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.