I can tell by her tone that my mothering will be judged by my answer.
“They were both out of diapers at 2,” I say.
“Oh wonderful,” she nods approvingly. “Yes, all the kids used to be potty trained by 2, but now everyone does it so late, up to 4 sometimes.”
Am I lying to her?
Yes and no.
Potty training is about 20 different skills: going No. 1 on the potty, going No. 2 on the potty, going without being prompted, stopping playing to go, not going in the bath tub, not going in the pool, using indoor plumbing instead of the grass, pulling up your pants, pulling down your pants, knowing where it is OK to pull down your pants, zipping a zipper, snapping a snap, wiping, actually being good at wiping, waking up at night to go, sleeping the whole night without going, sleeping the whole night without going when you are spending the night at a friend’s, not peeing your pants when you jump on the trampoline … wait, was that last one meant for me?
So what is potty trained? When kids have mastered all these skills? Some of them? One of them?
I don’t know. Both my boys were out of diapers at 2, but more because I am cheap and hope springs eternal than because I was so amazing at or diligent about potty training.
My oldest stopped wearing diapers during the day right at 25 months. (For anyone who does not have kids, 25 months is just a complicated way of saying that he had just turned 2.) He never had an accident and used the potty consistently to go No. 1, but for a full year (two or three times a day) he would go to his room, grab a diaper and have me put it on him so he could do his dootie-duty.
I was sick of this, so on his 3rd birthday I told him that he was too big for diapers and the diaper manufacturers didn’t make diapers to fit 3-year-olds.
This worked like a charm. And, like a charm, it also had an unforeseen evil consequence: no diapers at night. He so truly believed my lie that he would not put on a diaper at bedtime. “Too big!” he screamed.
I didn’t want to retract my lie; I couldn’t break the spell. I needed another charm to fix the first. So that night I went to my cauldron, I mixed up some Eye of Newt and Dragon’s Breath, poured a little gin in it and sat down on the couch to brainstorm what to do next.
Genius idea: I would sneak into his room after he was asleep and put a diaper on him.
This did not work. I could hear him in the middle of the night yell “Too big!” as he ripped his diaper off (duct tape and all).
From then on, he was not allowed any liquids after 6:30 p.m., and I woke him up every night at 10 to make him use the potty. This was not very efficient for myriad reasons:
- I had to remember to do it every night.
- His bedroom is upstairs, but there is no bathroom up there, so I would have to bring the kiddie potty upstairs.
- It was dark and I could never see if the hose was pointed at the target, if you know what I mean.
- Most nights he would scream like he was being attacked by a wild animal when I picked him up and he would fight against sitting on the potty.
- I had to remember to do it. (Did I say that already?)
Finally we got into a routine. Pee before bed. Then make him use the downstairs potty at 10 p.m. This worked for about six weeks, and then he suddenly started wetting the bed every morning at 6 a.m.
I was losing my mind. He should not have to pee three times in 10 hours. I immediately knew that he had bladder cancer.
Turns out he was gulping down gallons of bath water every night in the tub. (Reread the 20 skills and then let that sink [or tub] in for awhile.)
So now I have an un-potty-trained kid and I am obviously a horrible parent because my poor child is dehydrated!
OK. Regroup. Now: lots of water during the day, no more drinking bath water, and continue no liquids after 6 p.m.
Success. He didn’t wet the bed for a month. Until we went out of town and he started wetting the bed again, every night for weeks.
Start again. Finally … success. I found a new magic trick: time. The day he turned 4 he never wet the bed again.*
He was out of diapers at 2, but was he potty trained at 2? A little bit. Was he potty trained at 3? A little bit more. Was he potty trained at 4? God knows. The newest thing I am learning is that you have to teach boys how to pee in the potty — not just in the immediate vicinity of it.
Some days I’ll think I hear the shower running and then realize: Oh, it’s just one of the kids overshooting the bowl and hitting the shower curtain.
So it seems there is still more potty training work to be done, but my cheapness and my ego feel great pride when I say both my boys were out of diapers at age 2. Who cares? (Besides that random inappropriate lady at the grocery store.) I assume the older your kids are when you potty train them, the more skills they can learn all at once.
There is no best time, or right time, or only way to potty train, and every magic trick has a consequence: whether it’s changing dirty diapers for three years, or prompting a 2-year-old to use the potty 10 times a day for 12 months. So pick the least offensive one to you, and then don’t think twice about what other people are doing.
They all get potty trained eventually. Right? Please tell me that’s true.
*Until we went out of town this Christmas.