Is there any early-parental activity as fraught as potty training? Breast-feeding, maybe, but the anxiety that entails usually engulfs just one of the parents. No, getting your child—who might be a year old or 2 or 4—to micturate and defecate in the appropriate place can be maddening, and success or failure seems to dictate what kind of parent you are: the kind who confidently guides streams of urine into plastic or porcelain bowls, or the indifferent, incompetent kind who allows their spawn to run, piss, and shit wherever they will.
I say this after having tried, and failed, to potty-train my daughter, Sasha, while on vacation in Cape Cod last week. Jean and I are, apparently, the latter kind of parent.
It all began with such high hopes. Jean had discovered a potty-training regimen that held out the promise that we could housebreak Sasha in a mere three days—a sort of toilet-bowl boot camp. With vacation on the horizon, in a place where Sasha could run outdoors, bottomless, we made plans.
And it all should have gone so well. We hadn’t pushed the subject much, figuring that Sasha, a smart little toddler, would just decide one day to be toilet-trained. And she’d already been making tentative steps toward using the potty. At school, she bows to peer pressure and takes her turn on the miniature toilet. At home, she loves reading books about the potty, and can even be coaxed into sitting on it once in a while, for a few seconds at a time.
But up on the Cape, where we let her run around pantsless, it just wasn’t working. She’d hold everything in just fine, and sit on the portable potty for long stretches watching one, two, three consecutive episodes of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and then, five minutes after standing up and wandering away, she’d let loose with short dribbles of pee on the floor. Or, worse, we’d get in some kind of argument with her—she’s 2 and a half, so everything is an argument, from putting on her sandals in the morning to going to bed at night—and in the depths of her temper tantrum she’d open the floodgates. “She shat in anger,” we’d joke, as if it were the title of some seventies exploitation movie.
As the three-day boot camp stretched into eight straight days of fury-piss, there were small successes. Really small, in fact: Once, while sitting on the potty, Sasha produced the tiniest turds I’d ever seen. Still, we cheered.
But that was about it. Seven days went by, and Sasha was still no closer to being toilet-trained than before. Actually, things were almost worse than before, as now Sasha, charmed by books like “Princess of the Potty,” considered herself a “big girl” and wanted to wear undies instead of diapers. To paraphrase a line in “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” how come you can do all this other cool shit, Sasha, but you can’t fucking use the potty?
Finally, on Saturday night (or was it Sunday morning?), while staying in a fancy-ass hotel on the way back from the Cape, Sasha made progress. Once again, she’d just watched two full episodes of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” while sitting on the portable Potette potty, when she decided to get up and stretch her legs. Two minutes into her bottomless stroll, I suddenly noticed a stream emerging from between her legs. Leaping into action, I nudged her two feet to the left, placing her over the potty. “Sit down!” I yelled—but she didn’t. Instead, she just stood there, peeing directly down into the Potette, amazed that this was happening. She was using the potty! Incredible!
Ladies and gentlemen, my daughter—who pees standing up!
After which, we put on one of her overnight diapers and bundled her into the car for what became a five-hour-plus drive home, guaranteeing she’d have nowhere to shit but her own pants. Awesome.