Two parenting events have really stood out in my mind as completely changing the entirety of who I am. One of them was breastfeeding, may it rest in peace, and the other happened this week.
Potty training. (to be read in a spooky Halloween voice)
I would be lying to you if I told you I was prepared going into this endeavor. I asked around, and read a bit here and there, but I’ve realized I’m not really one to read the whole book, and then follow the method to a “T”.
I’m more of a “survey the crowd, take bits and pieces from everyone and create my own method that I then have no faith in once it falters because I created it and have no reason to believe that it works” kind of person.
So I bought a little potty, a naive six-pack of cute undies, and hunkered down for a weekend of a few accidents and ultimately, a successful and mature little boy who could control his bladder.
The Night Before:
I explained to a doubtful looking Eric that we, you know, sit Seb on the potty and he goes and he learns to keep his underwear dry in between. It’ll be great, I said, while not so subtly placing a bottle of multipurpose disinfecting spray and a roll of paper towels on the counter.
As I am pregnant and very good at whining about not being able to get up at 6:30, Eric got up with Seb as usual. Within fifteen minutes, I could hear quite a bit of swearing (Eric), yelling (Seb), and crying (possibly both of them), so I decided to get up and help.
I handed Seb a large sippy cup of juice, patted an already frustrated Eric on the back, and settled in “to potty train”. As if I was in control whatsoever.
What happened that day can only be described as horrific. Seb became disenchanted with the potty within the hour, and point-blank refused to acknowledge his bladder functions. After a defiant “NO” to the question “Seb, do you have to go potty?”, he would proceed to pee on the floor. On the couch. Into his play kitchen.
I quickly realized that six pairs of underwear was a wild underestimation of the amount of containment equipment needed after we used all of them within the first hour. Afraid to leave the house, or possibly just in denial of what we had done to ourselves, we resorted to hand washing underwear in the sink. We then threw it in the dryer and ran to check it every few minutes just in case our dryer, sensing what was at stake here, magically started working more quickly.
Like every other situation when raising children, there is obviously some kind of sugar-coated incentive for the child performing up to par. My wildly underprepared self had of course forgotten to buy candy, so when that first little trickle that probably came from his heavily saturated underwear landed in the potty, I looked around in panic for some kind of reward. The only thing within reach was a big container of raisins, so in my best “what a novelty” voice I exclaimed, “Sebastian! You went POTTY! Do you want a……raisin?”
I take full credit for the fact that my excited voice was so convincing that Sebastian forgot that he eats indulgent amounts of raisins every day and decided that getting a shriveled grape was extasy.
If anyone were to stop by at 9am on this particular Saturday, they would have caught a glimpse of Eric running around with the spray bottle in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other, he and I shouting encouragement and directions to each other as if two soldiers in a battle.
“Did you get the pee in the living room”
“No, where is it? Seb, SEB DON’T STEP IN THA-”
“Where’s the clean underwear, what do you mean there’s no more…?”
“Is he squatting? Catch him before he-”
All of the potty training methods have one principle in common. Watch your child. Give them your full attention. Catch them in the act of peeing or pooping and whisk them to the potty to finish.
So easy, right? Just watch your child. What Linda the potty-training-overachiever doesn’t mention is that while you have your eyes on your child with unblinking intensity, they will putter around playing, completely bone dry even though you know that apple juice is just tearing through their little kidneys.
Then the moment you dare to glance at the kitchen, longingly wondering if a piece of bread will miraculously toast itself- your child will sneakily pee on his toys.. Then while you go to grab the paper towels, they manage to pee with winning-basket-before-the-buzzer accuracy into a pile of stacking cups on the floor. During your flurry of activity trying to be in four places at one time, the caveman himself has situated himself into the time out corner to poop.
While we’re on the matter- pee on the floor is bad, poop on the floor is wrong, poop stuck in underwear is a crime.
If you think a newborn diaper blowout is bad, wait until you experience trying to shimmy a wiggling toddler out of a pair of underwear that has an adult-sized poop in it without getting it everywhere. Not to mention trying to convince them to stick around long enough for you to wipe their bottom so that we don’t all get “Hand Foot and Mouth” disease in 5-14 days. Honestly, I’m completely scarred, and utterly convinced that my house will never be clean again.
Amidst the chaos, we made sure to keep up a constant stream of useless communication to the equally unhelpful toddler.
“Seb! Come back here, you’re tracking pee everywhere!”
“Sit on the potty buddy, can you sit on the potty?”
“Feel your underwear, is it dry? Is it dry? IS IT DRY?”
One of the winning points I took from a potty training method was what I like to call “Straight Up Toddler Shaming”.
AKA, the opposite of what leading experts and most good parents with a conscience and love in their hearts believe you should do to your child.
It involves having them feel their dry underwear when they are dry, and praising them for it, and then when they mess up because they are two and have until this point in their life been peeing scot-free in their absorbent diaper, making them feel like they are a total failure.
*Seb pees in his underwear*
Me: OH NO, SEB. (using a classic “our favorite pet just died” intonation)
Sebastian looks confused.
Me: Feel your underwear.
*Sebastian looks down at his underwear. I help him feel it.*
Me: It’s WET. We don’t want it to be WET, we want to keep it DRY.
Seb looks at me like he’s not sure whether to laugh or cry, and picks an emotional in-between- DGAF, and runs off.
And repeat, making sure to load on the guilt and disproportionate responsibility.
Somehow, we made it through the first day. The second through the fifth day followed with just as much of a shocking lack of progress.
So I bought more underwear and settled into the fact that I would be attempting poorly to potty train this overly-hydrated toddler forever.
And then suddenly- maybe it was the unending shame of wet underwear, maybe it was the enjoyment of peeing standing up, or maybe he simply just decided that the Mickey on his underwear wanted to be dry- he got it. We went from 30+ accidents a day to 2-3, and Eric and I started being able to walk around the house without stepping in a sneaky corner pee.
Seb has even gotten to the point of being hilariously terrified of soiling his underwear, and every time he pulls it down, he peeks and asks doubtfully, “poop in there?”.
We look together, and more often than not, I get to look at him say four words which to me hold about as much meaning and emotion as my wedding vows.
“No poop in there.”