The trials and tribulations of toilet training
As kids, my friends and I talked about horses. In our teens and twenties we graduated to boys. Now, in our thirties, it seems to be all about poo.
It’s a subject that comes up naturally enough when I’m chatting with other mothers out here – our children are roughly the same age and we want to compare notes on their progress in the toilet training arena. But I hadn’t realized how all-pervasive a conversational topic poop had become until I recently phoned my heavily pregnant best friend in the UK. As we were jabbering away about decidedly non-fecal matters, her eldest child interrupted by trotting up to her and proudly offering his latest bowel movement – palm outstretched. (My friend says that if her third child is another boy, she’s giving him to me; I’m beginning to see why.)
So it was that poop was inserted (in the most physical of fashions) into even my transcontinental conversations. There was clearly no escape. All this savory talk, plus an urgent need for a topic for this month’s column, turned my thoughts to potty training Elsa. She was 20 months old. There were still ten days to go before the column’s deadline. How pleasing it would be to report our toilet triumph on the pages of this magazine! I set out to make it happen.
I am a persistent believer in the notion that all you need to succeed with a project is the right purchase. Desk needs to be cleaned? Well, tatty paperwork will fly independently into those smart new folders! Looking for a taste of home? That pleasingly plump chicken will pop unaided into the oven and roast itself! Trying to master Chinese? You’ll magically absorb the contents of those language textbooks! This is my philosophy, weak as it is, and I stick to it. So, despite the fact that my desk is still littered, that an aged chicken is breeding salmonella in the fridge, and that my Chinese remains stubbornly pidgin, I knew that all I needed to toilet train Elsa was the right equipment.
In rapid succession I acquired: The Potty, The Knickers and The Book (Potty Training in One Week, by Gina Ford – such a motivating title!). I informed Elsa that this was The Week. With all the necessary items at hand, I prepared for the osmotic process to begin.
Oh, if only.
It’s not that Elsa doesn’t appreciate the significance of her shiny new yellow toy, aka her potty. She knows its name, she carries it with her everywhere, and she realizes that it has an important function. Unfortunately, she seems to feel this is more of a cheerleading function than a practical one: when the urge strikes, she insists on squatting down beside the thing, rather than on top of it. To add to my vexation, she is convinced she’s cracked this whole potty training thing, and each time she squats, she beams and looks up at me for praise.
I’ve tried to follow Gina Ford’s advice for dealing with “the stubborn child” and have been taking Elsa with me to the toilet and describing what I’m doing (“Mummy needs to pee, Mummy is pulling down her pants …”). But this tedious drivel, instead of encouraging her to copy my actions in the privacy of our own bathroom, seems merely to have sparked a pronounced and very public interest in my underwear. Every taxi ride we take these days is punctuated with tugs at my skirt waistband as she remarks loudly “Pants. Knick knocks.” Although I’ve received some funny glances in the rear view mirror, I thank heaven that my driver’s Olympic English is unlikely to include this vocabulary.
After countless pairs of wet knickers, one ruined rug, and some very embarrassing trips across town, I decided to revisit my core philosophy: the problem wasn’t a matter of the wrong process but the wrong products. Lo and behold, a closer inspection of Elsa’s potty quickly revealed the likely cause of her aversion to perching on it: the rim was uncompromisingly narrow. Either poor Elsa was simply uncomfortable, or it was a case of potty envy: at a barbecue last week, she witnessed her best friend’s bottom resting comfily on a king-sized potty with a much wider surface area. The answer to our potty problems was simple, then. All we needed was a larger receptacle.