Stair Climbing and Potty Training

I’m running around the house.

I cut left around the wall toward the upstairs half-bath, then switch right real fast to avoid hitting the little table with the stupid bowl that my mom bought because it matched the bathroom’s décor. I hate that stupid bowl. It’s completely useless. It just sits there in the middle of the hallway, taking up space and begging to be put to use. My mother won’t allow it. She says it’s for decoration. I don’t understand using useful things as decoration. That’s like finding a vaccine for some deadly disease, putting it in a syringe, and putting the syringe on a little table in your upstairs hall because it matches the décor.

So anyway, I coast past the stupid bowl on the little table without incident, and as I spin to start down the stairs, the world decides to shift twelve degrees to the left. My foot shifts with it, extending out over a deepening chasm of blue carpet and faux maple hardwood. It comes down, not on anything solid. It keeps falling, and I’m filled with a pang of terror and the tingly, fight-or-flight adrenaline rush that accompanies the thought of “I should be touching the next stair by now…”

I am a crumpled, fleshy mass of limbs rolling down an endless hill of sharpened Saxony. I’m like Sisyphus in reverse; or like Marcel Duchamp’s lesser-known work: Dumbass Kid Descending a Staircase.

In movies, all the really quick and exciting scenes slow way down so that the audience can savor every subtle nuance in a tragedy. The people in the theater, they watch their own shocked expressions reflected in the chrome grille of a tractor-trailer. It’s plowing into a busy intersection, spewing shards and bits of glass and rubber and smoke as it carves a shiny, dirty, bloody path that predictably ends in an impressive – if implausible – explosion of fire and expensive sound effects. It’s viewed and re-viewed from twelve different angles in slow motion and crystal-clear definition so the audience can savor its own distance from the pain, and so the special effects department can justify asking for an even bigger budget in the sequel.

That doesn’t happen in real life. You fall and you get hurt. No slow-motion. No HD. No distance from the pain.

I check myself for damage. I have rug burns on my arms and my pants are a little damp at the crotch. That’s embarrassing. My fight-or-flight defense mechanism appears to be peeing myself. My nose begins to bleed. Now the tears come.

It’s all that stupid bowl’s fault. If it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have had to try to avoid it, and I could have made sure my footing was better. I hate that bowl. Stupid useless non-bowl.

I remember before it was there. It was a long time ago, back before I was falling down stairs all the time. It was when I was two.

I have only one memory from when I was two. I don’t think I remember back beyond that, and a lot of my current recollection comes from my mother’s recollection, so it’s twice removed from the source. I know the bowl wasn’t there. Instead, my mother put a little potty on the floor of the hall because I was toilet training. The potty was originally on the floor in the bathroom, but the tile in there was slick, and I already had a track record of being uncoordinated, so she moved it out onto the carpet to protect her sanity and my knees.

My mother was getting ready to go to the mall. I loved going to the mall with her. It was just about the most fun I had with my mom when I was two, but she said I couldn’t go this time. Not until I went. In the potty. I had to go to go. That was the deal. I couldn’t go because I couldn’t go. I looked down at the potty. Another stupid bowl I couldn’t put to use.

I tried really hard, but I didn’t know what to do. Peeing had come so naturally before; why was it so difficult now? Why won’t it just work? I couldn’t figure out what to do, so I sat on my potty in the middle of the upstairs hall and cried, hoping maybe my tears would fill up the bucket in the potty and let me go to the mall. I didn’t think she’d do it. Mom wouldn’t go to the mall without me – it’s what we did. We went to the mall together.

I could hear footsteps in the foyer. My mom was leaving. I was at the end of my rope, no options left, terrified that I might miss out on an outing with my mother (it’s amazing how such small things are blown out of proportion when you’re two). She reached the door – I could hear through the railing in the hall – the doorknob turned; the bolt clicked open with a “snick” that echoed through the house and struck me with a feeling of such unbridled terror that I peed. It was only a little bit, but I peed. Like a scared puppy facing a vacuum cleaner.

“MOM!”  I squealed in terror and delight – and odd mixture of emotions, considering I was still sitting on the potty. “I PEED!” My mother came running. She wasn’t outside; she wasn’t even at the front door. She had been in her room getting ready. I yanked my pants up (a little too early) and pointed proudly at the no-longer-empty bowl. My mother embraced me, wiped the tears from my red face, and showered me with praise. She didn’t say anything about the small bit of pee on my pants.

Four years later I’m sitting at the bottom of the stairs, nose bloody and pants wet. “MOM!” I yell in pain and embarrassment. She heard the commotion as I fell. She brought tissues for my nose. When I see her through my tears and blood and embarrassment, I see my own, pitiful reflection in her eyes – the motherly equivalent of a chrome tractor-trailer grille replaying my fall in slow motion. It makes me cry more. She holds a wad of fluff up to my face. She wipes away the tears. She doesn’t say anything about the small bit of pee on my pants.


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