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‘Lone Star in the People’s Republic: on potty training’

Lone Star Photo-USE

There is perhaps no other realm of living in Berkeley that is as challenging to those of us raised in “Political Incorrectness” than the arena of parenting.

While others enjoy a sunny day at the park, we watch in stunned silence as a mother runs after her toddler shouting: “Hamlet, Hamlet, come back and finish your bok choy!”

Or what about seeing a Berkeley Bowl shopper, “Back To Earth” meets “Just Woke Up at Woodstock” (long skirt, babushka, woolly socks, clogs, dreads, piercings), go silent and rigid upon hearing that the produce man doesn’t know the provenance of several key vegetables. With a stoic look and a white-knuckled grip on her cart — and in a voice full of shaky and false bravado — she says to her young daughter (who is smashing strawberries on her knee): “I guess Mommy just won’t know where the white corn comes from today.”  I remember my corn-based meals: a packet of Fritos with a dollop of Wolf Brand Chili on top at football games.

And what to do about the poor mother who came home to find that her son, proudly elected to the school governance committee, had renounced all thought of future elected office?  In fact, had sworn to “never be on Student Council again”.

It seems that as an official liaison with the powers-that-be, he had been tasked to tell his class that “Nacho Thursdays” lived no more, and had, in fact, been replaced by a new lunch theme called “Ancient Grains of the Mediterranean”.  The intensity of the disappointment, including a young girl who sobbed that “Nacho Thursdays” were the best part of her week, coupled with his powerlessness to do anything to restore them, was just too much.  No amount of discussion about the trade-offs of power, the ability to do good that comes with the sometimes unsavory aspects of duty, could persuade her son otherwise.

I arrived in Berkeley with a toddler in diapers, and discovered Berkeley Parents Network, that wonderful, indispensable repository of wisdom, know-how, and, sometimes, let’s face it, true insanity. I eagerly dove into a page full of links with advice on toilet training, and immediately became stumped by this one: “Toddler Oppositional to Potty Training”.  “Oppositional to Potty Training.”  Huh. “Oppositional to Potty Training.” Huh. What can that mean? Like… an “opponent”.  Like.. an “opposing force”.  Like…

And then the “Aha”. And in my mind’s eye, I see a 17-year-old mother at the Walk n’ Wag grocery store, still wearing the father of her child’s High School football bomber jacket, exhaling the last of her third Lucky Strike of the day, and saying to her pouty “not gonna” young son:  “Momma’ll give ya a quarter if you peepee in the potty.”

Next time: Latkes: Innocent holiday ritual or nefarious health threat?

Kelly Cash, who has lived in Berkeley for eight years, is a writer who prepares ethically harvested foods for her companion animals, including husband and children, while working to save open spaces in the American west, one million acres at a time. This is the second in her series of “Lone Star” columns.

See Kelly’s previous column here.

[Photo Jock McDonald © 2009]