Mrs. P held up her hand, five fingers spread, and mouthed the words “fifth time since 7:30.” I sighed. It was Friday, Field Day at South Mebane, and I managed to sneak over there for a bit to cheer on the bouncing, giggly kinders. The doctor said there’s nothing wrong, I told her. I think she’s just nervous, Mrs. P said. I apologized, giving Norah’s teacher full permission to make her hold it if need be, admitting to and expressing guilt over my sometimes too harsh reaction, and accepting with appreciation Mrs. P’s reassurance that it was not a problem.
But it was.
It began in Charlotte this March on the second day of our 48-hour Spring Break getaway. Day one had been a massive success—surprise train riding, hotel bed hopping, indoor splash park playing, walking and lunching and Uber adventuring, rooftop sunset pool wading, pizza eating, and after watching the ending to Pitch Perfect 2 on the hotel TV, hardcore sleeping. And then, day two. Maybe we were all just plum exhausted from the excessive exuberance of the day before, but whatever the underlying cause, we were a testy lot, and not one of us was fun to be around. Working to fill our time before the train took us back to life at home, we ultimately settled on play at a park followed by an IMAX show.
The walk to the park was maybe a mile and Norah expressed the need to go potty as we traversed the city streets. According to the internet, our destination boasted a public restroom, so we assured her that relief was impending. We arrived at a lovely, quiet neighborhood with a flowing fountain and shaded green field, and wound our way along the sidewalk in search of the facilities. Unable to locate them ourselves, we enlisted the help of a passerby walking her dog. “No, I’m pretty sure there’s no bathroom here,” she said. Already on edge (as described above), the news that the internet had lied coupled with the lackluster offering of the playground itself, was the release of the spring that sent my patience pinball into careening chaos. What exact words were said I know not, but I can promise you they were not nice, and likely included an admonishing of Pete for not somehow magically detecting the misleading information online.
It got worse from there. Norah panicked over needing to pee. Pete searched frantically for a private enough place to do it outdoors. I snapped at her, criticized him, and cursed the day. I hate moments like that more than any other in parenting. I lose my ability to be calm and rational, and instead become a scathing asshole. Eventually, at Pete’s urging, we went into an office and plead our case. They kindly allowed us to use their restroom, and we were headed out the door when Norah said “I think I need to go again.”
And so it went for the rest of the day. Barely ten minutes would pass between bathroom visits, and even after evacuating herself entirely, washing her hands, and walking to the door, she would stop just short of the exit and tell me she needed to go more. I was awful and unsupportive, questioning her each time, my tone rife with irritation. Pete was a saint, and managed many of the trips to the restroom himself, doing what little he could to keep me from making our already anxious daughter feel worse. After a few hours of this dance, I thankfully found my breath and was able to approach the situation with more kindness and acceptance, and on the train ride home we enjoyed each other once again. Potty breaks remained frequent, but we took turns tending to them, and moved through the evening with a thought toward tomorrow being better.
The potty problem, as Norah dubbed it, persisted for the rest of spring break and though its severity ebbed and flowed (heh), it did not simply go away as we had hoped. The weekend before heading back to school, I took the kids to the grocery store while Pete was out training, and we used the bathroom before leaving the house, then again just a few minutes into our shopping. As we were checking out, all of ten minutes after the last pee, Norah declared once more her need to use the bathroom. I pushed back, noting we’d be home in five minutes, and she became distressed—crossing her legs, holding her crotch, whining desperately about how badly she had to go. I had been doing better to keep my cool in dealing with the situation, but in this moment, managing bags of groceries and both kids alone, I had zero interest in making my way to the back of the store and I put my foot down. I grabbed her by the arm and practically dragged her to the car as she cried and panicked, “I can’t hold it! Please! I need to go!” “Yes you can,” I snapped. “We are not going back in that store and I don’t care if you pee in your pants.”
I accept that this sounds terrible. That the picture I’m painting of my parenting in this instance is not the model of mothering I aspire to, but it’s the honest truth and I know I’m not alone. As I forcefully buckled both children into their seats and chucked the bags of food into the car, I heard someone speak from behind me, “Hey Sarah? You left this in the store.” I turned, red faced from frustration, to see a Mebane friend holding a grocery bag containing two bottles of rosé. “I think you’re going to need this,” she said with an empathetic smile. Equal parts embarrassed and grateful, I expelled a deep, calming breath and thanked her. A mother (and grandmother) herself, I wasn’t worried one bit about her judging me, but still the moment was enough to remind me (again) that I need to calm the fuck down. Clearly Norah is dealing with something and my exaggerated tension in handling the matter is not going to help.
That Monday, when the kids were back in school, I received a call from one of Norah’s teachers. She explained that Norah had been requesting to use the bathroom multiple times an hour and expressed concern. I assured her that we were aware and had plans to visit the doctor that week, noting that I’d be happy to pick her up if it was too much of an interruption. No need, she said, we just wanted to let you know.
Unlike so many other instances in parenting where I let my WebMD mentality override any semblance of rational thought (IT’S A TUMOR!), with this particular problem I felt fairly certain it was nothing awful, and more likely some manifestation of stress. Still, we took her to the doctor and had them run a few tests. All came back peachy, not even a UTI was found, and so on we went, doing our best to be understanding and patient in the face of the most pee any small person has ever managed to create. The doctor gave us a note for school that basically said the teachers had to let Norah use the bathroom a hundred times a day should she feel so inclined, and we carried on with life.
Here we are, more than a month later, and the potty problem has mostly solved itself. I’m not suggesting it’s gone—the regularity is pretty intact, as evidenced by the 42 times during Field Day that Norah visited the toilet—but the urgency and panic once present have abated and she is much more receptive when our situation requires that she hold it for a bit. We still haven’t a clue what’s causing the issue, and I suppose that lack of knowledge does poke my doomsday parentnoia a bit, but we’re mostly chill about it. One theory (of mine) is that she takes after her father in the bladder department for that man often requires more road trip pit stops than either of our children, and insists on sleeping on the side of the bed closest to the bathroom wherever we may be. Whatever the cause, I’m happy to report that the potty problem has officially been downgraded to a one bottle issue (that’s a wine reference).
Now to get Crosby to improve his aim…