24 July 2020

Dear Gus,

Yesterday, we were sitting in the living room, watching Wild Kratts—a strange episode about giraffes in which one of the Kratt brothers nearly ends up being transformed into a giraffe forever! I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but when I really think about that possibility, being transformed into some other creature for the rest of my life, I find it really scary. Do you?

Anyway, during the episode, you leapt up from the couch and bolted out the back door. I knew what you were doing, of course, but I needed a refill of my water, so I got up and went to the kitchen. As I filled my glass at the refrigerator, I looked out the window above the kitchen sink. There, I saw you standing on the back deck, your shirt tucked up under your chin, your hips thrust slightly forward, and you were watering the big elm tree in the backyard with a steady stream of pee.

You love to pee outside. I’m not sure why you are so into this, but you readily pass up opportunities to use normal restroom facilities (e.g., the toilet that is less than 15 feet from the couch) so you can urinate outside. The circumstances don’t matter too much to you. Trees, bushes, brush. Off the deck, off the side of the road, off a cliff. If you have the opportunity to pee in the great outdoors, you will gladly take that opportunity.

Moreover, you don’t seem in the least embarrassed about this predilection for peeing on pines, on pansies, on patches of grass, greenery, or gravel. You don’t care too much who sees you. When you were younger, I remember standing on the football field at St. Mark’s School during a fire drill. The whole school was lined up by class. I was counting my students to make sure that they were all there. One of them tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mr. Hebert, isn’t that Gus over there?” You were standing in the middle of the football field, your pants pulled down to your ankles, and you were peeing on the St. Mark’s logo in the middle of the field. I had to apologize to Coach Young for that, but he thought it was pretty funny.

One time, we were eating at a restaurant in Austin with Kiki and Lulu. We sat outside on the patio so that you could play on a little playground nearby. At one point, I looked over, and you were standing a few feet away from the playscape, your pants around your ankles, watering a small oak tree.

“Whose kid is that?” Mom asked the tables near us.

Well, you’re my kid, and in spite of this compulsion to pee outside, I love the heck out of you, but I do want to spend a bit of time thinking about what this whole act of plein-air pipi or, perhaps more accurately, pipi sauvage symbolizes.

What does it mean for you to whiz among the weeds, to practice your own form of municipal micturition?

In an animal sense, we can view this act as a claiming of territory, can’t we? Many animals, of course, mark their territory in this way. It's called scent marking.This could simply be your way of owning the world, saying to the rest of us, “I’m here and I’ve made mark.”

In a small way, I do think this is what you’re doing. You look at the world, and you see it as something to enjoy, something to get the most out of. I do admire this quality in you. While you do have certain fears—mainly a somewhat irrational fear of wasps (spheksophobia)—generally speaking, you’re a fearless kid when you’re on adventure. You don’t worry too much about the dangers of performing flips on a trampoline or into a pool. You readily stick your face in front of ground balls and fly balls when playing baseball. You are willing to leap from ledges or climb trees, and then think about the dangers at a later date.

I suppose your use of the world as a public urinal is not so much a sign of disrespect, but a way of saying, “I was here and I got as much out of it as I could.”

At the same time, your desire to urinate outside may also symbolize both your freedom and your innocence as a child. While a grown-up may, if pressed for a toilet or urinal, seek a tree or bush to hide behind, or, in cases of dire need, find a parked car to shield the world from the shame of public urination, you really don’t give any thought to it. You don’t care too much who sees you doing this, nor do you think there should be any shame in this activity. You have a body—just like all of us—that body needs to get rid of some liquid waste. Who cares?

As we grow up, a sense of shame about our bodies often creeps into our heads and hearts. Like Adam and Eve, we stand before God and everybody, and we come to realize just how naked and exposed we are. So, we cover it up. We learn to dress in ways that hide our “flaws.” We invent computer applications that will help us to doctor images so that we can diminish those flaws.

But your frequent acts of public urination defy this very notion that our bodies have flaws at all. They are simply bodies, and who is to say what is or isn’t beautiful, is or isn’t flawed?

I admire that attitude. Intellectually, I can get onboard with it. In practice, however, I don’t see me being as free with my body as you. Of course, as an adult, I could probably get fined or arrested for this sort of behavior. Thankfully, we treat our children differently. We allow them to get away with these wild acts. We allow them to behave like little animals because they haven’t been properly civilized yet, acculturated and assimilated into a status quo that says public urination is a no-no, Our adult bodies are, so often, things to be hidden and altered and changed rather than celebrated.

While I don’t envy the Parisian problem of pipi sauvage and I certainly don’t wish it to become the norm here in southeast Texas for grown people (or even children, for that matter), I do feel like the freedom and innocence of it—the normalizing of body functions as simply something we all do—is kind of a great thing.

So, as you grow older, Gus, I imagine that this behavior will stop. Something in the world will work this freedom out of you, perhaps replacing it with a sense of shame about your body. But your body is not something to be ashamed of. It’s the vehicle you’ve been given for your ride through this life. Be grateful for it!

(That being said, at some point, for the sake of sanitation and such, it would be great if you’d confine some of these activities to the places our society has appointed for the proper disposal of waste. Thank you!)

I love you so much, kiddo. Drink a lot of water today and enjoy the view from the back deck. For our part, your mom and I will chuckle every time you bolt from the couch to the back door.

Love,

Dad.