Aug 16, 2010

The Potty Predicament and The Perfect Parent

I bought a potty for my son before he turned a year old. It was one of the colorful, deluxe models with removable parts, a front- loading plastic bowl, and sure-grip sides. I’d been having glorious visions almost since I left the delivery room, of my brilliant progeny fully trained and diaper- free by 18 months... heck, make that 15 months.

We’d be the envy of all my friends, whose deficient toddlers remained untrained at age two. I kept the commode in the closet for a few weeks, not wanting to place unrealistic expectations on my son. When I finally placed it, with much fanfare, in the bathroom, the child seemed delighted-- he examined it closely, giggled and squealed while I beamed as I planned how to spend the money I’d save on diapers.

Over the next few months, however, the potty was transformed into a nagging symbol of intergenerational warfare. The first skirmish -- over positioning -- raged throughout the house and left me exhausted and demoralized. I would place the potty in the bathroom, only to return a few hours, minutes, or even seconds later to find it missing.

Soon thereafter, the potty’s various parts would begin turning up in the closets, under my bed, in my husband’s underwear drawer, in the backyard sandbox – even once floating in the birdbath. The bowl -- the very heart of the contraption -- was chewed on, colored on, used to collect toys, books, hairpins even feminine hygiene products carelessly left within reach. Something about the seat aroused my son’s creative energies.

Inexplicably, it elicited intricate crayon drawings and doubled as a playpen for his stuffed animals. As his strength, coordination, and evil intent grew, this fruit of my womb figured out how to fill the bowl from the bathtub, which he then carried around and slowly drained in a trail of carpet- soaking spots. Eventually, despite my inadequate strategy, I won the battle by attrition. My son became bored.

The potty, now looking like a fourth-generation hand-me-down, remained in the bathroom. I took this as a hopeful sign and launched a campaign to wear down his resistance. Every hour on the hour, I dragged him, kicking and screaming, into the bathroom. First, I tried literary inducements to get him to sit on the potty. I’d read his favorite stories over and over, speaking in an animated tone designed to capture his attention. Next, I ventured into singing -- his favorite was John, Jacob, Jingleheimer, Schmidt. My voice would careen around the words, faster and faster, as if I could create some kind of gravitational force that would pull down his little posterior.

No luck. One of my well-meaning, if misguided, friends insisted that boys need a target to aim at, so I filled the potty with water and then dumped in half a bag of Cheerios, hoping to challenge his competitive instincts. I caught him scooping the soggy circles out with his hand and cramming them into his mouth. That’s when I invoked the dreadful specter of peer pressure. Do you want to be the only two-year-old you know who’s still in diapers, I asked, almost weeping at the prospect. But it didn’t work, my boy was impervious to public opinion.

His second birthday came and went, and I began to lose sleep, picturing my son at his high school graduation in Huggies, size extra extra large. Reluctantly, but feeling desperate, I played my trump card -- bribery -- promising him candy for each successful use of the potty. His eyes gleamed with sweet anticipation, but still, the kid wouldn’t give in.

Finally, frustrated beyond words, I resorted to coercion, holding him, squirming furiously, on the potty. I only did it once. He deliberately pointed his penis up and baptized me with all of a child’s righteous indignation at my unjust use of force. He began to have terrible stomachaches because he would not allow himself to have a bowel movement. I cried along with him, begging him to let his "poo" come out. I explained in a sanguine, Mr.Rogers voice that his poo was sad because it had to come out all alone in his diaper, but if he’d let it out in the potty, he could flush it down to play happily with all the other "poos." He eyed me with a forbearance, but -quite literally -- continued to hold his own.

Worried that he was poisoning his insides, I started putting a Pull-up on him every evening at the same time. As soon as it was on, he’d slip quietly into his room and close the door. Once or twice, I peeked through the door to see what he was doing. He’d place his hands on the foot of the bed, feet a straddle as if he were water skiing. Next I’d hear a series of grunts. In a few minutes, he’d emerge, shame-faced. "Mommy" he’d say, with a telltale aroma trailing him, "I pooed." I’d let out a heavy, pained sigh and shake my head as if he’d just confessed to crimes against humanity.

As the three-year mark approached, and I saw my son upstaged by other, younger children who pranced proudly to the potty, I became truly depressed about this maternal failure. Despondently, I deployed my final weapon. I put away the potty and bought a large supply of Pull-ups. When my son informed me that he needed to be changed, I acted deliriously happy, never once even mentioning the toilet and its uses.

After all those agonizing months, this strategy succeeded in exactly two days. The demon seed I’d previously considered my son, started using the toilet as if he’d been doing it all his life. Now, more than a year later, I can’t get him out of the bathroom. He has in-depth conversations with himself or an imaginary friend. (I haven’t quite figured out which) while he’s defecating, ranging from a soliloquy on the makeup of the solar system to what sounds like a verbal tour of his more interesting body parts. Walking by the bathroom one day, I heard him say, "Would you like to see what a penis looks like?" Dazed, I continued down the hall, wondering what I’d created.

