By Lynn Adams
What a fool I was, expecting a free pass—or at least a discount—on toilet training the second time around. But here are three reasons why:
Reason one: I’d been a child psychologist for ten years. At work they called me “the potty lady.” I dealt with it all, an unflappable coach who always had a change of clothes handy. I took an eight-year-old still in diapers and got him into Jockeys within a week. I cured a four-year-old of peeing only on the drapes and pooping only in the cat box. Sure, I was cocky. Who wouldn’t be?
Reason two: My daughter Margot’s older brother, James. Toilet training had been an ordeal with him, but I knew why: he didn’t really notice other kids were trained, and his first sign that he had to pee was usually the stream running down his leg. But Margot envied her friends’ underwear, she imitated James on the potty, and she even said she was ready.
Reason three: I made my usual mistake, asking my mother how my own potty training had gone.
“I don’t think I was involved,” my mother murmured, gazing into the distance. “I think you did it yourself.” Even as a toddler, I was that good. Keep this in mind, though—my mother is the same woman who claims not to remember my brother reaching across her to give me a black eye when we were teenagers.
About Margot: she’s dramatic. One summer, she was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz: brown hair in braids, blue gingham dress, red shoes, stuffed terrier in a basket. So as soon as Margot hit her new preschool classroom, she proposed they put on a play of which she’d be the star. And they did it. As I watched her strut to center stage and belt out the play’s final lines (“There’s no place like home”), I leaned over and asked my husband, “Who is that girl?”
We had a standoff. Margot, who behaved exactly as the example children did in Azrin and Foxx’s Toilet Training in Less than a Day and was toilet trained within a few hours, reversed course after a nap. Sure, she would pee in the potty when the mood struck her, but poops could just go into the princess underwear, so that she could wear a whole coterie of different princesses per day.
By the third day, I leveled with her: “Margot, you must not be ready to keep these underwear dry. You let me know when you’re ready to try again.” We put the princess underwear away, Margot giving them a sad little wave as we closed the drawer. After I helped her back into a diaper she seemed satisfied, though, as if she’d made some kind of headway.
Three weeks after the initial toilet-training attempt, Margot appeared in the kitchen wearing Rapunzel underwear, and we were back in business. Still, we had some high-profile accidents ahead of us. When she was three, our family went to a high school performance of The Wizard of Oz. As soon as the Wizard showed up, Margot covered her eyes and peed on my lap.
“Mommy, why did you take me to that horrible play?” she asked when we got home. “I’m only a little girl.”
All I could do was apologize. “How is it,” I asked my husband after the kids were asleep, “that they always make me feel like an idiot?” Instead of the benevolent coach, calmly putting my experience to good use, I’ve ended up the bewildered observer, cleaning up the mess just like everyone else.
Child psychologists don’t have it any easier as parents. With my own children, it’s not important what I know or what I’ve done for a living. All that’s important is my role in the drama: mother. If I feel like an idiot, if Margot feels like she’s succeeded in spite of me and not because of me, then I’m playing my role to a tee.
For Margot, victory is sweetest after a struggle. She has to be the General, or better yet Dorothy, our plucky heroine who gets herself out of a tight spot and back to Kansas. Remember, Dorothy’s mother was dead. And Auntie Em was no help. It was the wicked witch who sent Dorothy that awful smoke signal, telling her to surrender, and it only made her fight harder.
Lynn Adams lives in New Orleans with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child, Salon, among other publications. She is a co-author of Autism: Understanding the Disorder and Understanding Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism. Read more from Lynn on her website.