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Thursday Noodles - Sept 14 Potty Time
Potty Training During Late-Stage Capitalism edition
I was going through old files and found this piece from 2007, published in Friends Journal in 2011. I wrote it during my still-sleep-deprived days of raising a toddler.
Yes, math geniuses. That’s four long years between submission and publication.
But that’s publishing for you. It’s brutal and demoralizing and moves slower than an Ambien-addled armadillo.
Ah. That’s one of the many things I love about Substack: instant publification.
Goodness but the writing world is changing.
This piece. Freecycle.com? Double spacing after a period! Lawd, I’m clutching my pearls.
Still: the more things change, the more things … well, you know the rest.
Parenting toddlers is a grind no matter what decade it is.
This one goes out to all y’all parents of young ones.
May the Great Cosmic Echidna bless you with many, many consecutive nights of uninterrupted sleep.
May the potty-training process be as easy-breezy as a 1980s commercial for Cover Girl.
It DOES get easier. I pinky promise. Hang in there.
Potty Training and Consumerism
Potty training can be tricky. But throw in environmental and consumerist issues, and it’s a downright quagmire.
Go to any parenting magazine or book, and the first advice they give? When your child shows signs of ‘readiness’, take him to the store and let him pick out his own potty. I get it; I do. It’s good to give children choices and some measure of control. It’s an empowering, exciting experience for little ones: Look at me! I’m a big kid! I can make my own choices about the potty I use!
But, when you’re standing in the potty section at Target, ogling ten different kinds of potties, what’s the bigger message? Do I really want to tell my child that, when he’s ready to do something natural, worthwhile, and intrinsically rewarding, he needs to GO TO THE STORE AND BUY SOMETHING? Something new and shiny and manufactured under questionable circumstances, halfway around the world?
So. When my two-year old wanted to learn, I vowed not to make it a consumerist exercise. I proudly showed him the potty I’d bought second-hand. We practiced pulling up and down his hand-me-down underwear. We discussed the merits of sitting versus standing. We read Once Upon a Potty (for Boys) from the library. He did great—he practically taught himself. I tried not to feel smug, but really, this was what all the fuss was about? We had it licked.
And then, about a month later, he stowed the potty in his closet, crossed his arms, and demanded his diapers back.
Had I done something wrong? (Was I narcissistic to wonder?) I Googled “potty training,” I read parenting books. And I sighed. The advice? Take your potty-ready child to the store and let him select a brand new potty and big kid underwear. The point, of course, is to facilitate an empowering, exciting experience for little ones: Look at me! I’m a big kid! I can make my own choices!
I get that, I do. But what’s the bigger message of driving [my child] to Target to get this new stuff? Isn’t it something like, When you are ready for a natural, intrinsically rewarding part of growing up, we have to GO TO THE STORE AND BUY SOMETHING?
Ugh. No thanks.
Not for nothing, it got me thinking about the other consumerist messages I’ve been unconsciously giving [my child]. Like my tendency to introduce novel toys by saying, “Look at this really cool NEW thing!” I’m equating new with exciting. It is never-ending, the pursuit of the newest thing. It’s incipient consumerism, addictive and unfulfilling. It’s a curse for our children, and the planet. Double ugh.
[My son], now three, figured out the intricacies of potty-training quite well in his own time, thank you very much. And because our region is in drought, he has decided not to flush if it’s just pee. As he explains it, “It does not rain enough to fill up everybody’s pipes.” As is the wont of children, he’s amazing: adaptable, smart, considerate.
But what about us grown-ups? How are we faring? Speaking for myself, I’m more mindful of my messages—unspoken and spoken—about consumerism. When we’re at the store, Sam and I ask each other, “Is this something we could MAKE together?” Cool puppets at the toy store? That’s what orphaned socks and extra buttons are for. Greeting cards for birthdays and holidays? How about potato prints instead?
We try to take a global view. Who made these jeans? Where? Under what circumstances? And we take a local view: how well are the employees paid, right here at the store where we’re shopping? Are they receiving benefits?
Look, I’m no Franciscan monk. Sometimes there is something I’d like to treat [my kid] to, or something that I really want. When this is the case, I take a deep breath and say, “If I still want these new jeans in a few days, they will be here.” In the meantime, I check out Freecycle.com, E-bay, Craig's list, Goodwill, or garage sales. Usually by the time I cool off, I don’t need whatever-it-was so badly anyway. If not, I go easy and try to be gentle with myself. Sometimes it means buying a new pair of jeans.
So far, so good. But the unspoken messages are trickier, and perhaps more important.
To that end, I’ve found it helpful to think of myself, of my son, of all people as souls in need of connection rather than consumers. In her book, The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life (InterVarsity Press, 2006) Lisa Graham McMinn posits that historically we saw ourselves and others as spiritual beings. We then shifted to a paradigm of individual rights. In our post-modern age, McMinn suggests that we are now identified primarily as consumers. It’s a fascinating idea, if problematic (I doubt that slaveholders concerned themselves with African-Americans’ spirituality or individual rights). But it’s worth asking: Do we seek a sort of spiritual fulfillment by buying stuff? Then of course we’re never satisfied! Perhaps the true longing is to create (or renew) connection: to God, to family, to friends.
Ultimately, consumption doesn’t only mean buying things; it connotes an illness of taking in more than we put out. Consumption, to me, includes watching too much TV, eating non-nutritive foods, being too lazy to hang the clothes outside to dry, reading celebrity magazines, gossiping, driving a gas-guzzler. Consumption is that which distracts me from the real work—and joy—of life: connection, creation.
The opposite of consumption is creation: giving, generating, being generous. Connecting to myself and others. Examples? Hiking, yoga, writing, sharing wholesome dinners, playing with my family, spending time with friends, making gifts, attending Meeting for Worship, gardening, voting, camping, being intimate, caring for the Earth, reading good books, praying.
My goal has become to put out a bit more than I take in, on a daily basis. It’s the days when I give [my child] my full attention, when I eat well, when I garden, when I really listen to my husband, when I walk in the woods, when I write a new chapter of my novel—when I then fall into bed exhausted, with a content heart. That, to me, is the opposite of consumerism. That is valuing creation more than consumption.
That’s what I want to teach [my child].
A wise friend told me that discipline is remembering what you want.
Less and less, what I want is things.
More and more, what I want is creation, connection. For the Earth. For my family, global and local. For myself.
Most of all, for big kid undies-wearing [kid].
From the March 2011 online edition of Friends Journal: Quaker Thought and Life Today. Reprinted without changes [except redacting his name] and without permission because I wrote it and I refer you to the name of this Substack.
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