Scenes from Auntland: The Big Slide

Nothing stands between a toddler and The Big Slide, I learned yesterday. Not even a mostly — but not-all-the-way — trained bladder.

I was with my 4.5-year-old niece, Victoria, and my nearly 3-year-old nephew, Gabe, yesterday at a suburban playground on a glorious April afternoon. Their parents were at home a few blocks away, doing whatever it is parents do whenever their kids aren’t around — probably staring blankly at a wall, breathing shallowly — and it was just me and the little ones.

They viewed the plastic apparatus of the playground in front of them as no less than Mount Everest, and the sandbox nearby as a place to bury pirate gold, and the little shelf and door under the bridge as the pizza counter where they doled out creations like pizza with oreos on top to plenty of willing customers.

God, kids’ imaginations are the best.

What is not the best is their tenuous relationship with their bladders and a limited understanding of how bodily fluids work.

Victoria was happily digging in the sand, burying a dime she’d found on the walk over and then rediscovering it over and over and roaring her best pirate’s “ARRRRR.” (It’s pretty good, actually.) Gabe was enthralled with what he called “The Big Slide!” (™). He’d wind his way up to the 12-foot plastic swirl over and over, little body splayed out as he slowly slid down it with intense concentration, then whip around, running to do it all over again, looking at me as he jogged by, every single time, yelling, “I LOVE DA BIG SLIDE!”

He did this about 25 times, by my count.

It was about an hour into playground adventures that I started to notice the telltale signs of a little boy who needs to pee. Turns out they are pretty much the same signs as an adult who needs to pee, except less subtle. Lots of crotch grabbing, jumping from foot to foot, awkward crouching.

“Alright,” I announced. “Time to go home. Gabe needs to go to the bathroom.”

Turns out my words as an aunt have as much power and authority over toddlers bound to me by blood relation as a mouse yelling at a lion. My booming instructions floated uselessly into the wind, unheeded by anybody, no matter how often I repeated them or how much louder they got, an awful lot like a dense American trying to get a foreigner to understand what they’re saying by simply increasing their volume.

“It. Is Time. To Go. Hooooommmme.”

I tried cookies. You know, a bribe. I went to bribes awful quick. “If we go home now, you’ll get a cookie! YOU. WILL GET. A COOKIE. COOOOKIEEEEEEESSSSSSSS. BIG CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES.”

(I had no idea if there were cookies at home.)

It was on my fifth or sixth useless utterance of these phrases that I noticed liquid falling from the sky. More accurately, liquid falling from the platform above the slide, as Gabe started slowly, resignedly, peeing his pants — liquid that started streaming with him down the slide as he screwed up his tiny toddler face in concentration, both, I imagine, in making it down the slide carefully, while also not just spraying urine like a baby firehouse all over the entire playground.

Oh god, I thought. I am going to get sent to child services. The kids, they’re fine. I, ME, I AM GOING TO GET SENT TO CHILD SERVICES. I am allowing a kid to pee all over a public playground! The slide is absolutely streaked in urine! They send people of my ilk to JAIL!!!! This is an international crisis!

I grabbed Gabe as soon as he hit the bottom of the slide and carted him off to the back end of the playground where there was a grove of trees. Luckily, he had only actually emptied a small portion of his baby bladder, but I was not about to take any chances with anymore slide pee.

“Gabe, pee here!” I instructed, facing him towards a tree, hiding him from view and trying to get him to pull down his pants and, you know, go. “Here, you can pee here!”

Gabe looked up at me like I had just told him that he needed to fly to space and refuel the international space station astronauts. His look was a mix of wonder, of fear, of confusion, and suddenly, of possibility.

At the same time his brain was ricocheting with what I was telling him to do, I realized that never once in his nearly three years of life had he peed anywhere besides in his own diaper or a little plastic Fisher Price toilet. In fact, he had spent his entire life being told that he must absolutely not, on penalty of parental yelling, pee anywhere else whatsoever. And here was Crazy Aunt Catherine, trying to get him to take off his pants in public and urinate freely on foliage.

His little mind was not totally into the idea. But he realized the futility of the situation and his need, and did a very fine urination. And luckily, the playground was essentially empty at this point. Afterwards, he looked up at me and said, wonderingly, “Woah. I did that!” and pointed to the puddle of pee at the base of the tree.

Then he ran back to The Big Slide (™). I said nothing and just reminded myself that I was going to have to tell his parents to wash both his and Victoria’s clothes when we got home… if that ever happened.

As I watched them drag their little bodies down the urine-streaked slide, I realized two things: I was never going to win an Aunt of the Year Award, and also I had opened Gabe’s parents to an entirely new issue concerning urination — namely, that he now thought anytime he saw a tree it was just as good as a spot to go as his plastic potty training toilet. “Oops,” I thought. “I guess at least I’m not…giving them drugs?”

Still trying to get these children to imbue me with any sort of power, and to get them home, because after two hours with small children, parts of my brain start to black out, I went down the trickster road and said, “Okay, guys, we really need to go home now, because now Aunt Catherine needs to go to the bathroom.”

Victoria, who had observed the entire situation silently from her sandbox earlier, said, “We can stay, because you can just go to the bathroom behind that tree!”

In short, this is not only the story of toddlers peeing in public, but how I got owned by my child relations.

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Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother.

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