By Candy Schulman
My daughter is a nudist. Greeting the Chinese take-out delivery man in a yellow turtleneck, she is not quite three and completely bottomless.
Mortified, I watch my husband pay for our dinner while I say in a loud whisper, “Come inside. You don’t have any…pants on.”
“I’m just standing here next to my daddy,” she says, while I worry what the delivery man must be thinking about our American culture.
Amy tries to spear rice grains with the tip of a chopstick. She’s having a great time, even though her bare rear is getting imprinted by the pattern of a cane seat.
We are not weird or perverted. We are simply trying to toilet train our toddler. I teach; Amy resists. Child-rearing gurus advise parents to delay toilet “learning” until after the defiance of the terrible twos settles down. Given my daughter’s strong will and a case of terrible twos that began at eleven months, I may be waiting until Amy goes to college.
Today’s method is to get those disposable diapers off your child–she’ll never feel the urge to “go” when her butt is padded by super absorbency fibers. In the homes of young children you’re sure to see a lot of little tochis flashing around.
My mother toilet trained my brother at eighteen months. She had no choice, or should I say hehad no choice: with another infant to care for, my mother wasn’t going to hand wash two sets of cloth diapers.
Experts today adopt a laissez faire approach, lest the children turn into anal retentive adults. Hence my bare-bottomed girl…and if you need proof how far she is from anal retentive, all you have to do is take one look at the condition of her room.
Months pass. Finally Amy agrees to start sitting on the potty. She smiles, saying, “I hear it.” But I hear nothing.
“I hear it!” Amy says, but it’s all in her mind, rather than in the bowl.
“I’m finished,” she announces, wiping herself needlessly in the wrong place. She flushes and is off.
Someday she will “go potty.” But the more I see 4-year-olds in diapers, the more I wonder if my mother had a better idea.
I try behavior modification. If I can “hear it,” she can hang one sticker from an array I’ve purchased. Perched on the edge of the bathtub, my usual observation spot, I finally hear it. I jump up and down, cheering. Before her feet touch the ground, I dial Grandma in Florida.
“I made peep on the potty all by myself!” Amy screams into the phone.
Then she demands her reward: five stickers.
“We agreed on one. One for each pee-pee.” I can’t believe I am actually uttering such words.
“Four,” she says, a fierce negotiator, holding up the appropriate number of fingers.
“Okay…three.” All the money I thought I’d be saving on diapers goes into my sticker budget.
My mother calls from Florida. “In the middle of my bridge game,” she reports, ” I told three eighty-year-old women that my granddaughter finally peed on the toilet. They looked at me like I was nuts. Told me to finish bidding. They might not care, but I’m awfully proud.”
So am I. A year of reading Everyone Poops has finally paid off! We buy a dozen pair of “big girl pants”—Amy appropriately selects Pooh. What a deprived childhood I had, a bland world of only white underwear….
She refuses to put on her big girl pants. She still insists on being bottomless, or else she wears leggings around the house with nothing underneath. What have I created?
“When you’re ready,” I say, “you’ll wear big girl pants.” Every two seconds I inquire, “Do you have to go potty?”
“No,” she says, annoyed. “I alweady went potty yesterday.”
Why do I feel competitive that Amy is the last one in preschool to still wear diapers? I take comfort that her language skills are high; I don’t think any of her college applications will question the age she was potty trained.
The turning point arrives when Amy puts Pooh underpants on her cherished stuffed puppy. When I check on her before I go to bed, I find her asleep, mouth ajar, hugging a golden retriever in underpants. I find this image adorable…until the next morning, when she decides to wear Pooh underpants to school for the very first time. Puppy goes to school identically.
Amy holds up Puppy in triumph, all fur and underpants. People giggle. I feign nonchalance. When you’re the mother of a three-year-old who peeps on the potty, you must pretend that nothing embarrasses you. It will be decades before we learn whether allowing toddlers to make decisions for themselves will empower them or send them to shrink’s couches with the complaint, “My problems began when my mother was too casual about toilet training.”
On the way home from school, I tell Amy, “I’m proud of you.”
“I’m a big girl now,” she says.
Minutes later, in the grocery store, Amy holds up Puppy in his underwear and boasts to a captive audience, “I’m wearing Pooh underwear too. But Mommy’s big girl pants are black!”
There is a hush. People stare. I smile wanly and reassure myself that this will all seem ludicrous when more challenging times arise. Such as explaining the facts of life. I can’t wait.
About the Author: Candy Schulman’s essays have appeared in The New York Times, Parents, Salon.com, Babble.com, The Chicago Tribune and several anthologies. She is Associate Professor of Writing at The New School in New York City.
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