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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Completely Potty

Some things are immutable, and I am one of them.

After 12 year in America, I still can’t make the adjustment.

I sit in a posh restaurant with my good pals. Their children are now adults. My pal stands up, adjusts her lapel and whispers sotto voce, “I just need to go potty,” as she departs. I resist falling off my chair because I have an instant translator, but I can’t quell this automatic response. Why do grown up people who are long out of diapers, insist on using this repellent terminology?

To be fair, I waited many a goodly year for my own boys to use that very same phrase, preferably prior to the act. Now that they are older and words are more common, they do use it, sometimes prior to the act. With the speech delays, it would appear to be too much of a challenge to move them onto a different word, such as toilet or loo, although they do know what both those words mean.

I think that part of the trouble stems from the pronunciation, not just their’s but everyone’s. It’s so disconcerting how they say it. Maybe it’s the American accent? Maybe it’s the Californian lilt? But to my ears, it always makes me do a double take. It would be o.k. if they said ‘I need to go ‘Pot EE,’ but they don’t, do they. No! Instead, they say ‘I need to go ‘Pah DEE!’ It’s an invitation to celebrate, to boogie on down, crack open the champagne and let rip with the fire crackers. It gets me every time.


I sit in the garage on my three legged stool drowning in my own creative juices. A small spot light is trained on the pottery wheel in the gloom, so that I am at the centre of my own little universe. I have a factory mentality. I am already up to par, 20 minutes to throw a wibbly wobbly pot. 3 pots per hour. If I continue at this rate of production I shall be all set. I glance up at the shelf of squidgey pots. It’s a pity that they not all the same, a set perhaps? They do not look manufactured. I remind myself that they are art. They are supposed to be different, er…unique. If they were all the same then they wouldn’t be art. The only things that they have in common with each other, is that they are made of clay, vaguely round, in the ‘pot’ category and made by me. That will just have to do. “Good Enough.” I hear the telephone ring in the kitchen and step towards the door leaving a snail trail of clay in my wake. I listen. It is the school.

I pick up the receiver, it is slippery with slip. [liquid clay] We exchange information and I promise to be at the school shortly, with a replacement set of clothes. I replace the receiver and wonder if it will now cement itself to the handset. I have clay on my ear. I scrub my hands and ear and then run upstairs for clean undies, shorts and socks, just to be on the safe side. I dither.

I should cycle to school? But there’s the flat tyre. It would only take me…..too long. The planet loses again. I drive to the school. I am an environmental wimp taking the easy rout when I hit the first pebble on the road. Mother Nature will disown me.

The administrator tells me that my son will be with me shortly and adds, “you have dirt on your nose.” I blink. When American’s say ‘dirt’ they do not mean dirty. When they say ‘dirt,’ what they really mean is ‘mud, soil or earth’ depending upon the consistency, Occasionally they do say and mean dirt, but not very often, and they never use a ‘y.’

It is the sort of comment that women make to other women or sometimes men. It falls into the categories of ‘lipstick on your teeth / Charlie’s Dead [ your petticoat is showing] / your flies are undone,’ kind of a comment. I never mention the ‘undone flies’ myself, but that is because I am a respectable married women, the kind that needs a good reason to justify gazing at men’s flies. As yet, I have not been able to come up with a good reason for staring at men’s flies, so I avoid the subject completely, and leave the topic well zipped.

“It’s clay,” I tell her unnecessarily. It sounds like an apology but she wasn’t accusing. Her unspoken ‘whatever?’ hangs in the air. The delay between her comment and my response is far too long, so now I appear odd as well as foreign and dirty and apologetic. I decide this is not a good combination to be on display in public. My son bowls into the office, where his boot lace legs appear to have become entangled.

