in-the-Box explode from the can after five cranks of the handle.

One morning, after circling the block three times, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that Matthew had finally calmed himself. He gazed at the tree-lined street, one pudgy index finger tracing circles on the window as the other twirled a chunk of sweaty blonde hair into a knot. I exhaled with relief, knowing that Phase One of Every Car Trip was complete. Weeks earlier, I had resigned myself to the reality that every excursion would begin with a wrestling match and end with my pushing against his rigid little body of steel to bend him enough to buckle his car seat. Without fail, the routine left us both out of sorts and screaming.

I turned on his favorite song, the one with his name electronically inserted into every adventure. Our moods lifted as we sang together about Matthew flying in a magic rocket ship and sailing the high seas with pirates. The third verse was about to begin when he called my name.



“Is stupid a bad word?”

I turned and gave him the exaggerated head nod. “Stupid is a terrible word. Never call someone that.”

“What about shut up?”

Shut up is awful! A terrible insult.”

He pondered my words, his blue eyes shifting left and right. It felt good imparting manners and social skills to my little guy. Mother of the Year, that’s who I was.

“What about jerk?”

My jaw dropped with another dramatic expression of horror. “That could be one of the worst words of all time.”


“Where are you getting these words?”

“I don’t know.”

“They’re all hurtful. We don’t use them in this family.” I turned off the music so my motherly wisdom could sink in. Finally, he was listening to me. We were forming his conscience together. He would grow to be a fine man. A priest or the president.

We pulled into the Safeway parking lot and he climbed into the cart without incident, an event so rare it made me grab the handle and whistle while I pushed him down the aisles. I even took my time for a change, scanning the shelves for new products. When we turned down the cereal aisle, I sensed a mood shift.

“Can we get Captain Crunch?”

“No sugar cereals.”

His hands tightened on the handle until his knuckles and fingernails turned white. “I want Captain Crunch.”

“We’re getting Crispix.”

His heels pounded a slow, tribal rhythm against the cart. “I—hate—Crispix.”

“You love Crispix.”

He kicked harder. Shoppers turned toward the sound of the vibrating metal. “I want Captain Crunch! Captain Crunch! CAPTAIN CRUNCH!”



Like a freeze frame in an action movie, time stood still as I looked up and down the aisle. Staring eyes to the left. Staring eyes to the right. Everyone was waiting to see how Mother of the Year was going to handle this.

I took a deep breath, flashed my best fake smile to my growing audience, and dropped my voice to a gravelly whisper.“With that attitude we are not getting Captain Crunch or anything else today, Mister. We’re going home right now.”

Matthew, his eyes boring into mine, screamed with the utmost confidence, “SHUT UP, YOU STUPID JERK!”

My mouth dropped in unison with the other mothers in the aisle. Shocked that he would string together all of the worst words he knew against me, I pried his rigid body from the cart and carried him over my shoulder, like a writhing sack of potatoes, toward the door.

Humiliated that these mothers saw me as a failure, I gave them a final glance. Imagine my relief when I saw them banding together with victory fist pumps in the air as Matthew screamed and pounded on my back.

“Go Mom!” were the last two words I heard as I stepped outside, thankful that my cheering section wasn’t coming with me to witness the upcoming wrestling match at the car.


SUSAN POHLMAN is the founder and director of The Phoenix Writers Network. She is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach, and workshop facilitator based in Phoenix, Arizona.  She is the author of the memoir, Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought our Family Home. Her essays have been published in a variety of print and online magazines. Learn more about Susan at www.susanpohlman.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 to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Nov 27, 2018

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