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Cassandra Barry and Joel Stein

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Cassandra Barry is sometimes known for playing the role of "my lovely wife" in Joel Stein's columns for Time magazine and other publications. His story in which she ate her own placenta in pill form is the one she's most often asked about. Her son, Laszlo, is in preschool. After several years in New York City, she loves living in Los Angeles, where she works as a textile designer. She finds it weird to write about herself in the third person like this. about joel

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Potty Training the Wrong Way, at the Wrong Time

By Cassandra Barry |

Laszlo on the toilet a year ago, when peeing on the potty was a parlor trick.

We started potty training Laszlo a couple of weeks ago. He’s two years and eight months old. Which, I know what you’re thinking, is exactly the wrong age to be potty training. I know that you’re thinking that because everybody seems to think he is either way too old or way to young to be doing it now. What’s the age when he’s not too young and not too old? Will the experts just agree and give me a specific age range?

Everybody seems to have conflicting advice about how to do it, too: Put him on the potty every half hour or so. No, don’t put him on the potty– Ask him if he wants to go… Let him wear a diaper if he wants one. No, once you start using underwear, you can’t bring back the diaper… Reward toilet action with treats like stickers or candy. No, don’t reward going on the potty– Be totally neutral about it…. Put your kid in underwear instead of diapers. No, have your kid go naked. The only thing I can get consistent advice on is how to deal with accidents: “Do not shame him when he has an accident.” First of all, what kind of a bitch do they think I am? Second of all, NO DUH.

People often respond to the fact that Laszlo is wearing underwear now with something like, “Oh.” (Long pause.) “How old is he?… My son wasn’t ready until he was three and a half.” And they look at me like I’m being a pushy mom who’s forcing her kid to grow up. These tend to be the types of parents who believe that children should make their own decisions about everything in life, even when they’re toddlers. I’m not sure how those kids are going to turn out, but I picture them growing up to be self-centered, unemployed adults who eat a lot of sugar cereals while playing video games all day.

I can’t imagine that anyone in a diaper is going to decide on their own that a superior system involves stopping playing, walking to the bathroom, pulling down their pants, wiping themselves and washing their hands. Not when the alternative is lying on a padded mattress, getting cleaned with moistened fabric and getting redressed in thick padding to cushion your falls. Most kids probably need some adult convincing on this whole thing. Also, I’m staring to wonder how much Depends cost.

Occasionally, someone will say, “Have you heard of ‘elimination communication’? You should have potty trained Laszlo when he was an infant. That’s what the Europeans do.” Great. So, it’s too late now and Laszlo is hopeless? He’s a victim of a lazy American society that can’t be bothered to poop in a toilet. We’ve been brainwashed by a greedy disposable diaper industry who doesn’t care about landfills. People who are into E.C. believe that you’re treating your kid like an idiot (and torturing him with diaper rashes) if you let him sit in his own bodily waste when he doesn’t have to.

All of which I think is pretty valid. It turns out that it wasn’t so long ago that the diaper industry started making the outrageously sized 6 diapers, meant for babies– I mean children, really– who are over thirty-five pounds. Just the fact that diapers are available in sizes that big encourages us on some level to keep kids in diapers for as long as possible. I’ve found myself thinking, “Well, he’s a size 4 now. So what’s the rush? He still has two more sizes to go!” Europeans not only potty train early, they also manage to fit two or three kids into a normal sized car without resorting to buying an SUV. Europeans do everything better.

Since I missed my chance to allow Laszlo to be potty trained as an infant, I figured I may as well just give up and let Laszlo wear diapers for another year or more. Then I heard about Morgan (not his real name). He’s five years old and he still wears diapers. I’m guessing he wears those size 6 ones. He’s my friend’s friend’s kid. He’s in kindergarten and wears diapers sometimes because he sucks at pooping and peeing in the potty. Because his parents were lazy about potty training and he missed the window for potty training.

I don’t want Laszlo to be wearing diapers when he’s five years old. He’s had the classic “readiness” signs for a while. But I guess I didn’t start sooner because I feel this ridiculous cultural pressure to wait until he’s over three years old. But after a few days into the process, we were having some “accidents” (which I now know is normal) and I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. That’s when someone fueled my insecurities by telling me about “withholding.” (The thing about parenting is that there’s always somebody to make you even more nervous about whatever you’re already going through with your kid.) “Withholding,” in case you haven’t figured it out, is when a kid gets stressed out about potty training and gets constipated. So, I try to act cool about the whole pooping thing, for fear of stressing out Laszlo. But on the inside, I’m anxiously awaiting that poop every day. Seeing Laszlo’s poop in the toilet is now the highlight of my day. Yes, that may be the most fucked up sentence I’ve ever written.

