My best analogy for teaching a child to use the bathroom is Chekhov’s Gun. Yes, the old playwriting trope in which any mundane scene becomes more dramatic if the audience knows there is a loaded gun in the room. When you know at any point you could be cleaning up piss and poop off your child, her clothes, the floor, furniture, stuffed animals, real animals (pets), and God knows what else, it can make you insane.
A child doesn’t have control over much. They do control when and where they go to the bathroom. At Grace’s school they said the majority of kids learn how to use the toilet around 2 years old. With this assurance, we had a Laissez-faire attitude to potty training, or as her school called it, toilet learning. We would let the invisible-hand-of-Montessori-teaching usher our child to the bathroom. And it started to work. Grace saw other kids using the toilet and started to use it herself.
Then, Grace decided she would rather pee her pants.
Functionally, she knew how to use the toilet; she just didn’t want to. This presented its first complication at the start of summer. We had booked a summer camp months in advance where she had to be out of diapers. My wife and I are optimists, so, when the first day of camp started, we sent her in underwear and hoped for the best.
The first week of camp included multiple accidents at camp and at home. We were politely told the camp wasn’t equipped to handle Grace, but looked forward to her coming back the next year. It was the nicest I’ve ever been told to “piss off”.
A sidenote on this story: The second day of camp when I dropped Grace off, the head counselor told me that a little boy followed her around like a puppy dog that previous day. When the kid got home he wouldn’t stop talking about Grace to his Mom. I can only imagine the emotional trauma caused by Grace not returning to camp. One day, that kid will be on a psychiatrist’s couch and will pinpoint all of his relationship struggles to the girl that never came back to camp when he was 3 years old.
Back to the main story: Summer came and went and Grace was still not using the toilet. The start of school was 2 weeks away, and Grace had to be potty trained to go back. We drew the final line in the sand. Two straight weeks of Chekhov’s gun to our head.
Grace became a maestro of where and when she would have an accident to prove her control. The most egregious example came one night before bedtime. I repeatedly suggested Grace sit on the toilet. She repeatedly told me “No.” I sat on the floor of her room as she stood next to her bed.
Grace started singing one of her favorite songs from the movie, “Moana”. The words rang out:
“I’ve been staring at the edge of the water /
For as long as I can remember /
Never really knowing why.”
For a brief moment, Chekhov’s gun was gone and I reveled in the joy of my perfect singing daughter.
Then, her eyes locked on mine, peering deep into my soul. A challenge of epic proportions. She started the next verse.
“I wish I could be the perfect daughter.”
Simultaneous to her singing the line, a stream of pee went down her leg to pool on the carpet. Never dropping eye contact with me she continued:
“But I come back to the water /
No matter how hard I try.”
It was a giant power move. A last ditch shot at familial dominance. School started and again we sent Grace in underwear with our fingers crossed. This time the familiar setting and being surrounded by old friends let Grace relax. Accidents happened here and there, but we made it through the worst of it. Chekhov’s gun has been replaced by a fatherly shotgun ready for the next summer camp boy that professes his love for my daughter.
Greg Tindale is an author, improviser, filmmaker, and entrepreneur. His memoir, “I Guarantee You Love, Fame and Legacy” follows his journey through self-realization as a comedian and father.
This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born and is republished here with permission from the author.
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