The Potty Predicament

by Jackie Papandrew

Whoever is out of patience is out of possession of his soul -- Sir Francis Bacon

I bought a potty for my son before he turned a year old. It was one of the colorful, deluxe models with removable parts, a front-loading plastic bowl, and sure-grip sides. I'd been having glorious visions almost since I left the delivery room, of my brilliant progeny fully trained and diaper -- free by 18 months... heck, make that 15 months.

We'd be the envy of all my friends, whose deficient toddlers remained untrained at age two. I kept the commode in the closet for a few weeks, not wanting to place unrealistic expectations on my son. When I finally placed it, with much fanfare, in the bathroom, the child seemed delighted -- he examined it closely, giggled and squealed while I beamed as I planned how to spend the money I'd save on diapers.

Over the next few months, however, the potty was transformed into a nagging symbol of intergenerational warfare. The first skirmish -- over positioning -- raged throughout the house and left me exhausted and demoralized. I would place the potty in the bathroom, only to return a few hours, minutes, or even seconds later to find it missing. Soon thereafter, the potty's various parts would begin turning up in the closets, under my bed, in my husband's underwear drawer, in the backyard sandbox -- even once floating in the birdbath. The bowl -- the very heart of the contraption -- was chewed on, colored on, used to collect toys, books, hairpins, even feminine hygiene products carelessly left within reach.

Something about the seat aroused my son's creative energies. Inexplicably, it elicited intricate crayon drawings and doubled as a playpen for his stuffed animals. As his strength, coordination, and evil intent grew, this fruit of my womb figured out how to fill the bowl from the bathtub; then he carried it around and slowly drained it in a trail of carpet- soaking spots. Eventually, despite my inadequate strategy, I won the battle by attrition. My son became bored.

The potty, now looking like a fourth-generation hand-me-down, remained in the bathroom. I took this as a hopeful sign and launched a campaign to wear down his resistance. Every hour on the hour, I dragged him, kicking and screaming, into the bathroom. First, I tried literary inducements to get him to sit on the potty. I'd read his favorite stories over and over, speaking in an animated tone designed to capture his attention. Next, I ventured into singing -- his favorite was John, Jacob, Jingleheimer, Schmidt. My voice would careen around the words, faster and faster, as if I could create some kind of gravitational force that would pull down his little posterior.

No luck. One of my well-meaning, if misguided, friends insisted that boys need a target to aim at, so I filled the potty with water and then dumped in half a bag of Cheerios, hoping to challenge his competitive instincts. I caught him scooping the soggy circles out with his hand and cramming them into his mouth. That's when I invoked the dreadful specter of peer pressure. Do you want to be the only two-year-old you know who's still in diapers? I asked, almost weeping at the prospect. But it didn't work, my boy was impervious to public opinion.

His second birthday came and went, and I began to lose sleep, picturing my son at his high school graduation in Huggies, size extra extra large. Reluctantly, but feeling desperate, I played my trump card -- bribery -- promising him candy for each successful use of the potty. His eyes gleamed with sweet anticipation, but still, the kid wouldn't give in.

Finally, frustrated beyond words, I resorted to coercion, holding him, squirming furiously, on the potty. I only did it once. He deliberately pointed his penis up and baptized me with all of a child's righteous indignation at my unjust use of force. He began to have terrible stomach aches because he would not allow himself to have a bowel movement. I cried along with him, begging him to let his "poo" come out. I explained in a sanguine, Mr. Rogers voice that his poo was sad because it had to come out all alone in his diaper, but if he'd let it out in the potty, he could flush it down to play happily with all the other "poos." He eyed me with forbearance, but --quite literally -- continued to hold his own.