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What Potty Training Taught Me

I swore I'd never write about potty training, worried that somehow voicing my anxieties aloud to a captive audience meant selling out my daughter. But it's time I talked.
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I swore I'd never write about potty training, worried that somehow voicing my anxieties aloud to a captive audience meant selling out my daughter. But it's time I talked.

She's three now, and I know -- oh I know -- "She just turned three? She's young, give her time!" I get it.

I'm not worried that she'll never learn the basic principles. I realize she won't someday be the only kindergartner who isn't trained. Probably.

What I'm worried about is that the process itself will be the one aspect of motherhood that finally does me in.

I'll spare you the boring details, but we said goodbye to diapers and began a potty training campaign this summer in hopes that she'd be good to go by the time she started a Pre-K program this fall.

What began as a carnival of M&Ms, high fives and almost immediate preliminary success has become the subject of many despairing emails to my husband.

Casual conversations are nuanced with dark undertones. "On the potty, Mommy? That's silly. Peepee goes in the potty," my daughter told me, as we discussed the topic one afternoon. She squinted her eyes and laughed. "Yeah, that is silly," I reply.

"And never, ever, not in a million years, unless we want to call the hospital and tell them that Mommy's coming in because it sounds restful as hell in there, does it go in our underpants," I wanted to tell her.

But I didn't. Not because that's a mean thing to say, but because we've beaten that particular detail into the ground.

I've tried outright bribery and I've tried playing cool. We were hanging out recently when I noticed (I can tell by the look on her face) that she had to go. "Hey," I began, not making eye contact, breezily flipping through a magazine, "do you need to do a poopy?"

"Um. No, I don't," she said, then looked out the window and changed the subject. "It's a sunny day."

You have got to be kidding me. It's a sunny day.

I reminded her, gently, as though dealing with a the perpetrator in a hostage situation, "You know what feels great? Pooping in the potty."

I'd pictured myself at this age wearing cute outfits and visiting publishing offices in New York City on a normal workday. But no matter. Extolling the virtues of pooping on the potty is a close second.

So we trudge (and wipe and flush and softly whisper our expletives) onward.

I have talked the talk with mom friends and am beyond familiar with the theories. That children have to potty-train themselves. That pushing the issue only makes it worse. I've seen parents comment online that Dr. Phil's method will do the job in one day flat, and have read the appropriate chapters in all my parenting books.

I know that many factors, including the addition of a new baby to our family this spring and the start of school, may be affecting her progress.

I know that that my daughter, who stays clean and dry some days and is a torrent of accidents others, will get it when she gets it.

Therein lies the problem.

She'll get it when she gets it. Beyond staying calm and offering up friendly reminders about bathroom breaks, there is nothing I can do.

My mother tells me that I was at least -- at least -- three and a half before I had it down. "No one can control this except her," she wrote to me one day. "I learned that from you!"

As so often is the case with our parenting struggles, there is a larger force at play. I must come to grips with the fact that I don't have total control.

I thought about this at the end of a school day recently as I was walking down the corridor to my daughter's classroom.

There was a small knot in my stomach -- I was anticipating retrieving her belongings from her cubby. Would there be a plastic bag with the clothes I'd put her in that morning, set aside after an accident? Would she be wearing her spare set?

I reminded myself that I have a choice. My concern adds no value to our plight and, in fact, could be the biggest detriment to the ultimate goal.

So I took a deep breath and released it. Why not choose optimism? Although the potty is a decidedly fascinating topic in our house, my beautiful daughter is interested in a million different things -- seahorses, Halloween, her little brother -- and I suddenly felt very lucky to have a whole car ride home ahead of me, to talk about it all.