Leaving behind diapers and venturing into the blessed freedom that comes with having potty-trained kids is one of those parenting experiences you never imagined you’d treasure so much, but it’s one of those things you look back on as a watershed moment in your dadhood. Diapers are expensive, messy, and just a general pain in the butt…although they’re definitely better than what our hunter-gatherer forebears had to deal with, I imagine. Still, the day your kids can say bye-bye to diapers and pull-ups is one of the most liberating steps in child-rearing. If you’re the father of boys, however, you have one more hurdle to jump: teaching them how to use the toilet appropriately. And when I say “appropriately” I mean with manners—and we all know little boys are often slightly lacking in the manners department.
You know it’s time to have the toilet talk with your son when you’ve heard your wife scream, “Who peed on the seat????” for the umpteenth time. Well, you actually should have had the talk prior to that, I guess, but this is one of those things you tend to procrastinate on. Few men relish the idea of having to discuss urination with their sons. Men get a secret glee from peeing, probably because we can do it so easily: a convenient tree, bush, or telephone pole (don’t ask)is all we need. Most guys have written their names in the snow without their hands. Or tried. I always said, guys with short names like “Bob” or “Jim” have it made in that department.
But I digress.
“Seriously, you have the right equipment. YOU need to be the one to talk to them!” my wife griped, with our daughter echoing her angrily. I knew there was a problem. We have four kids: one girl (the oldest), and three boys, including a set of twins. So, in our house, the Y-chromosome is slightly dominant. However, I try to maintain some class by making sure the seat gets put down after use, and I tend to have good aim in the bathroom. Our sons, though? They don’t seem to be able to hit that big open toilet bowl…and they forget to put the seat UP when they use it. The result? Sprinkled seats that my wife and daughter tend to find by accident. I knew I was in for trouble when I caught my oldest son, who has a tendency to sleepwalk, christening the entire bathroom (“Look ma, no hands!”), eyes shut and dreaming. Whoo, I had my work cut out for me.
“Can’t you look first? Before sitting down?” I tried, wincing already, because I knew what the response would be from her before I even finished the sentence.
“Why should I have to? Why can’t they not pee on the seat?” she retorted, and my daughter nodded, righteous rage flashing in her eyes. They had a point.
“OK, I’ll talk to them.”
So, the father-sons toilet conference was convened.
All three boys lined up before the porcelain throne and giggled; I tried my best to maintain my dignity, or else I’d lose them: it’d become a joke, not the serious subject my wife wanted it to be. As if standing in the bathroom and talking about peeing could ever be a serious subject.
I explained to them how to handle things: lift the seat. Aim (meaning: use your hands, don’t just whip that rascal out and fly). Wipe off the rim if you missed. Flush.
Oh, and zip your fly. They always forget that one.
“Now, boys, you need to do this. You’re big guys now, and big guys don’t pee on the seat.” OK, they’ll figure out the lie once they hit college and realize how pig-like men can be with their toilet habits, but until then, I’m doing my best to preserve the illusion, all right? “Besides, if you don’t stop, Mom will kill you.”
“No, seriously. I think she will kill you if she sits in pee one more time,” I said earnestly.
From somewhere in the back of the house, from a distance she couldn’t possibly have heard from, all four of us turned at the sound of her voice, echoing down the hallway, full of righteous wrath: “Damn right I will!”
How do mothers do that?
I tried to explain to the boys that there is a technique to proper aiming, but the physics and aerodynamics just didn’t click in a couple of five-year-olds and an eight-year-old. They looked at me blankly, eyes darting back and forth.
“You’re gonna make me do this, aren’t you?” I sighed. “You’re going to make me demonstrate.”
They giggled again.
Just what I had been dreading…I have performance anxiety when it comes to the toilet—I don’t do well in public urinals. Too many observers. But…this was in the interests of all our lives. So, without going into the gory details, I instructed my sons on how to “hit the hole” and tidy up afterward. They thought it was the funniest thing ever. Then they had to demonstrate how well they’d learned. There was even talk of going and getting a big glass of water each, to refuel, so to speak.
I did my best in my talk. They solemnly promised to do better. They have done better, thank God. But unfortunately, all my talking about manners and cleanliness isn’t nearly so effective as an occasional death threat from my wife and her toilet-police sidekick, our daughter.
The men may outnumber the women in our household…but we know who’s boss. Especially in the bathroom.
Still, my boys and I all look back with guilty fondness on that day in the bathroom, where our unity as the menfolk in the family was sealed. We were a team. Team Clean Toilet. Who knew that it was possible to bond over porcelain and potty training.