When we do the potty…
I am squatting on the floor of the bathroom, wedged between the toilet and the wall. My arms support my three-year-old daughter as she sits on the edge of the pot. She holds my face in her warm midget hands and looks deep into my eyes as if searching for my soul. I look at my daughter. She looks like me. The thought makes me weak with love but also makes me nervous. Her mother is beautiful. I’m not bad looking but I worry that my face does not belong on a girl.
That gets me thinking about the time my nephew was born. With his wide forehead and slightly bulging eyes, he looked exactly like my brother in law. “Congratulations!” I shook my brother in law’s hand as we stood in the hospital room in front of my sister and the cradle. “There’s no doubt you are the father…”
Of course, I didn’t mean it like that. All I wanted to comment on was the striking resemblance between father and son. It was a big occasion and the words didn’t come out exactly as intended. My sister wasn’t amused.
My daughter blows a spit bubble in my face and giggles. Suddenly an expression of panic skitters across her face.
“I slipping Appa!” she yelps and grabs my shoulders. Nothing terrifies her more than the idea of falling into the swirling abyss of the toilet bowl.
“No No, I’m holding you tight…” I reassure her. I shuffle around as best as I can and readjust my grip. I used to do this standing up and bending over but lifting her off the pot at that angle used to kill my back. I can comfortably dead-lift my body weight in the gym but bending over and picking up a three-year-old from the awkward height of the toilet plays havoc with my spinal cord. Now I prefer to have my butt graze the floor as my daughter attends to her business. It’s one of the few times in the day that we have a face to face conversation. Then she goes to school, I go to work and when I get back I don’t have the energy to talk to anyone.
She moves her hands up to my ears and tugs them. She tickles my beard, pulls at my mustache and then proceeds to pinch my cheeks. As she does so she grinds her teeth, the intensity of the grind corresponding to the pressure applied to my face. Her face quivers as she ratchets up the pressure. It hurts and I shake my head like a dog drying itself after its been pushed into a river, trying to dislodge her hands while ensuring that I don’t let go of her waist.
“Stop Stop!” I mumble and plead. Her hands loosen and then find my cheeks again.
She giggles evilly, gives me one final blistering pinch and lets go. She looks up at the ceiling and hums a tune as she tinkles softly into the bowl. “North Ameerika…South Ameerika…. Asshia, Europ…” She stops and looks me in the eye again.
She always gets stuck at Europe. The vast continents of Africa, Australia and Antarctica never feature in her version of the world map.
“Afr…Afr… “I encourage her. My hamstrings are beginning to stiffen.
“North Ameerika…South Ameerika…” she begins again this time raising the volume. I’m sure the neighbors can hear her now. I don’t want them to think my wife and I are failing as parents so I join in “AFRICA, AUSTRALIA…ANTA…!”
“NO!” she glares at me. She shoves her hand into my mouth and grabs me by the inside of my lower jaw. “No you sing! Only I sing!”. I nod mutely. She withdraws her hand and does not bother to wipe it.
“You not my friend…you BAD girl!” she scolds me. I agree. I know that once this is done she will run down the corridor to her mother because she’s missed her with a raw burning intensity in the five minutes since she left her side. My daughter’s affection towards her mother is dog like in its quivering, bounding, yelping, snuffling, squeaking joy. She absolutely shimmers in her presence. Her affection towards me is more cat like. She will stretch, yawn and move just a couple of centimeters away when I move in to kiss her cheek. My daughter views me mainly as a rival for her mother’s attention. I need to work extra hard to get a scrap of affection. Then out of the blue she will give me a kiss on the cheek that is so soft, so delicate that I find it difficult to breathe.
My back is beginning to hurt now. But I must soldier on till I hear a reassuring plop in the water. Potty. The BIG JOB. That absurd mixture of pride, satisfaction and relief that I will feel once I peer into the toilet bowl. A place for everything and everything in its place, so much better than a lush brown smear on a sodden diaper.
“Hmmmf!” I look at my daughter’s face. An expression of barely contained grief ripples across her face. The kind of grief that wells up at the very core of your being. She looks like a volcano of tears about to explode.
It used to scare me, this potty face. It would move me to dark places where I believed my daughter was hurt and there was nothing I could do. Now I know that it ends well. I hear a plop. My daughter gives me radiant smile. I smile back. If there was an award to give, I would present it to her while an audience clapped and cheered.
I wait till I hear another plop and another. I wait a little longer and then I slowly ease my way up. I wash her and then wash my hands in the sink. I hold her around her chest as she hovers above the sink and messes with the soap. She enjoys the bubbles and the water. She stares cross eyed at her fingers as she works up a fine lather. I rinse her hands and help her get into her clothes. She runs out of the bathroom yelling for her mother.
I wipe my hands with the towel again and stare at my bearded reflection in the mirror again. I grew the beard three months before she was born because I wanted to feel like an adult. I’m a father now. How the hell did that happen?