“On Being One” by Susan I. Weinstein
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,, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike and , 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 I. Weinstein describes life with a baby boy.
by Susan I. Weinstein
He looks at me with woebegone betrayal in his large baby eyes. My tyrannical one-year-old son is teething, recovering from roseola. How could you leave me? say his eyes so expressively. His tiny hands reach out, appealing to me: Pick me up now!
I’ve fallen for it all day, even when the dirty dishes disgustingly fill the sink. Bits of baby food merge with the smelly patina of old formula. The living room floor is a mass of kiddie toys. In the bathroom stands an infant bathtub full of water, and everywhere else is the debris field. Any step in the direction of cleaning up or putting away laundry elicits bloodcurdling cries—red-faced baby indignation. He’s in pain, and you, heartless creature, put him down! How could you refuse him entry into forbidden zones—bathroom and kitchen—with unchildproofable dangers?
He’s looking tragic. I pick him up to soothe his hurts. I exude calm. Once in my arms, the crying stops, and sunny smiles emerge. Faker, I think, as he demands to be set down. A minute later, it’s,Pick me up! He again wants to be set down every which way, but not the way I need to get on with anything. But this is bebe’s job description—aspiring terrible two.
The next shift is a tall thin blonde from Barnard’s babysitter service. She’s working a summer job with Disney, says she has lots of experience, but can she cut it? Will I return to find him cozily asleep in his bed, his arm around his beloved wild bear, or wailing at a panicked young woman? Will he extract from me an infantile revenge? Once, I left him for a weekend with his dad, while I went on a business trip. He cold-shouldered me for days. Yet I don’t kid myself that I’m indispensible. Just as he’s stricken at my daily departures, he’s equally glad to see his regular sitter or his father. “Fresh meat,” we say, with cynical affection for our savage.
We’re under no illusions, no pretend games of euphoria. We’re knee-deep in baby poop and can’t afford the dignity. We’ve gone psychotic from lack of sleep, fear of flu, and juggling those who know the reality of life with bebe and those who enviously say it must all be joy. The truth is that parental love is primal. You fall in love unalterably and exist in the Darwinian realm of a life for a life. It’s our lives we trade off so that existence with bebe can continue.
He eagerly plays with the pretty blonde student. I’ve ceased to exist for him. With stealth, I make my escape and actually eat dinner in a restaurant.
We are betrayed by our biology, or so it’s said—usually by childless people. You love your child as you love yourself, or parenting doesn’t work. How else would the narcissism of the species lead to child-rearing? Can we afford to be ourselves and still nurture a child? Will he ever sleep through the night; be weaned; be interested in stacking, sorting, words? Will I ever stop paying attention to such arbitrary gauges of progress and intelligence? Do I need them to justify our profound alteration of ourselves?
Maybe we needed alteration, yet there’s little comfort in the road not taken—exotic vacations, a meditative life—instead of frayed nerves seeking solace in stolen intervals. Still, bebe is a complete discovery. In him is the anthropological history of the human race. The first day in the hospital, he looked at us with unseeing eyes and clearly communicated, Get me out of here! I cannot project familial traits on him, extended or imagined. He has a muscular body; we’re flabby and bookish. He’s charming and eminently sociable; we’re nervous introverts. As my selected toys gather dust, I strive to know him. I feel wonder rolling on new grass with him. He points from a sun in a children’s book to one in the real sky. His face is ecstatic.
Did I enjoy the mini-tantrum when I put him back in his stroller? Luckily, any pretty girl is a foolproof way to stop my son crying. As a newborn, he had nurses fighting over his care. At age one, he’ll enter a coffee shop, see an attractive female, and turn on the cute baby act. He fixes the object of his desire with an intense stare. When noticed, he unfurls a dazzling smile, as though to say, Cute baby here! Don’t you like babies? Get to know me!
SUSAN I. WEINSTEIN is the author of two novels, The Anarchist’s Girlfriend and Paradise Gardens (published by Eat Your Serial Press/Maglomaniac), and a story collection, Tales of the Mer Family Onyx. Her plays, Something About That Face, Rabies, and White-Walled Babes, have been produced, as well as her adult adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Recently, she finished The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is writing The Selling of ADD/ADHD. Susan’s paintings have been shown at Gallery Brooklyn and Wildflowers Too in New Jersey. Currently making her living in book publicity, she lives in NYC with her husband and teenage son. You can check out her blog atand follow her on Twitter .