Hilah Johnson and Laura Vitale, did you ever imagine that one of your most ardent fans would watch most of your videos while sitting on the pot? On Ruby’s behalf as well as my own, I’d like to thank you for hours of cooking entertainment and education, and for helping Ruby get back on track. We’ve spent a lot of time on the toilet this year.
She’d been communicating when she wanted to use the bathroom for a long time, first with a sign and then with words, and this year worrying about accidents had stopped being much of a concern. But I gradually noticed that she was ‘holding it’ for an excessively long time, never going to the bathroom at school, and refusing to pee until getting home from speech therapy at 5:30 pm. After that there was little hope of getting her to pee again before bed, since she basically was willing to use the bathroom only to avoid an emergency. It wasn’t surprising, then, to find her sopping wet most mornings.
Eventually her dedication to holding it began to get the better of her, and she had her first impeccably timed accident while her neuropsychologist was observing her in speech therapy, and, promptly, three more. The possibility that Ruby might regress in this area had me stressed to the point of needing soothing words and pats on the back from Ruby’s speech therapist and teachers, and I developed a strict new protocol. I could no longer be satisfied with Ruby’s ability to tell me when she had to pee. I wanted urine in the toilet, three times a day.
The crucial thing to ensure was that Ruby pee in the early afternoon, so she’d be ready to go again before bed, and then have a better shot at being dry in the morning. Getting her on the pot when it wasn’t her choice was bad enough — often more of a physical struggle than either of us were happy with — but keeping her there was difficult too, and she always had a hard time calming and quieting her body enough to consider the possibility of peeing. I had books and toys on hand, but those are very interactive things for Ruby — even reading a book usually involves quite a bit of movement, and these things didn’t seem to help with getting her in the zone. We spent many grumpy periods of forty-five minutes or more with her sitting on the toilet, crying, whining, and trying to leave, while I begged her to pee.
And then one fateful day, I coaxed her into the bathroom promising to show her an amazing dance video my friend Mike, a nurse and a hip hop DJ, had posted on Facebook. The moves were irresistible, and Ruby, who hasn’t watched a lot of television (we don’t have one), settled down on the pot as if she had been zapped. Zombified, she peed immediately.
Over the next few days it became clear we had discovered the golden ticket. Since she enjoyed the dance video so much, we explored YouTube and our rotation soon included Beyonce’s impressive Single Ladies video, another Beyonce piece I hadn’t seen before, most notable for the instant at 00:27 when she seems to channel an exuberant young Michael Jackson, and one of my favorites, the music video for You Can Call me Al. We watched many more, but these were the staples, I think because of their uncrowded and relatively simple imagery, combined with the fact that they were catchy and, always a priority, not annoying to me.
Suddenly we were having much more success and spending much less time in the bathroom. I shared my discovery with Ruby’s teachers. They diligently tried to take Ruby to the bathroom every day, even though I’d started coming to school early so I could spend however long necessary crouched in the exceptionally small mini-toilet stall with her before we made our way into Manhattan for therapy. When I suggested that they try playing music videos for her, too, they demurred, saying they didn’t want her to become dependent on them. That was prescient, but I cared way more about ending the accidents.
One day we went into the bathroom with the laptop while I was reading the New York Times, and, taking a break from music videos, I played one of Melissa Clark’s short recipe videos. Ruby was intrigued. She had never seen a cooking show before. She peed. She asked for more. Quickly, we went through the NYTimes selection and within a few days were back on YouTube, where we discovered Hilah Johnson, a cheeky, flirty, Texan hipster spin on a domestic goddess, and later, Laura Vitale, an earnest Italian-American who sometimes shares recipes made with her perfect grandmother on trips to Italy, and makes up words like “claggy,” the way rice becomes when you mix it with a spoon instead of fluffing it with a fork.
(We spent a little time with Gordon Ramsay, too — he was tempting, once Ruby’s love of cooking shows spilled out of the bathroom and she was watching them in the living room after school, because his episodes are longer — but he quickly proved too coked-up (sounding) and British to tolerate in the background.)
This strategy worked. There were a couple weeks when the cooking show obsession became somewhat overbearing in its own right, and a few times Ruby pretended she had to pee in order to gain access. But she’s over that, and now she’s much better at peeing within a few minutes of sitting on the toilet, usually without entertainment. And Laura and Hilah are both charming and lovely. Aside from enjoying their recipes, it’s interesting and somehow touching to see how, recipe by recipe, they’ve each grown up a bit and gradually become more professional and confident in their presentation of themselves and their work.