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Social Studies

Down the Tubes

By Vincent Williams | Posted 5/3/2006

So, we’re thinking about starting the potty training. Being the stereotypical overeducated, underexperienced duo that we are, the wife and I have primarily been doing a lot of research to help us see if it’s time. See, my daughter’s only 15 months old, but, I have to tell you, it’s a little frightening how divergent views are on when you should start getting them ready for the “big game.” I mean, on the one hand, everyone agrees that girls are easier to potty train than boys . . . unless they don’t agree. And everyone thinks that if the child shows signs of being ready you should move forward . . . unless they don’t buy that.

Still, it seems like my daughter’s right at the point where she’s ready. She’s going to the bathroom with my wife. She’s fascinated with the toilet. And, according to that most objective of judges, her grandmother, she’s “smarter than a rat trap.” Now, I’m not quite sure what that means, besides the fact that my mother is a cross between Zora Neale Hurston and a cast member of Hee-Haw, but smart is good. And, while my mom is all gushy and grandmotherly, my daughter does seem to have this bathroom thing in a place where she knows what’s going on.

For instance, I’m not going to get too deep into “aw, isn’t she cute” stories, but this one serves a point: Me and my daughter have this thing where, when she’s pooped, I smell her and go, “Are you taking me to Funkytown?” And then I start to sing the first couple of words to “Funkytown” and add in the “Oooo-oh-o-uh-ooo-uh-o-uh-ah” part. Got it? So, I’ve been doing that pretty much since that magical moment that all parents go through when her poop started to smell like . . . poop. The other day, my daughter and I shared yet another magical moment, but I was distracted and thinking about something else and didn’t do the “Oooo-oh-o-uh” part, and, that’s right, my daughter started singing “Funkytown” on her own. Oh yeah. Rat traps got nothin’ on my kid.

Ultimately, however, what we’re most concerned with isn’t so much whether she’s ready but whether we should be pushing this. We really believe that potty training is arguably the first step in indoctrinating children about, well, childhood. This is an important point because, in many ways, childhood seems to be the privilege of the privileged. Think I’m kidding? I want you to do an experiment for me. Go to the two malls in your area: the nice one and the not so nice one. You know which malls I’m talking about. There’s a mall that has bookstores and coffee shops . . . and there’s a mall where you can play the lottery, that has a bunch of stores you’ve never heard of, and where you may be able to get 40 ounces of refreshing malt liquor. Now go to the children’s stores in each of those malls and check out the type of clothes they offer, particularly for girls. What you’ll find is that in the nice mall there is a large selection of clothes that you would traditionally associate with children—patent-leather shoes, flowy dresses, little knickers, overalls, etc. In the not-so-nice mall, it’s a lot more difficult to find those items. What you will find, however, is plenty of adult clothes in children’s sizes.

Am I saying that I see clothes as part of a broad-based conspiracy? Maybe. All I know is that I live in a country with dozens of teenagers who were treated so much like adults that they’re on death row, but I have a president who engaged in “youthful indiscretions,” by his own admission, into his 30s. We talk about “children having children,” but we foster an environment where the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized aren’t really allowed to ever be children.

Traditionally, you could argue, that was because there just wasn’t the luxury to baby folks when you had so much else going on in your life. I hear old folks in my family talk, and I don’t know when they even had to time to make a baby, much less take care of one. Nowadays . . . I don’t know. The whole thing just strikes me as a bit more insidious. If you get ’em acting like adults as early as possible, when they’re not yet mature enough to think about the repercussions of their actions, you can get ’em to make stupid decisions that will limit their options and funnel them right into the part of the system you want them in. And I just want to make sure that funnel doesn’t begin with a potty.

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