Excluding injury and illness, there is no harder part of parenting than potty training. When my daughter was 3, I spent 17 days trying to teach her to pee in the porcelain bowl. I devoted my life to this chore. We never left the house. We never left the first floor. We never moved further than 15 steps from the bathroom. I bribed that child with M&Ms. I bribed her with books. I bribed her with anything and everything. Yet, it still took 17 days. Trying to get her to poop was another matter entirely. She always waited until nap or bed when she had on a pull-up. This went on for four months. The final battle occurred at the World Trade Center in Baltimore. For one hour, the hubby, baby, and I watched every light come on in the Inner Harbor while we waited for my daughter to do her business. If we left for the hotel, she’d get a pull-up. If we stayed, she had to use the bathroom. We may never have wanted to see Domino Sugar sign again, but we left that building fully and completed potty trained.
My son is a different kettle of fish entirely. I don’t have 17 days to devote to him. I don’t even have 17 hours. He gets dragged out of the house every few hours every single day. He also cannot be bribed. Matchbox cars, books, M&Ms, you name it, I’ve tried it. He simply says, “No thank you” in a tone of utter politeness and dismissal and goes on with his day. Every few weeks, we start the process again. I have done everything in my power short of duct-taping the child to the bowl to get him to pee in it.
The week my husband was home we tried a different tactic. Target practice! Every 15 minutes, a timer went off and my husband and son whipped out their respective equipment and aimed at off-brand Fruit Loops. My husband got quite good at it. My son, on the other hand, never even managed to open fire. I’m also pretty sure he started developing PTSD from the timer.
Finally, finally, there was a breakthrough. The kid peed in the potty. Of course, he did it for daddy, not me, and couldn’t replicate the process again for love or money. Then, breakthrough number two (pun intended) happened at his grandparent’s house. Once again, I missed it and once again it could not be replicated. Worse, I had to give him the big reward I had been holding over him for months (the 2010 Hess truck with fighter jet). Days passed. Nothing. The dude has a bladder like a steel drum. Not only that, but if you don’t watch him like a hawk, his “tell” of grabbing his crotch, only gives you a 30-second window before the floodgates open and he pees on the floor.
I know you are supposed to hop the kid up on liquid, but short of sticking him with an IV, I can’t force him to drink. I made smoothies – he spent hours relishing every mouthful. We took water bottles wherever we went – and they always came home full. I offered him chocolate milk – the equivalent of 30-year old aged scotch to an alcoholic – and he would take a few sips and then leave the cup behind. It was maddening.
Finally, I had to do what I felt was necessary. I broke very single rule of parenting and potty training. I told the little bastard that I would start punishing him for it. Not, obviously, a tried and true, couldn’t-make-it-to-the-potty-in-time accident. But a go hide in the corner, poop his brains out, then come back and ask me to be changed “accident” would result in the loss of Matchbox cars. Two days of this and he caved. He can still go hours in between pit stops, but that just means that he has a larger bladder than my oldest sister-in-law. I heaved a big sigh of relief, bought a bucketload of new Cars II cars and dangled them in front of him as rewards for the other half of the problem. Yet again, he could have cared less.
So this time, it was the threat of not getting to go to the pool or to any summer camps that encouraged him. Never have I heard a child as happy as the day he finally let some drop. He sang. He danced. He ran around in the house reveling in the thrill of victory. He enthusiastically replayed every moment to anyone who would listen. After almost a full freaking year of trying with the little guy, I honestly think this developmental milestone was met with greater levels of celebration than my getting pregnant with him in the first place. Sure, I knew diaper changing was part of the deal, I just didn’t think ahead to realize I was signing up for six and a half years of it. So while we are still wearing pull-ups at night (at least until the box runs out), we are almost in the clear. Now, every morning, he decides which of his colorful “unders” he wants to wear. Some days, he matches them to his shirts. Other days, he picks based on his desire to be a car, or a train, or a super hero. But every single day for a few weeks now, he is free of accidents.
Now I can proudly say that while shit happens, it is confined to the appropriate receptacle.