The talk

April 26,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Last night I had one of those surreal conversations you have when you're a parent--the type of conversation you never imagine yourself having with anyone, but then, there you go, it happens, and you're standing in the bathroom with your six-year old, talking about the toilet. It started this way: I ushered T. into the bathroom at bedtime so we could do teeth and her bath. Someone had stopped up the sink at some point during the day and it was full to the top with soapy bubbles. "Who filled up the sink?" I asked. T. laughed at the memory. "I did! I was washing my hands!" "Oh" I said, and I pulled the plunger and let the water out, with a soapy whoosh. "Aren't you going to ask why I was washing my hands?" T. asked, curiously, as I helped her onto the potty. "Um, sure! Why were you washing your hands?" "Well, I put my hand in the toilet," she said, amused at the memory. "The toilet is so dirty, right?" Yes! Yes! The toilet IS dirty! Why was her hand in the toilet? "Why did you put your hand in the toilet?" "It was the only way I could get the brown thing out!" There is a certain point in all such conversations when you the parent just want to leave the room, hands over your ears, and yet that mother part of yourself must know the details, and so you stay, and ask more questions. "What brown thing?" I asked, helping her off the potty again and flushing at the same time. She paused, and peered into the toilet, watching the water swirl down--sluggishly, I thought. "See!" she said, pointing. "THAT brown thing." I looked too and sure enough, at the very back of the hole in the bottom of the toilet, was a large brown thing. And the toilet water had given up its journey downwards and was ominously rising and rising to the rim, while we stared on. "It's the cardboard from my tissue box!" T. said, excitedly. "I was doing an experiment to see if it could flush!" I thought a lot of things while I fished out the wad of cardboard from the toilet but I kept them to myself. It wasn't the first time I'd fished something out of the toilet and, just maybe, it wouldn't be the last. It was just cardboard, after all. We talked again about what could go into the toilet, and what, definitely, shouldn't. After T.'s bath and her story and her two tucks into bed I was getting ready to click off her light and leave the room when she piped up from the dark: "Mama?" "Yes?" "I was wondering, does plastic flush down the toilet?"