I wish I had been that mother who takes a picture of little Johnny’s first poop in the potty and posts it on Facebook.
But I’m not on Facebook.
And Mark isn’t toilet trained yet.
I… ain’t go shit to show. Pun intended.
When I was pregnant, I read about “infant toilet training”, also called “elimination communication”, a technique used in several cultures, mostly out of necessity because disposable diapers are not readily available. Butts are left uncovered and when the parents feel the baby needs to go, they hold him over the target, a hole, a toilet, or whatever receptacle they choose (I’ve seen Chinese babies being held over garbage cans in the subway). The theory is that parents learn to read their babies’ cues, and (eventually) babies learn to hold back until their parents give them the signal, for example a short whistling sound.
I found the idea brilliant. No diapers? Being a mother in tune with my child’s needs? North American websites touted it as “a gentle, natural and loving method of communication and toilet learning.” I was totally going to try it with Mark, because fuck diapers. I wanted to prove my maternal superiority with my yet-to-be-born baby. Oh yeah, I was going to nail it.
Then of course, I had Mark and I had better things to do all day than continuously observing him to figure out whether he may need to go and conditioning him to pee on command. Figuring out everything else—sleeping, eating, functioning—was enough work. Beside, babies can’t be toilet trained. They may be able to go where their parents want them to go but they can’t walk, wipe, or dress themselves.
Now, toddlers can. In theory, anyway.
Last winter, Mark started to show interest in the bathroom, something he mostly expressed by barging in when I was in there—“Mommy is peeing, Mark!” If you asked him what we were doing while he was at daycare, his answer back then was straightforward: “Daddy working. Mommy pee-pee.”
In South America, we took the diaper off, let him roam free, and encourage him to let us know when he had to pee. Then we came back to Canada and winter happened. Every Canadian parent will tell you that the coldest months are not the best time to start toilet training. We have layers and layers of clothing, it’s cold and no, don’t eat yellow snow.
And then spring came, and gentle nudges toward toilet training resumed. We were getting there, little by little. One night, Mark asked to use the potty. He did. I was so proud. Indeed, I had birthed the smartest kid around. Next, med school, two or three PhDs, finding cures to a bunch of diseases, making a huge difference in the world and taking care of us, aging parents!
Or not. Because apparently Mark didn’t like the potty experience. The following day, when I asked him to repeat his achievement, his reaction was unequivocal. “Again? No, thanks. It’s kind of overrated, you know” Or at least that’s what I gathered. He didn’t have that much vocabulary then, but he was already stubborn enough to stick to his decision and refuse to even sit on the potty or the toilet.
Never mind. I was ready to take it easy. According to Freud, he needed to overcome the anal stage to feel a sense of accomplishment and independence and we, as parents, had to use positive reinforcement. I’m sure Mark will eventually blame us for a bunch of stuff but hopefully we will avoid neurosis. Freudian shrinks are expensive.
Yet, this summer, Feng and I started to grow impatient and so did the daycare. “Now is the best time!” they urged. “It’s tough in the winter.”
Mark will turn three in October, another milestone. Yes, it’s time… if he is willing to.
But Mark was reluctant. “It’s yucky!”
Yucky? This is from a kid who used to eat sand and loves laying on less-than-spotless floors, anywhere, anytime. A kid who comes back from daycare with yogurt and sauce stains all over him. A kid who drops his pacifier, picks it up and plops it back into his mouth.
“The toilet is not yucky!” I shouted back. “I spend my time cleaning after you guys!”
“Oh yeah? Then you’re yucky too.”
“Yep. You’re a big poo poo.”
“Thank you, Mark. Glad you enjoy my toilet humour. Can you please go pee now?”
I don’t even like toilet humour. I cringed for two hours when I watched Dumb and Dumber.
I used peer pressure. “Does Molly go to the toilet? Yes. Does Charlie goes? Yes. See, all your friends use toilet!” Unfortunately, he was immune to that. Great asset for a teen, big problem for me right now. How to convince him?
So I resorted to bribing him.
“If you pee in the toilet you get… you get…”
Quick. What can I use as a practical, cheap and easy bribe?
Money won’t work. Too young. Candies? No way. A toy? No, this kid isn’t materialistic enough.
“You get… a star!”
A star? What the fuck is wrong with me?
“Twinkle twinkle little star?”
“Yep. The exact same.”
For a few days, Mark repeated to himself “no pee pee, no star.”
And then, it finally happened. He peed in the toilet.
So I took a piece of paper, taped it to the bathroom wall and drew a star.
Then I paused, perfectly aware that it was a bit lame.
“Ooooooh! A twinkle twinkle little star!”
“And for a poo, you get a bigger one!” I announced proudly.
Now I show up at daycare with a pen. At the end of the day, depending on whether he used the toilet or not, I draw stars on his hand.
“I want one too!” one of the kids said as Mark was gloating. “Sorry… your parents probably don’t want me to draw on your hands,” I had to apologize.
I draw stars. Big ones, small ones, crooked ones when Mark tries to hold the felt-tip pen.
I praise the content of the toilet. “Oh yes, big pee pee!” Then I draw more stars.
I have yet to draw the masterpiece, the poop star.
I hope at one point, I can stop drawing fucking stars.