When I was 7.5 months pregnant with my daughter, I decided it was time to potty train my 2-year-old son. He was ready-ish, and I didn’t want to pay double for diapers. I had the 3-day magic plan, lots of snacks, loads of juice, packages of new undies, and a burning desire to sing “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away,” as many times as it took.
We survived. I cleaned up a lot of floor-pee, gave in to nighttime pull-ups, and by the end of a week or so (NOT 3 days), I felt like we could leave the house without fearing a car seat full of urine. Now, this does not mean that we haven’t had accidents since then. We have had accidents and we have had “accidents,” but 18 months later, I feel like we’re really in a good place with the whole potty situation. Which means that we have officially graduated to “peeing like Daddy.” We looooove to “pee like Daddy,” and by that I mean my son thinks it’s awesome, and I think it means that I’m once-again pregnant and squatting down to clean pee up off the floor, again.
Being able to stand in front of a toilet and use that special hole in boy underwear and not fiddle with snaps or draw strings or drop your pants all the way down to your ankles every time you have to go is a good life skill. But it is still a skill. One that must be learned. It requires practice. It requires aim.
So one afternoon a few weeks ago, my son was going to the bathroom, and we were having a fairly casual discussion about getting the potty right into the toilet (as opposed to the shower curtain). I said the phrase “Look, babe, I know it’s like a little gun, but you don’t have to shoot it all over the place.”
He stopped mid-stream (who knew he could do that?!), looked up at me, and said “What’s a gun?”
Raised praise hands! Swell of pride! Actual glee! You can pee wherever you want because this kinda crunchy, peace-loving, non-violent mama was just given A GIFT! My highly active, fairly aggressive, mostly wild 3.5 year old little boy does not know what a gun is. IT’S WORKING! My plan is working! His innocence is preserved!
Yes, I realize my reaction was over-the-top. It had been a long day, and for lack of a better analogy, we were fighting a lot of battles that week, and I really needed a win. So, I gave myself a mental fist-bump and calmly said “Never mind. The point is that you cannot spray pee wherever you want. Just in the toilet.”
“Okay, mommy.” He scrunched up his face, refocused, and finished his bathroom task.
I resisted the urge to call my husband right that minute to tell him about my (minor, but not really minor) mommy success moment. Instead, I kept it to myself and basked in the glow of perpetuated pacifism.
When my husband came home from work that evening, our son was just about to go potty (again – do all 3-year-old boys produce that much urine?). My husband greeted him just as he was scooting into the bathroom. As my husband leaned in to give me a kiss, I prepared to announce my victory moment.
“Guess wha –“ but I was interrupted by another, louder, more excited voice.
“Dad! I forgot to tell you!” My cute little boy and his little sock feet came sliding back into the living room. “I have a GUN penis! A big, giant gun penis, and it shoots SO much potty!”
My husband stifled a laugh and looked at me with his eyebrows raised. “Did you teach him that?”
Apparently my casual reference to a “little gun” – of which he was supposed to know nothing – was transformed in his wild, testosterone-filled boy brain into a “big, giant gun.” This idea stuck in his mind, and the information was now available for sharing. Probably at school. Maybe at the grocery store. I’m the mom with the kid who talks about his “gun penis,” and I started it. Granted, the juxtaposition of events was funny, but still. My moment of shining mommy victory was totally overshadowed, and now instead of feeling awesome, I felt kind of lame.
Isn’t that just like motherhood though? I thought I was teaching him one thing, but inadvertently he learned another. I’ve been thinking about this little moment recently probably because we still spend a lot of time discussing urine and boy parts and toilets, and while I don’t want to read too much into this isolated incident, I think I also realized something that day.
I want my kids to grow up to be independent thinkers and doers, which means that sometimes they’ll think and do things that make me want to quietly set my forehead on the kitchen counter and close my eyes. It also means that sometimes I will inappropriately swell with pride. Regardless of how the actions of my children make me feel, my job is to teach them and guide them and aim them down the path that leads them to be the best thinkers and doers they can be.
These little people are just that: little people. They have their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own interpretations of events, and ultimately, that’s a good thing. Sometimes, it’s a funny thing. If my son ever shares his “gun penis” metaphor in a public forum, it will be a kind of embarrassing thing. But in the instances when their independent thinking and doing gets them into trouble, I’m here to redirect. To bend down, to clean up the mess, and to help them learn how to do it right.
Throughout the last 3.5 years of motherhood, I’ve also been working on my aim. Daily I’m trying to direct the hearts, minds, and even the little bodies of my children in a direction that will help them become the thoughtful, loving big people they are supposed to be. This is a skill. One that must be learned, and I have to remind myself that I am still learning it every day.
Guest post written by Anna Jordan. Anna is a writer, adjunct professor, and professional procrastinator of laundry living in Santa Barbara, CA with her husband Kiah and her two wild littles, Mason and Vivi (still-to-be-named wild little #3 coming in June!). She attempts to maintain her sanity by reading, running, practicing yoga, and drinking too much coffee.