All Hands on the Poop Deck

Photo by Harpreet Padam
Photo by Harpreet Padam

My son turned nine recently. He has the honour of sharing his birthday with people like Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds actor), George Takei (the original Mr. Sulu), Luther Vandross (singer), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Crispin Glover (creepy), Stephen Marley (musician/son of Bob), Ryan O’Neal (actor), and Tito Puente (musician/no relation to Bob).

I only mention this because I’m tired of everyone pointing out that he also shares a birthday with Hitler, and I’d like to downplay that association as much as I can. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had people point it out to me. Congratulations, your child was born on the same day as one of the biggest monsters in human history! is not exactly something parents want to hear.

It always makes takes me back a bit. How is it that everyone else knows der Führer’s date of birth? It’s not exactly one of those dates drilled into your head as a child, like Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day. I only know it’s AH Day because other people tell me every chance they can. It makes me wonder, especially now that I live in the suburbs, if I’m surrounded by a secret Nazi conspiracy just waiting for the word to goose-step into action and take over the world again.

No offence to any Hitler-lovers out there, but I hope that’s not the case.


We moved out here six years ago at the beginning of May, just after our boy turned three but still needed to potty train. You’d think by the second child we’d have figured out teaching a kid how to use the toilet, but the first time around it was our daughter who trained us. At one, she was walking and talking and saying things like “Mummy” and “Daddy,” and before she hit two she started saying things like “Walking around with a poopy diaper is humiliating and degrading and I refuse to be a party to it anymore,” or words to that effect.

We kept waiting for the boy to have a similar poop-epiphany, only to realize when he turned three that we’d actually have to try something more than dropping hints. We got him a brand new potty and put it right in the living room and started encouraging him to just sit there without his pants on from time to time just to see what happened. Precious little did. He’d pee in the potty every once in a while – perhaps that annoying Pee Pee in the Potty song was helpful after all – but we weren’t having much luck when it came to the big stinky.

The week after we moved I had a ton of boxes to break down and get to the curb for recycling. My task master of a wife, Penny, had pretty much unpacked everything over the weekend and I had a cardboard nightmare to sort out in the garage while she went to work in the big city. I knew it would take me a while, but I also wanted to make some headway potty training, so I turned on Sesame Street and plopped the boy down on the throne. “Just watch Elmo,” I told him. “I’ll be cleaning up the garage. I’ll leave the door open; just call if you need me for anything.”

The next hour was a mad blur of me and a utility knife going to town, chopping box after box down to bite-sized chunks, or at least something small enough to cram into a blue bin. And then I heard a click behind me. Sesame Street now over, my son came into the garage and closed the door behind him; the door I had forgotten to unlock. And the keys were in the house. Also, my little guy was buck naked from the waist down.

“Daddy, I peed!” he announced.

“That’s awesome, dude!” I replied, desperate to positively reinforce the experience while every fibre of my being screamed out Now would be a great time to panic!

I went out through the garage door, naked son on my hip, and quickly cased the joint. I quickly deduced that either I’d make a terrible burglar or there’s no way to force entry into our house without breaking glass. Feeling at a loss, I opted to call Penny for some advice. Then I realized my cell phone was still in the house, along with the boy’s pants, my keys, a urine-filled potty, and the very last shred of my dignity.

“Time to meet the neighbours,” I said, walking down the street with my half-naked son in my arms to see who would take pity on us. As luck would have it, a young mother was playing with her two young daughters in their front yard. “I’m not crazy,” I announced on approach, “but my son is pantsless and we’re locked out of our house.”

Our new neighbour was gracious enough to let me make a long distance call, and I was able to through to my wife once Linda the receptionist pulled her out of a meeting in the boardroom saying there was an emergency at home. “You idiot,” Penny said when I told her what was wrong. (We have these pet names for each other, you see.)

About an hour later she pulled into the driveway and let us back in, doing her best not to roll her eyes too much.


Part of the deal of being a stay-at-home dad was bringing in a bit of extra money on the side. One of my gigs in those days was writing a music column for a Toronto-based web magazine. It didn’t actually pay much, but I did get free records and concert tickets, and I also got to interview musicians on a weekly basis, which I often mistook for the epitome of cool.

One day, I interviewed a local hip hop artist playing the jazz festival that summer. Penny and I still weren’t having luck getting our son to drop a deuce in the potty, so I asked him to assume the position yet again. “I’ll just be ten minutes on the phone with this guy, fifteen tops, and then I’ll be right back to check up on you,” I told him. “Just watch Elmo,” I said, “and I’ll be right back.” I forgot that Sesame Street plus the potty equalled disaster waiting to happen.

The interview went well. The rapper was really easy-going, and we talked for close to half an hour about his dad’s old ska collection, skateboarding, punk rock, Joni Mitchell, his old home town, his new home in Toronto, and his bicycle, among other things. I had completely lost track of time when I noticed movement out the corner of my eye. The boy!

He was happy; you could see the pride on his face. He’d finally gone number two in the potty; you could see it all over his hands. Curiosity got the better of him, and he examined his own waste before seeking me out. “I pooped,” he said, holding his hands up in evidence.

I’ve never been much of a multi-tasker, but somehow I managed to keep the interview going with the phone crammed between my ear and my shoulder. I grabbed a washcloth, got it all soapy, and washed my boy’s hands in the sink and made sure his bum was properly wiped, all the while asking questions of my interviewee, never letting on that I was dealing with a fecal apocalypse.

A few days later, I dropped the rapper an email with a link to the article and a brief summary of the potty training incident, which he found hilarious. He confessed he had no idea anything was wrong on my end and congratulated on my professionalism.

No one ever accused me of being cool under pressure before, or since, but I can always look back on that one shining moment where I was the eye of the hurricane, the lone sentinel guarding the border between order and chaos. If I got through that, I can get through pretty much anything, even people comparing my kid to Hitler.