My instincts told me he wasn’t ready. But the calendar on the wall told me that he was to start preschool in three weeks and they have a potty-training requirement. So, like we did with Nate two summers before, we could power-through and despite a few accidents, he’d emerge potty-trained and Tighe and I would emerge diaper-free. Though our house would probably smell of urine.
My plan was to put him in underwear and not leave the house for three days—pretty standard—a nice long weekend. Easy in theory, but in actuality, it’s terrible.
Our weekends before he was scheduled to start school were getting fewer and fewer, so one Friday morning I woke up, feeling crappy with morning sickness yet determined.
“I’m putting him in underwear!” I called to Tighe as he escaped out the door on his way to work.
“Ugh.” His Friday morning saunter suddenly slowed to a lumber, his legs now heavy with gloom.
Sam, at first, was excited. He and I had purchased some inspiring toddler underwear the week before—Paw Patrol, Mickey Mouse, Lightning McQueen—and he wanted those characters on his butt. He’d also been requesting diaper changes lately and I interpreted that as a sign of readiness.
Nate was also excited. He immediately began pontificating on the virtues of peeing and pooping in a toilet, what a big milestone it was in the making of a man, and how successful his potty-training experience had been. As I negotiated with Sam to sit on the toilet, Nate was listing all their mutual acquaintances who have (presumably) made the jump from diapers to toilet.
“…Rogan, Gussie, Simon, Francis—no, not Francis, he’s a baby—Pops, all our aunts and uncles, Dad, Coach Daniel, Mac, Jimmy…”
“Sam, let’s just try for a minute,” I reasoned. “Then you can go back to playing.”
So he sat. For a minute. Then, “I not pee, Mom.”
I helped him pull his underwear back up, patted him on the butt, and reminded him, “When you feel like you need to pee or poop, you need to tell me, and I’ll help you sit on the toilet.”
So he played. And I hovered, watching for any change in posture or expression that indicated a urine stream was about to start. I still wasn’t convinced he knew what that pre-pee sensation felt like.
Finally, at 10:06, as Nate distracted me demanding praise for the Lego cars he had been constructing for his Ninja Turtles, Sam squatted on the carpet—less than a yard away—and peed.
“Oh, Sam! You peed!”
He grinned at me, perhaps proud of my observational skills, but probably pleased that he had succeeded in annoying me.
“Now your new underwear’s all wet! Ok. Let’s see if you have any more pee.”
I scooped him up and landed him on the Elmo potty chair that I had been carting from room to room as I stalked him around that morning..
“Well, Sam,” Nate began, “you peed on your Marshall underwear. You were supposed to pee on your Elmo chair.” I think Sam is quickly learning, as Tighe and I have, that it’s just best to drown out Nate’s lectures with our own internal humming.
I corralled them outside with some sidewalk chalk and soccer balls in the interest of saving our carpet from urine spray. I dragged their little blue plastic table out to the sidewalk and brought out a can of shaving cream—some tactile learning. At this point, I forfeited that either kid would get dressed that day, and they chased each other around the front yard in underwear, smearing shaving cream on one another’s heads. I like to think that someday the neighbors and passing drivers will throw cash tips my way in gratitude for my efforts at entertaining them.
Meanwhile, I sat on the front step and ruminated on my strategy. I opened a juice box for each of them. He couldn’t pee if he was dehydrated.
“Ok, how about this, Sam?” Here came my Plan B. “When you pee or poop on the toilet, you’ll get a jellybean!”
“Yeah, I want jellybeans!” Sam jumped and clapped.
“Well, I want a jellybean. Do we have red ones?”
“Fine, Nate. When you poop or pee on the toilet, you can have a jellybean, too. But just today!”
“Great, I have to pee right now!” He ran over to the oak tree at the edge of our property, dropped his underwear and “watered” the tree.
“Alright,” I sighed, handing him a jellybean, “I guess that counts”
“I want to pee, too!” Sam never missed out on sugar. He ran to the tree and I helped him lower his underwear. We waited. And waited.
“No, I not pee,” he laughed, as though his preschool enrollment wasn’t at stake here.
“Ok, but when you feel like you’re ready to pee, tell me!” I checked the time, resolving that I would make him try again in ten minutes.
“Yeah, Sam, when you feel like the pee’s about to come out of your penis, you just tell Mom, and she’ll help you!” Nate was using his most condescending voice in between sips of apple juice as he knelt down to minimize the two-inch height difference between them. How patronizing.
