Shame at the Playground

by Site Author

I met a writer for coffee recently, and she gave me some advice. Along with a few other tips, she told me that I should carry a notebook and write down the stories I come across. She told me that doing so would make me a better writer and a better storyteller.

For me, it was a tall order. I’m the kind of social scientist who reads into data, not people. I don’t know how to conduct an interview, how to ask people about their lives. So I worried that stories might be hard to find.

Still, I tried to follow her advice. I kept an eye out. And every once in a while, something caught my eye.

Last Saturday, I took my daughter to a playground. While she happily dug little valleys in the sandbox, I sat on a bench next to another father.

Suddenly, the other father’s son rushed over. The boy had to go to the bathroom. He was frantic, anxiously crossing his knees and grimacing.

The father had little sympathy. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” The man started to berate his son, who stood in front of the bench in agony. There was no public bathroom nearby, and, as the father explained, he was eight years old, way too old for this kind of problem.

But the boy could hold it in no longer. He looked down and watched as his shorts grew wet. And at this, the father became more upset. “You’re eight years old! You’re supposed to be past this!” The father fumed. “I have a two year old and an eight year old, and they’re both still peeing themselves.” They did not have a change of clothes, and so the boy would have to walk home in wet shorts.

I never asked the writer what I’m supposed to do with these stories. What does she do with her notebook? What should I do with mine?

I watched the boy waddle out of the playground with his father. My three-year-old daughter is nearly potty trained—she wasn’t wearing a diaper. I thought about shame and embarrassment and these childhood humiliations. The boy walked home with his father.