The best advice I ever got about
parenting came from my older
brother. “Don’t be in a hurry to
toilet train your kids.”
This advice has come to
underscore one of my theories
of childrearing: If you wait long
enough, your children will just
do it themselves. It worked for
breastfeeding; Vivian and William
weaned themselves. Years
later, I’d learn that it worked for
tying shoes, riding bikes and
My brother’s advice worked for
toilet training. By the age of three,
William and Vivian just started
to use the toilet themselves.
No potty, no charts, no placing
Cheerios or food colouring in the
toilet bowl on purpose. Just a lazy
mom who couldn’t be arsed.
Getting rid of their pacifiers
required a bit more ingenuity.
Vivian and William had
been sleeping with these plugs
since they were tiny, and they’d
developed the habits of long-term
smokers, dangling their pacifi ers
out of their mouths like they were
lit cigarettes, waving them around
for emphasis when they were
speaking, and frantically looking
for another fix before bedtime.
Since my ignore-and-they’ll figure-it-out approach was not
working, I applied another one of
my parenting strategies, which
was also not in any books: I lied.
It was autumn. Chris had
volunteered to take over the
gardening. He was cleaning up
our flower beds by pulling all our
perennials, which he thought
were undercover weeds.
I, meanwhile, went to William
and Vivian and told the most
heart-wrenching fib I could create.
“I think it’s time to get rid of
your dummies,” I said. We’d used
the British euphemism for pacifiers since we’d lived in Thailand.
William and Vivian’s eyes grew
big and they searched their pockets
for their addiction.
“There are other babies in the
world who need dummies,” I
said, employing my best Sally-
voice. “I think we should
send them to Santa Claus.” Four
unblinking eyes stared at me.
“Santa will deliver the dummies
to other babies at Christmas.”
Both Vivian and William
looked down and nodded.
“For babies?” Will said.
“They won’t cry,” Vivian said.
I nodded again.
Those two little urchins went
on a mass dummy sweep, searching
for pacifiers that had been
lost since dinosaurs walked the
earth, which was the last time I’d
vacuumed their room. William
and Vivian found many amid
dust bunnies and long forgotten
library books. I grabbed a large
envelope and addressed it to
Santa. We deposited the dummies
in it, and I threw it in the garbage
when they weren’t looking. The
score: Made-Up Parenting 1; Parenting
With their pacifiers in a landfill, we survived the night and the
winter and spring. It was time
to stir things up again, this time
with a car trip.
William and Vivian became
good car travellers early on,
mostly because they were easily
hypnotized by the hang-fromthe-
rafters DVD player in our
minivan. Occasionally, though,
guilt would set in and we’d stop
the Dora the Explorer marathon.
After we ignored them for long
enough, Vivian and William
would invent their own games.
Sometimes it was I Spy; sometimes
it was a game that had the
same amount of logic as the parents
of toddler beauty contestants
competing on Jeopardy.
We were driving through
Saskatchewan, which is like
North Dakota, but with fewer
people and straighter roads. The
directions for driving across
the Prairie Provinces are this:
Drive in a straight line until you
want to slit your wrists; you’re 10
percent there. Every few hundred
miles, there were signs along the
highway that said, “Watch for
pedestrians.” I once asked Chris if
there was a prize if we saw one.
We were in one of these long
stretches when I noticed something
was going on behind me.
I craned my already spasming
neck. Vivian and William were
wriggling and contorting themselves
behind their blankets. I
watched this for the length of
three wheat fi elds until I figured
“They’re playing hide and
seek,” I said. “In their car seats.”
Maybe this was proof our children
didn’t qualify for early admission
to Mensa. More likely it
was proof that our DNA wouldn’t
fetch much at the cloning auction.
Leanne Shirtliffe is
humour writer and
blogger. She lives
in Calgary with her
and twins Vivian
Don’t Lick the
Minivan, by permission
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.