Suddenly, Sam squatted on the brick sidewalk.
“Sam, what are you doing?” I moved in his direction. But not fast enough. Urine seeped through his second pair of Paw Patrol underwear and trickled down his bare leg.
“No, not again!”
“Well, I have to pee again!” Nate yelled triumphantly, sprinting back to the oak tree and dropping his underwear to his ankles.
I handed him another jellybean—red, of course—as I removed Sam’s saturated underwear, leaving him naked in the front yard.
He shrieked with envy as Nate chomped on the jellybean in front of him. The melting sugar smacked around in his mouth as he continued his self-righteous sermon. I don’t think he intended to taunt Sam, but that’s what it looked like.
“Well, Sam, when I was potty-training and I needed to pee, I would just tell Erin or Tighe and they would help me pee on the toilet. And then I’d get a red jellybean. And now, I can pee on the toilet all the time. All by myself!”
I handed each kid a Gatorade and set my timer for fifteen minutes, praying that Sam would earn his first of many jellybeans that day.
As a very distinguished gentleman talking on his cellphone strolled by on the sidewalk fifteen minutes later, I dropped Sam’s underwear and sat him on his Elmo toilet.
“Say, ‘come on pee-pees, get out of me!’” I whispered to Sam. How dumb.
“’Mon, pee-pees, get out me,” Sam muttered obediently. He was frustrated but I could tell he was hopeful. Anything for a jellybean.
“Why ‘pee-pees?’ Are there lots of pee-pees?” Nate looked on, judging me and sipping Gatorade. He was understanding the positive correlation between the ounces of fluid he consumed and the number of jellybeans he was awarded.
Sam and I ignored him and held hands, in wishful anticipation.
Suddenly, I head the low thud of a strong urine stream hitting the plastic wall of the potty chair.
“Yes!” I shrieked. “You did it, Sam! You did it!”
“My did it,” he whispered slowly, almost disbelieving. Like if he was too loud he would interrupt what was happening.
“I’m so proud you, Sam! This is so exciting!” I helped him pull up his underwear as he demanded a jellybean.
“My want jellybean! My want red jellybean!” Take that, Nate.
Finally, it was lunchtime and Sam had already peed through three pairs of underwear. As I assembled their lunches, I didn’t even bother to put a fourth pair on him, convincing myself that I’d just be extra vigilant this time. The Elmo chair was within easy reach, and I was starting to pick up on his “tells”—his pre-pee motions and postures.
We sat at the dining room table—ok, I sat and Nate and Sam stood on their chairs, as always, Sam still bare-assed. I guess they just don’t want to crush their hip flexors. Or maybe it aids in their digestion, I don’t know. But the fact that Sam was standing is important. While Nate munched his grilled cheese and made jokes and silly faces for Sam’s entertainment, he made Sam laugh so hard that he lost control and without warning, peed.
Since he was standing, his penis had been hovering just above the table and urine puddled around the edges of his plate and dripped down onto the carpet and onto his chair. As Nate pointed and laughed a deep belly laugh, trying not to choke on his sandwich, Sam’s bare feet splashed around in the pee.
“Aaahh! Are you serious?” I shrieked, running to grab the paper towels. “Well, don’t play in it!”
Sam thought this was funny.
So by 12:30 PM, we had two successful pees in the toilet and five…elsewhere.
I put on a movie and urged him to sit on the toilet one last time before I squeezed a thick, folded towel under his bottom, correctly anticipating that the movie would lull him to sleep.
“No, no! I not want to poop or pee in toilet because poop is…is…is…” he paused as he searched his small vocabulary for the right adjective. Usually, he’d use “poopy” here, but I guess that seemed redundant to him and he was tired, so he never finished his sentence.
By the time, Tighe came home at 5:30, he had peed once more on the floor and once more on the toilet. Baby steps, I thought. This is only Day One.
A babysitter came at 6:30, and though I’d never met her before—don’t worry, she came highly recommended—I’d decided she was my new favorite person. Tighe put a diaper under Sam’s pajamas before we sprinted to the car.
“Good luck! Nice to meet you!” I was excited to leave the house and recharge. We sat at a bar and geared up for the rest of our weekend. We needed to be united and we needed a strategy. And probably some Lysol.