This is my reward for my false humility. When other parents complained, I’d comfort them with a practiced speech about how all kids are different and how we, as parents, just need the patience to find the timing and method that works for them. Behind the comfort, though, I was judging. Judging hard.
For our first three kids, the three-day method worked like a dream. Not always on the first attempt, mind you — but if we took a break for a few weeks and then made another run at it, it would work. Reliably.
The problem is that our toddler hacked the code. The first signs of trouble appeared during an attempt at potty training a few months ago. Our pants-free son disappeared for a brief moment, only to emerge from the other room with a sheepish announcement: “I potty.” He led us to a soggy corner behind the recliner. At the time, we didn’t consider this a wholly unsuccessful development. The kid knew when he needed to go, and he’d picked a specific spot to handle his business. He was remorseful, and he recognized that he’d picked the wrong spot. Not ideal — but progress.
He’s still refusing to use a toilet, though. With little consideration for design or location, he’s rejected every opportunity to use a conventional toilet. The one aspect of the three-day potty training method he has adopted is the joy of a pantless existence.
Locked in a heated “keep your diaper on or use the toilet” standoff with him a month ago, my frustrated wife blurted out, “Or you can just go potty on the deck.” Her facetious third choice triggered the toddler contrarian trip-switch located just inside the opening of the ear canal. Once the idea made its way to our son’s brain, he realized it wasn’t a horrible option. Permission in hand, he promptly set out the back door and commenced his business on the deck.
It’s not a long-term solution. Given the option, though, I would rather see him hose off the deck than clean the carpet. After a couple weeks, he even sweetened the deal by washing down his mess with the dog’s bucket of drinking water. Somehow he had picked up every aspect of toilet training except using the actual toilet.
Our progress and my patience wavered a few days later, when I was met with another announcement: “I poop inside!” Improvements in any endeavor are rarely linear, but this particular regression was exasperating. Cleaning poop out of the carpet is my least favorite pastime, and one I’ve had plenty of experience with ⏤ I’ve been a dog owner longer than I’ve been a parent. Fortunately, it was still early morning, and I had patience in reserve. I took a deep breath and said a quick prayer of gratitude: He could have pooped in my bed.
This turned out, though, to be a failure of language rather than potty training. My son had actually pooped outside — in the excitement of the moment, his vocabulary wires had crossed. My sorrows lifted. Never would I have thought I could be so pleased to see poop on the deck.
Victory turned to crisis when my son realized that the dog’s water bucket had yet to be refilled from the last cleaning. Unable to satisfy his newfound desire for rudimentary sanitation management, a tantrum ensued of an intensity usually reserved for important issues like my refusal to give him a sucker before dinner. It’s a cruel world. If only some brilliant mind would invent an apparatus that could automatically collect our refuse and wash it away to some unknown realm with the simple push of a button, all while providing a spot to sit down and play a quick round of Fortnite.
Now I’m the one getting the “patience with potty-training” spiel from other parents — only it sounded much more convincing leaving my mouth than it does entering my ears. With progress once again at a plateau, the waiting game continues. My toddler, though, has unseen problems on the horizon: The harsh Midwest winter is setting in. And I refuse to keep a toddler-sized litter box by the back door when there are perfectly good alternatives available.
Christian Dashiell is a father of four living in rural Kansas. He is passionate about justice issues and decompresses by telling jokes and honing his BBQ Jedi skills.