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The other night, as I was cooking dinner, two alternate scenes kept flashing through my head.

In the first scene, Mr Justice’s little face was all lit up and he was saying “Gee, mummy. This is the bestest meal ever!” while the other children clapped and cheered enthusiastically in the background, all three dinner plates were licked absolutely and utterly clean, and somebody somewhere voted me The World’s Greatest Mum and I got my photo in the paper and everything. 

And in the second scene, Mr Justice was holding his throat and dry-retching, Tiddles was spitting his food into my hand and The Pixie was exclaiming “This is bisgusting!” without even tasting it, while I stood by and prepared to scrape the whole damn lot into the bin and sob myself to sleep face down in my pillow. 

You see, I knew from experience that whenever I try to make something new for dinner and/or attempted to hide vegetable matter in it (like some kind of vegetable-hiding married-to-a-celebrity fool – see “Like Mushrooms for Chocolate“), I always do it hoping for the Best (Scene 1) but thoroughly expecting the Worst (Scene 2). And let’s just say a whole lot of food, untouched by even my children’s forks let alone their lips, gets scraped into the bin.

And, yet, I still persist in trying to extend and challenge my children’s palate. Which is an admirable pursuit, but perhaps not the wisest one on this particularly day I’m talking about, which had seen me almost pushed into the Yawning Abyss of Parental Madness as it was. 

Anyone who has toilet trained a child will know that there are Bad Toilet Days. Even with ostensibly “trained” children, there are still Bad Toilet Days (I shudder to think how many more years I will have to endure those days). And sometimes, like groups of women who know each other really well synchronise their monthly cycles, my children manage to have their Bad Toilet Days on the same day just to give Mummy a Very Special Treat Indeed. 

Tiddles McGee, who is in the initial stages of toilet-training, is having a Bad Toilet Month and has taken to leaving little puddles of piss all around the house all day long. He’s worked out that he’s supposed to pull his training pants down before he pisses, but not yet that he should only pull them down and piss into the toilet and not wherever he happens to be standing at the time. His hot spots, on this particular day, included my favourite cardigan and my husband’s pillow (shhhh don’t tell). And he also made two little “deposits” – thankfully outside – that made Mr Justice shout at him “Tomorrow in class I’m going to have to choose the angry face on the mood chart because I’m angry about all this poo!”. He’s not going to be alone in that, I thought to myself, as I hosed down the pavement in yet another illegal-use-of-a-hose-during-Stage-4A-water-restrictions incident (again, shhhh don’t tell).

The Pixie, in the meantime, suddenly announced she had “done a big fart”. Which was an upbeat way of labeling one of those things in life I really wished had been all hot air and no substance. And so I got to scrub some underpants as well – but hasten to add that the hose wasn’t involved this time, however much I’d wanted to blast them clean with a jet of water from a safe distance. 

And finally, just to top things off, Mr Justice – who has claimed that the Snuffleupagus of spiders is living in the toilet and only comes out when he’s there alone – wanted me to stand in the very confined spaces of the toilet with him while he did his evening ablution. And whatsmore, he wanted me to look at him while he was doing it. Let’s just say it didn’t sit well with me for a whole host of reasons, although, ostensibly he was the one doing the sitting. It’s also hard to smile encouragingly at your child when you’re dry-retching. 

And so, it wasn’t really the best day to go experimenting with new recipes (and ones containing mushrooms at that) but I found that I really truly needed a Big Win in the kitchen to salvage the day – and serving up plain mince along plain pasta just wasn’t going to cut it. So I took the risk. And I’ll be damned if the three of them didn’t scoff the lot down and that Mr Justice really did proclaim it the Bestest Meal Ever and I was saved from falling into that Abyss, yet again. Even the fact that all that food would ultimately turn into poo and wee and I would get to dance the whole merry jig again the next day didn’t bother me one jot. Because at that moment – and that moment alone – I truly was the Word’s Greatest Mum. Quick! Someone take a photo!

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Having touched lightly on this delightful subject in a previous post (see “Poo-tential“), it struck me the other day while I was scrubbing skid marks off the children’s underpants how there was so much more to say about the art of Toilet Training. To help guide you through this veritable minefield, where at any moment a chocolate bomb might go off in your face, here are some random musings straight from the desk of the Not Drowning Mother. 

“Denial is a river of piss in your son’s pants”
Let’s be honest here: the male of the species is in deep denial when it comes to the fullness of their bladder. There is some fundamental break-down in communication between their brains and their nether-regions, which, early on in life, leads to what I affectionately refer to as “piss-pants” and, later in life, leads to embarrassing text-message scandals in the tabloid press. 

To this day, I’ll often find Mr Justice standing in the most awkward way, clutching his penis and sticking his bum right out like a baboon on heat. It always begs the question: “Do you need to go to the toilet?”

And yet the answer is always an emphatic “No”, shortly followed by the sudden – but not surprising – appearance of the Wet Patch of Shame (although, as a mother of two boys, I know there will one day be other kinds of wet patches for me to deal with, but thankfully I’m not there yet and I’m sure both my boys will be praying I’m not blogging anymore when I am). 

And then when he does make it to the toilet in time, the phrase “to paint the town yellow” springs to mind. As recently as yesterday, he said to me “I’m sorry but I did a wee in the bin by mistake.” The bin. Which is in the kitchen and nowhere near the toilet. And people wonder why I’ve aged so much these last six years. 

