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The Poop Talk

This came right when my husband and I decided we were not going to potty-train our son at all. Why bother? When he is ready, he will let us know, we thought, and then we will offer some gentle encouragement if Andrei seems to need it. But we decided we were going to let him be the leader in this area (life itself will offer enough pressure, why add to it?). And, yes, in the meantime, we are just going to deal with…well, you know, quite unpleasant sights, smells, and substances.

But one morning last week Andrei sat on the potty that’s been collecting dust in a bathroom corner for over a year and he did it. Both things.

OK, it took some time. A lot of time. First, he just sat on the potty. I started scavenging my mind for information. What did I read about potty-training? Honestly, not much. I skimmed through some checklist when Andrei was eighteen months old. Does he have a vocabulary for both “things”? The answer was No then, but of course, it’s a resounding Yes now. Can he sit still for ten minutes or so? I was not sure about that then or now. At times, I’d say, for much longer than that. When he chooses to do so. Can he pull his pants down and up? When he chooses to focus and invest his energy in the project of dressing himself, but how often does that happen? Then I remembered what one of my neighbors who has older kids told me some time ago, Read him books when he is on the potty. This sounded like a good, concrete solution for the moment.

Andrei, hoces mama da ti cita knjigu? (Would you like Mommy to read you a book?), I said.

Sure, Andrei responded, delight on his face.

I brought Andrei’s favorite books, Andrei picked one, and I started reading it. It was the same as when we would sit in the purple chair in the living-room, which is our “reading location,” or cuddle up in Andrei’s bed. I read, we stopped to look at the pictures, talked about them, just like we always do. We finished the first book. And then the second one. And then the third one. Andrei requested another book. I brought one more book from his room. Of course, after each book, I gently suggested we should call it quits, trying hard to sound like I was just offering a suggestion, but it was really up to Andrei to decide. Each time Andrei decided No, he didn’t want to get off the potty, he wanted to read more books.

Finally, maybe a half an hour after the “session” started, I convinced Andrei to get off the potty. He did. He stood up and we both looked into the potty. Pee-pees were there! OK, I am not ready for this, I thought. But I knew I needed to acknowledge his success so I clapped my hands, I laughed, I made multiple happy noises, I sang a few lines. I picked up Andrei and gave him a big hug.

Then we picked up the potty together and emptied the content into the toilet. I thought we were finished. But Andrei had a completely different idea. He wanted to go back to the potty. And he did. I could have done what I usually do when I had enough of his stalling, ask him if he wanted to get dressed on the floor or on the changing table and then proceed with the option he chooses (or decide for him if he didn’t make a choice), but this time, the most important thing, I thought, was not to build any negative associations to the potty. So I went along.

We read a few more books, then I said it would soon be time to get dressed, and then I walked out of the bathroom. Thirty or more minutes later, Andrei was still happily sitting on the potty, talking to himself, playing with the bathroom rug and the books around him.

I asked if he wanted to go outside (Andrei loves to go outside). He said no. I asked him if he wanted to go to a museum. He said no. I asked him if he wanted to watch a music video (his favorite activity in the world). He said no. I was so desperate that I even asked him if he wanted some juice (of course, my answer to his Yes would have been, Let’s get dressed and then we’ll go downstairs to get some, and not, Wait, I’ll get you some to enhance your potty experience). But he said no.

Then I tried calling my husband, three times, but he was in a meeting. I tried calling an experienced mother I know, she didn’t answer. I tried calling a close friend of mine who doesn’t have children, but teaches pediatric physical therapy and I know was involved in raising quite a few of her siblings. She didn’t answer.

Then I sat in Andrei’s bedroom and waited, checking on Andrei every now and then and suggesting it was time to leave the potty and go to do something else. Each time Andrei disagreed, or simply ignored my suggestion.

An hour and a half after the whole thing started, Andrei was still sitting on the potty. I thought I was going crazy waiting for him (my lovely, persistent, quite intense two-and-a-half-year-old) to decide to get off the potty (on his own, because I really didn’t want to create any negative association to the potty).

Another half an hour went by. I started wondering if Andrei was going to spend the entire day on the potty. Finally, in some random moment when I was checking on Andrei “one more time,” he stood up. We both looked into the potty. There was the prize there! I clapped and started making happy noises. But Andrei started whimpering. For a second, I was confused. He looked genuinely scared. I picked him up. I said it was OK. That was just poop, the same thing that he usually left in his diaper. Nothing special. Mommy and daddy poop too. Everyone does. Big people poop in the potty. It’s great that he pooped in the potty.

Andrei eventually calmed down. I put him down, cleaned him up, and we sent the poop down the toilet. We continued with our day. In my head, I was still trying to define Andrei’s emotions when confronted with this thing that obviously came out of his body. Of course, he had seen poop before, but maybe never his poop in such an obvious way. Right there. Was it only fear that he was feeling? Maybe something else. Confusion? Fascination? I couldn’t say. We humans, I mumbled to myself. Can we really articulate our feelings (and combinations of feelings) accurately? Ever? How often? Do we have the vocabulary and the ability to delve that far?

Andrei did his pee-pees in the potty only two more times since last week. But he still regularly asks to sit on the potty. My husband and I try to emphasize the importance of the process and his efforts, not necessarily of the goal. Something like this, No pee-pees, that’s OK. Maybe next time. Let’s go do something else.

Of course, Andrei is a two-year-old, and he is quite adept at seeing a different side to everything, the side that will work solely to his advantage. The potty has already evolved into quite a significant delay technique. Time for bed! I want to pee. Time to get dressed! I want to pee! Oh, I sigh every time. Fun, fun, fun. I am really not ready for this, but Andrei obviously is, and that’s all that matters. So just get on board, Mama, ready or not!

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