Kristen lives in Syracuse, Utah with her husband, Wade, and their four children. She loves to read more than anything- her favorite novel remains Jane Eyre. She wrestles to write everyday despite plenty of interruptions. Her children ground her in the moment so she won’t spend too much time in her head. Her husband is waiting (patiently) for her to write a bestseller so he can quit his job.
What is it about the topic of potty training that can hijack a perfectly engaging conversation and bleach it down to opinions, debates, and tiresome stories?
Say a group of my friends are gathered at book club and an offhand comment is made: Luke is still having accidents. Emily still expects treats after she goes. At this point, the potty motif seems to catch just under the skin, like a hook in an eye, and won’t let go. The conversation shifts, the opinions multiply, and we won’t be returning to The Book Thief. I want to hit my head against the hollow brick wall.
Just the other day, a friend mentioned over the phone that she was potty training her little girl. Instead of keeping my big mouth zipped, I retorted, “Good luck with that. I haven’t started with Kate yet and she’s almost three. I hate potty training.”
“Well, it’s going good so far. She’s been telling me when she needs to go and no accidents yet.”
It’s at this point in the conversation I notice a dark shroud in my gut. Annoyance? Resentment? I shamefully hope this first go with potty training does not go well for my friend. I hope accidents occur, frustrations rule, diapers are restored. I want my own experience vindicated.
You see, potty training my third child, Zeke, was the most gritty and wretched experience of my entire life. (I might be exaggerating a bit here). The entire ordeal lasted at least eighteen months, an entire year of that I cleaned up accidents, mostly poop in all shapes, sizes, and consistencies.
It’s not that I think all potty training modes, method, recipes, schemes, (whatever you want to call them) aren’t worthwhile. But none of them worked with Zeke. We shunned the pull-ups (a crutch!) and donned the super cool underpants. Juice, crackers, treats crowded the bathroom vanity. My oldest son impersonated Lightening McQueen on the phone after any teensy weensy success. The potty chair traveled with us to the kitchen, the living room, the car. Hundred of books were read in the cramped hall bathroom. We did it for three days straight, six days, ten. We tried Dr. Phil’s one-day-promise that included an investment in a peeing doll.
“Do you need to go potty?” I asked day after day, walleyed and dry-lipped. The shiny Tonka dump truck rested above the cabinets as a final prize. I dropped cheerios one-by-one into the toilet and instructed him: Aim to kill. A juicy red lollipop if you hit it midstream.
Maybe he just wasn’t ready. People said that a lot. But when his fourth birthday came and went, I started to panic. With preschool and kindergarten just around the corner, I begged, yelled, then ignored. I whimpered and whined.
Zeke was four and a half when the poop ended up in the toilet more than in his Sponge Bob underpants. (A fact I will tell to every girl he tries to date.)
There was a day in the middle of it all when I once again found Zeke standing in the bathroom with poop oozing from his underpants which he had pulled down around his ankles. His legs were streaked and drops down the hall marked his frantic path.
“Sorry,” he said.
I lost it. Not with Zeke, thankfully. But with myself and that delicate balance between sanctuary and recklessness. On my knees in the hallway, my body prostrated Gandhi-like, I yelled at God. I mean yelled. Deep-throated and raw.
“I can’t do this anymore! You’ve GOT to help me or I’m not going to make it.”
Yep. Over potty training.
In those few moments, with aching knees on the hard floor, I saw the portion of my life I truly controlled reduced to a drop in an ocean of swells, saltiness and waves. Yet, there was relief in the ebb and flow. The swathing relief of acceptance.
In my late mother’s journal, she writes of potty training as a process not an event. Bryce is just about potty-trained. It takes months and a lot of patience but it does pay off in the end. Then two weeks later, she writes again: Bryce is almost completely potty-trained. She hesitated to claim victory. She never presumed ease or swiftness.
I’m sure there’s a better way to potty train then my now accepted piecemeal method but I no longer care to find the magic formula. Potty training has become my own sweet haphazardness. I’m sure there is something I did wrong in every method I tried. But I no longer wish to discuss it with any of my dear friends. I still have one more child to train and I plan to give way to imperfect moments and shady potty training practices. I’ll expect minimal results. It might take months. Why rush such a priceless experience? For when Kate emerges victorious, I’ll never have to do it again.