Bedtime Stories . One Man's World . The Mispronouncer . Downloads . Support
HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer


                The baby boy was born, was named Reid, was taken home to be raised by his young parents, Mick and Jannie. He – Reid – developed at a rate that his doctor called “perfectly normal,” which was the exact rate of development for which his parents had hoped. He sat up, he crawled, he learned a few simple words, he walked with unsteady enthusiasm. As his hair thickened, it began to remind his grandmother of Jannie’s hair when she had been Reid’s age; same healthy brown color, same fine texture. Reid also mastered a few of his father’s facial expressions: squinty skepticism, furrowed-brow concentration, the weak smile bestowed on those not quite succeeding in attempts to be funny.

               Everyone in the family loved each other: Mick loved his wife and his son, Jannie loved her husband and her son, and Reid loved his mom and his dad. Reid didn’t have the vocabulary to express his love, but his parents could tell how he felt. It wasn’t just that he was dependent on them for his survival. It was obviously more than that.

               On a late summer evening, the family gathered around the kitchen table for a meal. It had gotten almost-dark outside before the food was ready, and the drone of the cicadas pulsed into the house through the patio screen door. Mick alternated between spooning thick potato soup into his own mouth and yogurt into Reid’s mouth. Teeth had recently begun to surface in Reid’s gums. He would soon be capable of biting.

               “What did Mr. Avaloke say to you?” asked Jannie. By her voice, Mick could tell she was suffering from no headaches and only minor allergies. Also, she still wore her work clothes. She always changed out of her work clothes as soon as she got home when she had a headache.

               “That guy,” said Mick. He scoffed, a spoon in each hand, always careful to not confuse their destinations. “That guy is such a fraud.”

               Reid slapped the tray of his high chair and, in a clear voice, said, “Fraud,” crashing his parents’ conversation into a wall. They stared at him.

               “What did you say, Reid?” asked Mick.

               Reid opened his mouth for more yogurt.

               “Did he just say that?” asked Mick, turning to Jannie with a laugh.

               “He copied you,” said Jannie. She wasn’t laughing.

               “But he doesn’t know what he’s saying,” said Mick. “It’s just a sound to him. ‘Fraud.’”

               “Don’t say it again,” said Jannie.

               “Why not?” asked Mick.

               “Fraud,” said Reid. He watched his parents intently, soaking up their reactions.

               “Oh, that’s really nice,” said Jannie. “Now that’s one of his first words. I’m going to have to write it down in his baby book and everything.”

               “He knows lots of other words,” said Mick.

               “He knows eight other words,” said Jannie. “So this is still one of his first ten words.”

               “Well, so what?” said Mick. “No one cares what a baby’s ninth word is. Anyway, he’ll forget about it soon. It’s not going to have any staying power.”

               Jannie watched her baby son who was looking over his shoulder at the doorway to the darkened living room, at nothing. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “He’ll learn about negativity soon enough. I don’t want it to be too soon. I don’t want it to be from us.”

               Reid heaved a tiny sigh as he turned back to the family dinner. “Fraud,” he said.


               After work the next day, Mick went to his parents’ house to pick up Reid. When Mick arrived, Reid was asleep on a blanket on the floor of Mick’s father’s home office.

               “How was he today?” asked Mick in a low voice, looking down on his slumbering son from the height of 6 feet and two inches minus the height of his forehead.

“He was in a great mood all day,” said Lorraine, Mick’s mother. “Very talkative.” She flashed a smile of freakish brilliance, the product of a process she kept secret from even her own husband, whose smile was dull gray. Her white jeans bunched at the tops of the hiking boots she wore at all times in order to maintain maximum ankle support.

“Oh?” said Mick. “What was he talking about?”

               Lorraine laughed. “The usual mix of babble and his words. He got a lot of mileage out of his new word, that’s for sure.”

               “Uh, which new word is that?” asked Mick.

               “‘Frog,’” said Lorraine. “He was very happy to showcase that one, although he doesn’t seem to know what it means. I showed him pictures of frogs and he didn’t seem to grasp the connection. He looked at me like, ‘Why is this old lady showing me these wet green blob creatures?’ He made your exact face, too, Mick, it was a classic Mick face.”

               “He wasn’t saying ‘frog,’” said Mick. “He was saying ‘fraud.’”

               Lorraine wrinkled her face in distaste. “‘Fraud?’ Why would a baby be saying that?”

