Once a week, Squints takes an enrichment class some distance
from the house. Usually, I drop him off
and hang out at the local library for a couple of hours to pass the time. Yesterday, just before heading to pick him
up, I hit the bathroom.
The center stall was occupied.
It was occupied by a very productive little girl.
“Do you have any more?” Her mother asked. “Try some more.”
There came from behind the door some maniacal electronic
giggling. Some sort of potty pal, I
I entered the stall to the right.
I envisioned the little girl pointing a chubby finger my
“That is a woman. This is a woman’s
room. She’s going potty, too.
Do you have any more?”
The mother was seated on the floor. Her feet were wrapped around either side of
the toilet bowl. I assumed she was
holding the little tot over the toilet to keep her bum from sitting on the
nasties lurking on the seat.
“I don’t want to wash my hands,” the girl said.
“Oh…,” her mother cooed.
“You have to wash your hands. You touched the icky toilet. I’ll help you. We’ll use the magical soap.”
I left the stall and began washing my hands with the magical
“I cwap,” the girl said.
“No,” her mother said, the cooing gone now. “I’m shutting the video off.”
I eyeballed the woman one sink over. She seemed unperturbed as she scrubbed with
the magical soap.
“I don’t do a video when you use potty talk.”
I thought about my own private potty moment recorded for
eternity on the video of this child’s premiere public cwap.
The toilet flushed.
“Can we watch the video now, Mommy?”
“As soon as we wash our hands.”
The potty pal giggled.
I left the restroom.
I hope to God that video doesn’t make it to YouTube.
Not too long ago, someone told me that today’s kids need to
be sent far away, preferably overseas, on service projects in order to feel
good about themselves; to be more sure about their place in society; in order
to understand how great they have it. Although
my kids have been involved in local service for years, my husband and I haven’t
sent our children on projects overseas: Were they missing out?
I began researching, looking into all manner of overseas
service trips to Asia, the Middle East, Europe…But many of the trips were
merely glorified parent-less vacations filled with organic cuisine, kayak
excursions, shopping, and…oh, yeah, a couple of hours of service tossed in for
good measure. For a mere eight thousand
dollars, my child could embark on a service project and be changed forever.
The few legitimate service organizations didn’t want people
under the age of twenty-one: They didn’t want the liability. Perhaps they didn’t want the hassle as well.
I bagged the idea.
And here again, I must return to Wendell Berry who writes of
an Amish boy, no older than Squints who, with a team of horses, cultivated a
field of twenty-three acres on his own.
I’d wager this boy never questioned his worth or his place within his
society. I’d bet he doesn’t need
overseas service projects or enrichment classes or the baseball league to make
him feel valuable.
Because, in preparing for his adulthood, this boy is helping
his family to survive.
By rewarding our kids from the outside in, by videotaping
and celebrating every moment of their lives, by lavishing praise at every turn,
we take away their self-esteem.
And by giving our children everything, we take away much.
My husband and I have found a little farm—just over thirty
acres—that we hope to look at soon. I
can picture Squints there gathering eggs and doing the milking before
school. I can picture him wandering the
woods, hiking along the stream, swimming in the pond, helping to fell the trees
that will serve as our fuel for winter.
I picture him confident in the knowledge that what he does
is valuable and necessary and good.
And we won’t need a video to prove it.
Note: I was convinced that this mother was videotaping one of her daughter’s firsts—First tooth, first
steps, first time using the toilet. My
husband offered a different interpretation.
Perhaps—and I hope it’s true—the mother was playing a video for her
daughter while she used the toilet. Even
so, I found the entire situation a bit unsettling. And I suspect that Wendell Berry would have
something to say about the need for entertainment while using the toilet.
Labels: Consumption, Creative non-fiction, farming, Raising Children