Okay, sorry for my second poopy story posting, but this is so adorable. I've now taken up this new magazine called Wondertime and this is one of their columnists.

Writer Catherine Newman really wants to parent mindfully; she wants to focus on the here and now while she raises her two kids, Ben, 6, and Birdy, 3. Check back here weekly to cheer her as she chronicles a parenting life that is not always so zen.

08.04.06 : No Rest in the Restroom

Birdy appears suddenly in the living room and staggers over to me on the couch. Her lower lip is a quivering boomerang that may never circle back around. "Oh honey," I say. "What's up?" She bursts into tears and buries her face in my lap; her shoulders heave; her small spine crumples. Remember the plaster casts of the Pompeii victims? The agonized human shapes contorted by the spewing horror of Vesuvius? For some reason, this comes to mind. But there's no twenty-mile geyser of ash. What there is, it turns out, is potty trouble.

"I threw a tissue in the toilettttt." Our long-ago injunction not to plunk anything into the toilet — anything, we meant at the time, like lipstick, keys, or pajamas — has stuck with Birdy like nothing else. We have been just barely able to convince her to flush her dainty wads of toilet paper instead of throwing them in the trash, and now, it seems, Kleenex will need to force its way onto the limited roster of acceptability. "That's fine, sweetie," I say now. "Tissues can go in the toilet." But it's like yelling into the wind.

Of course, you don't want your kid arriving to pick up his prom date with an orchid corsage, a powder-blue tux, and a pull-up. I understand that potty training is an important step in human development. I'm just saying that, in terms of the happiness you imagine it might bring, it's somewhat overrated. And yes, I'm glad to save the money. I'm especially glad, in fact, that I may never again suffer the experience of accidentally yoinking a Velcro tab clean off of an unused diaper and then having to pitch the whole thing into the trash like a shiny, unspendable quarter. I don't miss swim diapers with their bizarre promise not to soak up water: How can an object that doesn't absorb water still absorb pee? For the answer to that riddle, simply drive home from the beach with us in our car's impersonation of a subway urinal. No, I don't long for that, or for one of those bomb diaper situations that keeps you at the stove, guiltily pretend-fretting over the (already made) rice and beans in the vague hopes that your partner will leap into action before you do. Or what about when a dinner guest makes eye contact with your child while she leans against his chair, her face a mask of pooping strain? That's always been kind of weird.

But it's a little like cleaning out your closet, in the sense of things getting harder and messier before they get easier and tidier. Suddenly, there is urgency. There is pulling the car screechingly into rest areas; there is standing inside that cupboard of a bathroom, biting your lip, while the airplane pitches through the sky and your child grunts and chit-chats and tears off ribbons of toilet paper like a parade float needs decorating somewhere; there is sprinting across the burning sand to the Port-o-John in the beach parking lot where you wipe your toddler's hands with sanitizer even before she's done peering into the Hole of Stench and Certain Death.

Plus, there is everybody's very particular feelings about various scatalogical scenarios. On a hot day, the condensation that drips from our toilet bowl gives Birdy a terrible case of the willies. She needs to be reminded of what you can do where: "Is underpants for farting?" she asks from her car seat, like she's rewriting A Hole Is to Dig as a story about gas.

"Can I pee here, like in the lake?" she yells from the swimming pool, and you have to answer, whispering and sheepish, "No." Or she'll shout with a hand stuck down her shorts, across a lawn of picnickers, "It's okay Mama! It's just undies stuck up my crack!"

Ben, meanwhile, needs to attend carefully to the origami-like folding of his toilet paper — he needs to get it to just the right ply — before he can use it, even if out beyond the bathroom, in the body of the restaurant, your fried clams sit cooling in their cardboard basket. Ben, as he'll tell you himself, doesn't really like the way the toilet paper in restaurants often scrimples up. And he pantomimes his criticisms, it seems, so as not to hurt the feelings of any eavesdropping bathroom engineers: "That's a nice soap dispenser," he says in a normal voice, then pinches his nose shut and — exaggerated, so I'll be sure to follow — mouths the words But it totally stinks in here. Birdy, meanwhile, needs to kick her pants and her Curious George undies all the way off into a little heap on the revolting floor. In my mind, every surface in a public restroom has a skull and crossbones on it — which is too bad for me, since on any given outing, I seem to spend fifty minutes of each hour shepherding somebody to the bathroom. I don't doubt that my children's nightmares are accompanied by the sound of me shrieking, "Don't touch anything in here!"

But now Birdy has taken my hand and is leading me back to the bathroom because, in all the hubbub of the misbegotten Kleenex incident, it turns out she hasn't finished wiping. "Front to back!" she says, and then, cheerfully, "Back to front!" "Just front to back," I remind her, and kneel down to help. And what I suddenly realize — and I know how strange this is going to sound — is that what I actually miss about changing her diaper is the way it guaranteed that, 2 or 5 or 8 times a day, I would stop what I was doing and get a chance to look into her busy little face for a minute or two. Now Birdy takes my face in her two hands — and, my God, I'm kneeling on the bathroom floor here — but when she smiles at me, my heart soars out into the clear blue.


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