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adventures in potty training

From the first sleepless night, the joy of first-time parenthood is constantly punctuated by a myriad of challenges, some anticipated and many not. It seems not long ago that we were grappling with such existential questions as whether and when to supplement breast milk with formula and how to transition Munchkin to sleeping alone. Though they don’t seem to at the time, the challenges of infancy pale in comparison to those of toddlerhood for the simple reason that volition becomes involved, and a toddler’s will is difficult to control. Having finally won the fight over retiring Munchkin’s milk bottles, we have now arrived at the next battle — and most daunting challenge thus far — potty training.

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To be fair, we put off this fight as long as possible. Everything S had read about the subject suggested that Munchkin wasn’t ready, and that if we started too early — before he showed any interest in his potty — he might develop hang-ups and odd potty behaviors. Now that he is definitely giving signs of his readiness, S catches herself wishing that we had started earlier — well before Munchkin had developed his own ideas about the purpose of his potty.

An illustrative example from a couple weeks ago. It’s early and D is in the midst of his usual morning routine with Munchkin: shower together, have breakfast, walk the dog, play or read a book, go to daycare/FSI. Munchkin is usually eager to shower, but this time he runs away as soon as his PJs and nighttime diaper are off. “Papa, I want piss-piss,” he informs D coyly. This has to be an auspicious sign!

D takes Munchkin to his potty, but the little man barely sits down on it before springing back up again and exclaiming, “all done!” in a sing-songy voice. D tries to coax him back to the potty, reaching for our copy of Even Firefighters Go To The Potty, which should be a powerful tool given how much Munchkin adores fire trucks and fire stations. Instead of staying put, Munchkin flees the scene, but returns just as quickly, clutching his favorite stuffed animal — Ellie, the elephant.

In the last few months, he has begun projecting his emotions on Ellie. He’ll tell us, for example, that Ellie is crying when something upsets him, even asking, “What’s wrong, Ellie? Why is Ellie crying?” It’s ridiculously cute. “Ellie go potty,” he explains to D, before shoving the poor stuffed elephant headfirst into the potty. Once Ellie has finished doing her business, Munchkin sits back down on the potty, but again springs back up a second later, the receptacle as dry and empty as it was at the outset.

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D tries to switch gears and again suggests a shower. Instead, Munchkin gets on his plastic car — the original super mashina, the one he’s been riding since his early walking days in Moldova. “This mashina is old,” he tells D. “This mashina is used. I’ma piss-piss on the mashina,” and he does precisely that — a small puddle appearing before D has a chance to react, scoop him up and rush him back to the potty. Munchkin clearly needs to relieve himself, but once on the potty, he clams up and won’t let go. The scene repeats itself. Three times! Three times D cleans up small puddles of Munchkin’s urine off the car only to watch him climb back on and piss-piss some more.

So that’s where we are. He clearly knows and understands what we want from him. He has internalized the instructions and repeats them aloud word for word, without actually heeding them. “Sit down on the potty and let go,” he tells S. She even tried bribing him, so now he says, “Pee-pee on the potty and you’ll get a piece of chocolate.” But he has yet to let go, even when it’s clear that he can barely hold it in.

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