By Carolyn Rabin
We are teetering on the edge of disaster. My three-and-a-half year old son is one potty accident away from being kicked out of preschool. The first strike was on Tuesday. When I picked Jacob up from school Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that he was not wearing the same pair of pants he had on that morning. Instead, he sat at the arts and crafts table in a rumpled pair of blue pants that is usually stashed away in his cubby.
“Jacob, what happened to your pants?” I asked, my throat tight.
“What?” Jacob said, focused intently on chasing a glob of green paint around his paper.
“Honey, what happened to the pants you had on this morning?”
“OOOOOh. I changed my pants,” Jacob explained with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Yes, but WHY?”
“My other pants were full of peepee.”
I looked over at Jacob’s cubby and there it was. Taunting me. The letter reminding me that any child who has three accidents in two weeks is suspended from preschool to be “retrained.” It was only Jacob’s first strike, but I was already rattled. With good reason. The next day, Jacob had another accident.
It’s not that Jacob can’t stay dry, it’s just not a particularly high priority for him. For Jacob, sporting a dry pair of pants is a very distant second to hearing the rest of the story at meeting time or holding onto his spot in the pretend play area. Perhaps it was at preschool, having established his priorities, that Jacob adopted a remarkable equanimity toward potty accidents.
A typical conversation on the topic at home:
Jacob (calmly): “Mommy, I need new pants.”
Me (less calmly): “Jacob, are you having an accident?!?” (I look spastically down at his feet and observe the beginnings of Lake Erie).
Jacob: “Yes. But that’s okay! It’s just a little accident.”
Where did this placating banter come from? Not from me. And, absolutely not from his father. As soon as Dan sees a spot of moisture on Jacob’s pants, he picks him up with fully extended arms and runs toward the nearest bathroom at a speed intended to reverse the rotation of the earth by just enough to make it to the bathroom before the accident begins.
We are now in sudden death mode. One more accident before the end of next week and he’s out. I arrive to pick up Jacob on Thursday afternoon with my heart pounding. (Please-still-be-wearing-your-tan-cords-please-still-be-wearing-your-tan-cords.) As I drive up in my car, Jacob’s class is being led out on the playground. Incredibly. Painfully. Slowly. I wait for him to emerge from the building with every muscle in my body clenched. There he is. Tan cords. Thank you, sweet God of Bladder Control.
Don’t get the wrong idea. I adore my child and I love spending time with him. I have rearranged my work schedule to do so. But two solid weeks at home to focus on potty (re)training? What this really means is two weeks of bouncing around our living room playing an unending game of puppy preschool (Jacob’s invention). Two weeks of Jacob’s mind spinning from boredom and me answering an unending string of questions such as, “If a car isn’t alive, does that mean it’s dead?” “Now that I’m a big kid, can I get an iguana?” and “If tomorrow is Daddy’s birthday, will he get bigger?”
Fast forward a week to the following Thursday. Jacob has miraculously made it through each day without a wardrobe change. A healthy share of the credit goes to his teachers who have been taking him to the bathroom every three minutes. When I drop him off each morning, I thank them. Profusely.
Friday morning arrives. It is the last day that Jacob must stay dry to avoid suspension. Should I not tempt fate and keep him home? It would be a cowardly move. I am totally considering it. But ultimately I drive Jacob to preschool as usual. When I drop him off, I stop by his teacher’s desk. “Thanks again for taking Jacob to the bathroom so often. It has clearly made a HUGE difference. Anyway, today is our last day of sudden death . . . .” His teacher looks at me concerned.
Three hours later, I receive an email from Jacob’s preschool. The potty training policy has been changed. Children are now allowed FIVE accidents in a two-week span before being suspended. The director explains that the policy was never intended to cause stress, but merely to quantify what it means to be potty trained. That afternoon, I arrive to pick Jacob up from school with a sense of calm that I haven’t felt in a while. I spot him across the room, crawling around the carpet and barking. My little policy maker.
Carolyn Rabin is a health psychologist at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and mother to Jacob and his one-year old sister. In order to more carefully chronicle their mischief, she recently started a blog: http://fumblingtowardnaptime.wordpress.com/.