               “Because he heard me say it last night and he copied me,” said Mick.

               “Well, that’s not a very cute thing for him to be saying,” said Lorraine. “Now I regret praising him for it. I really thought it was ‘frog.’ It never occurred to me that my grandson might be saying ‘fraud.’ That’s very disappointing.”

               Mick sighed. “It doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me, but Jannie’s ticked off about it too. She hates it.”

               “Hate,” said Reid, looking up at his father and grandmother from the floor.

               “Now look what you’ve done,” said Lorraine.

               “I didn’t even know he was awake!” said Mick.

               “Ticked off,” said Reid.

               “Oh no,” said Lorraine. “Is that his first phrase?”

               “I don’t understand how he does that,” said Mick. “How does he only pick out the negative words?”

               “Negative,” said Reid. It was his first three-syllable word.


Jannie had gone pajama shopping on the way home from work, and she and Mick wore their new pajamas as they readied themselves for bed. Mick could tell he was really going to like the new pajamas once they were laundered a few times. Even not quite broken in, they were comfortable, but not the kind of pajamas he’d be embarrassed to be seen in if an intruder broke into the house, Mick overpowered and subdued the intruder, and then didn’t have time to change clothes before speaking to the authorities about the incident.

“I love these pajamas,” said Mick. “They’re so comfortable. And I can tell they’re well-made. Comfortable and durable. I’m amazed you only paid thirty dollars for them, that’s such good value. Incredible value considering how great they are.”

Jannie gave Mick a sad smile from across the room where she was opening her bottle of melatonin gummies. “I’m glad you like your pajamas,” she said.

               “I like yours too!” said Mick, confused by her smile’s sadness.

               Jannie shook her head and turned away.

               “What?” asked Mick. “What’s wrong?”

               “Nothing’s wrong,” said Jannie. “It’s just…why can’t you talk like this in front of Reid?”

               “Talk like what?” asked Mick.

               “You’re being so positive right now,” said Jannie. “But Reid’s asleep in his crib, so he’s missing it.”

               Mick was irritated. “You want me to save my enthusiasm about my new pajamas until Reid’s around to witness it?”

               “It isn’t about the pajamas,” said Jannie. “It’s about the words you’re using. ‘Love, comfortable, good, great.’ Those are the kinds of words I’d be thrilled for Reid to learn from you.”

               “I’m sure I’ve said all of those words in front of Reid before,” said Mick. “Maybe he just doesn’t like those kinds of words.”

               “Come on, Mick,” said Jannie. “Our baby doesn’t have a predisposition to dislike nice words. If he doesn’t like them, then he’s learned not to like them.”

               “From me,” said Mick. “That’s what you’re saying.”

               “Well, he didn’t learn to dislike nice words from me,” said Jannie.

               “This is ridiculous,” said Mick.

               From the nursery came the sound of whimpering. Reid was awake and not pleased to find himself alone.

               “I’ll get him,” said Mick.

               “No,” said Jannie. “I’ll get him. I’m…closer to the door.” She hadn’t been closer to the door until she crossed the room to it while claiming to be closer to the door, but Mick let her go.

               He sat down on top of the comforter on the bed and leaned back on the pillow propped against the headboard. He tried not to fume. He tried not to be a negative person. From the other room, he heard Reid’s fussing subside, then silence.

               A moment later, Jannie appeared in the bedroom doorway. She did not have Reid with her. She wiped at the corners of her eyes with her pinky fingers. Her new pajamas drooped from her shoulders. “I walked into the nursery,” said Jannie. She paused to collect herself. “And…Reid looked right at me, said ‘ridiculous,’ and went back to sleep.”

               “There’s no way he heard me say that,” said Mick. “He was in the other room.” His new pajamas suddenly felt very thin, too little cushion against a blow, too easily penetrated by a blade.

               “We heard him whimpering,” said Jannie. “He’s tuned to your voice, Mick. He’s subconsciously focused on it.” Mick could see the headache descending upon her. “I think you should stay with your brother for a while, Mick. Just temporarily. Until Reid is…past this stage.”

               Even Mick was forced to admit, as he drove to his brother’s house early the following morning, that his initial reaction to Jannie’s request for a temporary separation had featured a lot – perhaps even an undue amount – of negative words. And it seemed more than likely that Reid had heard them. His one hope was that, amid the torrent, Reid had only been able to pick up a few of them.


