The Horrors of Parenting


horrorsofparenting2And, suddenly, there I was. Driving down a dark, lonely road, in the late hours of a quiet Sunday. Mine were the only headlights causing light to bounce off the pavement and cast shadows among the thick blanket of trees on either side of the highway.

The quiet used to bother me, used to make my mind ache, and I would reach for the radio dial or sing out loud out of desperation, to silence the voice in my head, the voice that reminded me which appointments I had on Monday, and how many favorite blueberry yogurt packs were left in the door of the refrigerator.

Now I had learned to push that voice away, to realize that the yogurt would take care of itself, to sit and relish the pure joy of a quiet drive home. I wrapped myself in the silence like a heavy blanket. I savored it.

Then, a rustle in the back seat.

I leaned my head to one side, waited a minute, and after being satisfied that it was only a loose grocery bag being jostled by the bumps in the road, turned back to my cuddly quiet-blanket with a happy sigh.

I drove past a flashing neon light for Pete’s Pizza Shack, advertising “Best pizza in the north country!” I snickered. “Better be,” I thought, “if people are willing to drive out here for it.”

Another rustle. Louder. I held my breath. Then, a voice.

“MAMA!? I haffta go potty…”

Gulp. She was awake. And, worse — she had to go potty. And, worse than that, she used that tone. Not the, “Hey, by the way, just thought I’d let you know…” tone. It was the “I’m sorry to deliver this unfortunate news that this is, yes, indeed, a dire emergency” tone.

As my brain kicked on, she said it again, “Mamaaaa… I haffta go potty.” Sing-songy now. A threat.

“Uh, okay,” I stammered, “Let me see if I can find a bathroom.”

In the distance, between a break in the trees, I saw more neon lights. Ah, “Dan’s Gas and Go.” It looked like the place where neon signs went to die. Budweiser’s 1970s bow-tie logo flickered as it illuminated both sides of the highway.

My husband glanced up from the book he was reading, gestured toward Dan’s, then looked at me expectantly.

I shook my head, “No,” hit the accelerator, and blasted by.

Ten miles and three ‘I really gotta go’s later, I spotted the heavenly, pure, white lights of a new, clean convenience store. The brakes squealed as I sped into the parking lot. I hopped out, ran to the rear passenger door, and pulled my toddler out of her car seat.

We rushed inside, the bright lights blinding me, as we dropped and retrieved boots and mittens on our way to the back of the store.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief at the “VACANT” green swatch above the door handle. We stumbled through the door, and I scoped out my surroundings. Toilet paper — check. No scary auto-flush toilet — thank you, universe. Clean toilet and sink — the odds are ever in my favor! Urine on the floor — ah, just like at home. I can do this.


My toddler watched me curiously as I reached for the toilet paper and began covering the seat. I stood up to admire my paper-sculpting skills. When I turned back to her, she was frowning, brow furrowed. I took a step back and braced myself for the explosion.

I WANTED TO GET THE TOILET PAPER!!” she screamed, her eyebrows so close together, they had become one big, angry, monster eyebrow.

“Okay, okay. I hear you,” I kept my voice calm. I knew I had two options. There were always two options: I could completely and utterly flip out and tell her to stop acting like a brat and get on the potty, OR I could stay calm and hope to bargain my way out of this restroom. Due to the flurry of customers on the other side of the door, I opted to bargain.

“Easy, easy…” I continued, holding up my hands in surrender, “You can get the toilet paper yourself once you’re on the potty.”

“Hmph. NO,” was her curt reply.

“Okay, well let’s get you on the potty, and we can talk about it,” I said soothingly.

In my haste to get this done and over with, I reached for her too quickly. I tried to hold out my limbs like the welcoming arms of an angel, with a pleasant and detached look on my face. My stance emitted love, acceptance, and an “everything is wonderful” energy, but she must have sensed that, just below the surface, part of my soul was screaming, “Let’s just get the **** out of here!”

“NO,” she said, arms crossed. “I’m not going potty now. I don’t like you. No. Never.”

“Sweety,” I said, willing my angelic expression to hold on just a few seconds longer, “we really have to use the potty now.”

“NO. I will NOT.”

In an instant, she dropped to the floor, propelled her entire body backward, smacked her head off the tile, kicked her boots off, socks flying off too, then rolled her entire body and kicked her feet in a stranger’s urine.

“AHHHHH!!!” I screamed, loud enough to be heard on the other side of the store, where my husband ducked his head into a magazine.

I grabbed my toddler by the jacket, stared deep into her dark, angry eyes and said, “You are rolling in urine.” This didn’t seem to bother her, so I tried to explain with new words, “You are rolling in some man’s urine!”

This seemed to make more sense, and she quickly rolled onto her hands and knees. I gasped and grabbed her by the coat to pull her up, but not before she also used the toilet seat to steady herself and rise to her feet.

“AH! NO! Your hands!” I darted to the sink and turned on the water. I pumped the neon-pink soap dispenser 37 times, left the water running, and turned back to my toddler.

What I saw in that moment will haunt me for the rest of my life.

As big crocodile tears streamed down her face, she was rushing to catch them, and with dirty, uriney, probably-diseased hands, she was RUBBING HER EYES.

I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think.

When I finally spoke, my voice was strained, barely a whisper, “Nooo…”

“NO. NO!!” I yelled louder, then proceeded to wash every inch of exposed skin on her body with the pink soap.

After she rinsed and dried her tears on my shirt, I put her on the potty. She asked me to tell her a story, to help her relax, and I quickly went into a long tale about princesses, ponies, and babies. She smiled at me, and I relaxed a little too. I continued the story for a long time, talking out loud, while mentally praying to the gods of sanitation. The princesses played with the ponies. The babies all got their bottles and went down for their naps.

“Okay, I’m done!” my toddler said cheerily.

We washed hands again and left the bathroom. The cashier, having overheard the drama, greeted my darling daughter with tissues, words of encouragement, and an “Aww, poor baby.” I smiled politely, signaled my husband that it was time to go, and we headed for the car

We got our little one settled in the back seat, buckled our seat belts.

“So, did she go?” my husband asked me, as I drove back onto the highway.

“Nope. False alarm,” I said.


  1. I felt like you were peeking in on an encounter with my 3 1/2 year old son and I. This has almost exactly happened to us on multiple occasions! Thanks for writing this and making me feel like a normal and sane human 🙂


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