An older, foreign-born friend of mine told me that in her culture, babies are potty trained as infants. Her friends and family would have thought she was crazy if her kids were wearing diapers past the age of one. Her technique for potty training them was an even more old fashioned method than bribery: She threatened them. Both her kids are adults now and they turned out great. They are an extremely close, loving family. There’s no hard feelings, no “withholding”, and everyone is peeing and pooping just fine. I’m not advocating threatening your babies. I’m just saying that I’m sure Laszlo will continue to do just fine with this whole toilet thing and maybe any age is the “right” age.

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About Cassandra Barry


Cassandra Barry

Cassandra Barry is sometimes known for playing the role of "my lovely wife" in Joel Stein's columns for Time magazine and other publications. Her son, Laszlo, is in preschool. After several years in New York City, she loves living in Los Angeles, where she works as a textile designer.

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32 thoughts on “Potty Training the Wrong Way, at the Wrong Time

  1. Suzanne M says:

    Don’t listen to other people, especially judgy people! I think your son’s age is good for potty training. I trained my 2 boys around that age. But really, I think if your kid is showing any readiness at all, and *you* are ready, then that’s a good age. You are the one that has to commit, so when there are accidents, you stick with it. You know your kid – if he likes schedules, or stickers, or “cool” new underwear. Different things work for different kids, that’s why you get conflicting advice. You sound like you are doing great with Laszlo!

  2. Joel Stein says:

    Nothing has ever made me feel like quite as much of a failure as a husband as this sentence: “Seeing Laszlo’s poop in the toilet is now the highlight of my day.” I remember when my poop was the highlight of her day.

  3. Brittany says:

    The kids will always know the best time :) and size 6 diapers arent just for children some toddlers are bigger. My lil man is only 2 and weighs 40lbs def in the size 6 diapers….hoping to get him trained soon :D

  4. Caitie says:

    We’ve tried everything and everything took advice from everyone and nothing was working! Finally we gave up for a little and then our son (who just turned 3) showed us what worked for him and he was potty trained within a month.

  5. Helen says:

    I feel your pain! EVERYONE had something to say about my first one not being potty trained! Once we were even in Walmart and one of the workers was so horrified that my three year old was still in diapers, that she proceeded to give my husband and I a little lecture on what we needed to do and how she did it, complete with the song she made up for her little girl, she didn’t even spare us the actions… I don’t know how I stopped myself from saying something incredibly rude!!!
    I am English and whatever they tell you about “Europeans” sounds like a load of rubbish lol I have English friends who live in Europe (as opposed to England) and from what I gather, it’s not true about the potty training. The cars, yes : )
    My oldest child was three and a half, before he eventually decided that yes indeed, he was willing to potty train. I’d tried several times, but he just wouldn’t do it and I thought, I’ve seen enough parents who’ve made it into a battle of wills, that I knew what I didn’t want : )
    We tried numerous tactics, including getting a Sponge Bob toilet seat (he loved it) new undies, not making a big deal of it, then later when that didn’t work, we tried lashings of praise, we even bought him a game he was desperate for and I put it on top of the fridge so he could see it, but he was still having nothing to do with it and even told me “I just don’t want to go to the toilet” The game was on top of the fridge for months! lol
    I have older friends (my parents age) who say that they didn’t do anything until the child was three, then if they hadn’t shown any interest, then they would try to help them along.
    I’ve also seen loads of parents “potty train” for months and months and months on end. That’s not potty training, that’s misery for the parent and the child. I have quite a few friend with numerous children (so a bit more of a realistic grasp on what’s feasible) and they all said their kids decided to do it and it was all sorted out in a week, or less.
    I’ve also seen loads of parents who are determined that their child is going to do it early, like it’s a show of intelligence! It always cracks me up. Then they proceed to put their child through misery, this part doesn’t crack me up : (
    I’ve also seen parents who boast about their child potty training earlier than others, but the child still wets the bed (they miss that part out during the lecture, you find it out later from someone else) for ages afterwards.
    Once my little boy decided to do it, he was dry day and night. As one would hope after putting it off for so long! lol
    I think if your little boy wants to do it, he just will : ) Try not to stress and have a cheeky comment ready for those who foolishly imagine they know better than the mother!!! ; )

  6. Corinne says:

    My three year old (in size 7 diapers!) was interested in potty training for a while and then suddenly refused to try anymore. My 2yo is big and in size 6 diapers. I’m hoping that after the craziness of the holidays dies down we can have a “potty weekend” and get them both trained at the same time. Sometimes I feel like my 3yo is way too old to still be in diapers, but I also haven’t wanted to push him that hard. He definitely has a mind of his own (stubborn) and won’t do anything until he’s good and ready.

