Three weeks into “potty training” and I thought I was going to have a mental break. One of the worst things about being a psychologist is that you can diagnose your own mental shortcomings on a moment-to-moment basis. And then check the DSM-IV for accuracy in your self-diagnosis.
It was the middle of winter and I had realized three things. One: most people potty train in the summer so they can run their naked toddler around outside and not worry about the mess. Two: it is recommended not to potty train with an end date in mind. My end date was six months from when I started, because I was going to have a baby. And that brings me to my third point: don’t potty train when a stressful event is inevitable (example: moving, changing schools, HAVING A BABY!). But like all good overachievers when I hear the words “you can’t…” I immediately want to prove I can. It seemed none of the books I read agreed on anything except those points. I was 0 for 3.
I had given up on my end date. I would be happy if I could get Isaac to even speak friendly about the potty. I was also clueless on how to even start the process of getting him to actually sit on the potty. At first I went with what I knew. I had raised dogs and when a dog looks like it’s about to go you rush it outside. After a while they get the idea. When Isaac would fidget or squirm I would immediately rush him over to his potty chair. He would scream and freak, because I think the first few times I was a bit too eager and scared him. Since I am a good little behaviorist I know when something doesn’t work you have to change what you are doing. I figured if taking him to the potty didn’t work I would bring the potty to him. A few times of him peeing and me rushing his potty chair to catch the pee was exhausting. I also hardly ever got the timing right. Most of the time I was following him around with the potty chair. He would sneeze or pause in playing and I would fumble excitedly with the chair and slide it under him like a baseball runner trying to get past home plate. He would give me a look of confusion and concern that I am sure I will see again when I am old and senile.
I continued to take data on his fluid intake and urine output with baffling results. I never took physics, but even I know what is outside the realm of possibility. If anyone can explain to me how you can pump over 8oz of fluid into a little body and not have any pee come out the other end for over 3 hours I would love to hear the mathematical and anatomical theories on that.
It was evident that Isaac was overwhelmed as well. One night I decided to test my rusting child counseling skills to see how he felt about all this potty training business. Each of his toys used the potty and we clapped and cheered for them. Isaac’s enthusiasm for each successful toy I could tell was lack luster. I could even detect a bit of envy. I then took his favorite stuffed animal. A yellow duck we named Brahms, because when you pull his tail Brahms’ lullaby tune plays out of his butt. I told Brahms he had to use the potty and Brahms said he didn’t want to and kept exclaiming “No!” I then walked Brahms over the potty chair and had him sit on it. I puppeted Brahms yelling and screaming to be left alone in the same fashion I had witnessed a certain toddler doing the last few weeks. Isaac clapped and squealed in delight, gleefully encouraging his toy’s rebellious outbursts. I then had a long talk with Brahms that it was time to use the potty and that we all use it at some point. After much discussion Brahms decided to give the potty one more try and sat on it with pride as he peed lemonade I had hidden in a syringe behind his back. Isaac’s face crumpled and the look of betrayal would have been almost comical if it hadn’t been so revealing of his true feelings. He marched over to the offending toy and yanked him from the potty. He then screamed a loud “No, Brahms, NO!” and promptly ran over the kitchen cupboards and thrust the toy inside and slammed the door.
My husband’s eyes lit up and with his eyebrows raised higher than I have ever seen them whispered to me in his best psychoanalysis impression, “So, Isaac, tell us how you really feel.”
I then tried to smooth things over only to get pulled into a rousing game of “no.”
“Isaac do you want to take a break?”
“Isaac, do you want a snack?”
“Isaac, let’s go for a bike ride.”
I tried to soak up as much comfort and joy from the game as I could, but I let out a big sigh. I was frustrated too. Neither of us were happy and I rhetorically stated, “You are probably as frustrated with this potty training as I am.”
There was a short pause.
“Uh…yes?” he answered as if trying the word out for the first time. I was hoping the day that word magically appeared in his vocabulary would be cause for celebration after months of hearing its counterpart, but instead I felt empty.