Generational Differences

Hal is nearly five years old. We moved past the potty training stage well over a year and a half ago. We absolutely love not being tethered to a diaper bag or having to make sure you have a spare change of clothes. The time period of accidents is long past. Or so we thought.

The first poop accident occurred while the boys were camping in the northwest in June. Daddy had asked him to wait until they got somewhere so willingly took part of the blame. That was an exceptional incident under trying circumstances. Surely an isolated event.

The next one occurred a couple of weeks ago. Again, we were away from home at the art conference. Nevertheless, we started to get irritated. Both times, my husband threw away the underwear – one Thor, the other Angry Birds – because we just didn’t have the means to clean them properly. Both times, Hal got really upset. We thought losing the underwear would make an impression.

Accident number three was just last week. At home. His reason? “I forgot!” We had a long talk about how old he was and the need to pay attention to when he needed to go and not ignore it. The same conversation we’d had repeatedly back when this was a focus in our lives.

The next one was yesterday at my grandmother’s house. One thing that fascinates me is how he tries to hide it. As if we won’t ever notice the poop caked to his bum or the smelly clothes. I looked at the underwear – this time Lego Star Wars Darth Maul – and thought I really don’t want to clean those. So I said I was throwing them away.

He got upset. I asked if he wanted to clean them. He said yes. I clarified: “You want to scrub the poop out with your own hands?” He said no, he wanted me to, because that was my job. I explained that it wasn’t my poop and he was getting too old for me to deal with these problems.

I then told him to put his pants back on without underwear. He refused. I pointed out that he did not have any underwear there so he’d have to. He angrily chastised me for not bringing our vehicle to grandma’s that had his backpack with a change of clothes in it.

Eventually, we went downstairs with a towel wrapped around his waist. I told my grandma, mom, and aunt what happened and said I’d be right back since I needed to walk the plastic bag-wrapped underwear to the outside trash can.

My grandmother calmly pointed out that I could scrub them clean. I said I knew that but didn’t want to. She said, “Well, back when I was your age, we used cloth diapers so we were used to it.”

I responded, “Yes, and I used cloth diapers too but we are well past that stage now. It’s not worth it to me to clean them up. When he runs out of his character underwear, we’ll buy him plain white. It’s a good logical consequence.”

She shrugged and nodded her head. I found this to be a remarkable demonstration of generational differences. She lived through the Depression. She still washes her Ziploc bags and until she became too weak to do it, she would occasionally dumpster dive behind the day-old bread store to get free bread. It doesn’t matter that she lives in a nice two-story house with a comfortable income. That underwear can be cleaned, so it should. Why be wasteful?

I, on the other hand, grew up in a more comfortable time. I make very good money and the cost of a pair of underwear is insignificant. My time and comfort are much more precious to me than pinching a few pennies. It doesn’t matter that the underwear can be cleaned. It’s not worth my time to do it. Especially when I can wrap it into an object lesson for my child.

I’m not sure which perspective is better overall, probably hers. But, they both have their merits and justifications. And neither one of us is likely to adopt the other attitude.

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Sleepless Nights and Logical Consequences

I was blissfully asleep when soft sobbing across the hall awoke me. I glanced at my sleeping husband and briefly considered waking him so that he could go comfort the child. Most likely, Hal had rolled away from his blanket. All I would have to do is go in there and tuck it back into his hands. To get my husband to do it, I’d have to shake him awake and explain what’s going on. No, I decided, I will get back to sleep quicker and with less fuss if I tend to this myself. I glanced at the clock as I got up. 2:30.

When I entered the boys’ room, I found Hal standing in his bed, holding his blanket. So much for that theory. The sobbing was getting stronger. Soon it would be all-out crying. “Hal, what is wrong, baby?”

“My tajamas are wet!”

“Did you pee in them?”

“Yes! And not just a little bit!”

I reached out to touch his pajamas. Sure enough, his fuzzy footed monster pajamas were dripping wet. As was the blanket, the pillow pet, the sheets. Everything. I sighed. “You didn’t go potty before you went to bed, did you?”

He admitted tearfully that he had not. My husband would make him carry the wet items to the washing machine. I knew from experience that that would cause me considerable grief and delay my return to bed. Natural Consequences, Logical Consequences, none of that mattered to me right then. The voice that urged the best parenting move for long-term gain was ruthlessly shoved to the back of my head. My decision making was centered completely around getting back to sleep as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, this boy was soaked. I peeled off his clothes and walked him to the bathroom. Walking naked to the bathroom is not what sleepy four year-olds like to do in the middle of a cold night so he screamed and cried all the way down the hall. I began to wipe him down with a wet washcloth.

The crying was loud enough to wake Daddy, who soon appeared in the bathroom doorway. “What happened?”

“Hal peed in his bed. Not just a little bit. He peed a lot. I mean, A LOT.”

He addressed Hal very sternly, “Hal? I asked you if you went potty. You said you did. I said, ‘I don’t think you did. Are you sure?’ You said you were. You even said, ‘I went potty earlier. Didn’t you hear me flush?!’ And I warned you, didn’t I? I told you that if you wet your bed, you’d have to carry your sheets to the washing machine and take a shower.” A shower? No! When am I ever going to get back to bed?!

We returned to the bedroom where Daddy flipped on the light! Poor Daryl! He started gathering up the sheets while I helped Hal get another pair of pajamas on. Then he told Hal to pick up the bundle and carry it to the laundry room before heading down the hall himself to get paper towels and cleaner. I found myself staring at Hal, who was staring at the bundle.

In a tired voice that dreaded what was coming, I tried to encourage him, “Go ahead and pick it up.”

“It’s too big!”

“Honey!” I called out, “He says it’s too big and it’s going to get his pajamas wet.” Please let’s just take care of it so we can get back to bed!

“Well, I guess he better take those pajamas off then, huh?”

With yet another sigh, I helped him back out of his pajamas. Daddy returned with the cleaner, which I took and he shepherded the wailing child to the other end of the house. I cleaned the plastic bed cover and then looked for new sheets. Oh, yeah, I decided to store all the sheets in Jane’s closet. Brilliant.

When I entered her room, she looked up at me. Of course. She hadn’t been able to sleep through all the mayhem. I grimaced at her and felt around in the closet for some sheets. By the time I got Hal’s bed made, Hal was wailing in the shower. I finished up quickly and turned the light back off.

As I practically ran back to my now cold bed, I heard Daddy joking with Hal. He had kept his temper the whole time. He had sternly enacted the consequences that had been promised, but never got angry. “Are you ready to get your pajamas back on?”

“Yes!”

“Do you want to take another shower?”

“No!”

They both laughed. Daddy hugged son and then helped him back into his pajamas before carrying him to bed. He then crawled in beside me and, with a brief “Goodnight sweetheart,” returned to the wonderful world of slumber.

I was destined to lay there awake for another hour and a half. In the morning I learned that Daryl had slept through the entire ordeal. Jane was tired. I was exhausted. But you know what? Now, when we ask Hal if he went to the bathroom, he only says yes if he actually did. Otherwise, he stands up straight, fesses up, and heads off to the toilet. I guess one sleepless night was worth it.