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Archive for June, 2014

We’re toilet training my three-year-old son, Eddie, and this morning, I took a new potty out for a test drive. Our third, to be exact. We figure if the child is not taking to the toilet, there must be something wrong with the potty.

“This one was Grayson’s potty! And Vincent made pee pee in it when he was here,” I said, as if knowing all of his friends had urinated in it would make it more enticing.

This potty seat is too hard.

This potty seat is too hard.

My son sat on the new potty, and as I read him a book about Big Bird and the Snuffleupagus going camping, he kept lifting his butt off the seat to readjust. I noticed he had a red circle on his buttocks.

“You sure you don’t want to use your old potty?” I asked.

“No. This is good,” he says, as he lifts himself up briefly and sits down again.

After we read for a few minutes, I put him in the bath and asked him if he wanted his usual banana and chocolate shake, or if he wanted pancakes.

“Pancakes. With blueberries and chocolate chips,” he said.

“Okay. Then I’m going to run downstairs just to get them started,” I said.

I knew that by offering pancakes, we might be late for school. When we’re late, it means the side door, which is closer to his classroom, has already been shut and you have to use the front door, which is on the other side of the building. I also had a yoga class starting at 9:15 a.m., and I didn’t want to miss too much of it. I ran downstairs to throw the pancake ingredients together and noticed my husband had put all of the ingredients for a shake into the blender: the frozen banana, strawberries, chocolate syrup, Nutella, peanut butter, and the Flintstone’s vitamin we sneak into the mix. All I had to do was press the button. I paused, knowing my son would be disappointed but also knowing it would save me a lot of time. I then pressed the button, and the shake was made. As I walked back upstairs, I thought about how I was going to break the news to Eddie about the shake. As I walked back into the bathroom, I decided to tell him the truth.

Daddy did it.

Daddy did it.

“I was fully prepared to make you the pancakes you wanted, but daddy had already made your shake,” I said. And in case he didn’t hear it, I said it again. “Daddy did it.”

“Nooooooo! I don’t want a shake!” he screeched. “I don’t like shake!”

The truth is, the child has every right to hate shakes. He’s had one almost every morning for the last year. It’s no wonder he doesn’t like them anymore. I was actually surprised he’d lasted this long. But I didn’t want to throw the shake out. It seemed a waste. And I didn’t want to drink it. I had yoga. And of course I knew that giving him a shake, rather than pancakes, made it more likely we’d be on time to school.

But I looked at my son, who was now weeping. A lot of parents at that point might think their child was being manipulative. Me, I saw my child in pain, and I just wanted to make it stop. I tried to assuage him, saying something I’d read in a parenting book: “I know you must feel disappointed.” My empathy did nothing. Nor did telling him it would be the last shake he’d ever have to drink. I knew lecturing him on the ills of waste and the virtues of recycling and conscious consumption wouldn’t have any affect. It barely has an effect on adults. Instead, I said, “Fine. I’ll make you pancakes.”

I got Eddie dressed, though I left off his diaper and pants as part of our new potty training regimen. Breakfast is prime pooping time, and in the potty training book I’m reading, they recommend going diaper free as often as you can. The theory, I guess, is that the child is not likely to poop or pee on the floor – much – so they’ll begin to notice that sensation of having to go to the bathroom – and may even ask you to take them there. We need him to notice that sensation because our current stage of potty training isn’t fruitful: we put Eddie on the potty, to practice, when he doesn’t have to go, and when he does have to go, he’s nowhere near the potty. And he does nothing to get himself closer to one. And why should he? With a diaper on, he can poop anywhere.

I escorted Eddie downstairs in just his shirt, while I carried his diaper, a pair of pants, and his shoes and socks. As we headed to the kitchen to have breakfast, he ran ahead while I stopped in the living room to put something into my knapsack. Eddie suddenly came out of the kitchen and said, “Mommy, I have a birthday present for you.” For a split second, I thought, “There’s no way he just peed on the floor and is calling it a birthday present. No way.” I walked into the kitchen, and there on the floor was a huge puddle of pee.

“Really?” I said. “Really?”

I'll fix your Christmas tree up there, and then I'll bring it back here.

I’ll fix your Christmas tree up there, and then I’ll bring it back here.

