Before becoming a mum I lived in a fantasy world of manners and mores, where children ate their meals in the seated position at a table. Where children said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Where children replied when others spoke to them. Where children took their shoes off at the door. And last but by no means least, where children relieved themselves atop a piece of plumbed porcelain.
My game plan was pretty simple; spend enough time nurturing the Big Five, and things would just fall into place. After all, apart from the small matter of my half-finished education degree, I had all the time in the world to spend with my firstborn. And kids just do what you tell them, right? Stop laughing please.
My eldest daughter’s manners were impeccable from day one. She always removed her shoes at the front door. She would not only answer when spoken to, but engage the speaker in a detailed discussion on any number of topics. And I could have taken her for a slab of Wagyu at The Hilton, safe in the knowledge she wouldn’t drop her knickers and do a wee on the clipped lawn if she felt that way inclined. Which is more than I can say for Paris.
I must confess that the sight of a male, even a small one, thinking it was ok to urinate in my back yard, just because he could, was unacceptable. It offended my feminine sensibilities. I was very Jane Austen about the whole thing.
Fast forward nine years, and you could say I’ve loosened up a little. Not only do I have a childwho wees in the backyard, I have a female child who wees in the backyard. And the front yard. And the neighbours’ yard. And the court yard at her big sister’s violin recital.
My youngest’s penchant for alfresco urination came about after a run of toilet training mishaps.
“Do you need to wee, Annouk?” I’d ask, as that unmistakable expression came over her face.
“Yeah!” she’d say as she scrambled to the edge of the trampoline mat, struggling to remove her Tinkerbell undies.
Deciding enough was enough, and assuming that Noo would share her older sister’s conservative views on the public wizz, I came up with a plan.
I gave the practice a name that sounded exciting and non-threatening (the Garden Wee), and added just a dash of romance and discretion by suggesting she have her own special location; under our beautiful mulberry tree. It was private. It was shady. And if the neighbours were having a BBQ on the deck, Noo wouldn’t be providing the live entertainment.
Not surprisingly, she took to it like a duck to water. We had no more wayward wee wees. The trampoline stayed dry. And it gave the chickens something to look at if it was a slow day in the coop.
Pretty soon, Noo decided to do away with the mulberry tree location. The Garden Wee became the Grass Wee, and pretty soon the Just About Anywhere Wee. Once, while chatting to our elderly neighbours on their front lawn, Annouk started to lift her skirt.
“Noo?!” I hissed, “What are you doing?!”
“I need to do a wee, Mum,” replied my little one, matter-of-factly.
Despite the fact that Betty and Roy displayed a saintly patience when it came to our wandering children and chickens, I wasn’t about to force this upon them.
I hurried our polite goodbyes, and managed to get Annouk as far as our own front lawn.
Which brings me to the violin recital. As Britt stood silently poised, and prepared to execute a perfect rendition of Twinkle Twinkle, Annouk announced that she needed to perform a twinkle of her own. My spring into action occurred just as Britt’s bow touched the strings, hence providing the appropriately frantic musical accompaniment for our dash to deliverance.
“I really need to go, Mum,” she called as we dashed, hand in hand, searching for the loo. I pulled her around the corner of the hall and into the grassy courtyard.
“Just do it here,” I whispered, bending to help her disrobe.my child writing comp.
As I looked up to stare at the sky while she finished, I saw the Ladies sign just a handful of metres away on the opposite side of the courtyard.
And that was the moment it all seemed so absurd. I crouched there on the grass beside my beautiful little girl, and laughed at my Farcical Five; at myself. And I’m happy to say that Noo joined in.
And now, just a few months down the track, she’s over her Just About Anywhere Wee. I still see her near the mulberry tree, occasionally indulging. But I don’t think I’ll be asking her to refrain from hitching up her graduation gown on the university lawn, as I once had feared. Time has gently taken care of things, as it always does.
And I felt more than just a hint of disappointment when, at the beach just this week, Noo asked to be taken to the toilets rather than squatting in the white wash.
After all, whether or not kids remove their shoes or remember to say thanks is not what precious memories of childhood are made of. It’s the sweetness of mulberry trees and garden wees that I’ll remember when they’re grown, and will forever make me glow.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem