Shake, Don’t Wipe!

True Stories from Unstoppable Powerful Lesbian Moms

Motrin®‘s mission is to create solutions that stop pain from stopping you. Motrin® does this by effectively treating at the source of pain, allowing you to stay extraordinary and granting “unstoppable power.” Also unstoppably powerful? Moms. Of course around here, when we talk about Moms we’re talking about queer Moms. Lesbian Moms face unique challenges on the road to extraordinariness, and thus Autostraddle and Motrin® are proud to bring you “True Stories of Unstoppably Extraordinary Lesbian Moms,” an essay series featuring some of our favorite “mommy bloggers” telling stories of challenges faced and tackled.

The third piece in this series is from Deborah Goldstein, Managing Editor at VillageQ and Publisher at Peaches & Coconuts.


“You can’t do that to him. Shake don’t wipe!!” yelled Matt, Wendy’s husband from what sounded like the other side of their house. Wendy was relaying my conundrum to Matt while I waited not so patiently on the other end of the phone. I hadn’t quite achieved the level of panic, but I was concerned enough to seek outside counsel.

Sometimes, when you’re in the business of parenting, you have to phone a friend for a bit of perspective and advice. Sometimes, you have to phone more than one. And sometimes, moms need input from dads just as much as they do other moms. Parenting is stressful, high-pressure business. One misstep, and your kid’s therapy will cost exponentially more than college tuition, she said neither confirming nor denying that she was speaking from personal experience. This particular mom needed to hear from all interested parties to avoid a monumental parental gaffe.

Few developmental milestones set a parent up for supreme failure than toilet training. Do it wrong and the results may be catastrophic. We could have ended up with an anxiety-ridden excessively controlling delinquent who covered our bedroom walls in feces in the middle of the night, or at least a very constipated child. Who knows how many crimes are committed each year due to lack of regularity? I was at my most vulnerable in facing the pressure of managing a healthy, affirming, supportive and hygienic toilet training. Having already successfully chaperoned one child out of diapers, our friends Wendy and Matt would be my consiglieri during this critical time.

Had I been toilet training a daughter, I wouldn’t have felt as conspicuous. Due to our basic mechanics, there are few choices in the early years. Sit, wipe, flush, wash. Children with boy parts have the option to sit or stand. Should we start with a seated potty or stand him up on a booster and take aim? Or do we invest in a child-sized, training urinal? Yes, they exist! Then there’s the matter of wiping. While all children wipe the backside, only girls are expected to blot in front. This double standard made no sense to me when blotting would clearly benefit both parties.

“But Wendy,” I said justifying our recent toilet training teachings, “what about the residuals? A good shake isn’t always sufficient, is it? You can’t guarantee that there won’t be leftovers after a shake, can you? Sure, it makes sense that girls wipe, but why don’t boys? Isn’t the goal the same for both genders? Shouldn’t everyone be taught that clean, dry underwear is preferable over picky, stained underwear? Ask Matt. Ask him!”

Before we had children we discussed all the challenges two women would face. We knew it wouldn’t be easy but then again, when is it ever? We tried to anticipate some of the questions our kids would ask, and we tried to prepare answers to have at the ready. We contemplated some of the ignorant people and ugly situations they may meet in their lives and discussed how we would empower them with education, love and confidence. We’d surround ourselves with a supportive community and hope for the best. We never talked about whether boys should wipe or shake.

I waited for Wendy to submit evidence in favor of boys wiping themselves after evacuating. I paced back and forth while I waited for the verdict. I knew what Matt would say. Boys don’t wipe. The fact that they should wipe is not evidence enough to teach our son to be the only wiping boy child at preschool and beyond. I had to ask myself the question that I never wanted to ask out loud or even in my head, “Would a father have done a better job?”

I loathe that voice in my head that negates all that Gabriella and I have done to create our family and provide a safe and supportive environment for our children. I loathe that taunting, judging voice, but I can’t pretend it’s not there. I hear it when Asher asks me if he’s going to have to shave when he gets older and I wonder how I’m going to teach him. I hear it when the neighbor kids ask Asher to play football with him, and he doesn’t know the first thing about the game because he’d rather watch a cooking show than football. I hear it every time we’re standing outside a public restroom, and I have to decide whether to let him go into the Men’s room by himself.

Of course, I know how to shut that voice up. I answer myself with all the intellectually correct responses. “What of all the single mothers, by choice and otherwise, raising sons? What of the straight, married mothers who take on the most of the day-to-day child rearing? What of the fathers who also prefer a cooking show to football?” I quiet that voice temporarily, but I’ll never be rid of her entirely. There’s too much at stake to feel completely confident.

All parents wonder if they’re doing it right. We all focus on our shortcomings and worry that we’ll do our children a disservice because we aren’t everything they need. In my heart I know my son does not need a man in the house to realize all that is amazing about him. I know that Gabriella and I are good parents who could not love our children any more than we do. I also know that we have created a strong and supportive community amongst our friends and that there is no shame in checking in with them to gain a little perspective every now and then.

“Matt says you can’t do that to him anymore,” Wendy reported, and from the other side of the house I heard Matt chime in once more, “Shake-don’t wipe!”

“Ok,” I conceded. “He’ll shake.”

I work at a preschool now, and I accompany many young children to the bathroom. Most of them are in the early stages of toilet training. Occasionally, I help pull up underpants and push down flush levers. The other day, I helped a small, 2-year-old boy up on to the toilet seat, his preference being to sit while he peed. I knew his mother and father from the neighborhood, but we weren’t close enough to discuss his toilet habits. When he finished, he held out his hand to me.

“Do you want me to help you down?”

He shook his head, no.

“What do you need?”

He pointed to the toilet paper.

I ripped off some paper for him. “Kank-you,” he said as he gave himself a wipe.


Deborah Goldstein of VillageQDeborah Goldstein is a freelance writer, blogger and managing director for VillageQ.com, a community site that gives voice to the experience of LGBTQ families. Deborah publishes a medley of miscellany on her personal blog Peaches & Coconuts, identified by Huffington Post as one of the 7 Favorites For Post 50 Women. At times, she steps out from behind the screen to bring her words to life at spoken word events such as Edgy Suburban Moms, Listen To Your Mother, Funny Pages and Staten Island’s annual arts festival, Art by The Ferry. Follow her on Twitter at @psandcs.


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