The Potty Wars

Baby pulling toilet paper off the roll

I’m locked in a fierce battle with a formidable foe. My adversary is quick and cunning and never seems to tire of the fight. Just when I think I am winning, I am knocked back a few paces and the confrontation continues. My opponent never retreats, and she never surrenders. It’s a war of attrition and, as the hours tick by, I can feel her tenacity intensify as my resolve slowly slips away.

It’s the Potty Wars, Part III: Revenge of the Baby.

Every thirty minutes we meet on the field of battle (which looks an awful lot like the master bathroom) and the players take their mark as the scene is set for a “Showdown of the Stubborns.”  I walk in with confidence, convinced that THIS is the time that she will finally perform according to plan. She toddles in with a disarming smile, making me think that she’s up to the task. She is devastatingly cute, and her countenance plays into her overall ploy. The charm offensive is working, and she knows it. She sits high on her throne and, after five minutes of crinkly nosed smiles and double-eye winks thrown my way, convincingly announces, “Baby done!” But Baby is not done. In fact, Baby hasn’t “done” anything. She hops down, unassisted, and walks triumphantly out of the bathroom, completely unfazed by the fact that her lower half is as exposed as they day she was born. I half expect her to throw up a peace sign as she’s leaving.

In a total war such as this one, I’ve tried many tactics. I started with the age-old rewards method where each successful trip equals a sucker. Turns out the only sucker in the room that day was me. Apparently a competitor as dedicated as Baby is immune to bribes. Who knew she was so principled?

The next day, I tried the sticker chart approach. It had worked (sort of) for her older brother, so I figured it wouldn’t be a complete loss with her. But as the great Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu once warned, “There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.” After trying to convince her of the merits of such a fun system, I found her rummaging through the toy room in search of her sister’s stickerbook. At the end of the day, I slumped dejectedly in my chair, empty rewards chart hanging from my hand, while she sat sweetly by my feet flipping through her newfound book of sparkly adhesives.

As I lay in bed that night, my challenger curled up beside me with her thumb in her mouth and her head on my chest, I resolved to take it to the next level the next day. I needed to call in reinforcements. It was time to consult the Pinterest Moms. I scrolled through pin after pin until late into the night and woke the next morning with a renewed sense of energy and revolutionary plan of action. As the curly blonde sheepishly waltzed into the restroom at 0800 hours, I was holding my secret weapon behind my back: dry-erase markers. Using the element of surprise I turned her around on the seat to face the back of the toilet. This tactic caught her completely off guard and she seemed to panic a little, until I handed her a red marker. Her worried face slowly turned into a sly little smile as she began to create abstract art on the raised seat cover in front of her, a little apprehensively at first, but soon she was scrawling with the passion of a mini-DaVinci. I stifled an evil laugh and resisted the urge to drum my fingertips together Dr. Evil style. My plan was working, it was working! She was so preoccupied with her picture that she was sure to, as Elsa would say, “Let it go.” I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. As the work of lavatory art became more complex (yes, she asked for more colors), the realization swept over me—I was being played. The little stinker was waiting me out. Just as the Russians defended their besieged town in the Battle of Stalingrad and turned the tide of World War II, she was hell bent on hunkering down until I gave up. After 45 minutes (and three different masterpieces), I couldn’t take it anymore. I took her off the seat and placed her on the floor as I cleaned her picture from the commode. Two seconds later I heard a little voice behind me whisper, “Mama…Baby peed on floor.” Perhaps it’s fitting that we sometimes call her ‘Kana’, because like the many great Mongolian Khans of history, the girl is ruthless.

I must admit, I thought this would be an easy battle. She hates being wet and insists on being changed immediately. And although she only turned two a couple of months ago, she runs with the big kids and wants to do everything that they do. Plus, she’s always been my sidekick and I thought our unbreakable bond would lend itself to an easy transition to a diaper free life. But she has no desire to give up the fight and, if I’m being honest, I think she’s a little power hungry. She hasn’t started wearing a crown or wielding a staff yet, but the month still isn’t over.

My first-born was a difficult one to train as well, but I was younger then, with more energy and a brain full of knowledge from all of those parenting books I’d read when I was pregnant with him. When one method didn’t work, I quickly and cheerfully moved on to the next.  I never even considered surrendering with him. (Nowadays I raise the white flag before noon.) The final tactic that put a tally in the win column occurred the day after Christmas. For weeks he’d refused to go in the potty, even though we all knew he was capable. By December 26th I’d had enough of the cleanup, so I resorted to the nuclear option—I took away Spiderman. Yes, the same Spiderman that Santa had brought him the day before was taken away and placed high on the shelf in the closet and would only be released on the condition of dry pull-ups. We had ourselves a hostage situation. (See, I told you I had more energy back then.) This tense position lasted exactly one day. The trips to the latrine were successful, Spiderman came down, underwear went on, and Mama emerged victorious. I would try this trick with Baby, but she doesn’t have a sentimental attachment to any specific toy right now…she is a lone wolf, unencumbered by clingy stuffed animals or needy baby dolls.

And I can’t look to my experience with her older sister for guidance either. She was an anomaly, a phenom of the potty training world. Not only did she ditch the diapers in one day, but she threw out her pacifier on the same day too. It was the day after her second birthday when I broached the idea of switching to Dora themed briefs. She needed no convincing. In her world, style ALWAYS trumps function and she was ready to move on to the many colors and varieties of the underwear aisle. But, I can’t appeal to Baby’s desire for flair or fashion…doesn’t matter to her if they are Huggies or Pampers, Bikinis or Briefs, she can’t be swayed by such societal-induced confines.

So, as the war rages on, I’m stuck between a desire to win and a leniency to let more time pass. You see, she is my last baby. My last one in diapers. After her, there will be no more sticker charts or suckers. There will just be shopping for Hello Kitty underwear and, before I know it, prom dresses and wedding gowns. That’s probably why I don’t really mind the struggle. Truth be told, I love how she giggles every time I tell her it’s time to go potty, like she’s in on the joke. Maybe her extended training time is a gift to me, a way of extending those ever-fleeting moments of babyhood that I will surely miss as soon as they are gone. Maybe she knows that, after eight years of lugging it around, the day I hang up the diaper bag will be harder for me than I’d like to admit. Maybe she knows that every dry pull up is one step closer to growing up. I think I’ll give her a few more days (or weeks) to get this whole potty training thing down. Besides, what’s the rush? Clearly, she’s in no hurry. And, honestly, neither am I.

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