Vonnegut, Tantrums, and My Quest to Shut the Bathroom Door

I used to think it was disgusting when people read in the bathroom.  Ok, I still find it a little gross.  But mostly, I just didn’t understand it.  Why would a person not just wait until it was the right time, get down to business, and then the leave the room in a matter of minutes?  Why the need to linger?

A friend told me it was because the bathroom was the one place in the house he could be alone.  Now, I can appreciate that sentiment.  Just as love supposedly means never having to say “I’m sorry,” having kids means never going to the bathroom with the door shut.

Last week, I was strongly encouraging Liam to get ready for preschool.  He had woken up at 4:45am, and after fifteen minutes of coaxing, returned to slumber.  This meant, when 7am rolled around and it was time to eat breakfast and start the day, he was hitting the figurative snooze button.  I helped him pick his outfit for the day, and then left him to put on his clothes while I get myself and his brother dressed.  I returned a few minutes later to find him naked and wrapping a found roll of first aid tape around his foot.  I take the tape, but then in my mind begin to question myself.  After all, it wasn’t a harmful object, and he was just exploring the way it felt and determining its’ function.  I shouldn’t squelch his curiousity, should I?  The correct answer is yes, squelch away.  But that is not what I did.  I cut off a piece of tape and put it on his dresser, telling him he could play with it after he got dressed.

At that moment, nature decided to call, and I made my way to the restroom.  After a moment or two, I heard a loud yell of “Mommy!”

I responded by yelling back “I’m in the bathroom.  Give me a minute.”

“MOMMY!”

“I’m pooping.  It’s going to have to wait!”

“MOOOOOOMMMY!”

“I’M POOOOOOPING!! WAIT!”

Liam came around the corner with tears in his eyes.  “My tape is stuck together.”  The tape had folded over onto itself.  That’s it.  No major emergency.  Just a bit of unusable tape.

I calmly said “Liam, I am pooping right now.  I will cut that part off of the tape as soon as I’m done, but right now, I’m in the bathroom.  It will have to wait.”

Tears began to verge on hysteria.  The lip was quivering, the nose was running.  “MOMMY! THE TAPE IS STUCK TOGETHER.”

“Liam, can I just have five seconds to finish pooping? PLEASE?”

No, I could not have five seconds.  I had him hand me the tape so I could unstick it, and then, and only then, finish what I had started.  I don’t believe this scenario is anything new for parents.  But I began to wonder if I had instilled this impatience in him.  My initial reaction was to think that he is a three year old, and young children by definition are anxious.  But then I started second guessing myself.  Was I too lenient?  Should I demand a few moments alone in the bathroom?

I had this nagging voice in the back of my head all day, pestering me about my lax parenting skills.  That night at dinner, my youngest son had a complete meltdown at dinner.  He is seventeen months old.  He started forcefully pushing himself away from the table.  We’d push his chair back in and ask him to eat, and he’d scream and push himself away again.  Of course, my mother-in-law was over for dinner, and I was embarrassed that I have no clue how to diffuse the situation.  After a minute or two, we decided we were not going to force him to eat and let him down to walk around.  He began going from wall to wall banging them with his fists and yelling.  Liam had never exhibited this behavior, and I was utterly lost as far as how to handle the situation.

Again, I began to question myself.  What did I- not him- do to make him act this way?  I blamed myself for his bad behavior, not him.  And I’m pretty sure if we were in public, most people would blame me too.  As parents, we are the ones guiding our children as to appropriate and inappropriate behavior, but does that mean that whenever they act out, it is because of some lack in our parenting ability?  Don’t we ever get to think “man, this kid’s really being a jerk tonight!”

I’ve been reading this biography of Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes, by Charles J. Shields.  Vonnegut is my favorite author.  I love how his writing blends humor, politics, morality, and science fiction to create a book that is entertaining but also challenging.  I have often looked at the photographs on the backs of his books and wondered what kind of person he was really.  To me, he seemed like a magical being- crazy hair and sparkling eyes that seemed to hint at a bit of mischief appearing in his thoughts.

I was a little disappointed to learn he was a distant father and unsupportive husband.  He cheated on his wife and burdened her with caring for their seven children (four of his sister’s and three of his own), while he locked himself in his study to write undisturbed.  My hero was languishing before my eyes, until I began to read about him as a teacher.

He was a favorite on campus because of the attention and individual feedback he offered to his students.  His gift was to provide brass tacks information about how to succeed in the writing industry, but he also encouraged students to tell their own stories.  He blossomed in the college environment.  Surrounded by other authors; he both absorbed and emitted inspiration.  He was at his best- the man he intended to be.

The book made me think how no one can be all things to all people.  Maybe he was no longer my idol, but he was still a great writer and I still loved his books.  Maybe I wasn’t a perfect mother, but that doesn’t mean I’m a bad one either.  I slip up every day.  Every single day I have moments I wish I could take back, and do better.  But I also have no doubt that my kids go to bed at night knowing I love them, feeling supported, and wondering what fun things we’ll be doing tomorrow.

My kid threw a tantrum at the dinner table.  I’m sure it won’t be the last tantrum of his life.  But I probably haven’t seen my last one either.  If worse comes to worst, we’ll pound the walls together.  But then we’ll probably give each other a hug, cook some popcorn, and call it a night.  That’s how we do.

 

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