I whisk him into the bathroom to help expedite his change. As the door closes, the light turns on the extractor fan kicks in. This is just as well as the stench in such a confined area, is enough to bring on a fit of the vapours. I suspect that I have turned into a girlie. Boys' innocent pee has been transformed. My olfactory powers have altered. I am in a four foot cell with moose musk and no peg for my nose. He sits on the loo, the only convenient spot whilst I wrestle with his shoes and Velcro. Because he sits in this position, he does what comes naturally and demonstrates how he had the accident in the first place. His “oopsie’ is perfectly timed to co-ordinate with the fountain. I am glad that the speech delay has not delayed his verbal response. I am sad that his useless father has failed to teach him the basics of gravity. Hands free is not a good technique.

It is immediately apparent that his shirt will need replacement too. “She’s right!”
“Who is right dear?”
“My teacher.”
“What is she right about dear?”
“It’s real stinky.”
It would appear that all relevant personnel are aware that my son smells like a skunk but no-one saw fit to advise me that I needed to bring a sterilization unit as well as clean clothes. I tell him and relevant personnel that I will return shortly with more clean clothes and hare off home again. I am glad I am in the car ruining the planet because this means I’ll be able to make my second trip within the hour.

Timing is crucial. I have three damp bottoms to trim sitting on the shelf in the garage. If you flip over any piece of crockery, you will notice a ring of unglazed clay. This is the foot of the bowl. The potter carves it into the base, so that you don’t scratch your table. The pot must be dry enough to carve, but not dry enough to crumble. Timing.

I get home and grab a clean T-shirt. I hover. What have I forgotten? I grab a bag of baby wipes and a hand towel. I see the telephone blink at me. A message. I have no time for messages and dash back to the car and the school. By the time I arrive it is break time. All the children are running around. I look for a static one in a soggy red tie-dye T-shirt. There appear to be a great number of children all wearing red T-shirts today, although they don’t appear to be soggy. I spot him and lunge on over, waving a white T-shirt of surrender. I stop just in time to prevent collision but he’s already ahead of me disrobing the wrong half of his body. I yank up his elastic and whip off his shirt with a flourish. He finds his nak.ed tummy to be a great source of amusement and contrived embarrassment. I am flummoxed. Why the top half? We kiss and hug, to the bewilderment of other players and I leave.

I stomp into the house having gassed myself driving 7 minutes in a hot car with a pile of rancid clothes. I gasp for air to rid my lungs of the fumes, fill a bucket with hot water and plunge them in to soak. I hit the message button. I learn that my son has had a potty accident. I saunter off to the garage to trim bottoms. I pause. I walk back into the kitchen and press ‘replay.’ Different time, different message, different son. I bound up the stairs three at a time, grab two T-shirts, two pairs of shorts and underwear and four socks just to be on the safe side. One set goes in a bag to remain at school as insurance against further mishaps, the other I roll up into a sausage and tuck under my arm as I head off for school, with sack of baby wipes under the other arm.

I extract child two, strip, clean and re-dress the screamer before heading to the class room to deposit the bag of spare clothes on the teacher’s desk.
“Hi Maddy,” she smiles. I pat the bag and she looks at it. “Oh dear!” she adds.
“Oh dear what?” I ask.
“There seems to be some er……dirt on the bag. I hope it isn’t inside too.” I look at the bag and the smear. I do not spit ‘clay,’ because it’s not her fault that she is more observant than I am. I snatch the bag away and grin, “I’ll be back!”

Outside I am accosted by a strange child. Strange Child clutches two library books to his chest, moves from one foot to the other blocking my escape and doesn’t meet me in the eye. I have no time for Strange Child as I have pots with dry bottoms to attend to. Possibly crispy bottoms by now. He continues to talk at me. Why is he talking to me? I want to interrupt him, ‘listen here Sunny Jim, who do you think you are talking to? Do I look like a librarian to you?’ I remember that I am an adult. Adults on school premises are by definition teachers, aids, administrators and other safe people whom you can accost at any time for any whim. I give up.

I hunker down to sort out whatever it is that is bothering him. I look into his eyes as he explains. I am just about to offer a solution when my handbag bleeps, loudly. It bleeps so loudly that I tip over backwards, sprawled before Strange Child like an upended cockroach. “Oh, you’re not the librarian,” he says in surprise.
“How do you know?” as I cannot resist.
“Coz you’ve got dirt.” I resist shouting ‘CLAY!’ as this might be mis-interpreted. I am surprised to learn that librarians have a reputation for being squeaky clean. I make a mental note to seek out dirty librarians and photograph them.

