Technically, the four-year-old has been potty-trained for more than a year. But potty-training isn't a discrete event like graduation or Christmas. There are going to be accidents, and all you can do is plan for them so you're not stuck at, say, a park with a kid who just peed all over himself.
That's where I found myself back in June, a few weeks before school let out for the summer. We had just put the eight-year-old on the bus and with nothing to do, I decided to take the four-year-old (who was three at the time) to a local park where there's a lake, miles of walking and bike paths and even a playground -- we'd be busy for at least couple of hours.
So with the best intentions, I park the car, unload the little man, and pull his scooter out of the back. Might as well tire him out when I have the chance because if I've learned anything from renowned parenting expert Cesar Millan, it's that exercise and discipline always come before affection.
We head down to the water so I can make up some facts about marine biology (hey, the kid was three -- what's the difference?) and before I could get to the part about the recent Loch Ness Monster sightings, I'm interrupted with, "Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom."
Four minutes. That's literally how long we were at the lake before those eight words left the three-year-old's mouth.
I don't recall the specifics, but I'm guessing my response went something like this: "Are you effing kidding me?" (Relax, I'm 65 percent sure I actually said "effing.") My problem wasn't that he needed to pee, it was that a) he didn't do it before we left the house and more importantly, b) I didn't make him do it before we left the house.
Because I'm from the reactionary school of parenting, I decided a while back that making up a bunch of mostly arbitrary rules would magically add structure to a situation that more closely resembled Thunderome.
One of those rules: You must always use the bathroom before we leave the house. NO EXCEPTIONS. (This is one of the few good rules, a fact that becomes meaningless because I often forget to enforce it.)
With no bathroom in sight, I decided that he would pee behind a tree down near the shoreline. Hey, if hobos can do it at 8:30 in the morning so can three-year-olds. I give him exceedingly detailed instructions on what was going to happen next.
"Okay, I'm gonna pull down your pants and your underwear and I want you to pee on that rock over there. No problem, right?"
"Okay," he said, with all the conviction of someone who knew they were about to pee all over themselves.
And then he proceeded to aim nowhere near that rock, but straight down, perpendicular to the ground. Unfortunately, the aforementioned underwear and pants were in the way, and caught every last drop. I'm not kidding. Pee didn't even accidentally hit the ground. It couldn't have been a more direct hit if I had him pee in a bucket and just tossed his underwear and pants in afterwards.
In the 15 seconds it's taken him to relieve himself I go from exasperated to enraged because I had somehow convinced myself that this wouldn't happen. I seem to remember trying to pick him up under his arms and aim him myself, like that was going to do something. Short of holding him parallel to the ground, gravity insured that no matter where -- or how high -- I chose to hold him, he was peeing on his clothes.
Again, I don't recall the specifics, but I'm pretty sure I yelled, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"
Like he had some idea what he was doing. He didn't (duh) and he told me as much right before he started crying. So now I have a hysterical child soaked with pee and we're a good 500 yards from the car. With no real idea what to do next, I'm just laying into this poor kid about how he knows he shouldn't pee in his pants, how he has to tell me more than two seconds before he can no longer hold it that he needs to go, and how he ALWAYS needs to go before we leave the house.
(Mostly, I was projecting because I knew that this was 95 percent on me, save the five percent where he would rather hold it because he's under some weird impression that he's going to miss something by taking a minute to use the bathroom. That's a whole other story.)
By this point I'm livid. I tell him that he's going to have to walk back to the car because I'm not going to carry him (and I have to carry his scooter) and I also instruct him that he better not cry because this all could have been avoided.
Let me tell you: there is no sadder sight than watching a three-year-old who has clearly peed through his clothes waddle behind his father while trying to stifle tears.
We make it to the car, I strip him down and sit him butt naked in his car seat. And for the first time ever, he did not say a word on the drive home. The worst part: I couldn't even enjoy it because I felt terrible for going off on him.
Much later, after I calmed down, I realized that my fatal flaw was letting him aim himself instead of me doing it for him. And I'll be honest: I did this for one simple reason: Nothing screams pervy old dude like some balding guy with a camera standing behind a tree with a half-naked three-year-old.
Yes, I know, any rational person watching all this would've just assumed that I was helping my son not pee all over himself. Instead, any rational person watching all this probably thought, "My God, that man is going to toss that little boy into the middle of that lake."
But there's a happy ending. By the time I pulled into the garage we were talking, and after exchanging apologies, I explained why it's so important to use the bathroom whenever you feel the urge. He agreed and we went on with the rest of our day like it never happened.
Of course, he wet his pants later that night because, well, that's what three-year-olds do.