Airing My Dirty Laundry


I live in Florida with my highly entertaining husband, two children and an obnoxious Black Lab, all of whom have begun issuing threats when they see me scribbling on pieces of paper.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Potty Predicament

Whoever is out of patience is out of possession of his soul – Sir Francis Bacon

I bought a potty for my son before he turned a year old. It was one of the colorful, deluxe models with removable parts, a front- loading plastic bowl, and sure-grip sides. I’d been having glorious visions almost since I left the delivery room, of my brilliant progeny fully trained and diaper- free by 18 months... heck, make that 15 months.We’d be the envy of all my friends, whose deficient toddlers remained untrained at age two. I kept the commode in the closet for a few weeks, not wanting to place unrealistic expectations on my son. When I finally placed it, with much fanfare, in the bathroom, the child seemed delighted-- he examined it closely, giggled and squealed while I beamed as I planned how to spend the money I’d save on diapers.

Over the next few months, however, the potty was transformed into a nagging symbol of intergenerational warfare. The first skirmish -- over positioning -- raged throughout the house and left me exhausted and demoralized. I would place the potty in the bathroom, only to return a few hours, minutes, or even seconds later to find it missing. Soon thereafter, the potty’s various parts would begin turning up in the closets, under my bed, in my husband’s underwear drawer, in the backyard sandbox – even once floating in the birdbath. The bowl -- the very heart of the contraption -- was chewed on, colored on, used to collect toys, books, hairpins, even feminine hygiene products carelessly left within reach.

Something about the seat aroused my son’s creative energies. Inexplicably, it elicited intricate crayon drawings and doubled as a playpen for his stuffed animals. As his strength, coordination, and evil intent grew, this fruit of my womb figured out how to fill the bowl from the bathtub; then he carried it around and slowly drained it in a trail of carpet- soaking spots. Eventually, despite my inadequate strategy, I won the battle by attrition. My son became bored. The potty, now looking like a fourth-generation hand-me-down, remained in the bathroom. I took this as a hopeful sign and launched a campaign to wear down his resistance. Every hour on the hour, I dragged him, kicking and screaming, into the bathroom. First, I tried literary inducements to get him to sit on the potty. I’d read his favorite stories over and over, speaking in an animated tone designed to capture his attention. Next, I ventured into singing -- his favorite was John, Jacob, Jingleheimer, Schmidt. My voice would careen around the words, faster and faster, as if I could create some kind of gravitational force that would pull down his little posterior.No luck.

One of my well-meaning, if misguided, friends insisted that boys need a target to aim at, so I filled the potty with water and then dumped in half a bag of Cheerios, hoping to challenge his competitive instincts. I caught him scooping the soggy circles out with his hand and cramming them into his mouth. That’s when I invoked the dreadful specter of peer pressure. Do you want to be the only two-year-old you know who’s still in diapers? I asked, almost weeping at the prospect. But it didn’t work, my boy was impervious to public opinion.

His second birthday came and went, and I began to lose sleep, picturing my son at his high school graduation in Huggies, size extra extra large. Reluctantly, but feeling desperate, I played my trump card -- bribery -- promising him candy for each successful use of the potty. His eyes gleamed with sweet anticipation, but still, the kid wouldn’t give in. Finally, frustrated beyond words, I resorted to coercion, holding him, squirming furiously, on the potty. I only did it once. He deliberately pointed his penis up and baptized me with all of a child’s righteous indignation at my unjust use of force.

He began to have terrible stomachaches because he would not allow himself to have a bowel movement. I cried along with him, begging him to let his "poo" come out. I explained in a sanguine, Mr.Rogers voice that his poo was sad because it had to come out all alone in his diaper, but if he’d let it out in the potty, he could flush it down to play happily with all the other "poos." He eyed me with forbearance, but --quite literally -- continued to hold his own. Worried that he was poisoning his insides, I started putting a Pull-up on him every evening at the same time. As soon as it was on, he’d slip quietly into his room and close the door. Once or twice, I peeked through the door to see what he was doing. He’d place his hands on the foot of the bed, feet a-straddle as if he were water skiing. Next I’d hear a series of grunts. In a few minutes, he’d emerge, shame-faced. "Mommy," he’d say, with a telltale aroma trailing him, "I pooed." I’d let out a heavy, pained sigh and shake my head as if he’d just confessed to crimes against humanity.

As the three-year mark approached, and I saw my son upstaged by other, younger children who pranced proudly to the potty, I became truly depressed about this maternal failure. Despondently, I deployed my final weapon. I put away the potty and bought a large supply of Pull-ups. When my son informed me that he needed to be changed, I acted deliriously happy, never once even mentioning the toilet and its uses. After all those agonizing months, this strategy succeeded in exactly two days. The demon seed I’d previously considered my son started using the toilet as if he’d been doing it all his life.

Now, more than a year later, I can’t get him out of the bathroom. He has in-depth conversations with himself or an imaginary friend. (I haven’t quite figured out which) while he’s defecating, ranging from a soliloquy on the makeup of the solar system to what sounds like a verbal tour of his more interesting body parts. Walking by the bathroom one day, I heard him say, "Would you like to see what a penis looks like?" Dazed, I continued down the hall, wondering what I’d created.My daughter recently turned two and has never even seen the potty. When I get out of therapy in another year or so, I will probably try to train her. Or maybe I’ll just invest in some Huggies -- size extra extra large.

© 2004