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I was about four years old the night I got it into my head that life would be so much simpler if I could pee standing up. And so I announced to my older sister and my mother that I was going to, “Pee like Daddy!”
Just because other girls hadn’t figured out how to do it didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. Clearly, they hadn’t tried hard enough. Either that or they’d psyched themselves out: gotten bogged down by self-consciousness and antiquated gender stereotypes.
What women needed was a visionary thinker with big ideas—someone who was willing to go there in order to go better.
With me leading the way, we three marched single-file to the bathroom. I confronted the commode, lifted my Scooby Doo nightgown, straddled the potty, and you can probably imagine the rest: a towel, a mop and whatever else was needed to clean up the mess from a fool and her errand.
Exploiting my childhood for entertainment’s sake is not a premeditated act on my mother’s part. I’m pretty sure what happens is that her subconscious brain scans the room for potentially receptive newcomers and when it hones in on a few likely suspects one of her story-telling neurons automatically generates an electrical impulse that tells her conscious brain “Now, Pee Like Daddy now!”
The molecular tunnel that might warn of potential awkwardness dead-ahead is usually blocked by a glass or two of Pinot Grigio which means there is nothing to prevent the story from forming itself into words that are spoken out loud.
Through the years I’ve learned that surrender is the only option: My mother is a master story-teller and an unstoppable force.
About midway through Pee like Daddy, I will lean in to my sister and we do a rough 3, 2, 1 count-down which will signal Swim to the Side!—that’s my sister’s super-famous near-drowning story which features one of my mom’s all-time great Oscar moments. Imagine a woman who cannot swim a stroke, nonetheless managing to save her child’s life by the sheer power of her own character: “You will swim to the side, my God, you will!” What can I say? It’s a crowd pleaser.
My sister usually puts a stop to the shenanigans with a wry comment or a rhetorical question, “Why don’t you tell them about the time I stole the Macaroni Art, mom?”
But mom never takes the bait on the Stolen Macaroni Art, which is a shame, really. I’ve always secretly wished that one were mine. It has a kind of Agatha Christie resonance to it, a caper and whodunit combo. Why not leave dinner guests with some edgy revelation about my true character, the heart of darkness that lurks within?
It would be way more interesting if people thought I’d been born with even the thinnest vein of larceny—an art thief in-the-making—than to be Little Miss Ulysses pissing all over herself on a quest for the ultimate time-saver.
“I can’t believe your mother let you pee all over the floor,” said my husband one night while we were drying the dishes. He heard my mom tell the story for the first time in the summer of 2006, when I was just a few months pregnant.
“It was linoleum,” I replied. Clearly, had Mark’s mother given birth to a girl, such an ill-fated experiment would never have been allowed. But my mother was in her 20s back then; she and my dad were not “established” or “prepared” for parenthood. Motherhood was something that happened to her, quite unexpectedly, as it did for many women until just a couple of decades ago.
But her youth gave her courage and the hard financial times greatly simplified being captain of the clean-up crew. It was probably better for all concerned that the crushed velvet and luxury flooring came after we were all grown-up.
Fatigued though I may be of Pee like Daddy, having heard it hundreds of times through the years, it is the best story I’ve got and it may be the most appropriate narrative to have drifted to the top of my mother’s greatest hits list: it reveals much about the relationship between us.
The story is so perfectly emblematic of her having been, from when I was a child to this very day, a companion to my fearlessness. Her “I will let her do what she needs to do and walk alongside her as she does it” approach to motherhood that has made me who I am and has, in turn, shaped my own mothering.
I’ve always had this idea that there isn’t anything I can’t at least try, and even if I don’t succeed, everything will be OK. No, I cannot pee standing up, but my mother let me struggle through and that’s the greatest gift she could have given me.