I was packing for a family trip back to Houston. The commencement ceremony for my Master’s degree was the next morning and I had decided to participate. I was torn between feelings of pride at my accomplishment and dread at wearing the regalia, when I heard a faint cry from my son’s bathroom.
“Mommy. Mommy, I need you.”
I dropped the gown and ran into his bathroom to find him sitting on the toilet, looking pale.
“What’s wrong baby? Are you ok?”
“No,” he replied, breathing like a solider just off the front line. “I can’t get the poo poo to come out; I need you to cheer for me.”
He wanted me to cheer for him… to poop?
I stood for a second. I was upset that my son was in physical distress, but I was also feeling the creeping dread that every parent knows: my child is going to ask me to do something weird and uncomfortable that I wouldn’t want my friends to know about, but because I’m a good parent, I’m going to do it.
I asked him in a weak voice, “Cheer? For you to poo poo?”
“Yes,” he whispered, “you know, the Potty Cheer.” And he started to sing it.
I now knew exactly what he was asking of me, and it was not awesome.
Potty training didn’t come easy in our house. There was no “training” per se. My son simply refused to use the toilet.
The whole “let children advance at their own rate” thing that my husband and I practiced rapidly became, “Oh my god, what If we screwed up? Why didn’t we teach him how to use a toilet? We are the worst parents ever and will be changing diapers on a grown man.”
My son was always a bright and articulate child, the kid who flew past milestones early: crawling at five months, walking at nine months, and running away from us by his first birthday. So, in a sort of cosmic balance, he refused to use the toilet until he was three and a half years old.
During those last few non-toilet weeks, my husband and I went a little crazy. We are not bathroom people, we don’t like potty humor, but having a kid who won’t use the toilet will break down the best of us. We became simply ecstatic about the bathroom, going on and on about how great it was to use the toilet, and how fun it would be to use the restroom in public. See? Crazy people.
One day, we were watching a cartoon called “The Mighty Bee” which has a super-fast intro song that repeats the words, “Bee, Bee, Bee, Bee.” Later that day, when my husband had somehow convinced our son to sit on the toilet, he started singing, “He’s gonna use the potty, he’s gonna Pee, Pee, Pee, Pee.” And that, it seems, made a huge impact on my son. He didn’t use the potty that day, but apparently held onto that song, and labeled it The Potty Cheer.
So here he was, months later, requesting The Potty Cheer to help him.
“Baby, isn’t that song about pee?”
“Yes,” he said, “but, I need you to sing it with poo.”
Right. Of Course.
I sat down on the edge of the bathtub, ran my fingers through his hair, and gently sang to him, “He’s gonna use the potty, he’s gonna… poo, poo, poo, poo” over and over again until he felt better.
I was going to have a Master’s degree conferred on me the next day, I was being asked to submit applications for PhD programs, some of my work was being published. None of that mattered. Those things didn’t matter to my son and they no longer mattered to me.
He trusted me. He believed I would help him feel better, that just the sound of my voice could fix his body.
He didn’t think it or hope it–he knew it, and that is powerful stuff–powerful, transformative stuff.
My son may have made me sing to him while he was on the toilet, but in return he makes me a better person. He makes me stronger, braver, more gentle, and yet, more fierce. When I am his mommy, I am not the awkward thirty-something woman still trying to figure out adult life. I am not the scared and lost little girl I accuse myself of being all the time. I don’t need degrees or accolades to feel whole in his presence. He makes me whole through his trust and love, even when that trust equals bathroom singing.
I am his mommy, and I will sing at the top of my lungs in every bathroom in the world if he needs me to. I will sing songs about things that I would have sworn five years ago I would never sing about. I may feel silly or awkward later when I retell the story, but in that moment when he cries out, “Mommy, Mommy, I need you,” I will come running and I will cheer for him.
Ava Love Hanna is a writer and performer living in Austin, Texas. You can read more about her adventures in parenting on her blog, AvaLoveHanna.