He prefers to do it while he's buck naked, with product catalogs featuring sporting goods at his fingertips. Occasionally, a crumpled-up magazine will suffice. And there's to be no singing. Nada. Not one note or he's gone.
She, on the other hand, prefers to belt out a tune or two while swinging her legs and grinning mischievously. Several rounds of "A Hunting We Will Go" (she heard it on a kids' tape, what can I say?) and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" are among her favorites. And even if she's sitting there trembling with cold -- for she too prefers being nude -- she will push your hands away if you try to cover her with a sweater or pick her up. She knows that as long as she sits there, she won't be made to do anything else, like take a nap. As long as she sits there, she reasons, she's golden.
You have entered the Potty Zone: The irrational, ridiculous and utterly absurd world of tinkle, poo-poo, bribes and gobs of toilet paper clogging your plumbing.
The concept of trying to teach two toddlers how to pee and poop in a giant porcelain bowl, or in the little plastic replica on the floor, seems patently bizarre. How exactly is a parent supposed to teach a kid to poop while perched on a potty seat? I have yet to see a definitive set of guidelines. Do you lean your own butt over the toilet, grimacing like you're passing a kidney stone the size of Alaska and pretend you're pooping so the kid understands? You certainly don't let the child witness actual pooping do you? And hold the pee in, make a mad dash to the potty, disrobe and then let it go? A whole industry is centered around the fact that millions of adults can't even do that, so how's a two-year-old supposed to?
Then there's the whole nudity issue. Is it a problem for my son Jonah to see me peeing on the potty, even though he's not really "seeing" anything? My husband Scott won't teach our daughter Abbey how to pee by example, even if he sits down on the seat so no offending body parts are visible. He has outright refused to do so because he says it's wrong for him to be naked in front of her, but somehow it's okay for me to pee in front of Jonah. When it comes to deliberating what degree of nudity is okay, it gets sensitive. If you start asking other parents if they've ever urinated or defecated in front of their children, you're apt to look like a pervert and can likely expect children's services to come knocking on your door in a few hours asking if you've ever looked at porn on the Internet. So I'm left to my own devices to figure out exactly how I, the mommy, am supposed to eventually teach my son how to pee standing up without a demonstration or manual assistance.
If I had my way, I wish I could just send them to potty training camp. It seems like something rich families would do to get all the messiness and nudity ambiguities over with. A few days and boom, they're out of diapers and I don't have to worry about teaching them how to push waste out of their bodily orifices or worry that my son will have nasty flashbacks when he's 20 of his mommy peeing in front of him. (I can just hear the therapist now, "You mean you thought it was okay to sit on the toilet in front of him? Didn't you know how psychologically damaging that image could be to a young boy?" Or, "Didn't you know that for Abbey, having her father standing over her while she was naked and peeing reinforced the stereotype that men dominate over women?")
Scott and I embarked down the potty training road with our twins when they were almost 1½. And when I say embarked, it was a very little embarkment, an embarkment with no plans, no rhyme nor reason. We just had a plastic potty seat sitting on the bathroom floor. If the kids wanted to sit on it -- which was rare at first -- it wouldn't be for very long. Eventually, we got Abbey to sit there, but Jonah would have nothing to do with the monstrous-looking thing with the wide mouth that looked like it would swallow him up butt-first and suck him into the evil Land of Poop.
We puzzled about how to do this potty training thing for quite a while. Then, about three months ago, I witnessed a friend of mine bribing her 2½ year-old with stickers to get her to pee on the potty. "Bribing," I thought, "that's always a good way to go." So we bought a bunch of stickers and I fashioned what I dubbed the "potty sheet" featuring my kids' beloved "Blue's Clues" characters. Whenever they pee (they're not quite to the pooping in the potty stage), they can pick from a wide array of stickers and put one on their personal potty sheet. Now, a couple months into the sticker-inducement experiment, Abbey's sheet is covered with stickers. Jonah's is practically barren, except for a few stray pity stickers he was awarded after spending half-hour bouts on the potty where nothing in the form of pee or poop came out of him, thought he and Mommy had enough time to select a new wardrobe from a Land's End catalog.
My kids aren't even close to being potty trained yet, but believe me, I'd like them to be. I calculated the other day that, conservatively speaking, they've gone through well over 8,000 diapers. Not only is that a lot of money for diaper supplies, but it's a damn lot of poop to boot. But my crumb-crunchers are only 27 months old, so I'm not going to push it.
Although according to the self-proclaimed Potty Guru, a mother who used to go to my kids' playgroup, I should be very worried. I should be buying every book on peeing, hiring a team of consultants to tell me how to make the potty area more attractive, as well as having counselors do a mental and emotional assessment of the kids and me. The Guru, who has a penchant for making unsolicited and unwanted parenting lectures, dogmatically told us that every child can be potty trained at 18 months. "All you need is one day in the bathroom," she proclaimed. "That's all it takes." Well, after one day in the bathroom with her, I can tell you I'd do anything she'd ask to get out of there.
But Scott and I are determined not to rush things. The peeing and pooping in the potty will come in its own sweet time. However if the kids aren't out of diapers by the time they're in elementary school, I'm sending them to the Potty Guru for the weekend. She'll know just what to do.
Meredith O'Brien is a freelance writer and mother of twin toddlers.