               Three days later, Jannie called Mick at work.

               “How are things going?” asked Mick. He had calmed down. He wanted to return home, but he wanted that return to be a happy occasion. He wanted Jannie to want him to come back.

               “Um,” said Jannie. “Things are…Mick, listen, did you say the word ‘catastrophic?’”

               “What?” asked Mick. “When?”

               “Sometime this morning,” said Jannie. “Within the last couple of hours?”

               “Why are you asking me this?” asked Mick.

               “I took the day off to spend time with Reid,” said Jannie. “And he started saying it about an hour and a half ago.”

               “I haven’t seen him for three days,” said Mick. “And I certainly haven’t seen him in the last couple hours. So it looks like you’re going to have to find someone else to blame.”

               “But did you say it?” asked Jannie.

               “Yes!” said Mick. “I was talking to a coworker about a football game and I referred to a 3rd-quarter interception in the red zone as ‘catastrophic,’ which it was!”

               “He heard you,” said Jannie, her voice lowered to an intense whisper.

               “So, what are you saying?” asked Mick. “That Reid has some sort of psychic connection to me? That he hears every negative word that I say, even when we’re miles apart?”

               “Yes,” said Jannie. “I think so. There’s no other explanation. Where else would he have gotten that word?”

               “So what am I supposed to do?” asked Mick. “I can never say a negative word ever again? I can never express a single negative opinion?”

               “Is that really so much to ask?” asked Jannie. “At least until Reid is older. Maybe it’ll be good for you. Maybe it’ll change your perspective. Maybe you won’t want to go back to how you are now.”

               “It is too much to ask!” said Mick. “I don’t want my perspective changed! I’m not a fundamentally negative person!”

               “You’re being a negative person right now,” said Jannie.

               Mick took his phone away from his ear. He stared out the window next to his desk at the office building landscaping. It did not soothe him. The landscaping sucked. It just did. There was no other way to say it. He returned to the conversation with his wife. “Context is important,” he said. “Just because I’m saying negative words doesn’t mean I’m being negative. For example, what if I told you that you’re not hideous? ‘Hideous’ is a negative word, yet I’m actually using it to say something nice.”

               “I’m pretty sure you could think of a better way to express that sentiment,” said Jannie.

               “That was a bad example,” said Mick. “But you know what I mean. You’re not stupid. Oops.”

               Jannie sighed. “Don’t worry. He’s already been saying that one since you said it the other night.”

               “I do regret that one,” said Mick. He waited what he hoped was an appropriate number of seconds. “So since he can hear me use negative words no matter where I am, it probably means I might as well come home, right?”

               “I guess that makes sense, yeah,” said Jannie. “We have missed you. When you’re not around, Reid only gets the negative words. At least when you’re here you can play with him and read to him and stuff.”

               So Mick moved home. And if it wasn’t exactly the joyous reunion he’d hoped for, but he announced that it was several times in front of his son, emphasizing the word “joyous,” perhaps even over-emphasizing the word “joyous.”

               “Stupid,” said Reid. “Negative, ticked off. Fraud. Hideous.”

               “Oops,” said Mick. “But I was just using that as an example of-”

               “I know, I know, I know,” said Jannie. She looked tired, like her allergies were really getting to her, except she wasn’t sneezing much. Not even sniffling.


               Mick sat looking at his son through the slats of the crib, the nursery at night lighted by the light of the nightlight. Reid was not asleep, but after he had woken up and started crying, Mick had calmed him into surrender. It was only a matter of time before Reid again drifted off.

               “I have a story to tell you,” said Mick. He scooted his chair closer to the crib and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. His new pajamas, having now been laundered twice, were nearing their peak. Further washings would make them more comfortable, but their appearance would begin to suffer.

               Reid turned his head to look at his father. He seemed to understand that Mick wanted him to pay attention.

