Today I dropped my three-and-a-half-year-old son off at preschool wearing underwear instead of a diaper for the first time. I feel sick. I think I'm going to puke. My nerves are shot. I need a drink. Are there any bars open at 8:30am?
My brain is cycling through all the horrible things that could happen. Will he have an accident? What if he has to poop? Will he just poop in his underwear and not say anything? Will his classmates laugh at him if they see a pee puddle circle around his feet? Will he shrink into the same shame-spiral I did when I was his age and all the kids laughed at me for sucking my thumb? Kids can be really mean. I'm forty-one and I still won't suck my thumb in public. Oh God, how long until I can pick him up and get him home and safe from public humiliation?
Despite peeing in the potty the first time a few weeks ago, my son refused to do it again. I thought, "Fine, he'll do it when he's ready, I won't push him." But maybe some kids won't ever be ready on their own? Sometimes it's the parents who must push the kids to get past their fear and jump in the water to start swimming. This is what happened to me. It was last Friday when I made an executive decision to shift into operation underwear.
Last Friday I happened to pick my son up a half-hour early from school. I walked into his class to find all his classmates happily eating their snack, all the kids but one, my son. My son couldn't participate because he was hiding by a wall next to the bathroom ashamed that he was peeing in his diaper. He shouted at me, "Go away! Get away from me! Leave me alone!" Not your typical, I'm-so-happy-mom-is-here-early- reaction I would expect.
Concerned, I kneeled down and whispered, "What's wrong?" He stared at me in a violent internal rage, his face was red and his jaw was clenched. He whispered, "I peed in my diaper," he was mortified. "It's okay," I told him, "That's what diapers are for, I'll change you, don't worry."
"No big deal," I thought and I told the teacher I'd change him. It's an open bathroom right next to his classmates and I could see there was only one group of diapers on the shelf, my son's diapers. I'm sure all the kids in his class who had been potty trained for a year already asked the teacher, "Why are there diapers here? Who wears diapersanymore? We're big kids now!" I instinctively stood behind him as I changed him so he could have some privacy and that's when I noticed two girls giggling behind us. They pointed their finger at my son, "Look, he's a baby, he wears a diaper!"
My heart sank to the bottom of my feet and bled out on the floor as I thought, "He's already the new kid in class, now he's being called a baby? I'm going to put an end to this, today." That night I told my husband about the events of the day and we both shed a little tear. It's painful to think your kid could be feeling such fear and so much shame. "It's Friday night and we have three days till he goes back to school on Tuesday. Screw the diapers, we are initiating operation underwear starting tomorrow morning," I said. We proceeded to pump up our son with the exciting news that he had graduated from diapers! We told him that when he woke up in the morning, he would no longer wear a diaper during the day. Instead he gets to wear superhero underwear and we're going to help him learn how to pee and poop on the potty before he goes back to school. I'd be lying if I didn't see a huge sigh of relief on my little son's face, he believed as much as we did that we were going to conquer his fear together.
The next three days turned out to be an exciting adventure in potty training. We had some accidents that turned into messy nightmares like when his two-year-old sister decided to sit in his puddle of pee and spread it around the floor like she was drawing some art. Or this morning before school when he didn't hold down his penis and sprayed pee across the entire bathroom floor, "There was just too much pee mom," he said innocently.
But the accidents were out-numbered and out-shadowed by the great thrill of success. Watching our son scream, "I've won, I did it, I've won!" has simply been unbelievable. Helping our son overcome his fears and believe in himself was the greatest thing we could teach him. I swear he's aged over the last three days; he's matured and more confident in general. So I have to say that I am forever grateful to those two little girls who giggled behind us on that ugly rainy day that I pick him up from school early.
Excerpted from Motherland of Sam by Sam Deane Mavis. (c) 2015 Rise Publishing.
Photograph by Bobby Quillard.