Some people blame God for life’s difficulties. I don’t. I blame my 6-year-old son. He’s a darling. I love him like crazy. But his bathroom manners have a long way to go.
For one thing, he’s just not learned the art of good aim, and the bathroom is always a mess–a nightmare that won’t end. Like many boys his age, going to the bathroom is a big waste of precious playtime. So he waits until the last possible moment, miscalculates and decorates the toilet and surrounding walls with yellow.
At one point, my son had so fastidiously layered yellow on the toilet seat hinges that a chemical reaction ensued. Science in the classroom had suddenly been reassigned to my bathroom. The invasion bewildered me. I’m not a chemist, but I can now confirm that when my toilet seat hinges were saturated with urine, they changed to a suspicious blue–something about alkaline and oxidation I found out later.
Sometimes the yellow completely fails to find its mark in the bathroom because playtime has simply made it impossible to arrive there on time. And then my son does what any 6-year-old boy would do: he hides the evidence.
“Guys, what’s all wet in here?” My hands, grabbing laundry come across wet Spider-Man boxers. Foul. Yellow. My son’s shamed face confirms what I’m holding.
Once, my in-laws were coming for a visit. I’d done the normal prep for the occasion: frantic cleaning. Most of my efforts focused on the bathroom. A few hours after their arrival when visiting the room myself, I found no toilet paper—vanished. I knew that I’d just put out a fresh roll and wondered that it could be gone so quickly. I scanned the bathroom for clues and spotted the entire roll neatly in the otherwise-empty trashcan. Soggy. I was internally swimming in a pool of frustration. His carelessness had made me look bad in front of the people I never wanted to disappoint, a sentiment strong as ever though I’d been a part of this family for seventeen years.
At the time, I considered my disgust for all things yellow high ground. Noble, really. Gradually, I perceived that I was the real child in the room.
My Dutch mother-in-law practiced the gospel of cleanliness. It’s not every mother-in-law who arrives with her bucket of cleaning supplies, figuratively speaking, ready to offer support all around the house. When the kids were toddlers, she once asked matter-of-factly if she could wash my walls while she was visiting. There were tiny fingerprints everywhere, and I was grateful because I didn’t have time.
Amazingly, I’d succeeded in marrying into a family whose garage was cleaner than my childhood home. I hoped to someday be half the housekeeper my mother-in-law was. Not having the bathroom stocked with toilet paper reflected poorly on me and fed my consternation directed squarely on my son’s potty failures.
But it was delicate; he was 6-years-old. It was delicate; I was a proud, nearly-40-year-old. Missing the big picture that day didn’t bode well for the next. Undoubtedly, our son would exhibit more serious behaviors in the future that would bring me to my knees.
There were things to worry about, and hosing the bathroom down with yellow wasn’t one of them. Too bad I didn’t fully appreciate this fact at the time.
Sometimes his sloppy bathroom manners amounted to vast amounts of legal and illegal dumping in the toilet: if there was simply too much of the God-ordained bodily function (legal dumping), the man-made toilet would rebel. This didn’t even take into account the fistfuls of toilet paper sufficient to circumnavigate earth (illegal dumping).
This whole phenomenon shouldn’t have rocked my world, but it was relentlessly hitting a button I didn’t know I had. After all, our first-born had been a girl, and I myself was one of four girls. Battling yellow simply wasn’t in my skill-set.
Far worse, I’d unconsciously coveted keeping up appearances, a state-of-mind impossibly at odds with these years. Like yanking off an old bandage covering a skinned-up knee, my son’s belated potty-training challenges effectively outed my weakness in one such painful swipe. He exposed in me what was smellier and uglier than yellow could ever be. Maybe I owed my son my gratitude for revealing a pathetic character pothole.
If yellow rattled me, what about the many other colors yet to come flying my way? After all, there was a lot of raising yet to come—what then?
He was the lucky one; in time he’d grow out of his filthy bathroom ways. They would disappear, more or less. He’d learn the art of aim and of so much more. Matters gravely foundational—like how to be a man and how to treat a woman—these, not a potty-saturated bathroom, were examples of priorities worth falling on my knees over.
For now the pressing question, it turned out, surrounded me. A laughing 6-year-old son dousing yellow around the bathroom mercilessly laid bare my desire to project a perfect home and perfect kids.
Years have passed. I’m now a humble 45, my son a moody 13, and he’s helping me remember that I can’t control him every step of the way. Messy bathrooms? Yellow wasn’t so scandalous after all—I miss those days.
So when I write that there will be future challenges, it’s forged with real-life credibility. I can now view the yellow season as having had a bit of sunshine after all: a gift, courtesy of my son. It was then I started down the road of letting go of my pride.
In the meantime, if your bathroom requires a free-standing toilet stand, don’t be tempted to actually place it on the floor next to the toilet. If a boy –like my son once was—or one of his friends who has an impatient trigger finger is over for a play-date, you’ll simply be sorry. Trust me.
Writer, traveler, mom and wife. I write about people, places and all things family. Highly mobile–I’ve moved 22 times in 23 married years. My writing has appeared in a variety of publications including elephant journal, Mamalode, The Briar Cliff Review, BLUNTmoms and CSMonitor.