Beware the Camel
In stark contrast, The Pixie has superior bladder control which has earned her the nickname of “The Camel” in these parts. That girl can go from 5pm one night through to 10:30am the following morning without conceding a single drop of urine – and as someone on the other side of three pregnancies from my little girl, she completely blows me out of the water I’m invariably sitting in. However, just when you come to rely on the exceptional urine-retaining talents of The Camel, she’s still prone to play the “I’ve got to go to the toy-ah-lettttttt” card at the most inconvenient moments. And in her case, when she’s got to go, she’s really got to go, floodgates opening and all, so you’d better move damn fast. 

Night-time dilemmas
The overnight nappy presents a parent with a double-edged sword: on one side, the longer you use the night nappy on a child who emits a steady stream of piss throughout the night, the more sleep you will get; on the other side, you run the risk of one day still trying to shoehorn a 18 year old into a pull-up with Bambi on it. 

I’ve heard tell of little electric mats that you can buy or hire which, the minute a drop of urine hits it, sets off an alarm to wake the child and remind them to go to the toilet. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t sit well with me. Perhaps it’s the combination of liquid, electricity and my child’s bed and its strong overtones of electroconvulsive shock therapy that does it. There must be another way. But before you start offering me advice, read the next section. 

Be careful who you give toilet training advice to
Having had an easy-breezy time toilet training one of my children and an excruciating time with the other (Tiddles is only just starting to form a relationship with the potty, and so it’s too early to call), I can appreciate why some people might like to give “useful” advice like “Just put them in underpants, it will sort itself out”. These casual advice-givers obviously had the easy-breezy experience where the moment they chose to toilet-train was at precisely the moment the child was ready, the stars were all in alignment and someone was mooning Uranus (or some-such).  

In my checkered history as a toilet trainer of ill-repute, I’ve been driven to posting on online parenting forums where I’ve swapped horror stories with other mothers experiencing the Extreme Sports end of Toilet Training. 

One poster helpfully interrupted our merry banter with some unsolicited advice about “Early Elimination Control” – where you’re supposed to start waving your baby’s bum over a potty the moment they’re born and you never EVER let them sit in their own excrement for even a nano-second, even if it means pulling over by the side of the road and changing them IMMEDIATELY.

And how old was her little one and did she have any other children? one other poster asked sweetly, no doubt sharpening her claws in readiness to pounce. 

The answer? Eight months old. And yes, the baby was her first. 

What ensued can only be described as internet forum carnage. The lesson in all that: you just don’t mess with mothers at the Extreme Sports end of toilet-training. You’ll get the shit kicked out of you.

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“Hell is another child’s poo,” my husband has often said. Which must mean our little friend Master J is issuing one-way tickets to eternal damnation. You see, Master J has a talent for pooing on demand. I kid you not. The boy and his bowel are a phenomenon unto themselves. His record is 7 times in a 2.5 hours – if the thought of all those nappy changes wasn’t so stomach-churning, it would be almost impressive. Especially since he barely eats a thing. I mean, where the hell does it all come from?

On one particular occasion at child care, he cacked his dacks three times in quick succession. After the third time, the childcare worker asked him why he was doing it. Of course, being a childcare professional, she most likely would have asked it in a nice polite way (some of those women are saints. Saints!), whereas I probably would have put my face very close to his and shouted “WHAT. IS. YOUR. PROBLEM?”. Anyway, his answer was: “Because mummy will come and pick me up.” You’ve got to hand it to the kid for his tenacity and for thinking “outside of the box” (no pun intended). 

It’s hard to imagine how Master J’s talent might translate itself when he’s an adult. “Give me a pay rise or I’ll fill my trousers” might not get the result he was hoping for – unless, of course, that result was being escorted out of the building by a large security guard wearing a gas mask and rubber gloves. 

Luckily for Master J he has many other strings to his bow – he’s a bright and creative little person. I guess his parents’ job is – as every parents’ job is –  to help channel and develop his many other talents so that he never has to use poo as leverage to climb the corporate ladder. I’d certainly hope the education system would be equal partners in this, but if they keep underpaying and undervaluing teachers as they do, this might not something to be relied upon. In any case, children can often fall through the cracks regardless of the quality of schools or teachers – which is what I feel happened to my friend Mistress M. 

Mistress M recently read me out the whole litany of sins she’d been accused of on her Year 7 report, written in an age where teachers could say what they thought without the fear of legal suits. She was disruptive, inattentive, surly, rude, noisy, lazy and even silly in every subject, with the notable exception of Art where it said “[Mistress M] is a quiet student who worked hard to achieve excellent results”. 

Now, it couldn’t be more obvious where Mistress M’s interests and talents lay – but for whatever reason, someone somewhere (maybe even M herself) dropped the ball and she never went to explore art any further than junior school. Interestingly, she went on to marry an artist, surround herself by artist friends and just have the general demeanor of an artist (not in the velvet opera cloak-wearing gitane-smoking “artiste” sense of the word, but more in that inherent sense of cool some other artists like my friends Mr and Mrs Black have). And instead painting, sculpting, illustrating, designing or creating stuff, she’s living it large as a physio receptionist. Not, I hasten to add, that I have anything against admin jobs – I’ve had plenty myself and I think most admin workers are the unsung heroes of the business world. I guess it’s just there was there was this unfulfilled potential for Something Else. (And for the record: she’s still a joyfully disruptive influence in Mothers’ group and often leads other girls astray with the excessive consumption of alcohol – because it’s never my own doing, oh no, not at all).

But it’s time to come back to our little poo-machine Master J and his exasperated-yet-loving parents. Apparently it used to be practice for some commando soldiers to be trained to defecate into their own hands on demand. Then, holding their shit in front of them, these commandos would rush at their enemies, who would retreat immediately, since most humans are unable to handle this kind of assault. Which should give Master J and his parents some comfort as A) it proves once and for all that his parents are super-human; and B) if none of his other talents get him anywhere, Master J will always have a career in the armed-forces to fall back on.

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