My first thought was, “I don’t have time for this! We’re already late.” Because you don’t just clean up pee with a paper towel, not pee and not in a kitchen. You use a scrubbing brush and soap because you at least want to give yourself the illusion that you could eat off your kitchen floor. This is going to be time-consuming, not what I needed when I’m already running late and volunteered to make pancakes. I must have had that look that the Grinch had when little Cindy Lou Who came out of her room and said, “But why, Santee Claus, why are you taking our Christmas tree?” and the Grinch rubbed his stubbly little chin and said, “There’s a light on this tree that won’t light on one side. So I’m taking it home to my workshop, my dear. I’ll fix it up there. Then I’ll bring it back here.” I looked up at my son, and before I could stop myself, I said, “Well, that’s it. No time to make pancakes now.”

I knew what I was doing: I was using my son’s minor indiscretion to get out of doing something I didn’t want to do anyway. Now that’s manipulation. And I told my son that next time he has to pee, blah blah potty, blah blah lesson, blah blah consequences to his actions, blah blah his fault. I felt like a heel but continued to seize the opportunity. He wailed. “I want pancakes! I don’t want shake!” As I’m cleaning up his urine, he’s just standing there, his face red, tears streaming down his cheeks, and all I keep thinking is I just wish the morning was longer and yoga was later, so I could just give this kid what he wants, and he’ll be happy, and I won’t have to see him cry. But there was a part of me that thought, he needs to take a lesson here, and I can’t give in to him every time he cries, because then he’ll know all he has to do is cry, and I’ll give him what he wants – which is basically pretty accurate.

And then he said one of the worst things he could have said: “I want my daddy.” I don’t know how I looked at him, but it must have been with deep seated sadness because he added, “…and my mommy.” I hugged him and kept telling him it will be the last shake he ever has to drink, and that he just shouldn’t pee on the floor, and that I’ll make him pancakes when he comes home from school.

Huh-yah!

Huh-yah!

He wound up drinking part of the shake, and I took him to school, but when we got to his classroom, I could see his eyes still looked puffy and red from crying. When Eddie ran off to get the Ironman costume out of the costume box, I whispered to his teacher, “Eddie may be a little sensitive this morning. We had an incident with the potty training, and he’s still a little raw.”

And with that, I burst into tears. I told her everything that happened, and what I did, and how I felt bad, and she told me to buy him plastic underwear and pick my battles.

“A lot of the boys in here aren’t toilet trained yet,” she said.

I stood there in his classroom for a while, helping my son get into his Ironman costume and then standing next to him as one of his classmates, dressed at Thor, came over and leapt into the air, and thrusting a fist out in front of him, shouted, “Huh-yah! Huh-yah!” I hoped that by standing there, my son might forgive me for all the indiscretions I’d already made and was likely to make in the future.

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“I don’t want to skate,” my three-year old son said, kicking the tip of his skate blade against the rubber flooring.

“Why? I thought you liked skating?” I said.

“It’s boring,” my son said, boldly.

Skating is boring

Skating is boring

I had an English teacher in high school, a short little man with an effeminate lisp, who, when students would proclaim something was boring, would say, “Bored people are boring.’ At the time, I thought he was being wise, even helpful, saying that if you were bored, it had something to do with what was inside you and that you could change it. In retrospect, I think he was just annoyed with the arrogance of youth, and he was just calling us “boring” out of spite.

I wasn’t going to call my son boring, but I was getting annoyed. I’d enrolled him in ice skating lessons two months ago after we’d gone skating with friends, and he’d enjoyed it. I wanted him to be involved in some activity, any activity, not so he could go to the Olympics or an intramural hockey team but so he could have a feeling of achievement. He has knock knees and doesn’t run very fast, and I see it frustrates him. I wanted to show him that sometimes people aren’t good at one thing but they’re good at another. I was giving him something to be good at.

It took some cajoling and repetition, but I convinced Eddie to rejoin his class on the ice. He made his way over to them holding on to the wall. He hadn’t needed to hold the wall since early on in his lessons, and it surprised me. I wondered if he was saying he was bored because he was afraid. Maybe that is how we learn a skill — not linearly but in a series of loops, where just when someone is about to move forward two steps, they go back one-and-a-half steps out of fear.

The skating teacher tried to pry Eddie off the wall, but he held his grip. She then backed away and held her hands out, asking him to skate toward her. He was reluctant at first but slowly let go of the wall and began marching in her direction, slowly, arms out like an airplane, knees bent, just as he’d been taught. She backed up a bit, and he moved toward her again, but he then fell on his butt. Bam! He looked over toward me.

