My four-year-old is my youngest of nine children. You’d think that after 25 years of being a mom, I’d be an expert, but you’re never an expert, I’ve decided.
Especially when it comes to potty-training.
With our first child, I took the excellent advice to “not rush it.” This was the early 90s when having your barely-know-how-to-walk one-year-old potty trained was the rage.
It was actually the mom who was trained, to rush her tiny charge to the bathroom every two hours and plop the toddler on the toilet with great hope. Never being that disciplined, I instead encouraged and suggested, and finally had a trained daughter when she was three.
I followed that same laissez faire approach with my other kids, too, but my sons took a bit longer.
Ohhh . . . my sons and potty training.
Boys are the worst, and I have five of them.
I won’t name names, but one son had a propensity for “forgetting,” and he was well into preschool age before accidents weren’t a weekly—or daily—affair.
Another son would, in a half-asleep stupor, mistake his closet for the bathroom every night. It took us weeks to figure out where the smell was coming from, and why. Once we did, we had to replace the carpet and pad in there, along with a few toys.
Another son simply refused to use the toilet, afraid of it. One of his first public potty encounters was with a toilet which automatically, and noisily, flushed itself. He was sure that all toilets were ready to swallow him whole.
Another child was perfectly easy to potty train, leaving me to believe I’d finally figured things out and was a fantastic mother.
Nope. He was just an easy kid.
And we’re not going to talk about the years of bed wetting. Which were years. (I wept with joy when Febreeze was invented.)
So when it came to potty training Boy #5, I didn’t have any illusions that I knew how to do it within 48 hours, or tear-free, or bribery-free. We just went for it.
(If you’re a bit squeamish, perhaps you don’t want to continue reading. But if you’re a parent, none of this will be new to you.)
Fortunately #5 had no problem with #1. Watching his older brothers (who were happy to show off their skills) encouraged him that he wanted to be as big as the teenagers he adored.
It’s #2 that’s been the horror.
He won’t do it on a toilet. We don’t know why. It’s not as if toddlers are good at articulating their reticence about certain activities.
We started trying waaaay back before his third birthday, and while he’s been an expert at shooting the water for over a year (we won’t discuss aim, which even my bigger boys seem to struggle with until they leave high school), the idea of sitting and plopping was a no-go.
Instead, he grabs a pull-up, puts it on himself, hides in the privacy of his bedroom, then comes out ten minutes later with a coy smile and says to me sweetly, “Mommy? Can you please change me? I love you.” Batting his lashes is the crowning touch.
“But I don’t love doing this,” I tell him each time he assumes the position and I pull out the baby wipes.
“Yes, you do. Because you love me. But don’t tell Daddy I do this.”
It always makes me feel dirty when he says that. But Daddy knows.
Daddy frowns at Pull-up Boy, and promises greater things, like setting off smoke bombs or exploding fireworks tanks, if #5 puts #2 in the potty.
We had success after Christmas, when we promised him a shiny new fire engine that makes noise if he went. (Go ahead, judge me for bribing my child. I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore.)
He did it once, and we immediately took him to Walmart, and he loved his fire engine . . . and he never went #2 again because he got his reward.
I hate it when the kids are cleverer than me.
But yesterday, something changed.
I was in the kitchen making dinner when suddenly my 4-year-old stood there, beaming. The fact that he wore only a t-shirt, and nothing below, gave me a hint as to what he was going to exclaim.
“Mom! Mom! I did it! I put stinkies in the potty!”
“Really?!” I don’t know who was happier.
“Come see!” and he took off running to the bathroom.
That’s when I realized that not all of the stinky got into the toilet. A lot of it was smeared down the back of his legs.
As a parent, there are times that you brace yourself for what you’re about to find, and you recite in your head, No matter what, I’ll be cheerful. No matter what, I’ll be cheerful . . .
When I arrived at the bathroom, the story was waiting for me.
First were his pants and underwear, tossed on my bedroom floor as if he were in a hurry.
Then, the pull-ups, left sadly next to the door, because there wasn’t enough time.
Then . . .
I steeled myself, because sometimes, no matter how often you tackle a mess, it’s shocking when you first encounter it.
But #5 stood next to the toilet, beaming in joy. “Look! Some of it got in!”
It did, along with half a roll of toilet paper.
The rest was on the seat, the floor, and the bath mat.
Boys struggle with having two outlets, and sometimes they don’t have full control of either. My son stood in a yellow puddle, grinning madly.
There was only one option for me as his mother.
“I’m so proud of you!” I cheered and clapped.
Full of praise and happiness, I suggested we finish wiping him up, waist to toe, and I sent him to tell his siblings the good news so I could tidy up the bathroom.
That’s where my 15-year-old found me a few minutes later. “He actually went stinky in the toilet? Whoa . . .” and he backed up when he saw how I straddled one mess to wipe up another. “I was about to say, Bet you’re glad he didn’t give you a mess in a pull-up, but—”
“But say nothing to him,” I warned Big Brother. “This is a huge step for him—”
“You’ll have to take a few huge steps just to get out of there—”
I pointed at him. “The mess isn’t important,” I said. “Nor is it important that I had to use five baby wipes on him, and that I’ll use about a dozen Clorox wipes in here. What’s important is that he finally did something hard for him. We cheer and praise, and clean up the mess quietly later, without making him feel anything but joy for his accomplishment, which has been years in the making.”
And that, I realized, summed up parenthood.
Along with this request to Big Brother, “And bring me another trash bag, please.”
Oh yes, being their mother was by far the most difficult work she’d ever undertaken. And it also was, by far, the most satisfying. At the end of the day she knew she’d accomplished an enormous amount of work, even if the house looked as messy as it had in the morning. But at this point of her life, messy meant success. Things happened.
~Book 2, Soldier at the Door