So this weekend I took part in a discussion on the Brain, Child website about this essay in the Winter 2008 issue, “Relieving Myself,” by Heather Caliri.  Caliri is a writer in San Diego (she also has a blog, which as of this moment I have not yet perused, but here’s the link for your pleasure).  Caliri wrote about her experiences with Elimination Communication (EC), or diaper-free parenting.  The philosophy, in a nutshell, is this:  parents don’t need to depend on diapers, but they can learn to read and respond to their babies’ subtle cues and thus teach their children to have a sense of their own elimination needs and never endure conventional toilet-training hell.

I’ll be honest with you, kids:  the first time I heard about EC, around the time my last baby was born, my reaction was, “You have got to be effing kidding me.”  (Truly spoken like the woman who personally kicked Kimberly-Clark’s stock through the roof.)  My second thought was that it must be awesome for the people who have the patience for such things, but I would never be one of those parents.  And you, dear readers, know from careful study of this blog that I am still not one of those parents (and never will be).  (I once mentioned something to my step-mother about diaper-free parenting; her response was, “And what are you supposed to do with your other 20 minutes a day?”  Haha.  Good one, step-mom.  I thought she was being generous!)  However, I was intrigued by Caliri’s essay because she was clearly not out to persuade anyone else to use EC, merely documenting her own experience, and I thought it was a very insightful, often humorous piece about the nutty stuff we do in the name of good parenting.  (Not that EC is inherently nutty, but one can drive oneself nuts with any aspect of parenting.)

I wasn’t entirely surprised, though, that one of the first comments on the discussion page was a slam on Caliri’s hygiene standards and etiquette.  Not to give anything away (Sugar Daddy, avert your eyes because there’s a plot spoiler ahead!), but in the final scene Caliri is in a restaurant bathroom with her baby, Lucy, who proceeds to pee in the restroom sink.  This has some stylistic resonance, if you’ve invested in the preceding narrative, but some people evidently thought it was just really gross. 

Myself, I would be lying if I claimed not to have my own thoughts along the line of, “That’s not something you expect to see in a public restroom (if you’re lucky).”  However, my reaction was mitigated by the following:

1.  It was a baby.

2.  There was running water, not to mention a nearby soap dispenser.

3.  After nearly ten years of up-close-and-personal interaction with human waste, not to mention the three years I spent in the People’s Republic of Eugene, there is little that actually shocks me anymore.

4.  It’s not like it was my sink.

Just kidding on that last one.  Actually, if Caliri were visiting my home and wanted permission to let her baby relieve herself in my bathroom sink, I could hardly refuse her on grounds that my bathroom sink is a holy shrine to cleanliness.  But seriously, the fact that I was physically removed from the situation certainly allowed me the emotional distance to take the episode in stride.  After all, I’d already survived an earlier scene where Caliri let Lucy do her business by the outside wall of a neighborhood apartment building, sans smelling salts.  I actually thought that lifestyle choice a tad more gauche, maybe because I’ve lived in apartment buildings in neighborhoods where people had issues with personal boundaries.  But also because I couldn’t envision Caliri hosing the stucco off after the fact.  (Certainly not without a handy soap dispenser.)  However, no one else on the discussion board mentioned the wall-peeing, only the sink-peeing and how beyond-the-pale it was.

Ordinarily I don’t enjoy being a de facto defender of public urination–not any more than the ACLU enjoys defending those awful neo-Nazis, I’m sure–but my sympathies were with Caliri because she’d written a really interesting essay about an issue much larger than toileting, and her point was getting lost in the collective condemnation of her bathroom manners.  Sure, maybe a baby peeing in a public sink is uncool.  I won’t try to argue otherwise, because, you know, it’s not a choice I would make.  (Then again, trying to save the world one less diaper at a time is obviously not a choice I’ve ever made either.)  But I didn’t think it was fair to make that one part of the essay the centerpiece of the conversation, when the article was not about the relative merits of EC, but about Caliri’s own parental hangups and how she got over them.  I thought that, as a writer, Caliri would appreciate some feedback on something other than her choice to let the baby pee in the sink. 

Alas, ’twas not to be, because people were really, very put-off by the sink-peeing, and also by BC editor Jennifer Niesslein tsk-tsking them for harping on it and making it personal.  That led to some people wondering if they were supposed to all pretend they agreed with someone instead of giving their honest opinion(s), and whether tolerance only went one way at Brain, Child–also, whether we were all privileged, self-absorbed white women and whether we were going to silence women’s voices for the sake of niceness.  Valid questions, all of them, but in the meantime, poor Caliri’s article was not really being discussed; it was her personal character that was on trial.  It made me very grateful that my essay for Brain, Child never made it into the online content.  (Not that there was any sink-peeing in that one.  Maybe a little nose-picking, but that might not have been in the final edit.) 

I’m pretty much done with that discussion, edifying as it was, but some lingering questions remain (for me), so I will put them to you, gentle readers:

1.  Am I “out of the mainstream” because my objections to public sink-peeing have more to do with decorum than public health?  (I dunno, baby pee + running water + soap = ?)  In other words, am I just gross?

2.  Do women, as one BC commenter said, equate hard-hitting commentary with rudeness?  Do we wish to “make sure everybody ‘feels comfortable’ at the expense of dialogue”?

And for the sake of science,

3.  Do you prefer your dialogue hard-hitting, or comfortable?  Are you by any chance a woman?