I stomp towards my car. I am now in a thoroughly bad mood. I am not anxious to go home and recycle crispy pots that are past their trim by moment. I shall never manage to make a decent pot for my brother and his betrothed before their wedding day. I am doomed, downcast and desperate. I drive to the studio because it is very close to the school and I have 7 and a half minutes until school is dismissed for the day. I go to sulk and perhaps a little inspiration, because there will be nobody there to grouch at, just artists silent creations. I plod up the one in three hill that is the driveway entrance. Inside the owner sits at her desk. I have not visited for over a year. She doesn’t recognize me at first until I greet her.
“Maddy! I hardly recognized you!” I grin and flash her my retainer. “I’ve been meaning to phone you. You’ve still got those pots on the glaze shelf.”
“Sure, outside, on the members shelf.” I skip out to the member’s shelf because I had forgotten that I belong to another and entirely different club. I peer through the dust. It’s not so much that my membership has lapsed, more buried and superceded. I recognize nothing. I spot a Goldfish. Horray! That must be mine. I pull it out from the back, covered in clay dust, dust bunnies and grit. I gallop inside to the tap to rinse it off. Perfect! Well, not really perfect perfect of course, but ‘good enough’ has become my new motto.

The pursuit of happiness is part of life's journey but perfectionism will drive you way off course, to a cul de sac at best or a padded cell at worst.

Party more probably promotes potty less.

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You may wish to read "this" first.

I decide it’s not a misnomer afterall. It is completely accurate. Someone visits your home to have a sleepover and sleep is… well and truly over. My typical girl and her pal do not sleep during the night. My atypical boys are out cold by 10. They share the same bed, parked like railway coaches on sleepers. I sleep briefly here and there, in between whiles. I should be far better at this but I’m not.

I awake, dash down stairs, but I’ve missed them. The telly is still on, the couch is still warm, but they’re back upstairs again. I can hear the floorboards creak as they jump from the mattress on the bed to the mattress on the floor. I run back upstairs to curb the gymnastics. I’m happy for them to expend the energy but I worry about broken limbs.

I learn something new. Having spent half my childhood in Boarding school I thought I was fully equipped with extensive knowledge of what a sleepover entails. My version of an imaginary sleepover would consist of lots of whispering and giggling in the dark, sneaking food out of your tuck box, sweeties under the bedclothes, which all comes to a premature halt with the arrival of Sister in the doorframe. The main problem for me now, is that the current nightmare is not imaginary.

When spouse returns from work at three in the morning, they are still awake. I am semi conscious or more probably semi comatose. He keels over into bed and I dash downstairs again. I’ve missed it. The evidence of midnight snacks at 2 in the morning is obvious.

I forget that we have lots of ‘cool stuff’ like the trampolene and a plethora of therapy equipment. By four in the morning I am in need of some serious therapy myself.

I learn a new fact, an unfamiliar definition of being a girl. I fold her Calvin Klein bra and her other discarded clothing stuffed in the corner of the room under a soggy blanket, empty honey stick wrappers and a crushed water bottle. I am perplexed that there should be such a thing as a bra for an eight year old chest, as flat as an ironing board. I am silent on the definition that ‘every girl has one! I mean, isn’t that what being a girl is all about?’ I am fashion challenged and take a dim view of the industry as a whole. Who in their right mind would truss up a child in an additional piece of elastic? I decide that I am even more of a dinosaur that I realized. Caverns of ignorance are opening up to swallow me and we’ve another seven and a half hours to go.

Later, the same morning, after dawn, daylight approaches.

