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.
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.
“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?”
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.
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.