You may have read the title to this post and thought I had some deep philosophical reason not to teach my son to put down the toilet seat. Or you may have thought, “At least I’m a better parent than that lady.” Or perhaps you read it and shouted, “You know, a pilot intentionally slammed his plane into the French Alps and we’re bombing Tikrit and the White House flower lady lost her job. Who the hell cares why you’re not teaching your son to put down the toilet seat?”

If, however, you are looking for a brief respite from the hook-in-the-gut experience that is opening a news app these days, read on.

When Zachary, now ten, was first learning to use the lavatory, we taught him to put the seat up, relieve himself, put the seat and the lid down, and wash his hands. It may be a stretch to say we taught him that. He’s a first child; we showed him it once and he’s done it ever since.

Benjamin is a middle child. Which means… well, if you have a middle child, you understand.

We tried to replicate the way we had taught his brother. Lift seat, pee, lower seat and lid, wash hands. This was not the first and certainly not the last time we would try to teach Benjamin something the same way we taught Zachary. We’re eight years in now, and we still sometimes make that mistake.

The way it has turned out, we’ve taught him to go in, pee, and come out, whereupon—without looking up from whatever I’m doing—I say, “Go back in and wash your hands,” he insists he has washed his hands, I repeat, “Go back and wash your hands,” and he sighs dramatically before stomping back into the bathroom to wash his hands. Then, half an hour later, I go in to use the toilet and sit down on drops of pee.

I have tried telling him, on his way in, “Lift the seat and wash your hands,” which works for one visit only. I have tried yelling, “Benjamin! I just sat on pee,” which works exactly never. Then, a few weeks ago, I left a sticky note on the lid of the seat: “If you love your mother, lift the seat.”

And it worked. Not just for that day, but for the past several weeks, long after the note was removed. I now live with two boys, both of whom lift the damned toilet seat. Their sister is delighted by the change of conditions.

Perhaps it’s now time to teach him to put the seat down. But I prefer to stop here, rest in this accomplishment. There’s been an improvement, the desired goal was reached. I see no reason to immediately go looking for another goal. He doesn’t need something new to be criticized for.

Build your own metaphor as you wish.


All My Life’s a Circle

by emily on February 28, 2015

It all started with the bananas.

I was buying a snack for the after-school activity I was running at the kids’ school. I loaded six large bunches of bananas on the belt. They were fair trade and organic and all that crap, I promise.

“It reminds me of ’30,000 Pounds of Bananas,’” I quipped to the checkout girl. Who smiled slightly and nodded while avoiding any answer. Because she was like nineteen years old and had a nose ring and clear skin and probably goes gleaning for kale in the summer. She had absolutely no idea what the lady with the gray hair and the lines on her face and the yoga pants with cat hair was talking about, but you’re supposed to be nice to the customers, so she was going to pretend I had just made a super-cool reference. Old ladies like that use terms like “super-cool.”

All those “kids today” thoughts started percolating, till I realized one very important fact: my kids also had no idea who Harry Chapin was. Thus was born the Winter of Harry Chapin, otherwise known here in Massachusetts as The Winter We Lost Worcester and Most of Chinatown.

I began playing long sessions of what Zachary refers to as “That Harry Chapin crap,” although I think he’s just trying to annoy me because he’s ten and that’s what ten-year-olds do because who the hell doesn’t like Harry Chapin, right? I mean, other than my husband. The other two children inherited my excellent taste and are fully on board with the Harry Chapin obsession. Lilah watched an entire concert with me last weekend. Benjamin tried to get me to deconstruct “W*O*L*D.” Both sing along with “Bananas,” as all good children should.

We’re suckers for a good story around here.

But he’s so sad, Harry Chapin. He told the stories of life’s disappointments, of the way we get only one damned life and when we think we’re going to be pilots we end up getting high driving a taxicab and we get estranged from our children because we can’t get our priorities right and one cruel review can steal art from our lives forever. Harry Chapin wrote about the fact that being human is difficult. All the time. Yet he brought humor and joy to his performances, making being human just a little bit richer.

Until he died in a car accident at the age of 39, leaving behind a wife and five kids. Leaving behind a collection of music that can reach across the decades. Leaving me to think about the fact that I’ll never hear him in concert. He’s not like Simon and Garfunkel; he can’t plan yet another reunion tour.

Life is defined by the things we do, truly, but it’s also defined by the bits we don’t get a chance to do. I’ve had intense artistic experiences, but I’ll never hear Harry Chapin sing live. I have three fantastic (sometimes) children (just kidding guys), but I’ll never get to go back and have a childhood. I can finally try pot without breaking any rules, but if I do it someplace legal, I’ll never get to try it while I’m also breaking the rules, which is an entirely different experience.

When did we get so old, my friends?



White Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

The Thanksgiving montage I remember from my first decade was deep in snow. We went to visit a relative of my stepmother several years running. This woman ran a youth hostel, and my stepmother’s large Italian family converged upon it for the holiday. What I remember: A long, long table filled with so many people, […]

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The End

September 29, 2014

My darling, as I sit here in the dark, listening to you toss and turn, I want you to know how terribly sorry I am. Terribly, as in deeply and darkly sorry, for I knew this would happen. This is why we hiked for hours today, trying to exhaust your little body so that when […]

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Scene outside the school this morning

September 10, 2014

Me (responding to some question): It was nobody. Zachary: I am nobody, who are you? Me: Are you nobody, too? Zachary: Then there’s two of us. Me: A pair. Don’t tell, they’d banish us, you know. How dreary to be somebody, how public, like a frog. To tell your name the livelong day to an […]

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The evening before Labor Day

August 31, 2014

Zachary had his tenth birthday party yesterday, a week in advance of the day. In contrast to his brother’s party, Zach asked to have a few friends over, order pizza, make sundaes, and watch Episode IV. I told him he’s my new favorite child. He’s going to be ten, which means I’ve been a parent […]

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The Angry Inch

July 18, 2014

“Five feet, three inches,” the medical assistant person noted. “No, I’m five feet, four inches.” “No, you’re five feet, three inches,” she insisted. “No, no. I’m five feet, four inches.” “You’re almost five feet, three-and-a-half inches.” Writing it down. She was writing it down on my chart. It was going on my permanent record. “Well, […]

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In which the novice surpasses the master

June 26, 2014

Some days I don’t feel all that necessary around here. Today was not one of those days. Today was, rather, one of those days in which I felt with great, leaden spears the importance of what I’m doing. I felt more than I have in a long time—perhaps ever—just how unbearably significant and deliberate parenting […]

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A Very Harry Potter Birthday

June 21, 2014

There have been a number of requests for pictures of the party. Please forgive the text here, folks. I can barely stand up at this point. The greeting sign, which a random passer-by asked to photograph.   The kids came into the house through here, with the Harry Potter music blaring.   The Great Hall, […]

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Go big or go home

June 4, 2014

Benjamin’s birthday is coming up. While my other two children have normal birthday celebrations that involve things like gymnastics places or going to a play with a friend, Benjamin’s birthday always seems to involve something like a Greek mythology birthday cake complete with a Temple of Zeus constructed out of marshmallows and white chocolate or […]

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