Twenty months after my son Krishu was born, my wife Candice granted me a ten-day furlough to travel to Italy to embark on an arduous bike trip through the Dolomite Mountains. It was one of those big boy fantasy camps I'd been prepping for for several months along with a group of fellow enthusiasts from the neighborhood. Suddenly I'd become a fan of previously alien sporting events like the Tour de Santa Barbara. My closet was full of garish jerseys crammed with US Postal and Radio Shack logos. Lance Armstrong sat alongside Tom Brady and Big Papi in my personal pantheon of Sports heroes. Early morning rides through the canyons around our Southern Californian home, exotic protein shakes morning, noon, and night, elaborate supplements that would make ARod blush -- they'd all been part of a Herculean training regiment to insure that this blessed trip away from the rigid rigors of raising an infant boy would be everything it possibly could be.
Don't get me wrong: becoming a father was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a never-ending revelation in just how great life could be. Every day, looking at my little happy, healthy boy, I realized just how blessed I was. Cue the rest of the clichés. I'd been converted by my kid.
Still, over the last few months as my identity slowly recalibrated itself into father first and everything else second, a small part of me bristled. Whereas I once was a total guy-on-the-go as a former journalist and war correspondent, I was accustomed to dashing to crazy places wherever news broke with no notice and still held onto that bravado -- those moments were now a very distant memory. In reality these days my life was regulated beyond compare. And I do mean, regulated. Candice and I were in the early days of potty training Krishu. Even a continent away, a whistle seemed to sound in my consciousness every 20 minutes, the interval at which we hustled him to his potty chair to take his best shot (literally). If anything, I was determined to exorcise this wretched (mental) routine from my awareness over the next ten days that I was away.
Just after our group arrived at the charming hotel that would serve as our home base for the first few days of the trip, I got on the phone with Candice to let her know where I was. I described the long drive from Milan we'd just endured -- the scenic mountains, winding roads, tiny little villages along the way, many more of which we'd be riding through once we mounted our bikes the following morning.
"Are you nervous about the ride?" she inquired.
"Apparently we shouldn't be talking about it," I informed her. These had been the explicit instructions of our local guide, a former pro biker who over the course of our long drive had emerged to me as a cross between Lance Armstrong, my father Deepak Chopra, and Chief Seattle.
"Just focus on the road beneath you."
"Now is the only moment that matters."
"Hear only the wind as it rushes by you."
"Seriously?" she said. I could picture her brow furrowed. "Why?"
"Makes the ride impossible or something. I don't know," I shook my head. "Biker-speak."
"It makes sense, actually" Candice agreed.
"Really?" I was the one grimacing now. "Since when did you become Alberto Contador?"
"Nothing," I shook my head. "More biker-speak."
She laughed. "I don't know. Focus on the race, not the finish line. Sounds like a Nike commercial or something."
I changed the subject. "How's the boy?"
"Good," she replied. "Entertaining his grandmother."
For the week that I was away, Candice's mother had traveled from her home in Atlanta to lend Candice a helping hand. More than anything, waipo (the Chinese term by which Krishu referred to his maternal grandmother) was his long lost play pal. She indulged him far more than anyone else, thereby instantly becoming his favorite person in the house. He ordered her around, demanding foods on off-hours -- cereal at night, sandwiches in the morning -- as if to test her boundaries and find his own. As waipo didn't set any on him, his instinctively anarchic spirit reigned supreme and he absolutely loved it.
This, of course, ran quite contrary to the potty training adventure we were on. All of Candice's numerous parenting books had been consulted and they all agreed, the more we could add structure around Krishu's life, create a reliable routine for him and a set of expectations for him to rely on, the smoother the process should go. So had started Krishu's cultural indoctrination (via potty training) into the ways of our world.
Early on he seemed to take to the new regiment, happy to park it on his little plastic potty chair as long as one of us was willing to sit alongside him and read him a story. He even managed to deliver the goods once or twice in the first week, earning accolades from various family members with whom we shared the joyous news. Except for my sister of course whose memories of potty training weren't as distant as many of the others. "Don't get over excited," she warned. "It'll get a lot messier before it gets cleaner."
Sure enough, those initial successful deposits into the potty chair set us on a dangerous path of false expectations. The bar had been set too high and Candice and I became convinced that what all the books said was a process that would take months and was inevitably fraught with setbacks would take our metabolic boy-genius just days to master. Alas, it was as if Krishu sensed it and all of a sudden his defiance of us kicked in. He had no real interest in our desire to assimilate him in a world where potties were deposited in some strange porcelain throne and flushed away. He was perfectly happy with the current system where he'd do his business whenever and wherever he needed to and we'd clean up after him. Since birth it had worked out just fine for him. Not to mention the fact that we seemed perfectly happy doing it for Cleo the family dog, so why the sudden change in behavior? Was it part of some overall plot to alter his comfortable life? To slyly draw him in to some scheme that would unsteady the decidedly stable foundation on which he existed? No thank you - he was just fine with the status quo.
Gotham Chopra is a writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur. His latest book Walking Wisdom, 3 Generations, 2 Dogs, and the Search for a Happy Life will be published by Hyperion books on October 5th, 2010.