The other parents are watching me unabashedly, every second judging.

Count to Three

A five-year-old is screaming the F-word from the top of the wooden play structure. Hoisting himself up onto the railing so his little legs are hanging, toes in the air, he’s hollering obscenities at the top of his lungs from the topmost perch of his fortress. He’s captured the attention of the other small children at the park—and their parents.

I put the novel I’m reading aside, face down, pages spread eagle, spine tingling. “Time to go home,” I say, loud enough for the potty-mouth to hear.

“No,” he yells, and it’s almost a cry. Then he’s cussing again, my son the sailor. His little angel face contorts around the words. The way he pairs insults and expletives is almost humorous. There’s no rhyme to the sentence structure, no reason. At least, it would be humorous if it didn’t make him an outcast and me a horrible parent.

“One,” I name off the number, holding up my index finger to signal the countdown, the way the kindergarden teacher told me to. I’m supposed to count to three. Give three chances before making him take a time-out which is measured in minutes equivalent to his age.

A five-minute time out is a big deal when you’re five. But my child never stops at one. No, we count all the way to three, and then I’m left enforcing the time-out.

The onslaught of words continues. He’s confident, up in the high-hide, that I won’t be able to reach him. It’s not easy to climb up the ladders, fit through the tiny wooden crevices built for hiding, and finally tackle the zigzagging stairs that take you to the lookout point. It’s made for children, as the sign claims, not their blushing parents trying to escape the judging eyes.

I’m measuring up the challenge, my route, and counting off, “Two,” with my index and middle fingers raised. “Come down now.”

“No,” he shouts again, and what he really means is ‘try and get me up here.’

A three-year-old trots through the sand, fingering his belly button, as he asks his daddy, “Whatsa fuck?”

Daddy sets down his iPhone, a stern expression crossing his brow. “It’s a very bad word. We don’t say it.”

I decide I could do it. I could carefully climb through the obstacles made for people under three-feet. I could make it to the top and grab him round the middle. I could take the slide back down with him in my arms. Or maybe the fire poll?

And it could turn into an elaborate game of chase. Except there’s no prize for this game. Unless you count carrying a child, kicking and screaming, back to the apartment.

So I stay where I am. The other child would’ve learned this word sooner or later. Even with immaculate parents. A daddy and a mommy who shit out sunshine and rainbows.

My kid keeps cursing. It makes me think of a few choice curse words I’d like to say. But the only thing worse than a kid swearing at a park is a parent swearing back. It’s Parenting 101. So I just think the words to myself, paired with the words, ‘This is my life, this is my life.’

I’m thinking of my mother and the teenage version of myself. Adults had names for me then: troubled, strong willed, ADD, ADHD, bipolar, manic depressive… I’m recalling my mother’s quiet words to my sixteen-year-old self, “I hope you have a difficult child so you know what it’s like.”

I’m thinking, my son’s attitude is either genetic—or a curse.

I can’t remember which number I’m on. It must be three by now. So I say “Three” and my adorable, angel faced son screams like the devil’s being exorcised from inside him. “I’m going home,” I say, threatening to leave. I fold my book under my arm and walk to the gate.

He’s howling now, howling from the safety of his fortress. My face is ten-out-of-ten shades of red. The other parents are watching me unabashedly, every second judging. I’m opening the gate when I hear my child scream, “I hate you,” from the bannister.

He’s not taking any chances that I’ll leave without him. He doesn’t want to follow directions, but he’s stomping down the stairs, whooshing down the slide, and running through the sand towards me, the fuck-fuck-bastard-fucking-fuck.

This is my life, this is my life.


Megan Enright edits and publishes Tough Times Magazine, your guide for living the high life at no cost in San Francisco


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