Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Potty Trials

If I were the advice-giving type, and you were to ask me advice about potty-training, my advice to you would be: wait. Wait until you are so sick of diapers you want to drown yourself in the diaper bucket (or smother yourself in the diaper genie), and then wait some more. Because no matter how awful you think changing diapers is, potty-training is a million, billion times worse (this coming from a woman who uses cloth diapers—and air-dries them, in Maine!). When you change a diaper, you just have to change and wash a diaper. When you have a potty-training incident, you have to change and wash underwear, pants, socks, and shoes, mop the floor (thank goddess we don’t have carpeting) and, eventually, move to a new house.

I had planned on waiting with the twins. Hell, I was willing to wait until they went to college and let their RA train them. But C has been hot on the potty training trail for more than a year, and because their birthday is within three days of M’s, I unwittingly compare all their milestones to his based on the seasons. I can remember training M in April because we went to our friends’ wedding in Bar Harbor in early April just before M turned three, daycare had pushed the potty-training issue the week before, and I was stuck traveling with an underwear-wearing, untrained toddler. My friend ML, who drove with me, and I would stop every half hour along the way, set the potty chair next to the car and try to convince M to do his business—which he refused to do, of course. He wet through every extra pair of underwear and pants I took to the wedding and ended up spending most of the reception unclothed from the waist down (good thing it was a hippie-type gathering).

I would count that month of potty training among the most horrific mothering experiences I have had with M (running a close second to the nightmare being a mother of two newborn babies and a very forlorn, displaced, formerly-only-child four-year-old). I know that a month is a very short period of time, as far as potty training goes, but it felt very, very long at the time. Nothing previous had driven me closer to rage than asking, “do you have to pee?” Hearing, “No.” And then less than a minute later, “I peed.” Which, when I look at it objectively, it doesn’t really warrant my reaction, but there it is. In the end, after we got through our weekend wedding trip, and the rest of the month, M was potty trained and almost never had an accident. My biggest fear, which was what do we do when we’re away from home and need a toilet, just never materialized as an issue. I held off on night training until after we took a three week road trip that summer, moved M into undies at night as soon as we got home and never had a problem either.

So I shouldn’t be worked up about training the twins. But they have very different personalities than M, and very different physiologies. Where M would daintily sip from a single cup of water or juice throughout the day, E and Z guzzle down cupsful of water, milk, or juice, when they can get their hands on it…and their output equals their input. With M I could get away with the cheapo Gerber prefold diapers, but with E and Z, I have to fold a Chinese prefold inside of a Gerber, or use the thick terrycloth fitted diapers a friend handed down, and they still soak through regularly. I’m tired of the soak-throughs. I’m tired of swishing and rinsing and soaking and washing and hanging and folding. I’m tired of the diaper buckets and the smelly covers. M trained at this time, E and Z have shown “readiness” signs, and so I’ve plunged in full speed ahead.

We’ve spent a few days here and there diaper-free, when we’re hanging around the house, with varying degrees of success. Z, who seems to be part Labrador retriever, has delighted in running outside to pee on the deck (right outside the door) or even pee in houseplants. E, while he likes wearing “un-ear,” had shown less proclivity. I decided that this weekend, after a week when all three boys suffered a distressing gastro-intestinal illness, which steeled my resolve to be done with diapers, we would quit diapers cold-turkey. After we got home from M’s art class and the Children’s Mueseum Friday, I changed E and Z into underwear and only put diapers on at night all weekend. Let’s just say they wore, and I washed, every pair of size 3 Thomas and Bob underwear that had been M’s and most of the tighty-whitey size 4 undies that still linger in M’s drawer along with the size 6’s, several times. But I persisted. Yesterday, after a #2 incident first thing in the morning, E wore the same pants all day, even while spending the morning at the in-laws. Z, on the other hand, who had forged ahead with interest and awareness of this whole potty thing well ahead of E, had a major setback and seemed to not only be uninterested in using the toilet, but intentionally wetting himself just to make a statement.

Then last night, just before the baths, I was straightening up in the livingroom when I could hear noises from the bathroom. “Is Z in the bathroom?” I asked C, who was in the kitchen (right next to the bathroom). “I don’t know,” he responded, as he continued to rinse dishes. I raced to the john, where Z was emerging, “My pee potty,” he said. Only he didn’t quite make it and there was a puddle of lakelike proportions on the floor. I wasn’t mad, because clearly he had tried (my mother anger, while totally irrational, has its own irrefutable logic). I filled up a bucket and Z set about washing the floor more meticulously than your average 1950s housewife, and I said to C, “When they’re in the bathroom you’ve got to go right in and help.” He replied that he hadn’t heard him, and when I pointed out that I had heard from the next room he responded, “I’m just not trained to rush in whenever I hear them,” which is true; he has never been the one to rush to the crying baby, which in some cases is a good thing, but in potty training it’s not an option—you have to drop whatever you are doing (even if you’re the one on the potty) and rush to the aid of the trainee.

This morning I had a taste of what it will be like to have two more toilet-users in the house. I took E, who seemed to be doing the pee-pee dance into the bathroom to “try.” My came in saying he had to poop. When I told him to go upstairs to the other bathroom, he said he could hold it. E gave up on trying. M took over, and then I got the sense Z needed to go, so I rushed him upstairs, where he tried unsuccessfully, and came back down to find M emerging from the bathroom and E going in for a repeat, but successful, attempt. I had to wait till I got to work for my turn.


  1. UGH. It took a loooooooong time for my twins to be potty trained. I tried to stay calm about it but truthfully, it drove me nutty. But happily, once they were-- they just were, done totally. And yes, they were definitely older than Z & E...

    I've been sort of nonchalant about the potty thing with Finn. He is, ahhh, obvious when he needs to poop so normally I can 'catch' him in time to do so on the potty, but it is not like he's initiating that. I figure we have to do the naked bum thing at some point this summer but I've been in wait mode.

    Ohh, if you can get your hands on it, read an essay called "Potty Prattle" by Kerri Peterson. She wrote it while her 4 year old TRIPLET boys were still in diapers. She is also a family physician & yes, this made me feel better. Let me know if you want me to send it to you....


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