               “When I was a kid,” said Mick, “my parents made me go to my older sister’s choir concert in the middle school gym. I was older than you. I was eight years old. For the concert, they’d set up risers on the floor for the choir to stand on, and the audience sat in the bleachers. I should back up. Because I said my parents made me go to the concert, but it wasn’t like there was a disagreement about going, it was just assumed that the whole family would go and we did. I didn’t particularly want to go, but I didn’t particularly not want to go. When I heard about the concert, I understood that I would be going just like my sister understood that she would go to my events. My little league games, my…uh…well, whatever, I didn’t have many events, but that’s not the point. So we went to the choir concert. My parents let me wear jeans, but they had to be black jeans, and they said I could either wear a t-shirt but tuck it in or I could wear a button-up and leave it untucked, although they made it clear that their preference would be for me to wear a button-up shirt and tuck it in, which I easily could have done just to make them happy, but at that age I was always negotiating with them, and what’s the point of negotiation if you don’t take advantage of the terms you win for yourself? So I wore a button-up shirt, but I left it untucked, but when we got there, I noticed that pretty much everyone else, including most of the dads, was dressed more casually than even I was.

               “So we got to the school, we went into the gym, and we took our seats on the bleachers. My mom was on my immediate right and my dad was on her right. There was an empty space of about three feet to my left and then an old man who seemed to be at the concert by himself. People trickled into the gym for another few minutes while I watched my sister’s choir teacher scurry around the risers, check microphones, disappear through the double doors at the other end of the gym, come back…well, she was just attending to all the little last-minute details before the concert started.

               “I’m getting bogged down in this recollection, so I’ll skip ahead. The choir came out and the concert started and I paid attention for a while, but eventually my mind started to wander and I started to look around the gym and I noticed the lights. The lights hanging from the ceiling. There were all these exposed girders, I guess they’re called, and catwalks and…beams up there in the ceiling, but what I fixated on were the lights, which were these giant dome-shaped, uh, lights, but they had metal grates over the bulbs, I guess in case a kid kicked a ball that high during P.E. or something, and they emitted this constant electrical buzz, and if I focused on it, I could hear that buzz even under all the amplified singing, and these lights hung from the ceiling by these long, black cables. And I started to wonder what would happen if one of those cables snapped, if it just gave way, if one of those lights fell from the ceiling. Like, what would happen to the people underneath it? They’d never expect it. As I looked around, I didn’t see anyone else looking at the ceiling and the lights, I was the only one paying attention to the lights. If one of the lights fell, I might have time to scream ‘look out,’ but no one would know what I meant. Even if I pointed up at the falling light and screamed ‘look out,’ by the time the people in danger looked, if they looked at all, it would already be too late. The light would hit them, and as big as the lights were, and falling from that height, whoever it hit would be killed. And also there would be the shattering glass which could fly and injure other people nearby, and how would the electricity play into it? If the cable broke, would there still be enough electrical energy stored up in the falling light to shock people? I imagined jagged blue bolts crackling from the crash site in all directions, frying the onlookers as they fled.

               “And then I looked straight up. I mean, I looked straight up above myself. And there was a light right there, hanging 30 feet up directly above my head as if it had been specifically positioned there to crush me if it were to fall. And it hurt my eyes to look at it, but I had to keep watch, because who else would? Who would yell ‘look out’ at me if the cable were to snap? I needed to be ready to leap aside at the first sign of the light’s cable giving way. Because, see, Reid, son, I was no longer worried about the possibility that the light might fall, I was now convinced that it would fall, that my being there and noticing the lights and thinking about them falling and then noticing the light directly above me, that all of these elements had come together to make the fall of the light above me inevitable.

               “I thought about moving into the empty space on the bleacher to my left so that when the light fell, I would not be directly underneath it, I would have more margin for error when it came to getting out of its way, but I couldn’t make myself move, it felt wrong, it felt underhanded, sneaky. As if by vacating my role I would actually be inviting disaster upon someone else, that my selfishness would cause a different light to fall on someone who wasn’t prepared at all, someone who was fully fixated on the mediocre singing of the middle school choir.

               “So now all I had to do was wait and watch. My neck hurt. My eyes watered, and I tried to focus them on the ceiling beyond the light without losing concentration on the light itself. At one point my mom noticed what I was doing and told me I was being rude, that I needed to watch my sister, but I told her I couldn’t and I suppose she didn’t want to have an argument in the middle of the concert, so she let it go.

               “It’s easy now, Reid, as an adult to look back on this story and say, oh, I was being irrational, I was being paranoid…I was being negative, in a way, because I was fully expecting this light that had hung from the ceiling for decades to suddenly decide to fall right when I was sitting under it, and I was expecting to get crushed to death by it unless I did something about it, unless I saw it coming in time and dived out of the way.”

               Mick paused his story. Reid was still awake, still watching him.

