Where are you?
Carlito’s mother, Carmen, had been calling for her six-year-old son.
You better not be hiding behind the couch with poop in your shorts, she yelled.
Carlito was a first-grader, but he wasn’t potty trained. And Carmen was angry and ashamed that her son had yet reached this milestone.
I’m over here, a soft voice said from behind the loveseat.
Carlito’s routine was to hide behind his grandmother’s loveseat in the living room. He would quietly sit behind the couch, positioning himself in the corner. Sometimes, he would sit behind the couch for long periods of time, furiously pushing before his mother could grab and rush him to the toilet. And today was no different.
Get up from behind there now, she yelled to her son.
Carlito refused to get up and kept pushing.
I said, now!
Carlito began to tear up and fuss. He said he was still pushing and wasn’t done yet.
I just don’t understand this, Carmen said to her mother, Maria.
I told you to beat his ass until he gets it right, Maria quipped.
I’m not going to do that.
Why not? It worked for you!
You beat me to get me potty trained?
I did it to all of you, Maria said.
That’s insane, Carmen muttered.
Can you go to the bathroom without an issue?
Yes, but still—
But still nothing, Maria said. You people want to baby these kids and treat them like your friends. Be an adult and be his parent and whip his behind into shape. He’s going to First grade, and he’s still not potty trained? You should be ashamed of yourself.
Her mother’s words irritated her, but she had no choice but to listen. Carmen was a single mother of her son, and she had no other place to go. As much as she hated to hear her mother’s commentary, it was the price she paid for not living rent free.
The house was crowded, as all of Maria’s four adult kids and their kids squeezed into each bedroom. Maria and her daughters slept in the same bed, while the four children slept on a spare mattress on the floor. Carmen was the oldest of Maria’s kids, so she slept in her own room and had her own bed, and her son slept in a daybed, adjacent to her.
Carmen walked to the living room and called for Carlito.
I know you’re somewhere around here, so come on. You need to get out of there so we can wash you up. It’s okay. You’re not in trouble.
But you should be, Maria said from the kitchen. You need to be tougher on that little boy and make him use the bathroom, Maria said.
Yes, but telling him that he’ll be in trouble doesn’t help.
Oh, yea? The fear of Mom is the greatest weapon ever, Maria said. You still don’t know how to use it yet. But one day, you will.
Okay, Ma, if you say so.
If you don’t want my help, then maybe you should leave my house.
Do you need to take it there?
You’re rolling your eyes at me, said Maria. If you don’t like what I have to say, Maria said. Then you can get out. This is my house, and if you don’t like it, there’s the door.
That’s not the point, Carmen interjected. I don’t want to threaten him to follow my directions. It doesn’t help.
Carmen walked away from her mother and knelt by her son’s side.
Why don’t you use the toilet?
I don’t want to sit on the toilet, Carlito said. It’s easier for me to do it like this.
I can’t clean you every time you poop. You’re a big boy now.
No, but I want you to do it—
No, Carmen yelled. I’m not doing this anymore. Do you understand me?
Carlito’s eyes watered, and he shook his head.
I want you to walk to the bathroom and finish your business, said Carmen.
Carlito took baby steps into the bathroom and lowered his soiled underwear. He sat on the toilet. She carefully removed the dirty clothing and placed them in a garbage bag.
Are you throwing those clothes away?
Why? Those are my favorite pajamas.
You messed up the clothes, and I don’t have money to buy new pajamas.
Carlito lowered his head and began to sniffle.
Don’t give me that cry baby stuff.
Carmen got to her feet and walked out of the bathroom. She took the bag of soiled pajamas and threw them down the incinerator chute.
Maria noticed and shook her head.
A waste of money, she yelled over the Salsa music playing from the kitchen radio. I wouldn’t buy him nothing else, that little brat.
Mom, I can do without the name calling.
Sorry, she said. But I have an idea.
You should let him sit around the house naked, Maria said.
Yes, naked. At least he won’t make a mess.
That is so inappropriate. I don’t know about this.
Please, trust me.
Alright Mom, Carmen said. Maybe I’ll give it a try.
A try? I don’t know why you can’t do as I say. These are things that your grandmother taught me, and so on. Sometimes, we old people know what we’re talking about.
Fine, Carmen said. I’ll leave him naked. But if this doesn’t work, I’ll be upset.
Maria smiled, and turned on the stove to prepare her famous pepper steak.
Aweek later, Carmen leaned down to Carlito’s neck.
You stink boy. Go in there and wash up.
But Mommy, Carlito said, I didn’t poop on myself. I haven’t done that in a long time.
I know that, and you’re doing an excellent job. But you still need to take a shower.
I hate taking a stupid shower!
Don’t raise your voice at me. Now go and shower.
Carlito walked to the bathroom and slammed the door. Meanwhile, Carmen walked into the living room, where Maria sat, watching her Novelas.
Okay, Mom, you were right.
What was I right about?
Are you really going to make me do this?
You know that when we are wrong, we apologize.
Yes, I know Mom, but sometimes, you say things that sound like criticism.
If I recommend something, it’s not to make you feel bad. I’m just trying to help and give you the best way to do things.
Your way isn’t always the best way though. And you don’t understand that.
Yes, a lot of those things that I did aren’t looked at as the right way to do things anymore. Mom, things changed. The things that worked for you, don’t work the same today.
I don’t know why that is, but being a mother is the same across time.
Things change, Mom.
Yes, but the struggle is the same. But that’s why I’m here and I want you to trust me.
That’s fair, Carmen said.
Now come here and give your mother a hug, Maria said.
The mothers stood up and embraced in the living room.
I love you Carmen, she whispered. And I want the best for the both of you.
Thank you Mom.