I spot clean the carpet with my two helpers, as I don’t have enough time to shampoo the whole thing.
“What’s that one?”
“Orange juice.”
“This one?”
“Honey? You were eating honey last night?”
“We thought it would be less messy.” Less messy that what? Tar and feathers? Her father will be here to collect her shortly. We are ready. I have a sudden flashback. I recall a time when I truly believed that biscuits were a safe and unmessy food, the ideal snack for under the covers and only a few crumbs to worry about. I must have been about twelve. I failed to take account of the fact that they were also made of chocolate and that chocolate was indeed in the messy category. These were the cookie kind of a biscuits rather than the’ biscuits and gravy,’ kind of a biscuit. I believe I was a bit of a late developer.

The girls sit neatly on the bed coordinating the clean up operation. They are both squeaky clean after their showers. The hot water tank is empty. I think of it as an early warning prior to the teenage years, or if I’m really unlucky, the tween years.

“You missed a bit.” I look up at her from my position on the floor, on all fours with a scrubbing brush in one hand and a bottle of spray cleaner on the other, but the door bell rings. I push the brush into one small pair of hands and the bottle into the other small pair of hands, “there you go, keep it up and you’ll be able to be together for another five minutes.” I scarper downstairs to the front door to pick up my props, a shovel and gardening gloves. Just in time I remember to shove on my dark glasses, prescription lenses, as I open the door to greet him.
“Hello! Do come in, they’ll be just a couple of moments.” He stands by his daughter’s suitcase with all the essentials of existence for 24 hours away from home, when you are eight. I chatter away and avoid eye contact. I call to the girls upstairs at intervals in an annoying sing song tone, “your Dad’s here!” but there is no response. I whip of the gloves and drop the shovel, “I’ll just go and check how they’re getting on,” I add as I escape upstairs.

The girls clutch each other, exchanging the fond farewells of those about to be parted by continents of distance and decades of time. The boys emerge from their bedroom. I can tell that a question is traveling from his brain to his lips. I want to transition the girls out before I can attend to his question, because his questions are always a challenge and I have enough challenges to juggle at the moment.
“Mom?” Too late. He looks at the doll in his hands. His hands pass the doll back to the visitor before she departs. He stands completely still wearing only a pair of Y fronts. The Y is directly in line with his spine. I am so glad that our guest has a brother
“Mom?” Oh no. How long is this going to take?
“Yes dear?”
“If boys…….play……if boys play wiv……….if boys play wiv girlz fings……..” I wait. I try not to hop from one foot to the other. I obliterate the image of the Dad waiting downstairs by the front door wondering if we have all been abducted by aliens in the attic, or alternatively, that we are the aliens that have abducted his daughter. “Do boyz turn…..into girlz?”
“No. No never.” I avoid the trap of ‘there is no such thing as girls and boys toys,’ as I scurry the girls downstairs. He smiles to greet us. I want to draw him aside and whisper “she told me everything but it’s o.k.,” but I don’t want to confirm that I am both foreign and mad in one sentence.
“I think your cat is trying to get in?” He points at the glass door. I dash over to the door and out, grab the cat and take two steps to the right where his little personal cat door awaits him. He hates the flap on his delicate little nose. I give him a gentle shove but he goes all Garfield on me, an X splayed on the outside of entrance. I pout as he whips around behind me and furballs through the human door. I follow in defeat.

I remember Dad is still there with his suitcase and his daughter. “Ooo sorry about that,” I blunder.
“It looks like your glasses aren’t working.” I blink behind my sunglasses. I suspect I have been caught out. My son appears on the staircase.
“Reactolight!” continues the Dad. Re acto what? The front of my son’s body is three steps ahead of his feet, his head is three stairs lower than his toes, the Y front on his bottom is inverted. The Dad glances across at him before explaining, “you glasses aren’t responding to the changes in light, they’re still dark!” I can already see that my son is brewing up to be both sociable and amiable to our guest. The Dad raises his own glasses to demonstrate what thickie thickie dumb dumb is failing to understand, “when you’re outside the glass darkens, when you come back inside they should become light.” He pushes his own glasses back onto the top of his head like a hair band. He massages the back of his neck from the wait and scratches just above his ear. My son presents himself to the Dad, “hi! Do you have "headlights" too?”

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