They say that as your child gets older the problems you have to face as a parent increase in type and difficulty. What they don't tell you is that those problems don't always change and, in many ways, they just get more complicated. I remember when I was worried about ruining our daughter's dietary future by letting her eat only cereal for dinner one week when she was 2. Now, I long for that time because it's getting frustrating trying to convince her to taste new foods and expand her palate further. She would rather be playing and continuously hangry (anger due to lack of calories) than actually eat something different. Thus, the responses to trying new foods generally include one of the following:
1) "I don't like that." (Even though she's never tried it before).
2) A meek attempt at tasting the food that involves more of a kiss than an actual bite. Much like that peck on the cheek your parents forced you to give to the elderly relative who smelled weird and you only saw once a year during the holidays.
3) She complains that the food we're serving is too "pedestrian," that there's not even one dish made by molecular gastronomy and she suggests that I please pack my knives and go. She's stubborn, clever and apparently training to be a judge on 'Top Chef.'
A problem we seem to be revisiting these days is the subject of going potty. It's not that she's having accidents or using her bodily fluids to add colorful graffiti to our walls, it's just that she doesn't want to go unless we prompt her. She'll wake up in the morning and go, but mainly because we've trained her that it's something you should do after getting out of bed. It's right up there with activities like changing your clothes, brushing your teeth and starting your Rube Goldberg machine so that breakfast can be made.
Once again, it seems like the issue here is about control. She wants to go when she is ready, which we're totally fine with. The problem is, she won't go for hours at a time and we're worried she's going to have an accident or hurt herself internally. She'll go in the morning and then we'll notice that 6 hours have passed and she still hasn't been back in the bathroom. We'll ask her to stop what she's doing (playing with toys, sudoku, day trading) to try, which leads to her getting upset, whiny and claiming she doesn't have to go. One of our favorite lines from her in this scenario: "Is it ok if I don't hear anything (come out)?" Which basically translates to: "I'm going to go humor you by sitting on the toilet but continue to hold it in, all while mentally flipping you the bird and hoping I'm not too late to sell off my Bluestar airline stocks before the closing bell."
At one point I had trusted her enough to go on her own without one of us hovering nearby, but those days are gone for now. It seems like this kid will try anything to get out of doing something that her body requires her to do. She'll ask for privacy and close the door, which we want to respect, but then she'll just wait a few seconds and flush like she actually went (even though she didn't). I recently asked her to try going (with the door open), waited for her to hop on the toilet and then I had to step away for a second. I heard the sounds of her going and thought she had done the deed, but when I came back I noticed that she wasn't going at all. Instead what I saw was her mimicking the sounds of the 'going pee' noise by USING HER MOUTH to try and fool me. I cursed under my breath in frustration, but I also had to laugh. I swear she's either going to grow up to become an evil genius or the female equivalent of Michael Winslow who stars in the eventual 'Police Academy' reboot.
When she finally does go potty, we're running into another problem: she uses way too much toilet paper during clean-up. I thought we had trained her well enough, but apparently that's not the case. It never dawned on me ask her to dial it back because she was using more toilet paper than the ancient Egyptians did to wrap up a mummy. Part of this is due to the fact that she'd most likely ask me to explain who the Egyptians and mummies were. Since my knowledge of actual human history is pretty sparse I'd have to frame it by using what I grew up with in pop culture, which means I'd be telling my child that mummies were actually ever-living sorcerers who battled The Thundercats for control over Third Earth and possession of the Eye of Thundera. Sure, we'll need to re-explain things as she gets further along in school, but why not throw a little fun into history for the time being?
Eventually I had to come up with some form of measurement that Olivia could understand and use as a guideline. Just enough to get yourself clean, but not so much that we'll never be able to unclog the toilet again. Luckily our bathroom floor and walls are covered with tiles, which means there are lines of separation. I pointed out one of these lines that resides below our toilet paper holder, pretended to use some TP and came up with the following mantra: 'Down to the line is fine.' I got her to repeat it with me a few times and reminded her that this goes for TP ONLY right now. But sooner or later, as Bachman-Turner Overdrive mentions, it can be applied to other things, like staying up all night, living love and loving life.
As time passed she got the hang of this new system, but of course there were some hiccups along the way. She'd start pulling down toilet paper like a cat having a field day and I'd have to gently remind her about our saying. She'd repeat it with me, measure out just enough for that pass, but then go back into frenzied cat mode right after. After a few more rounds of this I had to interject by going all Walter in 'The Big Lebowski' on her. "OVER THE LINE!," I cried out, wondering if I was the only one around here who gave a shit about the rules. Eventually my wife stepped in, both managing to calm me down and also gently reminding Olivia that this was a league game and I was taking it seriously.
In some ways, I think that's partly my problem with this whole parenting thing. I look at every day like it's a league game and don't always leave room for screw-ups, do-overs and scrimmages. Sometimes I have a tendency to overthink things or take them too seriously, when really I should just relax and have a "we'll get 'em next time" attitude. I'm so focused on preparing her and getting her up to speed for what life is going to throw at her, that I go against the fact that she's only 5 years old and has plenty of time to perfect things. So what if she uses a whole roll of toilet paper in one sitting? So what if she doesn't remember to wash her hands? So what if she holds it in for too long, has an accident and pees all over that rug in the living room? Wait, no, screw that. That rug really ties the room together, man.