Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

June 17, 2002

Something to count on

If you thought math was hard in junior high school, the math you face as a parent is much, much worse.

In junior high school, the questions are mostly about trains and destinations, and how fast Patty and Tom will reach them if they travel 60 miles per hour, not including a 17-minute stop in Peoria.

Parent math has nothing to do with the leisurely romance of trains, destinations, or even sturdy couples named Patty and Tom.

Rather, parent math says, “It will take you $250,000 to raise that child to adulthood.” Or, “After childcare and other expenses, you make 42 cents per hour at your job.”

Also, parent math says you will have to change 2,400 diapers per child you have. This means my mother changed 11,999 diapers by the time she was my age. (My Dad changed one by himself, I’ve been told.)

I’m lucky enough to have a husband who changes more than his share of soggy little Huggies. But it’s been a long haul. When you have a baby who can poop nine times in a single day, prompting you to call the doctor’s office just to see if this still falls within the range of normal, those 2,400 diapers feel like a mountain that will never be climbed.

These days, I find myself on the top of the mountain. Lucy has started peeing in the potty. But the view isn’t quite what I thought it would be.

For starters, it requires me to face that fact that I’m very excited about pee. When you make 42 cents per hour, this is the kind of entertainment that falls within the budget. It’s probably no coincidence that we canceled our cable TV once Lucy started regularly relieving herself on her potty seat. What do we need 50 channels for if we have a toddler who bursts into an enormous grin every time she makes the yellow water?

And it’s not as though we can watch TV, anyway. Lucy insists that we accompany her on her eliminatory adventure.

“Sit right there,” she says. If we don’t sit exactly where she wants us to, the whole thing goes to pot. And not in a good way. Lucy does her best impersonation of a small child suffering terrible pain until we take our assigned seat on the regular toilet.

Once she’s peed, Lucy insists on her reward: a stamp. It started out as a hand stamp, because that’s what Lucy got as a reward after her gymnastics and dance classes. She obsessed about getting them from her teachers, often lining up for her stamp before class was over.

Because I’m not at all above using bribery, I decided to leverage Lucy’s love of the hand stamp as a potty-training tool. It took a while to work. At first, she didn’t want to sit on the chair. And even after she made it that far, it took days of coaxing for her to produce results.

Finally, though, she went. And so she got her stamp. From that day on, Lucy has made using the potty chair a major part of her life. We probably take twenty trips to the bathroom per day. If I weren’t lazy, that would mean 20 times I’d have to undress and dress her. Instead, I just let Lucy streak as much as possible. She streaks so much she knows what the word means and she uses it, while running from one end of the house to the other. It sounds like this:


At first, I was pretty lax with the stamp. If Lucy tried to pee, but only farted, I gave her one. That only led to Lucy developing farting as a skill. Now, she can do it on command, and she thinks it’s hilarious.

“Fotted!” she announces, bending over to hold her giggling, jiggling belly.

“No stamp,” I tell her. “Farting is not an achievement.”

Naturally, Lucy has outsmarted me in other ways. So that she can get more than one stamp, she pees a little, then hops off the potty chair and holds out her arm. I dry her off, clean the potty chair, let Lucy pick a stamp, carefully load it with ink, trying to not to let Lucy grab it and see how it tastes. Then I stamp her, put away the supplies and wash everyone’s hands.

This is when Lucy lets me know that she still has a little more pee inside of her.

“Pee again,” she says.

And so, we do the whole routine over again. She does it so much that by the end of the day, she’s covered in stamps. Yesterday, I even had to decorate her bottom. There was no room left on her arms and legs. On the bright side, I know what she’s going to be for Halloween: a circus freak. A tiny, tattooed lady, preferably the bearded kind.

Halloween is still months away, so for now, I am trying to reconcile myself to the fact that having Lucy out of diapers isn’t really easier than having her in diapers. This whole potty chair thing takes a lot of time, energy and semi-permanent ink. By comparison, changing a diaper is a snap.

What’s more, the stakes are getting higher. If she has an accident and she’s not wearing a diaper, it means I have a laundry emergency. And heaven knows what will happen if she empties herself on my parents’ shag carpet. They’re going for a world’s record on oldest shag carpet in captivity, and I would feel awful, just AWFUL, if my child were the one to do it in.

If I knew anything about statistics, I would place a bet on the length of time that carpet will survive, and the odds that Lucy will sully it beyond repair.

But I know nothing of that. I only know that as she gets older, the work adds up. And something else mathematical happens: My love for her — it multiplies.


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