A popular question I get from journalists is: “What is the hardest thing you have ever done?”
They expect an answer like “coming forward publicly about my story,” “doing press conferences,” “fighting church leaders who called me a liar,” “grappling with my parents about the abuse,“ “Filing my lawsuit,” etc.
Usually, I give them an answer along those lines, because it’s mostly correct.
But this blog is about the truth, so I am going to be honest:
The hardest thing I have ever had to do – BAR NONE – was potty train my son. Period.
A year of my life was dominated by a perfectionist’s life-and-death struggle with poop, poop prediction, and eventual poop containment. The result? Insanity.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I am a perfectionist. When I do something, I have to do it right, or I won’t do it at all. Unfortunately, that also means that I was the kid in kindergarten who cried when she colored outside the lines. Pair that a total lack of control over the bowels of a toddler, and you have my own personal hell. It was the Joelle version of Sartre’s “No Exit.” Me, the poop and the potty. No exit, no compromise, no hope …
Through an innocent question on Facebook, I found out that potty training is one of those flamin’ hot parenting topics like breast-feeding, car seats and public education. Opinions and judgments swarm like flies. (It reminded me of my favorite cliché: opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and they all stink.)
So, I did my best. I tried positive reinforcement. I used a doll as an example. I bought three different potties. I sent him to play with friends who used the potty.
And I failed miserably.
I found poop on the floor. I found a poop on the counter. I found a poop in a suitcase. And of course, I bought toddler underwear by the gross (pun intended).
Wee wee was just as bad. No matter how many times I asked if he had to go, the answer was always no. Then, the second I turned around, I heard a sound which harkened back to the days of horseback riding. Bounceback spray and all.
I was slowly coming unglued.
Fortunately, wee wee wrestling was eventually put under control. In fact, I knew I had won that little battle the day I was forced to bring Nicholas to a clergy abuse press conference with me. Since I was a spokesman and he was still little, I held him. While the victim in the case was taking questions about his abuse, I noticed Nicholas began to lean into the bank of microphones.
The rest happened in slow motion.
Calmy and clearly, he announced, “I have to go wee wee.”
Instantly, every parent in the media pool broke into spontaneous applause. One even shouted, “You are such a good boy!”
The rest looked at us dumbfounded. But I didn’t care. For a brief moment, victory was mine.
(We were also lucky that the brave victim in the case didn’t mind being upstaged. He had a nephew he was helping to potty train. He was a part of the brotherhood)
However, the battle of the poop still raged.
Time was ticking. Nicholas was about to enter preschool: the land “where no poop shall touch the pants.” By the time the first day of school rolled around, I was defeated. Desperation forced my bargain: “I don’t care where you poop, “ I told him on the first day of school. “Just do not poop in your pants at school. You can hold it right?”
He assured me he would.
It lasted about two weeks.
Then I was subject to looks of pity from teachers when I picked him up. Even the little girl down the street gave me the play-by-play of EXACTLY what Nicholas was doing in class every time he got the special “far-away glance” and let it all go.
By Thanksgiving, Nicholas was suspended.
The day the teacher told me that he had to stay home. I did what any solid perfectionist would do in that situation: I cried. Right there in front of Miss Connie and a gaggle of three-year-olds. A couple of kids hugged me and said, “It’s okay, Nicholas’ mommy. He’ll poop on the potty someday.”
“I can guarantee that he will not wear a diaper when he leaves for college.” Mike told me in an attempt to keep me from killing myself. Great, I thought. I guess that the 16-year-old who craps his pants also doesn’t run the risk of knocking up the head cheerleader. So, I’ve got that going for me.
Then a funny thing happened.
A few days before Christmas, Nicholas was playing with his cars when he got “that look” on his face. Then, he stood up and walked to the bathroom. Avoiding the comprehensive selection of potties, he lifted the lid of the adult toilet, sat down, and … pooped. In the toilet. Then he flushed it.
I leaned against the doorjamb to keep from passing out. Noticing my shock, he looked at me sweetly and said:
“I only poop on the big potty. I can reach it now.”
He’s a perfectionist. I’m doomed.