Friday, March 25, 2005

Potty Training a Porcelin Prodigy

Posting is going to continue to be erratic for a while. Between work, parenting, preparing for our new baby, building a new house and trying to get the old one up for sale, things are going to be pretty hectici up until July. I just have not had time to do anything worth writing about. About the most exciting thing to go on around here in a while is trying to potty train my two-year-old, which is turning into quite the adventure.
Potty training my daughter was, for the most part, a seemingly infinite exercise in futility. No matter what we tried, nothing seemed to work. Then, one miraculous day just before her third birthday, she suddenly had some sort of epiphany and discovered the unbridled ecstasy associated with unsoiled undergarments. To my recollection she has only had one accident since then, caused by a fit of hysterical laughter that, though emotionally devastating to her, was unfortunately incredibly humorous to me. In fact it was so much so that if I had been a little bit slower there would have been two of us in the house whose dignity had been severely compromised by a spell of entertainment induced incontinence and I would have found myself wondering if this affliction was contagious or some sort of genetic issue.

As hard as Regan was to train, I suspected that my son would be much easier though the common consensus among parents I have spoken to seems to suggest that boys are harder to train than girls. Mason seemed to have several things going his way that led me to believe that he would be the exception to this rule. First off, he had always been fascinated by the toilet, considering it his personal porcelain playground. From the moment he learned how to walk he was either standing in it, thinking about standing in it or, with a degree of success that suggested some sort of safecracking savancy, defeating the devices we installed to try to keep him out of it. Second, Mason idolized his big sister and was keen to mimic her every activity. I figured this should prove advantageous in the potty training arena however disturbing it had become when it came to influencing his wardrobe preferences (I don’t care how progressive a man thinks he is, when his son routinely rousts him out of a deep sleep wearing a pink tutu and a Little Mermaid tiara, it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself on the brink of a colossal cardiac catastrophe). Finally, my son is a little boy who responds very well to praise and thrives on the “celebration dance” we do when he passes a milestone. With those three things going for us, I thought that training Mason to use the toilet would be a breeze.

Still, I believed that I needed a plan. That is something I did not really do with Regan and I had wondered if that may have contributed to the difficulties we had in her case. I decided that first I would try to make the experience of going into the bathroom fun. I devised a ritual that began with a battle cry. As soon as my son hinted he wanted to use the bathroom, I would leap from my seat and yell, “LET’S PEEL OFF THOSE PAMPERS AND PAR-TAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!” I would then scoop him off of the floor and give him an airplane ride all the way to the toilet. Once there, we would do the “naked baby dance” which was supposed to be a fun way to teach him how to undress himself. Then, I would set him down on the toilet and read him books until he went.

It was a short-lived tradition. The first thing to go was the battle cry. Already under fire for teaching the kids about the legend of the barking spider and the chorus of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s piece praising the portly posterior (though I still maintain that the blame for that one lies with VH1 Classic and not me), I did not need the kids learning a phrase that could be misinterpreted as a pre-school pick-up line. Shortly after that, I realized that my son’s frequent requests to go potty were actually requests for Daddy-powered air time uttered in toddler-ese. The naked baby dance was nixed once Mason had become proficient enough at it to employ some fairly fancy footwork while falling susceptible to spontaneous acts of random nudity in inappropriate environs. Luckily, we got that under control before he gained dubious infamy as his day care facility’s resident nursery nudist. I also discovered that the reading thing was not achieving the results that I had hoped for either. Still, that was one part of the ritual I kept. I personally recognize the soothing effects literature has on stresses endemic to bathroom tasks and personally, in a house with two young children, realize that the water closet can be one of the few places at home where one is actually able to read in peace. In fact my wife, who works in the medical field, mistakenly diagnoses me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome every time I get my hands on the latest John Grisham novel. I know I am not alone in this either and I am willing to bet that I am not the first man to risk an invasive colonoscopy for the sake of a good courtroom thriller.

After surrendering my entertainment technique, I decided to play off of my daughter’s abilities. Every time she used the potty, I continued to make a big deal out of it hoping that Mason would take the cue. Of course, this backfired as well. Regan, in pursuit of the celebration she received every time she used the potty, would go without telling me and then rush out when she was done to reap her rewards. This left her little toddler toilet dangerously unguarded and prone to theft. During one of my daughter’s events we returned to the bathroom to perform the post-potty paperwork when I looked into the little pot to see that, though there was evidence in there of what my daughter had accomplished, the actual result was nowhere to be seen. Immediately realizing what had happened, I went looking for my son. I found him in my daughter’s room, wielding fiber like an obtuse adherent to some obscure fecal fetishist faction of the Jedi order. I do not know what was worse about what happened next, the fact that I ordered my son to give me his excretory reincarnation of Excaliber, or the fact that I thanked him for it after he did. After cleaning far more of my kids, my house, my dog and myself than I had first intended to that morning, I became much more reluctant to broadcast my daughter’s restroom accomplishments if my son was within earshot from that point on.

My next option was to express my disappointment when Mason had an accident. I scored some minor successes with that and, buoyed by a hint of progress, determined that I was going to become even sterner with him when he soiled himself. Then, shortly after I made this resolution, I returned from work one day and found that my daughter was particularly excited to see me. She had just returned from ice skating class and was quite proud of herself for finally managing to skate around on the ice without assistance from one of the instructors. Unable able to contain her excitement, she jumped around the living room wildly exclaiming, “DADDY! DADDY! I skated all by myself today!!!!”

I then heard Mason tearing down the hallway full bore to see me. Not to be outdone by his sister, he also jumped up and down in celebratory hysterics and shouted, “DADDY! DADDY! I POOPED IN MY PANTS!” He had a smile on that stretched from ear to ear. I thought that I really needed to chastise him but it is very hard to be cross with someone who takes such enthusiastic pride in his work.

Out of creative options, I fell back upon more traditional techniques. We periodically sent him in to use the potty, cheered when he did what we thought he should do and expressed disappointment when he had accidents. Though not fully out of the woods yet, we have crossed a significant milestone with him. I realized this one night after I put the kids to bed and set to accomplishing some evening work around the house. At one point I crossed the hallway and saw the bathroom light on. I expected to look in and find my son goofing off to avoid going to sleep but instead found him sitting on the toilet, doing what we had been trying to teach him to. When I asked him what he was doing, he shot me a confident smile and matter-of-factly stated, “I’m going potty, Dad.” His face then morphed into an expression of determination and concentration and as I stood there, an impressive geyser burst forth from between his legs and traveled the width of the bathroom until it terminated upon the guest towels hanging off of the rack on the opposite wall, leaving me searching my synapses to come up with creative ways to improve his marksmanship.

There is no denying that potty training a toddler is among the most difficult tasks facing the parent of a toddler. With persistence and the right frame of mind however, this activity can be just as fun as any other aspect of child rearing. When it is over, you can rightfully bask in the accomplishment you have helped your children achieve and, as an added bonus, walk away with a healthy repertoire of amusing anecdotes that will most likely come in very handy once your child starts dating or ever decides to run for political office.


Blogger Sacto Ritch said...

Good God! What have I gotten myself into! I don't want to go through toilet training!

11:46 PM  

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