March 26, 2015

Why I’m Not Teaching My Son to Put the Toilet Seat Down

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.

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