Initially, I thought, “Potty training will be easy.”
*cue laughter here*
*waits for laughter to die down*
*17 minutes later*
I was like, “Who wants to carry around a sack of their own waste around their hips all day long?” These diapers of his, they were starting to get heavy. Like, after a nice long pee-soak, you could attach one of his diapers to a rope and use it as some kind of ninja weapon. If you froze one of these diapers, you could shove it down a cannon’s mouth and use it to blow holes in an enemy’s pirate ship. His diapers were ammunition for medieval catapults.
Plus, he was starting to show the signs of Being Ready To Use The Potty. He could hold it at night. He knew when he was deucing the diaper — he does this thing where he wanders away and stands alone like he’s in the end of the Blair Witch Project, and during this time of supernatural castigation is when he would tar his crap-sack. (Like a wolf who leaves the pack to go die alone in some quiet corner of the forest, I guess.) And, he was getting interested in our own bathroom habits. It wasn’t just that he was joining us in the bathroom — which, if you have a toddler, hey, get used to that — but also that he was starting to ask questions, like a little anthropologist trying to understand Adult Human Culture through their curious bio-waste habits. He’d want to flush the toilet. He’d ask questions. He’d get excited to see “pee foam” or “pee bubbles.”
So, we figured, this is happening. He’s ready.
Let’s potty train this little elf.
He was ready but we were not.
I mean, we weren’t entirely unready — it’s not like we were like, “I dunno, kid, you’re on your own now. You know where the bathroom is — you’ve followed us in there a hundred times. Don’t fall in. Don’t forget to wipe. We’re going to Cabo for the weekend. You and the dogs have a blast.” We had the basic regimen down. We had a potty. We had extra underwear.
We went two, three days, and it just wasn’t working.
He didn’t even want to wear the goddamn underpants, which is pretty much Step Fucking One for this entire process. We tried to convince him that we wore underwear and wasn’t that cool? But, you know, we also pay taxes and a mortgage and vacuum things, so HEY ISN’T ADULT RESPONSIBILITY SUPER FUN actually fails at a fundamental level. Plus, I maybe misunderstood his interest in absolving himself of the diaper burden. Because, on second thought, having to do all this ritual around ERADICATING BIOLOGICAL GARBAGE FROM YOUR BODY is less awesome than just shitting in a comfy, scented bag while some larger human removes it from you while you lay back and watch Caillou on your goddamn iPad. Plus, the more he filled his diaper, the more padded he became and could sustain harder falls — “I’m going to jump off the kitchen table now because I basically have a poo-filled moon bounce strapped around my middle WHEEEE.”
We took a couple weeks off because those first days were frustrating. (And I should point out here that as a stay-at-home-Mom, or SAHM in the parlance, my wife is the actual Hercules of this story, while I am largely the scribe of the mythic tale.) And there you kinda flirt with the idea of maybe never potty-training the toddler. It’s like, “Well, maybe he can do this forever. Jeez, maybe we can start wearing diapers — we’re all getting older and we’ll probably get there someday anyway, so why not just preempt our eventual commitment to Depends and learn to love carrying our yellows-and-browns around with us all day long?” But eventually you reach the point where it’s like, okay, we need to shit or get off the pot. Er, I guess metaphorically and literally? Shut up.
So, we hunkered down.
We were like Doomsday Preppers with potty-time plotting and scheming.
And we managed to do it in three days.
Now, I don’t mean we’re looking at a perfect record, here. But the first day we went through, ohhh, let’s see — *counts on fingers and toesies* — about three-hundred-and-forty pairs of underwear. We had to clean pee out of the carpet that the dogs did not put there. My wife had to hold a softball-sized glob of toddler ordure that had plopped out of his surrender pants and onto the bathroom floor — and, by the way, pooping on the bathroom floor is really very bittersweet. “Close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades” does not extend to potty-training. The potty is the vulnerable port on the Death Star — you either hit it dead on with that proton turd or it’ll blow your moonbase to space-dust.
After that first day, we started to sharply cut down on the number of accidents we were having. He could hold it longer. He could identify when he had to go and started to actually say, “I gotta go potty!” (Which again starts to feel wildly inefficient. It’s like we just added a middle-man to this proceeding. But, whatever. Blah blah blah adulthood.)
We’re now one week past and we have a pretty good handle on it.
So, I thought I’d share with you our not-so-secret secrets. Parenting advice is ultimately like writing advice — a child you’ve created is as unique and weird as the books you hope to write, so what works for one will almost surely never work for another. Just the same, I’m happy to drop some breadcrumbs down for you to follow while wandering in this particular potty-scented forest.
First: bribery. Shame is not a good way to get anybody to do anything — honey does a much better job than vinegar, and marshmallows, stickers and Matchbox cars does a much better job than trying to make him feel bad about it. (Life is full of feeling bad about things. Shame is a half-a-ladder.) Our system was: two marshmallows and a sticker for number one, twice all that for number two. (For the stickers, we just have him plonk the stickers down on a giant sheet. We thought about segmenting it out by day, but our son is rather, erm, independent, and we predicted he would basically want to stick stickers wherever the fuck he jolly well wanted, not in their precious little temporal boxes.) Then at the end of each day of successful potty training (more or less meaning he was amenable to it), he got a Matchbox car. Then, at the end of the first week, he gets Heatwave, one of the Transformer Rescue Bots.
Second: have him pick out his own potty. Potties are weird anyway because you’re basically placing a toilet in the middle of, say, the living room — “Just poop here where we all sit and enjoy recreational time, sure, fine, whatever” — but he picks it out and you carry it around and suddenly it just becomes normal to the tot.
Third: manufacture extreme enthusiasm. When he uses the potty we act like he just aced his SATs instead of deuced a bucket. It’s confetti and high-fives and pure blissed-out excitement. Curiously, this artifice soon becomes real, like some potty-time version of Stockholm Syndrome, because the first time he correctly turds up the potty (and, say, not your floor) you become genuinely excited and emotional and then suddenly you’re teary-eyed because next step is school and then college and then a job and then you die as your grandchildren play around your deathbed. The entire spread of life and death splayed before you as your baby’s growing up.
Fourth: lack of frustration. There will be setbacks. You know: as there are in life. Try not to get too down about that or frustrated. Even as you ponder how you got pee in your hair.
Fifth: find what the child responds to. Ours likes to say “bye” to the pee and poop and then flush it himself. I have adopted this behavior and now wish my own leavings a fair voyage. If you see me doing this in a public restroom, well, now you know why.
Sixth: very early potty prep. We got him to sit on the potty every night for the last six months. Sometimes to pee, sometimes he just sits there and plays with trucks. Ultimately it was just to get him used to the potty and not introduce it out of nowhere. “LOOK HERE IS A BUCKET SIT ON THE PLASTIC THRONE; NOW PURGE YOURSELF UPON IT AS THE ROMANS DID.”
And that’s pretty much it.
Patience and bribery and just going with the pee-flow.
Happy Potty Time, everybuggy.