I had big plans to potty train the Dumpling last summer after she turned two. But, a lot of things got in the way. My parents had just moved back from Austin, Texas and I wanted the Dumpling to spend time with them without worrying about accidents. My dad was doing great last summer. My mom was on cloud nine, beyond thrilled to be back in the D.C. area. They were both really happy. Although, I don’t think my mom cared where she was as long as she was with the Dumpling.
One July day when I had a cold, my parents came over, picked up the Dumpling and took her out to lunch so I could rest. I remember watching all of their backs as they made their way to the car, her little body trotting along through our yard, arms reached up as she held my dad’s hand on the right and my mom’s on the left. It was one of those sights that forces feelings of warmth and goodness in even the most cynical heart. Last summer was a joyful, carefree time.
I was in no rush to worry about potty training. I also did not think the Dumpling or I were ready. Then came the fall and I started working and the Dumpling started preschool. Many of her classmates were already potty trained. Even though no parent or teacher ever said anything negative, I felt the sting of being behind the curve.
So, I decided we would dedicate our December winter break to potty training. Not as ideal as going pant-less in summer, but it would have to do since I’d have time off of work.
But, by then my dad was already sick and by the end of December he was in the hospital. We had our last Christmas together as a family. Then came the dark, nightmare of January, when my dad spent the month in the hospital, rehab and then back in the hospital. The details are too painful. But, the feeling of living in a nightmare that I could not wake up from will stay with me.
As we near the first fall since my dad died, it is hard not to think about the chain of events that fell upon us last year.
I think of friends who lost loved ones and how I never knew exactly what to do or say and how I wish I could have been there for them in the way they needed. I understand now the painful anxiety of watching someone you love, who you can’t imaging the world without, descend into irreversible illness, the waiting for the doctors to provide some real answers, the agony of finally getting the answer that deep down you knew was coming but is still the worst answer you could have ever imagined. For me the answer was made worse because it was delivered by my mom as she choked back tears and held my dad’s hand, trying to whisper to me so he couldn’t hear anything.
“They said, there is nothing that can be done. That we should move him to hospice.”
My dad did not make it to hospice. Of course we thought about how at least he did not have to suffer for long. But, it all happened so fast, there was no time for us to process or accept what happened.
Suddenly, my mom’s companion, best friend, true love – the person almost literally joined to her hip for 45 years, was gone. All that was left was the powerful feeling of loss and his things all over the apartment. His slippers beside the bed, his toothbrush in the bathroom, medicine on the dresser, the last outfit he wore slung over a clothing stand in the bedroom, the chocolate milk he loved in the fridge – all of it sitting there, waiting for him.
I don’t know how my mom got through those months. But, I know things were made easier because of her friends. She has a wonderful college friend in DC she meets with regularly for lunch and talks with on the phone, and a good Austin friend who calls regularly. Also, when we had my dad’s graveside service in Chicago, I met her teaching friends from 45 years ago who could not have been more kind. They shared stories I had never heard before about my mom when she was in her twenties and was set up on a blind date with my dad.
My mom also has the Dumpling who offers her boundless laughs. Someday I’ll tell the Dumpling about her pivotal role in keeping her grandma’s spirits up during this hard time.
We all dragged through winter in a fog, adapting to this new world without my dad. Then eventually, after the Chicago trip, we started feeling semi ready to climb out of the fog.
It had now been one year since I first said I would potty train the Dumpling. Clearly I had reasons for the delay. But, if the previous summer, I thought the Dumpling nor I were ready, this past summer was a bit different.
One day this summer when we were all home, the Dumpling kept telling me she needed her diaper changed. It bulged through her pants like a sopping wet sponge. But, I was in the middle of something and I kept asking her to wait. Then she started playing and I think I forgot about it. Then finally, who knows how much later, I remembered her diaper situation.
Me, “Oh, my goodness! Your diaper! Let’s go change it.”
Dumpling, “Mom, I already did.”
Me, “Ha! What? That’s impossible.”
Dumpling, “I really did. I went upstairs and changed my diaper.”
I reached down to inspect and found a clean, dry diaper under her pants. Just as she claimed, she went upstairs into her room, pulled down her pants, took off her diaper, threw it away and managed to put on a new one.
I was filled with a combination of feeling like a total failure as a parent for neglecting her pleas for a diaper change and massive pride that my neglect led to such resourcefulness.
Needless to say, Josh and I decided that the ability to remove and put on her own diapers, was the – oh so subtle – sign that it was time to potty train.
By this point, the “training” component was not as essential. It only took a few days to get her out of diapers. I feel bad that I waited so long. But, I know my dad would think it was all done just right. He also would have gotten a big laugh out of her diaper quick change. The previous summer he told me not to worry or force it, that she’ll use the potty when she’s ready. He was right.
He was right about so much. As each day goes by, I try to remember it all and pass on all his lessons to the Dumpling. Most importantly, you always keep going and keep laughing.