It’s hard to say who drew their sword first. About 11 months ago, the battle began. We thought we were doing everything right. After all, without even reading literature on the subject we took it upon ourselves to involve our son when we installed the integrated toddler toilet seat and purchased the oh-so-cool Lightning McQueen pull-ups. All new things are exciting. But, excitement gives way to nonchalance and nonchalance gives way to refusal. Before us, we saw our ordinarily easy-going child turn into something we didn’t recognize. There was screaming, 1.5 hour tantrums, fist punching rolling on the floor crying, hitting, scratching and even one incident of eye poking. I took the high road of no stickers, no rewards. In this house, we poo for the sake of pooing. Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have listened to Barbara Colorosso. We tried everything. And when everything we tried didn’t work we tried everything we said we wouldn’t try – bribes, prizes & trickery. Then, we truly crossed Ms. Colorosso’s line stealing his dignity and our own when we executed the put-your-hands-on-the-tub-and-spread-your-legs-so-we-can-wipe approach. We were further aggravated by the fact that he sat on the potty at daycare. Of course, she had the added bonus of peer pressure as she led her parade of kids to the bathroom to do their business. And we took solace in the fact that he wasn’t asking to go. And then, after months of standoffs and heal digging, we all put down our swords. On the advice of my sister Gioia, we ceased to acknowledge his output. It was not easy, but we took the ‘I don’t care, I can’t smell anything’ attitude. I wrote him an involved story called ‘The Amazing Corbin Roome’ about a boy who has friends, a brother, who likes trains and cars and movies, who knows how to do many things including going to the bathroom. He loved the story. But after the third reading, he indicated that he didn’t want to read it anymore. He was done with it, thank you very much. Needless to say, the non-conflict approach did make way for peace in the household but there was no progress on the potty front. We all let it go and simply waited.
Then one day it all changed. Our daycare provider, Deb – the one who has a reputation in our family for leading many major changes in our son – decided enough was enough. One day in May when Loch picked Corbin up Deb simply stated that under Corbin’s trendy little cargo pants he was commando. She told him earlier that day that she was done with the pull-ups and she just didn’t put it back on after the morning visit to the potty. Apparently, he sat at the little red craft table and shifted about on the wooden chair uncomfortably. He looked about nervously as if he was sure that all his little friends knew he was in his nuddie under his pants. This is my sweet son. He’s not the free- spirited-take-his-clothes-off-at-the-drop-of-a-hat little boy. Lily and his brother are the only ones who inspire him to hang out sans clothing. He doesn’t even like to go sockless. Not having a pull-up on made him feel profoundly aware of himself. This, as it turned out, was a very good thing. He arrived home and I asked him if he wanted to put some underwear on. He agreed – desperate not to feel so exposed. We had a brief conversation about what he would do if he had to pee or poo and then minutes later he announced that he had to go potty. From that point on, everything changed. What was previously a terrible source of conflict in our house became a complete non-issue. Potty training – with a few minor exceptions – was completely done. The clouds lifted, the angels sang, I bought many pairs of Lightning McQueen and WALL-E underwears, and Corbin began to regale us with descriptions of his feces. He made snakes, nests, railway crossings, and letters – particularly the letters ‘S’ and ‘O’. As primary caregiver, I was lead cheerleader.
Shortly after mastering the art of the potty, Corbin stated that he would like to learn how to pee on a tree ‘just like Lily.’ My friend Kim, taught her daughter the fine skill of peeing in the woods – great, of course, for camping and parks sans amenities. And so, I found myself doing something I never envisioned before and don’t relish doing much of in the future. His first attempt was on a Gary Oak surrounded by cedar chips next to our driveway. We had made it home from music class just in time. I stood over him and held his little penis between my fingers thinking ‘this is just wrong.’ He looked back at me, “now what do I do?” How should I know? I thought. Where is this boy’s father? Apparently, he was leaving me to teach the Peeing in the Woods for Boys 101 while he waited for the winter to teach advanced writing in the snow class. I told him to just let it go but the whole notion was a foreign to him as it was to me. And so, we aborted the mission on that first attempt. However, the third attempt was successful. We were at a small park in Cadboro Bay and he had to pee. We ran over to the nearest tree, a Cedar. And this time, we watched as his golden arc of pee christened the bark. There was laughter, high fives and much pride all around. And, although it was a milestone that maybe should have been shared with his father, I was secretly glad that it was me who blindly led him to this accomplishment. Although, I don’t relish the mechanics of teaching this particular life skill, I am again struck by the bitter sweetness of the moment. The satisfaction I feel in bearing witness to the finer points of growing up are not matched by anything. As he grows and matures – for he is more mature now than he was even a year ago – the challenges change but there are more tools for negotiating them.
I’m not sure that I can say we would do anything differently if we had to potty train him again. What we – Loch, Corbin & I – went through was likely necessary for all of us to grow a bit more. I can say, though, that I am unsure which of the two major events in May – buying/selling our house and Corbin saying goodbye to pull-ups – is more worthy of celebrating with a bottle of bubbly.