She Shat in Anger, and Other Failures of Potty-Training

July 25th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  6 Comments

Not my daughter.

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.


  1. karen says:

    July 25th, 2011at 1:49 pm(#)

    Bwa ha ha ha! The problem with only having one kid (and it is the only problem, in my expert opinion) is that you don’t get a do-over on the whole potty thing.

    Matt, oh Matt. Why oh why didn’t you follow my advice and, the moment you could tell she was taking a shit at 10 months stick her on the pot for evermore?! Sigh.

    I hate to be an I told you so kind of person … but … so … well … (cue peels of laughter here).


  2. Matt says:

    July 25th, 2011at 1:59 pm(#)

    Because when she was 10 months old… I was traveling around British Columbia, where I met you! That, plus the fact that my attention was always divided between taking care of her and trying to work/write, plus the nanny had her three days a week. If it could’ve been me devoting all attention to her every day, maybe that would’ve happened, but it didn’t work out that way.

  3. Matt says:

    July 25th, 2011at 2:01 pm(#)

    And the other weird thing is that changing her diaper became so easy that anything else led to immense frustration. Frustration that, I know, would be followed by incredible ease, but when you’re only just able to gather your wits together day by day, adding another complication to the complexity of life and childcare seems insane.

  4. Beth Winegarner says:

    July 25th, 2011at 9:49 pm(#)

    Our 2.5-year-old daughter is potty training and my partner would LOVE it if she learned to pee standing up!

  5. karen says:

    July 26th, 2011at 2:51 pm(#)

    Oh, bwa ha ha ha! Right. I forgot. But I hope you remember, my first totally went on strike at age 1. So we got do overs for the second and the third.

    The good news is, the less you care, the easier it gets. Because nobody wants to shit themselves, but it is fun to see the parental units freak out a little.

    That’s my only advice. The rest of it is bullshit. Because all of the other factors are always going to be different. Trust me.

    And I’m glad she’s not toilet training now because you couldn’t put her on a pot when she was 10 months old. Because if you could have, I would not have met you.


    ps. come visit. with the family.

  6. Vickie says:

    July 27th, 2011at 3:53 am(#)

    I feel for you and Jean. We have made no progress with our slightly older-than-Sasha girl. She hasn’t had m&ms in ages–you’d think that would make her want to at least try, but no. BTW, I used that 3-day method with my firstborn–because the author claimed it worked with kids with special needs (just for that claim I would sue if I didn’t care about the money)–and it took us the better part of 3 weeks. I nearly slit my throat back then, which is likely why I’m not pushing so hard with my daughter.

Leave a Response


Recent Comments

  • Dee: As one of the impressed moms there last night, and also because my kid ate 3 bowls of that bolognese, thanks for...
  • Drew Wallner via Facebook: I’m totally making this when we get back from holiday travel, I even just got a...
  • Matt: Whoops! Just put that back in. The recipe editor has been fired.
  • Ed Lilly: Looks great – thanks for posting! One question – you did not specify putting the meat back into...
  • Maks: I’m against baby yoga for sure, but want to say something regarding that author is a little wild about...

DadWagon Reads!