The Bear and the Skunk
Ben Tanzer

Do not scream yo, do not, which is hard. Do not be physical either yo, which is less hard. Still, he is making a scene, and action of some kind must be taken, and so you count to three and you focus on being patient.
How did you get here? What could you have done differently? When does it end?
It started like it starts.
The little one does not want to read at bedtime with you, and that is fine, a little sad, but fine. He will not be reading with his mother tonight though either, that is the deal. She is giving the older one some well deserved one-on-one time and this does not work for him.
It does not work at all.
You have told him that he is welcome to go to bed without reading, but that's no good either. What's also not good, from your perspective anyway, is lying in the hall and crying.
So you are counting and when you hit three you steer him into his room for six minutes, one for each year he is been here. Here being on this planet.
But that doesn't work for him either. Nor will him jumping up and down, but he's doing so anyway. Now, why won't it work, because being out of control can only lead to what it leads to, him somehow bumping his nose on the doorknob.
You want to be empathic. You also want him to grow up.  What you don't want to do is talk about his nose. You want him to calm down and you think that if he can do so then maybe you can too. But he keeps talking about his nose.
Your nose still hurts, too bad, you finally say, trying to sound firm and in charge, though really just sounding like a dick.
You always say that, he says.
You do?
More tears, but then calm, and the two of you lying in bed, his beautiful sweaty face nuzzled into your neck.
You won't read, you say, there are consequences for that kind of behavior, but we can tell a story if you want, one sentence each, back and forth, go.
There is a bear, he says, in an apartment.
And he is talking to a skunk, you say.
Right, but they're not talking, they're fighting, he says.
Okay you say.
And then the bear bangs his nose on the doorknob, he says, and the skunk says, too bad. And that's sad.
It is, you say. The skunk was probably feeling very frustrated, you continue, but what could he have said instead that might have been better?
He could have said, are you okay, he says, that's the right way to do it.
It is, you say, it is, and then you say that you will try to do that yourself the next time something like this happens, because it will happen, it has to.
He smiles, and as he drifts off to sleep, you kiss him on the cheek, lingering there momentarily as you absorb the salty remains of his tears.