There has been no phase of parenting that has caused me more unrest than potty training.
Not teething. Not big boy beds. Not even a mysterious lump that appeared one day on one of their necks.
A neck lump can be removed, you see. But a butt? A butt is forever.
Through the years, as I iced their gums, pureed their food, slept with their feet jammed into my kidneys, broke up their fights, paid their gambling debts and helped them quit their nicotine addiction, there was Potty Training—like Mount Rainier off in the distance—reminding me that my current challenges were only anthills in comparison.
The plan was to hold off taking them out of diapers until Social Services intervened, but then we realized we could foist the lion’s share of potty training onto their preschool teachers. It was a very exciting revelation. Of course, that bubble soon burst like a 3 year-old’s bladder when they came home from school and peed into their socks because their parents weren’t being vigilant. So we were forced to roll up our sleeves, grab the bleach, and enter the trenches.
Potty training triplets is as disgusting as you think, but it’s nowhere near as bad as what I had imagined it would be. I mean, yes, my sons call me into the bathroom every day to behold the whimsical shapes they just shat out. “Look mommy, a snakey-poo!” one will cry proudly, pointing at a coil of dung. A snakey-poo is the gold standard of poop in these parts, and when one is manifested, all must gather round to bear witness. Ball-shaped poop is also considered a classic. If you must turn your nose up at ball-shaped poop you should only do so literally, not figuratively.
I’d love to keep delighting you with the taxonomy of bowel movements in our household, but I need to get to the point. And the point is this: Somewhere along our merry way up Mount Rainier, our sons—the same ones who believed they were shitting out serpents—suddenly developed a paralyzing fear of images of women in bathrooms. This is a real thing.
The triplets’ strange phobia took root at Matt’s dad and stepmom’s house. At the time, their powder room had an Art Deco motif, complete with a bust of a flapper on the counter. The first time our children noticed her, they were so terrified they nearly made snakes in their pants. After a lot of screaming and crying about “that woman,” the flapper bust was removed. This wasn’t enough to curb their fear of going into the bathroom, since they believed the flapper was hiding behind the shower curtain, sitting in the bathtub. Which she was. Very quickly they became suspicious of every bathroom. “Mommy, is there a woman in there?” Bran would ask, covering his eyes as I led him into the ladies room of a restaurant. And I’d have to say, “No, I promise there is no woman in here” and resist the urge to clarify to the women watching us, “My son is afraid of inanimate flappers.”
Things reached a fever pitch when we visited a local ice cream parlor one day and discovered an enormous poster of Dolly Parton in the bathroom. “She’s just a singer!” I called out after Bran, who had run screaming through the store and flattened himself under a table near the front door, weeping incoherently. Jem and Finn were both shook, so I quickly ushered them into the second bathroom, where we were confronted with an even larger poster of a random fashion model from the 1960s. The harpy loomed over us with an air of casual indifference that made my children’s blood run cold. “Is she a singer, mommy?” Finn sobbed. “IS SHE A SINGER???”
“Yes, uh … she’s Kate Bush!” I stammered. The woman was not Kate Bush, in much the same way that you and I are not Kate Bush. It was just the first thing my brain served up. But miracles of all miracles, after showing the boys videos of “Jolene” and “Wuthering Heights” on the ride home, we were able to convert their revulsion into fandom. The next time we went back to the ice cream parlor, they were ready to face these two formidable women–Dolly Parton and Random Model Who Is Not Kate Bush.
There’s not a lot of parenting advice I can offer with full confidence other than this: If a flapper bust makes your child afraid of pictures of women in bathrooms, have them listen to “Wuthering Heights.” It seems to do the trick.
The other day Bran and Finn were in the bathroom, dumping in unison, when Matt heard Finn ask his brother, “Do you like Kate Bush?”
“Yes!” Bran replied. Plop.
My work here is done.