               “Well, the light fell,” said Mick. “I know the song the choir was singing when it fell because my sister, when she tells the story, always says that it fell ‘right in the middle of…of…’ Well, now I forget the name of the song, but if you want to know, you can ask your aunt when you get older. Anyway, the light fell, and I was way too slow to react. I’d been watching the light and anticipating its fall for so long that when it finally happened, I thought I was imagining it, and when I realized I wasn’t imagining, I forgot which way I intended to lunge, which should have been obvious given the open space on my left, but anyway, I was too slow to react and the light landed right on me, it was a direct hit. I mean, like, it couldn’t have hit me more squarely if it had been aimed by…by some kind of expert light-dropper.

               “But you’ve probably noticed, Reid, that I’m not dead. I’ve never been dead, either. And maybe you’re thinking that I was seriously hurt, but a couple decades have passed and I’m all healed up. Maybe you’re thinking I’ve got some scars, but they just happen to be on places on my body that you’ve never seen. And that kind of conjecture is fair, it makes sense, but it’s not accurate, because when that falling light struck my body, it broke apart into hundreds of pieces as if my body, the body of a scared little boy, were a block of solid cement, except even stronger than that because even a block of solid cement would have gotten surface scratches from the falling light, but I didn’t even get scratched. I obliterated that light, Reid, just by sitting there. And it isn’t that I’m impervious to injury, if that’s what you’re thinking, because I’ve been hurt plenty of times since then. Actually, while we were finishing this very nursery, a can of paint fell off of a ladder and hit me in the back of the head while I was taping the baseboard and gave me a severe concussion. But in that one moment, something about the way I was sitting, the way the light hit me, I don’t know, I should have been crushed to death, but I was not crushed to death.”

               Reid blinked at his father and said, “Crushed to death.” As far as Mick knew, it was Reid’s first three-word phrase.

               “No, no, Reid,” said Mick. “Not crushed to death.”

               “Crushed to death,” said Reid.

               “Not crushed to death,” said Mick. “Not crushed to death.”

               Reid considered this for a long time. Mick could see the gears turning in his little, round head. Then Reid said, “Not crushed to death.” It was his first four-word phrase, as far as Mick knew.

               “Exactly,” said Mick. He couldn’t wait for Jannie to hear Reid’s new phrase. She was not going to be upset. And not only that, but she was going to be thrilled.


               A few days later, Mick stopped by his parents’ house on his way home from work to pick up Reid. “How was he today?” asked Reid.

               “Oh, his usual self,” said Lorraine with a smile, brilliant as ever, though Mick was starting to become inured to its brilliance. “He’s out back with your father.”

               “Gotta take advantage of the nice days while we have them,” said Mick.

               “Yes,” said Lorraine. “How was work?”

               “It was…dreadful,” said Mick.

               “‘Dreadful?’” said Lorraine. “Where did you hear that? Where did you get that word?”

               “What do you mean?” asked Mick.

               “I’ve never heard you use that word before,” said Lorraine. “You certainly didn’t hear it from me.”

               “I’m a grown, educated man,” said Mick. “You think I only recently learned the word ‘dreadful?’”

               “I know where you picked it up,” said Lorraine. “You heard Reid say it and now you’re copying him.”

               “You think I picked it up from my son?” asked Mick. “My one-year-old son?”

               “It’s the exact kind of thing he says,” said Lorraine. “I spend all day with him. I’m sure I’ve heard him say it. And now you’re saying it. I love him dearly, Mick, and I know you do too, but you can’t let him influence you like this. I don’t want you to think his attitude is something you should adopt, because you shouldn’t. He’s still just a baby, he doesn’t understand the power of negativity. But you’re an adult, you know better.”

               Mick didn’t know what to say. He certainly couldn’t think of anything positive to say. So he said nothing. And no one objected.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you thought of some insulting things that “NCtD” could stand for instead of what it actually stands for, which is the phrase “Not Crushed to Death?” Do NOT share them with anyone!

  • What right does your own child have to force a change of perspective on you? What are some good ways to resist your child’s attempts?

  • How negative were you about your life, your relationships, and the state of the world when you were around age one?

  • What were your first ten words? What was your first two-word phrase? What was your first three-word phrase? What was your first four-word phrase?

  • How do kids always manage to pick the bad words out of stuff they hear adults say, but they never manage to pick out good stuff like “world peace” or “free refill?”