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July 7, 2011

A Big Boy Day Freebee and Why I (And You) Will Never Be a World-Class Mother


In his book The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle reiterates an idea I’ve heard before in discussions of skill development: that any expert in a particular field has repeated their skill, “practiced,” at least 10,000 times.

10,000. It’s the magic number, provided you are practicing well.

My voice teacher introduced me to this concept. He instructs his university students to practice at minimum 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. For 8 years. Probably 15. Then you’re ready to sing opera and be paid for it. If you want to be a classical pianist, bump that to seven hours a day, minimum.

The concept is simple and unsexy: practice makes perfect. Forget talent. Just do your thing – play a cello, sing, dance, hit a golf ball, write a blog, pluck a guitar – 10,000 times and you’ll be world-class.

Here’s something else: To be a mother for 10,000 days will take 27 years. I know. Depressing. So, you’ve had a good day mothering today? Great. Call me in the year 2038 after uninterrupted days of well executed mommy-flecting and I’ll dub you truly talented.

What does this mean?

That the occupation for which we need the most skill, the calling that transcends vocation — this thing called parenting — can’t be executed on the basis of talent.

Haven’t we all experienced this? Our kids get the hang of things before we do. Just when you figure out breastfeeding, it’s time to wean. Just when you get the hang of nap times, the kid outgrows them. Just when you get the groove of pureed food, it’s time for table foods.

Of course, the resume items of required mothering skills range from folding onesies to street gang intervention, so there’s no way you could possibly be good at everything. We just do what we can.

We read books, of course. That helps. We might have some natural instincts that serve us well. A little common sense. Very little if you’re me. But while we might get by just fine, we’re anything but world-class. So what CAN we rely on?

Freebies, for one thing. Well, freebies, mostly.

Here’s the freebee that happened to me on Monday.

Fourth of July. My parents’ house. The day before, you remember, I had sat with Drew at his potty for 30 minutes in what was the middle of a six-hour standoff where Drew held his pee out of some toxic concoction of fear and defiance that clamped his bladder shut like a roly-poly. I KNOW YOU HAVE TO PEE, I told him. You need to pee NOW!

His grand total potty usage thus far had been: One. That time after he had sprayed my hawthorns with transmuted Capri Suns, which we celebrated with ice cream from Braum’s.

Since then, he had only occasionally been willing to go pee in the bushes — only when convenient or when it didn’t conflict with his Roman Pantheon-worthy fickleness.

But when he cinched his little urethra to make some sort of political show of power, we bore down on him, my knuckles white from holding his puny thighs onto the potty seat. GO PEE!

This, of course, is totally contrary to every potty training book ever written. And every book on loving Jesus or Solomon’s wisdom. We ended up putting him to bed without him peeing. He woke up dry, and held it for three more hours. We feared he would develop a camel hump.

We went over to my parents’ house the next night, and that’s when a little magic or the Holy Spirit or somebody intervened, and I’m sure there was some sort of hidden symbolism about sacrifice or about gouging out your right eye to avoid sin intended to enlighten me, but the breakthrough came from the ordinary business end of an American flag.

Come on Drew, I say, taking him into the bathroom because he is holding himself. I’m not expecting anything, really.

He has a small made-in-China flag in his hand that he plucked from my mom’s centerpiece. He’s waving it compulsively to watch the blur of the red/white/blue.

The next thing I know, he has jabbed me in my right eye. Tears are falling fast, like they have been uncorked from Veuve Cliquot.

We were in the bathroom – his pants down, me gasping in pain and scolding him, thrusting my fingers into my eyeball for relief. All this showmanship upset Drew and he began whimpering and then crying and then whining and then — peeing? In the potty?

Through my one good eye, and secondarily through the blur of the thwarted eye, I could see a stream of urine shooting into the commode like the firstfruits of a water gun discharge. And thus was fulfilled the epoch biblical drama of redemption through sacrifice…in the little yellow powder room on Clearspring Drive.

What has been happening ever since? Not ONLY will Drew go pee in the potty whenever I take him, but he has actually been ASKING me to go. He has also been waking up dry. He has also been working on strategy in Afghanistan.

That, my friends, was a freebee. Well, not quite. I WAS nearly blinded. But I was also blindsided by grace, and for that I am grateful.

Oh, and happy Big Boy Day. Today’s the day, officially:

For more from Julie, visit her blog at  

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