I come from a generation of people who watched FRIENDS and reruns of FRIENDS growing up. Monica Geller was a significant character in the sitcom. Among other things, Monica is a stickler for rules. This is what I remembered the other day when my little girl told me she pooped in her pants because her teacher did not tell her to go to the toilet.
Backing up a little bit, here is how it played out.
When I went to pick her up that evening, she was crying. I gathered her in my arms and asked her what was bothering her.
“Catalina“, she said.
“What about Catalina?”
“I don’t know”
I probed further but to no avail. All she would say was the name. I tried with leading questions – did she say something or do something – but all I got was “I don’t know“.
One of the other teachers went to find Miss Catalina, the new Spanish teacher at her school. Miss Catalina asked me if I needed anything, then informed me that I had to pick up R’s soiled clothes from the shelf in the children’s toilet. To my question whether R had wee’d in her dress, she answered that she had pooped.
A bulb lit up at the back of my head as soon as she said that. If I had to bet, I’d say that it was Miss Catalina who changed R when she soiled her clothes. R was worried that Miss C would be complaining to me about the incident.
Recently, R has discovered that her teachers give me an update on her time at the daycare. She knows that she cannot lie to me about her afternoon naps because her teachers will tell me if she has not slept. If I know what activities she has done during the day, I don’t mention it and let her tell me so she doesn’t feel like her parents are hovering with invisible cameras around her. It is a better view too, without a doubt, picturing her day the way she tells it. For things like food, sleep and toilet, she knows I know and I am quite happy to leave it at that.
That afternoon, she knew she had messed up when she did a number two in her clothes. As soon as she saw me, she suspected that Miss Catalina would tell on her and I would know all about it. She knew it was wrong. I cannot say if she thought I would scold her for it but she certainly wasn’t expecting praise. I gently rebuked her, making sure she knew I was not going to punish her for it. I told her that she was a big girl and should be going to the toilet when she has the urge. She seemed quite distressed so I left it at that.
“Why did you not go to the toilet?“, I asked her later, when we had settled that I was not mad at her for the mishap.
“Because it was not my turn. My teacher did not say I could go“, she replied.
She is so used to the teachers lining her up with her friends at certain times of the day, for toilet, that when she had an urge outside those times, she did not think she could go. She held on till she could no longer hold it and made a mess.
It is so ridiculously funny but concerning at the same time. I explained to her that she did not have to wait for her teachers to tell her to go to the toilet. In fact, she did not even have to wait for her turn when they were lined up, if she had the urge. She merely had to tell her teacher that she needed to go and head to the toilet. They would understand. I think she got it. She was quiet but she nodded.
“It was an accident, mama“, she said to me later that night. The incident had made her self-conscious. It had been preying on her mind all along, confusing her. She knew it was wrong and she knew I was not shouting at her for it. At the same time, I did warn her and it was as if she was not sure that we were okay. She had to make sure I did not think she was a bad kid.
“I know, baby. It’s alright. Next time you want to go, you tell your teachers and go. You don’t have to wait for them to tell you. You can tell them when you need to go and just go“, I reiterated.
Next morning, I repeated the story to her teachers so they would not think she was defying them if she had to run off to the toilet ‘out of turn’. She was quiet all along and her face was expressionless. She did not even wave goodbye at me when I was leaving. I wished I could tell what was in her mind. I had tried to joke about the incident with her teachers but I wonder if she thought I was mocking her. The child can be quiet surprisingly aware and complex in her mind, at times.
I’m not sure if I dealt with it the right way or not. I can tell it left an impression on her but what exactly that impression is, I cannot tell. A small corner of my brain worries but I know I had to be stern about her using the toilet. A little part of me wonders if I should have let it be.
How gentle do you need to be, to be a good parent? What is the right way to deal with a tricky situation like this? Am I overthinking the situation? How will this have an impact on her, in the long term? Will it?