The Theseus Paradox for Exhausted Parents

Creative Nonfiction by Shannon Frost Greenstein

1. Imagine you have a steaming hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning. You drink the first sip and hail Jesus. Before you can take a second, Child #1 needs juice and Child #2 is walloping Child #1 for whining about juice. You put down the coffee, forget about it, and later discover it is now lukewarm. You top off the cup with more hot coffee. After you have a second swallow, Child #1 has to pee and Child #2 is late for school. You put down the coffee, forget about it, and later discover it is now lukewarm again. You top off the cup with more hot coffee. You drink a bit, put down the coffee, forget about it, and later discover it is now lukewarm again. After you take the scissors from Child #1, after you forget the coffee a few more times, after you top it off with more hot coffee yet again…is it still the same steaming hot cup of coffee?

2. Imagine you are driving to a family vacation. Child #1 won’t stop touching Child #2, and Child #2 won’t stop informing you of this fact. After the volume of the argument rises to deafening, but before anyone took his threats seriously, your life partner and soul mate has turned the car around. If you return most of the way home before you can convince him to change his mind and go back in the first direction…is it still the original family vacation?

3. Imagine the children are in bed, blissfully asleep. You are sitting with your life partner and soul mate on the couch. You are discussing how you used to be fun. You are bone-rattlingly weary. If it happens several times in a row that you get distracted by scrolling through your Twitter feed and have to ask your life partner and soul mate to repeat what he just said…is it still the same discussion?

            3a. Or what if he gets mad and refuses to talk to you anymore, but you later remember his comment in a flash of insight, so you text him from upstairs and resume the conversation? Is THAT still the original discussion?

4. Imagine you actually go to bed at a reasonable hour for once. Then you are ripped from REM sleep by Child #2 screaming for milk and Child #1 screaming because Child #2 is also screaming. You get the milk and get back in bed and fall asleep again. You are awakened once more by Child #1 standing silently by your bedside and creepily staring at you for God knows how long. You put Child #1 to bed again and go back to sleep, but wake up a bit later to the dulcet tones of the cat vomiting on the bedroom carpet. You get up and put the cat out and clean the carpet and go to bed, but are then ripped from REM sleep again by the air raid signal of the alarm clock. If your pre-child sleep cycle is swapped with an infinite number of ten-minute increments, do you ever actually get a full night’s sleep again?

5. Imagine you’ve had two C-sections, your abdomen twice cut open and all your innards twice rearranged to twice remove an adorable and parasitic miniature version of yourself. Is your body still the same body – will it ever bethe same body – as it was prior to pregnancy?

            5a. And what if you’ve gradually switched out every ounce of your former passion, priorities, and personality for facts about dinosaurs and dialogue loops from Blippi episodes? Are you still you, that original self who spent the early 2000s chasing bands and wearing low-rise jeans?

            5b. And if you have heeded the call of evolutionary biology, Darwin singing in the background like a Greek chorus, naked self-interest replaced with parental instinct, the will to survive replaced with the will to protect…are any of us ever actually the same at all?

<strong>Shannon Frost Greenstein</strong>
Shannon Frost Greenstein

Shannon Frost Greenstein (she/her) resides in Philadelphia with her children, soulmate, and persnickety cats. She is the author of “These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things” (Poetry, Really Serious Literature, 2022), “Correspondence to Nowhere” (Nonfiction, Bone & Ink Press, 2022), and “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana” (Fiction, Sledgehammer Lit, 2022.) Shannon is a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy and a multi-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. Follow her at or on Twitter at @ShannonFrostGre.