Potty Training Like No Other

“What are you doing this week?” It was Monday morning and Tighe was getting ready for work as I was struggling to drag my pregnant body out from underneath my covers.


“Well, I’d liketo spend the entire week at the pool…” Summer is nearing an end, so our days at the pool are numbered. Plus, I’m fat, hot, and sweaty, so I just want to soak in that urine-infested baby pool while my kids shoot water guns at my face. 


“What you should do…” Tighe interrupted my pool fantasy in the same way this pregnancy had interrupted my writing ambition. 


“…is potty-train Tess. You’ve got to do it sometime.”


And then he was off, pulling out of the driveway before I’d even put my feet on the ground. 


So, let me get this straight,I thought to myself. While you’relaughing it up at board meetings all day and feasting on beers and barbecue with guys in business suits, I’m going to confine myself to our house for four days while our toddler pees repeatedly and without shame all over our hardwood floors?!


Uh, hell no. So I put it off for a week or two.


The truth about Tess’s potty training is that I was in denial about it. I’ve been telling people for months, feigning a confused grimace, that she’s just not interested, that she’s refusing. But really, it’s on me. I forced it on the other two when they were even younger and it worked out well. 


Tess is a girl, it’s supposed to be easier. I always envisioned that she’d come to me one day and declare in her very confident and articulate voice that she’d already done it herself. That she had been practicing and she now had complete control over her bowels and bladder. 


But no such day had come. Instead, a new day was looming on the calendar: the day she’ll start preschool. At a school where potty training is a requirement.


So we’re racing against the clock. But pregnancy is making me tired. And I just want to go to the pool. Where my kids can order themselves lunch without me having to lift a finger. 


Plus, on a more practical note, we still had a massive supply of size 6 diapers. We might as well use them up.


So, a few weeks later, when the supply was dwindling down, I told her so.


“This is your last diaper. When you’re through with this one, it’s on to underwear.”


I’d bought her underwear months ago—somehow Elsa and Anna and Minnie Mouse on her butt was supposed to be an incentive. 


On a Tuesday morning in August when her last diaper was sufficiently saturated, I pulled it off and helped her slide on some Elsa underwear. 


“Do you want to sit on your potty chair for a few minutes to see if you can pee?”


“Umm…” she rolled her eyes toward the ceiling as though she was actually considering my question. “Nope. I play now.”


And she ran off to talk to her babies, who were waiting patiently in their high chairs, and feed them tea and rearrange her My Little Ponies, as though their positions mattered.


Day One was relatively easy. Probably because I ignored her most of the day. All three kids played and I worked. Tess peed in her underwear pretty early on, but it didn’t seem to bother her. I had read somewhere not to change them, to let them spend time in their wet underwear, because the discomfort of the saturation will be a deterrent and an incentive to use the toilet in the future. 


So I left her in her wet underwear. She smelled like a urinal and Rocket kept following her around, sniffing, probably confused about why she’s allowed to pee wherever she wants and he’s not.


And every time I asked her if she had to pee or asked her to sit on her Elmo potty chair, she declined.


“I’ll give you some Skittles!” I called after her each time.


“No, M&M’s!” she called back, turning her head and running away in that dangerous way toddlers do right before they run into a door frame.


Fortunately, we have more candy than the floor of a movie theater. We have whatever her heart could possibly desire when it comes to sweets—it’s a Greenhalgh trait. We even have vegan gummy bears from Romania, courtesy of my world traveling, do-gooder brother. (Side note: I’ve been praying every night that my other brother brings me some Swiss chocolate when he gets back from his honeymoon in Switzerland next week. I wonder if he actually reads this blog and can take a hint…) 


But back to the potty-training, no amount of sugar incentive seemed to entice her to sit on the toilet. And wet underwear didn’t bother her.


“Tess,” I said as I was putting on a show for her so I could make dinner, “you smell like urine. I don’t want you to get pee on the couch. Let’s get new underwear before you sit down.”


“Um, no,” she replied as casually as she had just declined dessert after a heavy meal. “I just sit like this.” And she configured body so she was sitting on the backs of her calves and heels. 


And since I was too lazy to drag my massive body up to her room to fish some clean underwear from her drawer, I shrugged my shoulders and sank back to the kitchen. 


After two and a half days, we’d only had two successful pees in the toilet. And lots of wet underwear. But “just a little bit wet” Tess would remind us, squinting her eyes and pinching her thumb and forefinger together like she was measuring the size of Cinderella’s stepmother’s heart. She loves that movie and, like any Disney purist, hates all stepmothers. 


