“My daughter is potty trained!” I proudly declare one day in late spring.
“Wow, congrats!” exclaims another friend. “So she doesn’t need a diaper at all? Not even for naps?” Her motivations for asking me this question automatically seem suspect….why must she knock me off my proud pedestal, I wonder. We both know the answers.
“Well,” I begin to concede “She needs a diaper for naps and for night-time and well, she isn’t pooping on the potty but she’s not wearing a diaper now!” I add hopefully. Probably a little too desperately. This time my confidence is deflating as we both stand there realizing that the fact that she’s not wearing a diaper now means that I could be changing her underpants any minute. Is she potty trained? Or is it just dumb luck? Perhaps the better question to ask me is this: Why has my daughter gone from wearing shorts to only summer dresses (read: less laundry bc she just pees on her leg instead of through the shorts) or how many pairs of extra underpants have I stashed in my purse (therefore demonstrating my true lack of confidence in just how potty trained she is.)
Along the path to potty training, I think there’s a sliding scale of loose definitions of the phrase that we use to make ourselves feel better when we’re secretly worried that they won’t make diapers big enough for our kid who actually really isn’t fully potty trained. The question really is: When is a child potty trained, like actually potty trained, like you really aren’t buying ANY diapers instead of you are buying fewer diapers and definitely buying swimmer diapers. Do we declare our independence from diapers publicly while behind closed doors, we really have a closet full of diapers for occasions other than just pee during the day when the child is awake?
Clearly I have been stuck in the slippery, sliding, deflating, frustrating, demoralizing slope of potty training for a while now, with my 2.5 year old. Am I obsessed? Maybe. But I’m obsessed more with how we label it and how, in reality, it’s actually a continuous process. Sure, we’ve all heard of those miracle kids who potty train themselves and never have any accidents and poop on the potty right away and none of it required any work for their parents.
Back in the day, I would have secretly hated those people and wished ill-things on them like lots of tantrums or sleepless nights. And while a few unfavorable thoughts might flash in my head as I’m mopping up another accident on my carpet, really I’ve concluded that it all evens out in the end. The marathon of parenting ebbs and flows differently for all of us and while I’m in a dark place and someone else might not be, theirs will happen another time. So who am I kidding, I’m still kind of evil when you tell me great things about your kid that don’t mash up with my own version of misery and hell.
So back to the dark black hole of potty training – can I really call her “potty trained” with it comes with the following caveats: won’t poop on the potty, needs them for naps and night-time and I wouldn’t dream of sending her to the pool without a diaper. I mean, am I kidding myself when I proudly tell myself that both my kids are potty trained? But I know I’m not alone.
And then there’s the set backs and the ways kids handle being potty trained. Some of it is comedy and some of it has forced me to actually quit motherhood. Are the setbacks a natural part of potty training? Do they regress to test our patience and our deep love for them? Why are a few pee pee accidents on the carpet a few days in a row after a few weeks of no accidents – why is it so demoralizing and frustrating and disappointing? Because for me it is. The potty training regression was the final straw in my decision to quit motherhood the week before July 4.
I didn’t quit for long but making that declaration of independence was actually really satisfying and somehow about as real as the declaration of my child’s independence from diapers. One wonders if my declaration meshes with my daughter’s behavioral declaration of DEPENDENCE on having accidents.
And then, is my kid potty trained when she actually sits on the potty to pee but fails to realize that she needs to pull DOWN her underpants, therefore soaking through them?
Or how about the lack of boundaries on where going potty is appropriate? My friend’s kid was in Buy Buy Baby when she was potty training her and her daughter saw the potty’s out on display for potty training, whips down her pants (at least she was clever enough to whip down her own pants) and pees in the potty in the aisle at the store. In her young mind, she went pee pee on the potty, right? No one said WHERE the potty needed to be.
Bill Cosby nailed it last month, as we sat under the stars at Wolf Trap, and listened to his 2 plus hour monologue that was both hilarious and shockingly felt like he’s an observer in all of our lives and marriages. In one part of the act, he spoke about his grandchildren and the challenges in parenthood. He cleverly noted that children do not know how to conjugate verbs. So when his 3-year-old grandson declares “I go potty!” – you gotta move and move fast because does he NEED to go potty, did he ALREADY go potty, is he ABOUT to go potty, is he GOING potty when you are rushing him there? It could be any of the above. He’s three. He doesn’t conjugate correctly.
And perhaps the toddlers aren’t the only ones who don’t know how to conjugate the verb. Perhaps we adults get it wrong too. Afterall, if I still have diapers in my closet, is my child “potty trained” or is she “potty training”? A process that could take months, if not longer? Have I declared our independence too soon? And how many more times will I quit motherhood along the way?