Notes from the Potty Training Trenches

This week, my husband and I decided to potty train our youngest daughter. And I forgot how crazy-making that is.

Potty training at our house looks exactly like this, only there's 80 percent more pee on the floor.
Potty training at our house looks exactly like this, only there’s 80 percent more pee on the floor.

Let me begin by admitting that potty training her was a total afterthought, like virtually everything we do with our second child. Understand that although they’ve grown up with the same two parents, our two children have lead very different lives. To illustrate,  I read my first kid about 10 books a day from birth. I sang to her during every bath and taught her baby sign language. She spoke super early and loved to show off her “tricks” like pointing to her belly button and making animal sounds on cue. And as with all things concerning our first kid, we put a lot of forethought and planning into potty training, carefully researching the various methods and blocking off a week of time to tackle it.

In contrast, our second child is lucky if she gets two stories in a day (it’s pretty much always just the one at bedtime) and she only knows the sign for “more,” which I’m pretty sure her sister taught her. I rarely sing anymore ’cause I spend bath time trying to keep them from drowning one another. And she doesn’t talk much. I feel guilty about this, of course, but her pediatrician assures me that she’s doing fine. During the day, I’m too busy to do all that much worrying about it, but when my head hits the pillow at night, I often think, “Poor kid. Are we doing enough?” (The upside of all this benign neglect is that unlike our eldest, our little one can entertain herself for hours on end, putting her “babies” to sleep, making delicious meals from scratch in her toy kitchen, building towers of blocks and gleefully knocking them over. She’s pretty independent.)

Anyway, back to potty training: About a week ago, the kid developed an awful diaper rash that blistered almost immediately and then morphed into big white patches that didn’t rub off. I wondered if these might be a sign of thrush (a call to a nurse confirmed this) so off to the pharmacy I went. Apart from some over-the-counter anti-fungal cream, the only thing to do was let her butt fly free for a couple days. And we thought, “well, since she’s naked already, might as well … ” There was no planning involved. We just shrugged and said, “let’s try it.” Cool, you may be thinking, they’re being so laid-back about it this time. Let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a nervous wreck.

In my experience, potty training is the ultimate exercise in finding the elusive balance between being super attentive/hyperaware of your kid (is that a poo face?! Why is she squatting right now?!) and letting go of control and trusting them enough to follow their body’s signs on their own (‘OK sweetie, you just tell me when you feel like you have to go’), which is totally easier said than done, at least for yours truly. And then, there’s the hardest part: sending her off to daycare and praying to God that she can make it to the potty in the midst of a bunch of other toddlers. Not to mention the emotional roller-coaster of the end-of-day pickup. (Will today bring the swelling pride when she’s still in the same clothes we sent her off in at the end of the day, or the crushing defeat of finding three pairs of soiled pants wrapped up in a plastic bag waiting for me in her cubby?) It’s exhausting.

My sentiments exactly, kid.
My sentiments exactly, kid.

I worry that she will never figure out how to get her pants down fast enough on her own (pro-tip: we now say “PUSH your pants down” instead of “PULL your pants down” as the toddler mind seems to be able to process that better); I worry that she’ll have one too many accidents at daycare and they’ll give up and just put a diaper on her; I worry that she doesn’t talk well enough to explain she has to go NOW.

And yet, despite all my guilt and anxiety and worry, she is doing it. Potty training is happening. She is learning. It’s not perfect, but she’s getting there.

I always thought that parenting would be easier the second time around. And in a way, it is. When I had my second, I didn’t think twice about how to burp her or introduce solids, and I didn’t hover over her at night to make sure she was still breathing. But regardless of birth order, I will probably always worry about my kids and wonder if I’m doing right by them. It’s just a part of this whole raising tiny humans thing. Our two girls are very different people who were raised pretty differently, but guess what? They both learned to drink from a cup. They both learned to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (albeit with some frequent prompting), and they both have taken that big step away from babyhood and toward independence by saying goodbye to diapers and hello to the big-kid toilet. In their own way, and at their own pace. I just need to breathe, step back a little and let them show me what they can do.

Now, if I could only train my husband to put the seat down …