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When My Boy Became a Man

I have a son, well, three sons total, but today I want to talk about my oldest son.

Shawn and Son

I've always thought that the trust a child would feel for a parent was automatic. From the moment your child is born, you provide everything for him — food, safe living arrangements, playtime. Everything. I figured that a child's natural trust would alleviate doubt and fear until he was old enough to make his own decisions or develop his own views. Estimated age for challenging parental decisions: 13.

Not with my oldest son. Try age 3. Yeah, in his mind, he became a man at age 3.

I had three kids at the time, and after a long battle potty training my oldest son, I finally had just one baby in diapers. Double Diaper Duty (DDD) is a drag. I looked forward to taking my oldest son to the restroom with me where he could show off his new independence. We were at Target on a Wednesday morning.

"Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom."

"OK, honey, let me grab my purse and I can change the baby while you're in the potty."

"But you can't go in the men's bathroom."

"And neither can you." (Knee-jerk reaction, I admit.)

Did he say the men's bathroom? I never thought about my almost 4-year-old wanting to go to a men's bathroom. Where did he get the idea of the men's bathroom? My husband hadn't taken him anywhere in public since he'd been potty trained. How did he even know there was a men's bathroom?

"Honey, you're with me and I have to make sure that you're safe. There's no difference between the bathrooms, you know."

It was like a tennis match. Tension is building. Scores tied. And my son blasts his serve compounded with a full bladder and a not-so-full handle on the English language.

"There is a difference. Womens sit. Mens stand."

Shawn and Son 2

At this point, the Target staff is beginning to whisper: What is her problem? Is that little boy yelling at her?

Now, I read as many books as I could get my hands on and none of them prepared me for this. No time to think. I tried to carry him into the women's bathroom and he lost it.

"You can't make me go. I'm NOT a girl."

OK, leave him in the store. Let him have accident. Then I look at my little calm 1-year-old baby boy and think, What if this happens again? I can't avoid this.

In a divine moment of clarity, I spoke: "Excuse me, sir. Could you check to see if there is anyone in the men's bathroom?"

At this point, everyone was pretty accommodating.


My son went to the bathroom while I guarded the door. I was so freaked out that someone was going to try to go in that I told my son not to wash his hands in the bathroom because I had some hand sanitizer in my purse.

My mind was racing for what appeared to be the longest two minutes of my life: Am I selling out moms everywhere? Does he have the right to tell me what he won't do? Will he always be this strong willed?

He came out with a big smile on his face and calmly said, "Thanks mom. I'm a big boy now."

At age 3, I got a small taste, yes, small, of what it is like raising a strong-willed child. He feels that his opinions deserve to be heard. He's not rude, and actually, he's accepting and accommodating to everyone else. Except me.

I respect who he is. Although it's frustrating, I've had to adjust my parenting style.

A little.

At age 8, he hasn't changed much. He doesn't pull any men's bathroom stunts because he now has to take his 6-year-old brother and I make sure I stand in the doorway; sometimes I even prop the door open. He wants to read books that aren't appropriate for his age. He wants a full explanation of every decision that I make involving him.

"Why did you sign me up for football and not soccer?"

"What is the big deal about young adult books? I can read the words, so I should be able to read the book."

"Why do I have to go to bed at 8:30 P.M.? I should have to go to bed when I'm tired."

It could be worse. I just keep thinking, "He'll make a great lawyer or politician some day." Got to find a bright side to everything, right?