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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.

"Sure."

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?

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