On Day Two, a friend took Nate and Sam for a play date, which was good because it can’t be good for all of usto be confined to the house for four days. Later in the afternoon, she texted me, “I’ll bring them back in ten.”


Good, I thought, I could use Nate here. He can condescendingly lecture Tess on the virtues of potty training. It worked for Sam. So did jelly beans. 


And he did. As if reading my mind, he charged through the front door, ignored both Tess and me, and sat down at the dining room table to commence construction on a new Lego set he had gotten that morning. #priorities


But as he worked, he preached about how great it is to wear underwear, how wonderful it is to poop in a toilet, and how tasty M&M’s are. He paused periodically to “ask” Sam not to touch his Legos, and from her spot on her Elmo potty chair in the living room, Tess rolled her eyes at Nate’s sermon.


But it must have worked because a few minutes later, she peed! And she was so proud of herself! I helped her flush it down the toilet and as we high-fived and hugged, Nate decreed that she should have five M&M’s, which was fine with me. I was so thrilled, I would have dropped everything and baked a whole Bundt cake right then and there. Five M&M’s seemed like a small price to pay compared to the joy in my heart.


This was it—the turning point, I thought to myself. When I potty trained the other two, things were really ugly at the beginning. Like, urine everywhere, all over the floors, on the rug, and we were going through every pair of Lightning McQueen underwear in their drawers. But then there would be a success. And another one. And another. And they’d finally get it. Jelly beans and Skittles would flow like champagne in a Super Bowl locker room. 


So I was feeling pretty good when Tighe got home from work that night. 


“She’s getting it, Tighe!”


He picked her up to hug her and celebrate. And then he froze. 


“Did you just pee on me?”


She cocked her head to one side and smirked, as if to say, “You think I’m potty trained already? Get real.”


The truth is that she’s stubborn. A different kind of stubborn than Nate and Sam. Anyone who’s been around her recently knows her shriek. And her eye daggers. When Nate or Sam would start screaming or throwing a tantrum at the same age, I could simply kneel down in front of them, lower my voice, and say something like, “I can’t understand you when you scream. Can you please ask again nicely and calmly?” And they would.


With Tess, I try the same techniques and she screams louder. Not even words, just a high-pitched yodel, like she can’t decide whether she’s auditioning as a mezzo soprano or a head-banging KISS super fan. And her blue eyes stare at me, through to my soul, like she wants to make sure I get the message: she’s in charge and I’ve lost all control in my life.


The next morning she stayed dry—maybe dehydrated—even through our outing to the toy store to pick up gifts for our round of birthday parties that weekend. When we got home, I fixed lunch and asked her if she needed to pee. 


“Nope,” she said, shaking her head and smiling as she ran away.


“Let’s just try real quick before lunch.”


“Noo-oo!” she sang back. 


“Yes,” I said, pulling her into the kitchen and reaching to help her pull down her underwear and sit on Elmo’s face. But she squirmed out of my grip and ran away.


She returned a few minutes later to check on the status of her grilled cheese. 


I grabbed her again, managed to pull down her underwear this time, and tried to force her down onto the seat.


“Noooooo! I not want to pee! I not like peeing!” And then began shrieking. Loud, piercing, but I was determined. 


She arched herself backward, hitting the back of her head on the refrigerator, dodging to one side like a running back, and running—no, waddling—away with her underwear around her ankles.


She came back a minute or two later and asked me POLITELY, wiping tears from her cheeks, to help her pull up her underwear. 


I handed her the grilled cheese on a paper plate and she walked away from me, shaking her head like I’m the crazy one. Which is possible, but I don’t have time to explore that possibility right now. I need to get her potty trained before the end of August. 


The boys didn’t fight potty training this way. They failed at the beginning, spraying urine all over the house for the first day and a half, but they were at least cooperative. They were trying. 


I’m forcing it,I admitted to myself. She’s not ready, but I can’t go back now.


Our neighbor, a doctor, had told me that the night before. Once you start, you have to commit. 


Plus, we’re out of diapers. I have no choice. 


I returned to my laptop at the dining room table, when she suddenly skipped in with her hands behind her back.


“Mom, I need to pee!” Her smile was big, she was proud.


“Great!” My gloomy, self-deprecating, “failure as a mom” thoughts vanished immediately and I jumped up to pull the Elmo potty over. 


And then I noticed the wet spot on her cotton sundress. 


“Wait, did you alreadypee?”


She nodded at me, still smiling, almost taunting me, reminding me again that she was in charge and I was a failure. 


As I type this, she’s binging Strawberry Shortcake on Netflix, and I’m trying to get her to drink more fluids. She’s refusing because she knows that fluids will make her pee. She’s playing hardball. I’m in over my head. I dread her teenage years.