Potty training brings rewards you never expected

Posted by GT on October 8th, 2008 — Posted in Newspaper columns, Personal favorites

Originally published in September 2005, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

For parents, there is a twilight zone of existence between the time of having a baby in the house and having a small child. It’s an unscheduled, undeadlined stretch made up of suspicion and repeated questions, then furious motion followed by deadening boredom. It’s a time that challenges what you call taboo as you reach for milestones you never would have thought mattered.

It’s called potty training.

My wife and I are experiencing the parental part of potty training for the second time in our lives. Our 2-year-old recently decided it was time for us to get serious about this with her, roughly a year after her older sister took the final step of rising at night to go to the bathroom instead of wearing “princess pants” to bed.

“Princess pants,” for those unacquainted with the term (which should be everyone), are Huggies Pull-Ups decorated with Disney princesses such as Cinderella, Jasmine and Belle.

Never heard of Pull-Ups? They’re heavily advertised non-recyclable blessings that were bestowed upon parents in the late 20th century. Basically, Pull-Ups are light-duty disposable diapers that can be put on and taken off like regular pants.

Our 2-year-old wants to do, say and think everything her big sister does, and caught on to the fact that she couldn’t accomplish this without learning how the whole “going to the bathroom” thing works. She let us know she was ready to learn by starting to sit on her pint-sized training potty after she’d finished filling her diaper.

Right concept, wrong execution. Lisa and I were happy to see she was trying, though, because we can finally envision a time when we no longer have to carry a supply of diapers and wipes everywhere we go.

Between nirvana and now, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Going to the bathroom with a potty-training child generally involves five steps:

  • Parental awareness of suspicious behavior (for example, a particularly pink face and half an inch of tongue puffing out between her lips).
  • The question, “Do you need to go potty?”
  • If she says yes, get her to a bathroom as quickly as possible.
  • Await success or failure. This step, which can sometimes take half an hour, is the hardest for a parent. Ever tried to find a comfortable place to settle in a bathroom while keeping a little one company (and preventing her from pulling all the toilet paper off the roll)? It’s SO BORING, but you’ve got to do it or there will be consequences.
  • Heavy praise. If you finish up with success, praise the child for her accomplishment. If it’s a failure, praise her for trying.

This process is hard enough at home. Experience with our older girl showed that it will get more interesting for me when I take the little one away from the house without her mother. No need to get into a lot of details. Let’s just say I went through a lot of pre-moistened wipes doing impromptu bathroom cleanups.

I’m 40 years old; not the oldest father of little ones you’ll meet, but older than many. I wonder, could I have handled this when I was younger and even more selfish?

My parents, my in-laws, my big sister and her husband, they all started having kids in their early 20s. When I was their age, I flew into a rage whenever my cat made a mess digging in the potted plants. Who knows how I would have reacted if I had a potty-training youngster demanding my attention? I might have thrown myself from the balcony of my second-floor apartment.

If age hasn’t mellowed me, then it has at least sapped me of the energy to throw fits.

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