Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Potty Training for Moms

When our 2-year-old son tinkled in the potty consistently and contentedly, we parents high-fived and figured we could check the toilet-trained block. Until we realized the child had not pooped in days. And certainly never in the potty. So we did what logical parents would do--we fibered him up and waited. And The Boy did what he still does best --he messed with our minds. He fished out an old diaper, changed himself into it, barricaded his bedroom door, and filled his pants. Then, with what I swear was a gleam in his eye, he summoned his mommy to take care of his mess. This went on for days and days and, well, truthfully for years. For almost two years that kid refused to poop anywhere except his pants.

We tried everything. Up went the sticker charts, out came the candy jar rewards, stacked up in the bathroom were the best-sellers Everyone Poops and Once Upon a Potty. There are a few motherhood memories that remain so clear in my mind that I tremble when I think of them. "The Day I Bleached the Bathroom" is one of them. On that day I was inspired to clean my bathroom better than it had ever been cleaned before. I washed and rehung the shower curtain. I scrubbed the faucets with a toothbrush. I bleached every inch of subway tile from the corners to the walls to the gross spot behind the toilet. Never had that space been so clean and sanitary. It made my day. Until about two hours later when I strolled into the spotless lavatory and found poop. On the floor.

I'm not so proud of what happened next. I found the culprit, grabbed his shoulders, sank to my knees and screeched some variation of the following: "Seriously?! You chose today to poop OUTSIDE of your beloved Pull-Up?! Are you aware that I just used bleach--bleach!--to clean that bathroom? Are you trying to kill me? Because really I think my head is going to explode and it's all because you won't poop on the potty. YOU POOPED A MERE THREE INCHES FROM THE POTTY! What is wroooooooong with you?!?!"

And I'm even less proud of what happened then. The Boy pushed out his lip, quivered his chin and started to wail. Only I didn't care. At all. I'd been had and I was done letting him get the best of me. Even as I bellowed the next few lines some part of my brain was chiding, "Um, this is really not effective parenting. Truly, lady, you are breaking all sorts of rules here. This is not going well." But I was on a roll and could not help myself. I continued: "And I will tell you something, Mister. ("Mister?" Did you really just call him "Mister"? that same voice asked.) I am not picking up this mess. If you can't get it in the potty the regular way, then you will just have to use your hands."

At that point we were face-to-face and both a little terrified at what I had just said. But I was not backing down, oh no. I grabbed a half dozen tissues and pressed them into his little hands. "There!" I barked. "Now pick it up and put it in the potty." He stood frozen, turning paler and paler. I just grew madder and madder (both definitions). "I am not kidding, kid!" I insisted.

As he knelt, still teary, to scoop up his mess I stood over him and congratulated myself, "Well, see, this is what he needed all along. Tough love. How ridiculous that we've let it go this long without insisting that he clean his own mess. He will certainly not continue to poop outside the potty if he has to clean it himself. Really, Self, I'm surprised it took you so long to realize this."

The Boy shot me one more pitiful look over his tiny shoulder, shuddered and reached down. At which point the wad of tissues shifted and three little fingers sank into the pile of poop. In one quick instant, he stood, screamed, and turned to me. Then he vomited.

In the end, The Boy learned that it's better to do your business somewhere besides the floor, especially if your parents promise to buy you a really cool bike.

I learned a lesson too. Tough love is not always the answer. Sometimes it's simply a load of crap.


  1. Yep, I can totally relate. We are having oatmeal for breakfast today. Sigh...