"I'm just watching!"

“I’m just watching!”

“Everybody falls,” I said.

The teacher helped him up, but I knew he wasn’t happy about it. He began skating toward me. He was done.

The class only had two children in it, and Eddie was one of them. The other was a two-and-a-half year old named Zachery. As Eddie skated away from the class, Zachery stood on the ice in a big black helmet, his skates bowing out to the sides, yelling, “Eh-dee! Eh-dee! Eh-dee!” I thought, if anything is going to get my son to rejoin his class, it’s this kid. He really, really wanted Eddie to come back. But no chance. Eddie turned around and walked away on his skates, leaving Zachery screaming his name across the ice for a solid five minutes while my son stood at the edge of the rink, kicking his skate blade against the wall, and I stood in the opening where he would get out.

“Stay on the ice until the lesson is over. I don’t want you to come off yet,” I said.

“But I don’t like ice skating. I want to go home,” he said.

“You’re not coming off the ice until your lesson is over,” I said. “When your cousin, Cade, wants to skate with you, you’re not going to be able to skate. When Uncle Steven wants to skate with you, you’re not going to be able to. Is that what you want?”

I must sound like such an asshole, I thought. One of the other mothers who had been standing next to me, watching her own child skate in another class, turned and walked away. There’s a fine line between scoffing and giving someone privacy.

A really stubborn piece of lineoleum

A really stubborn piece of lineoleum

As Eddie continued to stand at the entrance to the ice, I turned around and walked away, thinking maybe if he couldn’t see me, he might go over and rejoin his class.

The instructor was not his regular teacher. She did not seem to have anything invested in the lesson – nor did she know my son and how in every other class he skated fine. I wished she would skate over and get my son, or at least look in our direction, but I think she was happy to just be teaching one little kid rather than two, who were at different levels anyway.

I inched a little farther away from the rink, near the benches where we put on my son’s skates and out of his field of vision. I was still hoping he would go back to his class, but he just stood there. He knew I was still in the vicinity, even if he couldn’t see me. I decided to take it a step further. I walked right in front of him and said, “Go back to your class. It’s over in five minutes. Go on. Go,” and I walked out the door that leads into the hallway.

I stood outside the doorway to the rink for several minutes. Through a window in the door, I could see through to the ice. I could see my son’s helmet and his two hands on the glass barrier that surrounded the rink as he just stood there. It was one of those parenting moments where I had no idea, whatsoever, what I was doing and whether it was the right – or a very wrong – approach. It was potentially a pivotal moment in my son’s life that will either have helped him through some block or created one for which he’ll seek therapy. Regardless, I’d already started something, and if I was going to move forward in the direction I’d chosen, it didn’t help to just stand there staring at him through the glass. Either I was committed to this silly exercise or I wasn’t. I turned my back to the ice and started to watch two rink employees trying to lift sheets of linoleum tile with a pry bar so that they could replace them with the more traditional rubber tiles that fit together like puzzle pieces. The two men had gotten halfway across the floor but were stuck on one particular tile. They hit the pry bar several times with a hammer, to wedge it further under the tile, but every time they would then try to peel the tile upward and off the floor, it wouldn’t budge.

“This one is never, ever going to come up,” said the younger of the two men, clearly frustrated.

I turned around and walked back into the rink. My son was still standing at the entrance to the ice.

“Go out there,” I said, pointing to his class. “Go on.”

“I’m just watching,” he said and turned around and started to walk on his skates slowly toward the group. As he got closer to them, I could see the teacher turn around and talk to him. I then heard my son’s voice across the ice. “I’m just watching.” As the instructor tried to engage him in the lesson, he yelled, “I’m just watching!”

He stood in the middle of the ice for a few minutes and then headed back toward me. Small as it was, he’d made an effort. If I pushed him anymore, I thought I might wind up doing some long term damage. It would certainly make it harder to bring him back for his lesson next week.

As we left the rink, I saw that the two workmen were finally able to pry off the stubborn piece of linoleum and were now halfway done getting off the old floor. I wondered if maybe the learning process isn’t like loops but rather like clearing a clog in a plumbing pipe. Some will see a block and quit while others will keep slamming into it, like a battering ram, until they break through. I hope my son turns out to be the latter. Because like Oedipus, you can’t change fate. I’d sent my son to skating lessons to give him a feeling of achievement, and inadvertently, I’d fostered his sense of failure.

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