A Dad's View: Sticky situations

A Dad's View: Sticky situations

A combination of potty training and a malfunctioning toilet leaves Tom Dunmore in a sticky situation

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'Daddy! DADDY!' comes the scream from downstairs. 'DADDY HELP!'

I hurl myself out of bed and down the stairs to find Erik in the hallway, pointing to the under-stairs cupboard that we recently converted into a toilet. My stomach tightens.

I peek inside and see Ava cowering in the corner. 'Spider!' she moans, pointing at the ceiling. It takes me a few seconds to locate the tiny creature. 'It's only a baby,' I croak. 'And anyway, spiders are our friends.'

'Spiders eat flies,' chips in Erik, with a voice full of admiration. He'd eat flies too – if only he could catch them.

'You shouldn't shout "Help!" like that, Ava,' I yawn. 'I thought something was really wrong.'

With that, I step into the room to remove the spider and my sleepy senses spring into life: my bare foot steps in something cold and wet and I'm overwhelmed by a foul stench. Only then do I notice that the toilet, stuffed with paper and effluent, has started to overflow, and the pump that should be clearing away this mess is making a decidedly unhealthy sound.

I instinctively switch to mouth-breathing – one of the few useful skills you pick up during six years of changing nappies – and lift Ava out of the devastation.

There's no doubt that having a kid is a life-changing experience. And some of the changes – like watching the first smiles and the first steps – are heart-burstingly brilliant. Others, though, are less romantic – like the need to be constantly, intimately aware of another being's bodily functions.

The nappies in those first months of parenthood can lull you into a false sense of security – it's essentially a milk-in, milk-out process with little to upset the senses save for an extravagant colour palette. But as soon as babies start on solids, it all begins to look – and smell – distressingly grown-up.

So I felt a palpable sense of relief when child number two (no pun intended) approached potty training age, and I could begin to fantasise about returning to a world where I am blissfully ignorant of other people's toilet habits. But we're not quite there yet.

Ava was easy to get out of nappies. By the time she was two she wanted to use the toilet, and the traumatic process of removing the nappies altogether took just two weeks. Erik is proving to be more of a challenge. At two he seemed to be getting tired of nappies and desperately wanted to use the toilet like his big sister – but nine months later he's still not completely mastered it.

He'll be dry for a week, then there will be a string of little accidents. But at least he's getting the hang of giving us advance warning – sometimes he'll even sneak off and use the toilet all by himself. And then clog it full of toilet roll.

And so here I am, standing in dirty toilet water when I should be curled up in bed. I keep my left foot planted in the safety of the hallway while lifting my right foot into the handbasin to clean it. Unfortunately the waste water from the sink has nowhere to go because the pump isn't working. Within seconds the sink is overflowing too, and I'm stuck with my foot stretched in front of me like the world's least graceful ballet dancer.

After a few moments of silence, Ava pipes up: 'I'll get mummy,' and before I can think to answer she's treading stinky footprints all the way up the stairs.

Then it's Erik's turn.

'Daddy,' he says, with a hint of desperation, 'I need to poo.'

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