I used to be a perfect parent. I had strong opinions about the best ways to raise a healthy happy, well-mannered child. I vowed that my children would appear well-groomed and clean at all times, they would be disicipline by firm, fair, and consistant parenting techniques, and they would always, always be well-behaved in a restaurant. And when they were older, I would instill a sense of self-confidence and mutual respect by showing them that I valued their opinions and by treating them as equals. My ideas were so straightforward and simple that I couldn't understand why other parents couldn't be as perfect as I was. Then I had two children.

I used to think that any mother, whose child was inappropriately dressed and had Kool Aid stains around his lips before eleven o'clock in the morning, was obviously an unfit parent who spends her days talking on the phone -- and who serves fruit loops and popsicles for breakfast.

My opinion changed when my two-year old daughter decided that she no longer wanted to wear clothing in public. One minute she'd be in her stroller, fully dressed, innocently sucking on a pacifier in her stroller. And the next, she'd be waving at strangers wearing only a diaper and her pair of red patent leather shoes. The first few times this happened I kept putting her clothes back on - only to have them thrown at me again two seconds later. After several days of struggling to keep her fully dressed, I finally decided that it would be less stressful and much faster if she just started out naked when we left the house.

I also used to think that parents who let their children watch cartoons, instead of doing enriching activities together like reading, lacked self discipline and motivation. This was before my son turned three and I began daydreaming about how great it would be if he stopped making big messes around the house and did nothing but watch television. There would be no toys to pick up, no play doh to peel out of the carpet and no crayons to take out of nostrils. Besides I figured if he got really hooked on a few afternoon cartoons I could finally get some chores done around the house.

Before I had children I was going to be a good, health-conscious parent. My family would only eat organic produce and dairy products, fresh fruit, yeast free bread, and un-medicated, free range turkey. Sugar would never, ever touch their lips.

I changed my mind the first time I took my toddler to the grocery store by myself and she refused to bend her legs so she could fit into the front seat of the shopping cart. "If you get in the cart Mommy will give you part of the nice candy bar she has in her purse." I whispered desperately in her ear.

This tactic worked well until she had eaten all of the candy. Then she decided the trip would be much more interesting if she got out of the cart and flung all of the food off of the shelves as ran down the aisles. So I did what any other modern, educated mother would do: I desperately started tossing junk food into the cart. I mentally calculated that one box of mini donuts should be enough to get me through the dairy section and halfway through produce. The caramel corn should last through frozen food and the entire paper product section, and the Tootsie Pop sucker should give me enough time to get through the register, out the door and back to the car.

As the cashier began ringing up my cartful of empty junk food boxes it became clear that the one thing preventing me from being a perfect parent -- were my children.

Now when my children go into public I want to stop people and let them know that I am really a good parent. I want to tell them that my son is eating a popsicle for breakfast because he is going through a phase where he will only eat blue food and I'm running out of options. He has a dirty dishtowel tucked into the back of his shirt because he thinks it's a cape and today he wants to be Batman. And my daughter is wearing her bathing suit with a pair of cowboys boots because she picked out her own outfit and she thinks the leather tassels go great with the pink netting on her skirt.

And when I yell things like " because I'm the Mommy and I said so that's why!" I really mean "I can understand your desire, but it is my duty as a concerned mother to constantly look out for your best interest".

Sometimes I wonder how it would feel to appear in public with two orderly, quiet children with immaculate faces and clean clothes. I could shop without anyone repeating "can I have a big pretzel now, Mommy" every three seconds like some sort of hypnotic mantra. Maybe I could even stop to look at something. Or enter a store, get only what I actually need, then leave!

But I have a feeling my life wouldn't be nearly as exciting. Besides, my children have taught me that being a good parent has a lot more to do with patience, commitment, and understanding -- than looking perfect.

And now, when I see a mother with a child who is happily meandering behind her eating a Twinkie, and wearing wrinkled dinosaur pajamas and a pair of swim fins, I no longer think she's an unfit parent -- I know that she is just doing the best that she can.

Facts of Life

By Sallie Mattison Young

So there we were, my husband and I, stealing a few quick smooches behind the open refrigerator door, when Ariel, 10, catches us.

"Eeeuuwww, gross," she said, giggling. "You guys were kissing!" Emily, 7, came up behind her, eyes wide with interest.

Not wanting them to go into that "kissing is mushy" routine, I've always believed the best defense is a good offense; so I said, "Well, just exactly how do you think you two got here, anyway?"

Emily rolled her eyes, then explained very patiently, "We GOT here when we moved from our old house to this new house!"

1 comment:

  1. I no longer think she's an unfit parent -- I know that she is just doing the best that she can.

    this one line is all a mother wants to hear. Makes all the pain & struggle worthwhile.


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