Opinionator

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

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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with the powers-that-be, he had been tasked to tell his class that “Nacho Thursdays” lived no more, and had, in fact, been replaced by a new lunch theme called “Ancient Grains of the Mediterranean”.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]

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  • m

    Latkes, my southern belle. Latkes. Latka was a character on “Taxi.”

    As for everything else you said? Word.

  • http://twitter.com/WritersKitchen Lorraine

    “I guess Mommy just won’t know where the white corn comes from today.” Talk about your Stabat mater dolorosa !

    Know what? Berkeley has ALWAYS been like this. Going back to the late 1950s when my Dad was at Cal and mom at Mills–then sort of a finishing school.

    As a now-New Yorker, transplanted East Bay-ite, 3rd generation ‘Fornian,–a kid born at Alta Bates, dragged to rock festivals on Mount Tam and dropped off weekly at the El Cerrito Co-op’s Kiddie Corral (does it still exist?)–I find these scenarii sweetly nostalgic.

    Not that Berkeley parents aren’t UNBELIEVABLY annoying. But they’ve been annoying for 40+ years. There’s something comforting about that.

  • Kelly Cash

    Thanks to the correction of the Latke spelling. We call them ‘potato pancakes’ where I’m from. And yes, Berkeley is wonderful — and you do feel the greatness of the parents that went before you ghosting of so much of what you do here. I’m thinking of the Carousel, the Adventure Playground, and of course Fairyland. It’s a great place. More on the Kiddie Corral!

  • Gail Brown

    I love these. I live in Montana, although only for 20 years so not a “real Montanan”. If you get a Montanan talking about a Californian, they will miss every exit on the interstate (which are conveniently located at 20 mile intervals) and you will never get to pee. I think you truly have a gift and look forward to the next one.

  • Garry George

    Save the nachos y’all! Future archeological digs will verify the unifying cultural properties and the nutritional benefits of genetically modified corn triangles fried in genetically modified soy oil (reduced fat!) and topped with an orange product with a shelf life of 17 years and a marketing tag on the box: “Contains real cheese.” It’s the preservatives that are keeping us alive, not the pharmaceuticals!

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    Garry: or as Grace Slick once sang “Preservatives might be preserving you! I think that’s something you might of missed. ….. Yeah, you missed it.”

    Anyway, I think the poor student government kid was on the right side of things, there. Let’s face it, student government of that kind is really little more than a puppet government installed by an occupying and imperialistic force of teachers and faculty. Oh, sure, there are sham elections and so forth but these are heavily manipulated and, anyway, student council actions are entirely at at the suffrage of the imperial over-seers. Poor could couldn’t live out the hypocrisy once he’d stared Power in the face.

    Anyway, the woman with the oppositional to toilet training toddler *could* translate into the lucky strike gal with a quarter to offer for holding it in till a restroom is reached – it’s a compelling image (and nice writing!) … but, I would think it was more like the big-haired Dallas lady married to the mid-tier real estate developer who’s leveraged up to to his neck and doing some shady angling on a contract with the local mega-church while she’s busy trying to prep the kid for his private school kindergarten admissions interview because if he doesn’t get in or they can’t make tuition it’s almost certainly going to have to be home schooling or the church’s school and, honey, she just doesn’t feel like she’s up to the first option or all that happy about the second.

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