Potty training: it’s the milestone that every parent eagerly looks forward to. It’s the thought that propels us through our ten millionth diaper change, when we feel we can’t take many more, pushing us through like a shout of encouragement at the end of a marathon. Just think! No more spending a fortune on diapers and wipes! No more disgusting down-the-leg blowouts! TOTAL TOILET INDEPENDENCE! We see it through a glorious haze; a shining, shit-less beacon. It’s going to be fabulous.
Only … surprise! It isn’t.
We get so focused on potty training – the holy grail of accomplishments – that we completely overlook the crap (pun completely intended) that happens afterwards. We’re so anxious to have big kids, we forget that “no more diapers” doesn’t mean “child uses the toilet every single time with zero assistance required EVER EVER AGAIN.” The reality is, even “potty trained” kids present their own challenges, which can sometimes persist for months or even years after the diapers are history. Such as …
1. The “Uh-Oh.” Preschool teachers and proper ladies call these “accidents.” I personally refer to them as “ugh, more freaking laundry.” This is what happens when the kid is old enough to use the toilet but hasn’t quite grasped how to get there in time. This phenomenon can be identified in several ways: big, horrified eyes, a suspiciously bow-legged walk, a whiff of something disgusting, or a straight-up trail leading to the toilet. And, unlike a dirty diaper, an “uh-oh” must be dealt with immediately … no matter where you are or what you’re in the middle of doing.
2. The Clothes Woes. Your kid might use the facilities like a champ, but when it comes to buttoning/zipping/snapping? Not so much. You have to be on hand to help pull the pants down, help pull the pants up, and fasten anything that needs fastening. This stage involves a lot of waddling pantsless out of bathrooms pleading for assistance, so if you’ve got company, you may want to prepare them for that possibility. And heaven help you if your child decides he needs to have his shoes off, and/or be fully naked in order to poop properly.
3. The Cleanup Calamity. Getting to the toilet is one thing; cleaning up the aftermath is another. For a newly potty-trained kid, “wiping” translates into “wiping long smears of poop all over butt cheeks and possibly legs and toilet seat and maybe between fingers.” And if they dawdle too long (hint: THEY WILL) and it starts to dry, you’ll end up with a spackled-on mess that only a chisel and a belt sander could remove. You will help your kid wipe for so long that you’ll start to worry about who’ll do it when he goes off to college. After a while, you’ll wonder if he actually needs help or if he’s just being lazy. And then one day he’ll do it himself and you’ll have the answer in the form of skidmarks. Apparently butthole cleansing is an art, and it can take a maddeningly long time to master.
4. The Issue of Aim. Parents of girls might not have as much of a struggle with this one, but for those who have penises in the house, this is something you will contend with for so long that I’m not even going to tell you because you’ll be depressed. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world – just hit the water! – but apparently there are just soooo many things to do while peeing that take precedence over, you know, aiming. You thought diapers were nasty? Wait until you clean a toilet used by a distracted little boy.
5. The Public Potty. Once kids experience the independence of using the toilet, the world is like one giant restroom. They’ll want to check out the bathrooms at Target. At the zoo. The doctor’s office. The questionable gas station. You’re pretty sure they’re just curious, but you don’t want to risk a public “uh-oh,” so you have to let them go. At this point, though, you can’t just send them in by themselves – so you’ve got to drop everything and accompany them. What’s more, they don’t get just how appallingly germy public toilets are, and you spend the whole time trying to discourage them from running their fingers all over everything. After that, you’ve got to boost them up to a sink they can’t reach and get their sleeves all wet and hope they don’t touch anything else while you’re getting paper towels.
So basically, the term “potty-trained” is deceptive. Because while the days of Pampers and Huggies may indeed be behind you, you’re still a slave to someone else’s bodily functions. We need to come up with a new, more accurate term for this diaper-to-successful-independent-toileting adjustment period.
I’d call it “hell,” but I think that’s already taken.