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News & Features » June 2018 » “Ten Simple Steps to a Playground Lobotomy” by Susan Buttenwieser

“Ten Simple Steps to a Playground Lobotomy” by Susan Buttenwieser

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, Susan Buttenwieser gives us instructions on surviving a day at the playground

Ten Simple Steps to a Playground Lobotomy
by Susan Buttenwieser

1.  Enter filled-to-capacity, shade-deprived, concrete recreational area. Select bench furthest away from the Other Parents. Pretend to read the Daily News while toddler plays in nearby puddle with beloved cracked turtle bucket. Temperatures have already reached 93 degrees on this smothering, wind-free morning. 

2.  Push toddler on swings when she tires of puddle. Stand on black rubber mat which is flip-flop-melting hot. Sweat cascades from armpits, forming a tributary down the lower back area. Smells from overflowing garbage can and glass-shattering shrieking from nearby children create headache vortex. Adjacent mom, a one-woman show of every nursery rhyme ever invented, doesn’t help. Especially when toddler looks over at her longingly.

3.  When a line has formed for your swing, direct toddler’s attention towards the sandbox. This results in an opportunity to sit down in sliver of shade. But the momentary heat relief causes anxiety to kick in. It is a weekday morning and the only thing you have to show for this day so far is pushing a stroller five blocks without getting hit by a car. 

4. Shellacked-in-Lycra mom to your left takes a break from micro-managing son’s attempts at building a sand castle to offer you some wipes so you can wash his face. You inform her that your daughter is actually a girl. “You should pierce her ears so people can tell.” She looks at you as if you are mistaken. “Was she premature? Is that why she’s not walking yet?”

5. Dry daughter off after she has crawled through the sprinklers, using crumpled-up napkins discovered at bottom of backpack. 

6. Next up is plastic mini-slide which is only a few feet off the ground, but daughter has to dodge a much older boy trying to push her off. You attempt eye contact with the dad, who is absorbed in his younger child and a detailed discourse on how the nose is blown. “Look at me. Hold the tissue like this. Now blow. No, hold it like this. Look at Daddy. Like this, see? No, like this! Pay attention to Daddy! Look at Daddy! Now blow! Blow! BLOW!”

7.  Drink nothing except occasional sips of lukewarm water from spit and pigeon-poop coated fountain, as ice-cold water bottle was forgotten at home and only other source of hydration is an involved negotiation for a trip to nearby deli or sneaking drinks from daughter’s sippy cup.

8.   Swings, sandbox, sprinklers, mini-slide, and again.  Swings, sandbox, sprinklers, mini-slide, and again. Stare at the trees, the swing set, the jungle gym, monkey bars, sand box, other children, the pavement, cars driving by, planes flying over-head, adults on the other side of the fence, out on the sidewalk, dressed in office attire, looking the way weekday grown-ups should, like they are busy doing something important, like people are counting on them, like they have a purpose and are going somewhere. 

9.  Almost miss toddler’s sand castle, which she has constructed all by herself, despite the deficiencies of her cracked turtle bucket. She looks up, waiting for your reaction.  The very least you can provide her is to say, “That’s so excellent,” as enthusiastically and often as possible. And enjoy the two of you, alone together, with the whole afternoon stretched out before you.

10.  Repeat daily for ten years.


SUSAN BUTTENWIESER’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in Epiphany, the Cossack Review, Atticus Review, Failbetter, and other publications. She contributes news articles to Women’s Media Center and creative nonfiction to Brain, Child, and Mamalode. She has participated in the Literary Death Match and the Listen To Your Mother readings and been awarded several fiction fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. For the past decade, Susan has taught creative writing in New York City public schools in high poverty neighborhoods and with incarcerated women and older adults.


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: Jun 29, 2018

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