I just re-read my first potty-training blog from the weekend two years ago when we basically injected Finny with a gallon of Capri Sun and then watched him explode all over the house (http://vanhimbergen.blogspot.com/2011/06/potty-training-you-crazy-mystery.html). My panic and anxiety about potty-training is palpable. It pops off the page and sinks into my nerves. I remember this feeling of dread and impatience and complete puzzlement. If I over-filled Finny with Capri Sun, I over-filled myself with ideas and methods and techniques and everyone else’s opinion of what was right and what was wrong. I nearly exploded myself.
This time was different. This time the voice and wisdom of my friend Anne echoed in my head: “It’s just pee and poop." I was floored when we went to the zoo with Anne and her boys, Zach and Nick, who was two and a half at the time, and she said, “Nick is wearing underwear today.”
“What?!” I looked at her as if she’d completely lost her mind. “You are taking him to the zoo with just underwear on? How did you do that? Why did you do that?”
I remember interrogating her in my kitchen, her nonchalance blowing my mind. “It’s just pee and poop,” she said.
And I thought, just pee and poop?! Just pee and poop?! Pee and poop all over the floor, all over the underwear, all over the car seat! Something more I have to make time for, something else I have to clean up, something else I have to find patience and energy for, something that is going to slow us down, keep us inside, make me crazy! My perfectionism, my fear of failure, my self-doubt were voices so loud in my head that I couldn't make room for all the messiness and uncertainty that comes with potty-training.
But last Saturday when we decided to throw Charlie in a pair of underwear for the day, I had better voices in my head. I had my mom and my sister, saying, “Try it. If it doesn't work, so what? Put him back in diapers.” And out of all the potty-training books and manuals I had read, the one phrase that remained was from Anne, “It’s just pee and poop.”
If we look at last Saturday as a whole, all signs point to one conclusion: not a good time to potty train Charlie. I was up at 3 a.m. with a mean hangover after spending a night drinking vodka drinks with David as if I were twenty-two and had nothing more to do on a Saturday than eat an egg sandwich and watch a Kurt Russell movie marathon. I had to clean my house and bake a cake for Finny’s family birthday party with Aunt Celeste and Uncle Ray, and I had to run ten miles to prepare for our upcoming race. But it was rainy and we were staying in, and Aunt Celeste and Uncle Ray have five kids, so I knew they wouldn't care if the cake turned out ugly and we were spending a little extra time in the bathroom. I was also probably still the tiniest bit drunk from the night before. So we went for it.
I did not make a sticker chart, we did not throw a potty party, and I didn't give Charlie anything extra or additional to drink that day than I normally would have. I also didn't stalk him around the house watching his every move and insisting he sit on the potty every thirty minutes. We just put him in underwear and showed him where to go.
He pooped his underpants four times that first day. Four times?! And do you know what I did? I rinsed them out and threw them in the wash.
But he also peed on the potty, all but once, all day long, and every time we celebrated with “neminems!” and high fives. And every time, I’d say, “I’m so proud of you, Charlie!” and he’d respond, “I’m so proud of you too, Mommy!” And he has no idea how much that meant to me. He has no idea what kind of progress I've made.
The next day, we went to the zoo. The zoo! And his pull-up stayed dry the whole day. If he had to pee, he told me and we went. And that night, we went to dinner at a restaurant. In underwear. And I did not even think to bring a diaper bag or a change of clothes. We visited the bathroom three times. Two false alarms, one success. And he stayed dry the whole time. The whole day. No accidents on the second day of potty-training. And now, as I sit here typing six days after his first official day of wearing underwear, he is at preschool, in underwear, all by himself.
…And now as I finish this blog, ten days later—because nothing I start ever seems to get finished these days—Charlie is officially potty-trained. He wears underwear all day long, pees and poops on the potty, sometimes for M&M’s, sometimes just because he has to go, he wakes up dry in the morning, and I have officially--for the first time in five years--put the Diaper Champ away.
This is not to say he does not have the occasional accident, this is not to say we still don’t have to stand there and help him through the process of getting the seat out, getting his pants down, washing his hands, etc. But the difference is all in my understanding of the process. There is no “Potty Training in Less than a Day!” despite what the book title claims. There is no “Potty Training Boot Camp” and then you’re done. Potty Training, like parenting, is a process that evolves over years and it is different for every kid. It’s messy and uncertain and to the new parent—terrifying.
But when there are successes, when everything miraculously lands where it’s supposed to, when it’s supposed to, the pride is palpable, the high fives are hand-stinging, and the M&M’s taste like something rich, something decadent, something you should stand on a potty-stool-podium to receive with cameras flashing.
Because after all, it’s not “just” pee and poop. It’s pee and poop in the potty. And that’s remarkable. Not worth getting all worked up over, but definitely worth struttin’ around the house with your head held high and your best pair of Diego undies smiling behind you.