Rekindling Joy: Lessons from my daughters

by Mr. Sheehy

My dear daughters:

The bathroom holds many amazing stories in the lives of children, but for some reason many people cringe at public commencement of such tales. I will never understand the resistance to these stories, but it seems to be present.

For example, how many readers are embarrassed to read the word “poop”? I worked directing a TV show a few years ago and on one occasion I gave the host a brilliant joke that, to be funny, required him to say the word “poop.” This man, who had no problem plastering area televisions with “adult” images I refused to watch, refused to utter the word and completely ruined the joke because he was too embarrassed to say it. As you can see by now, I will not suffer the same fate, and so I address to the two of you (with a wider audience listening in) a pair of tales that involve this fateful word, poop.

Ellen, I begin with you, and I think of a particular night when I was so tired that I could not keep my eyes open and my impatience to myself.

Lying Low

At such a time, I was not amused with your delay tactics, which is probably why you turned to the big gun in your artillery. You declared you had to poop. This was a big weapon for you, because no matter how much I doubted your claim, you and I both knew that unless you had gone to the bathroom that afternoon, I would not be able to challenge it for at least 10 minutes. I am sure I responded with great maturity (I’m guessing by saying, “Fine.”) and set you up. The next thing I did was put my head on my knees to ignore you, knowing it was the only way I could survive watching you not poop.

Dec 01 2007 024

And not poop is definitely what you were doing. You had this bow tie you were playing with – a piece of your mouse ballet costume – and it was far too big for a three year old. The elastic neck piece was actually too big for me, so you enjoyed tying yourself up in all kinds of positions with this bit of fashion. You had it around your arms, over your head, around your waist, and over both legs. While sitting on the toilet, you began to get creative and invent new ways to wear it.

Half and half

I didn’t catch them all (remember, I was trying not to watch), but I did glimpse the beginning of the last one, where you had the bow tie around your neck and were bending down to loop it around your ankles. Seeing this maneuver begin, I dropped my forehead back to my arms and groaned softly. My next thought never materialized, because I was interrupted by the crash of my three and half year old cherub’s bottom, which had been pulled like a magnet to bathroom floor. You had bent so far forward off the toilet, with your feet tucked back by the bowl, that your weight pulled you into a somersault and onto the linoleum. With quickness only parents possess, I untangled your bow tie and returned you to the toilet. Holding your wardrobe in one hand, I smirked, even as you began to tear up. Restored to tenderness, I suggested to you, “Ellen, I think you’re done trying to poop.”

A date pose

Annie, you were highly familiar with such scenes, and your familiarity led you to insist on taking part. For one recent stretch of time you decided you needed to sit on the toilet too, even though at 18 months old you are only beginning to realize when you have pooped, not when you are about to poop.

Helping with cookies

So after Ellen would use the toilet, you’d enter the bathroom and loiter until we re-set up the little seat, removed your diaper, and put you on the throne. Then, at your clear direction, we propped your feet with the encyclopedias we use to make Ellen’s stool tall enough and read to you from the books lying around on the bathroom floor – because that’s how it is done. You are irresistible; it didn’t matter that I did not want to engage these sessions. When I’d see you enter the bathroom and bang your arms on the closed toilet seat, I’d run away, because I couldn’t look at you and actually say no. My only hope was not being there to give an answer.

Not so serious Annie

I ran, by the way, because when we would finally remove you from the john 20 minutes later, having decided your stepping up and sitting down exercise routine had become too dangerous to continue, you would scream and cry as if we had taken you away from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. That scream had a way of piercing me. It cut through my brain to isolate the unstated detail I hid inside – that I was making you get down because I was uncomfortable, and because I was bored.

Dec 17 2007 104

How can I as your father publish such tales on the Internet, especially when they involve the first room in most people’s homes to contain a lock? I tell these stories because, ultimately, I am convinced that you both will find such stories funny in their time. And I tell them because in both of the stories I mention here, I am the one who should learn the most. Filled with my own selfish mood or frame of mind, you both were able with your sweet smiles and ridiculous foibles to derail my curmudgeon-ness and to restore my joy. Thus, I say, may I learn from these incidents how I might be more easily derailed into reality and the joy that is mine.

Dec 07 2007 058


Image Attribution:

Original image: ‘empty bathroom‘ by: Emilie Eagan