  7. Heidi says:

    It is more that the parents need to be ready and willing to put some real time into it. Otherwise it won’t work.

  8. Tibby says:

    I have two boys a 5 year old and a one year old. I also worked in a daycare for three years and I am now a nanny for a one year old girl. In the daycare children started potty training ready or not at 18 months. My five year old attended the daycare I worked at. He started potty training with the rest of the children. As a rule the children were not moved to the three year old room until they were fully potty trained. At home he visited his grandmother every other weekend and every Tuesday overnight. He was almost 4 years old before he was fully potty trained. This was because at “mom-moms” house he was not taken to the potty he was allowed to just sit in his diaper all day and night with no worry’s. Thankfully for his sake I got a job at a smaller center before he turned 3. This center was not as concerned about potty training. They felt you should let the child make most of there decisions and rules weren’t enforced. It is a big problem when you 3 year old still is not going to the bathroom like they should be. There is no reason as to why at 3 a child can not be potty trained. Every teacher tried something different when potty training but the method that worked the best was putting the child on a schedule. Kids love stability. Like all other things in a child’s life doing the same thing at the same time every day helps them learn and grow and feel safe. My one year olds and the girl I watch during the day are both starting to learn to sit on the potty with out getting up. We do it when they wake up and about an hour after they eat or drink something. I am confident that my younger son will be out of diapers within the year.

  9. Helen says:

    I think people should realize there are more important things in life than your child going to the toilet early, or even by a certain age! 18 months old is ridiculous! I know loads of parents who started their kids at 2 and the children still wouldn’t do it until they were well over three! So what’s the point. They’ve had a year of misery and aren’t any further ahead! They were very dedicated and stuck to a rigid schedule, but the kids wouldn’t do it. At that point, I think you need to accept that children are individuals.
    Kids don’t get to control a lot in their lives, but once they work out that you’re putting so much into it, they know that they have you over a barrel. I don’t believe in letting kids make all their own choices, but when it comes to what they put into their bodies (my kids eat really well) and getting rid of bodily waste, I think they should be helped along without force.
    I knew a woman who had begun her “potty training” with her daughter when she was two, when she was three she still couldn’t do it. The mother was so, so stressed about it and threatened her with all kinds of things. She wrote about it on FB and one of her friends suggested that every time her little girl wet herself, she put her in a cold shower, to reinforce bad behavior gets negative consequences!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nobody told her that she sounded like she was running a torture camp for small people. It’s abuse.
    Parents need to get a grip on themselves and work out what is really worth the fight. For example helping them to understand the importance of safety is worth getting into a stress over. Potty training will work itself out, it’s just not worth yammering on about if they child doesn’t want to do it.

  10. Wing says:

    The one thing I found helpful was, every time I have use the washroom, I insist that mysondoso as well. He might be kicking and screaming about how he doesn’t have to go, but he’ll be peeing while he’s protesting. I point that out, and he gets a laugh too. It helps me remember to remind him, as he forgets when he’s having too much fun. Other times, he will do the potty dance and remember. Just have a sense of humour, and be prepared to do a lot of mopping. The bonus is that you will have really clean floors for a while! Oh… I would skip the pull ups except for when you go out. Most public toilets are really not potty training friendly. And boys should start by sitting for simplicity. I have told my husband that he will be in charge of the pee while standing, as I cannot demonstrate. Ha!

  11. Stormy DeSoto says:

    One way to teach Laszlo is to have him follow his father to the toilet every time. He’s a boy, let Dad teach him. When Dad’s not home, remind Laszlo to use the toilet just like Daddy does.

  12. crazy Shilo says:

    don’t listen to anyone just start potty training whenever you feel it’s the right time… there is no exact right time to potty train or exact way to potty train. All it is just a learning experience for you and for your special one…
    Put it this way: DON”T TAKE CRAP FROM ANYONE you’re your own boss and what you think is best for your kid goes because no one else had your kid for you Just know that THERE IS NO WRONG OR RIGHT WAY TO TAKE CARE OF ‘YOUR’ KID as long as you and your kid is happy especially you for accomplishing some big and a goal that’s all that counts and matter. WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT ^_^

  13. Lisa P says:

    Every child is different. Some ARE ready at 18 months, others not until three, however, if a child is still having issues at kindergarten age, it might be time to have them checked by a urologist. My daughter was having issues at 6, and we took her in, and found out that she has a mild spina bifida, hidden low on her spine. I did not know she had a dimple between the cheeks of her buttocks, as she was not an infant when she was placed with me for adoption. I had no reason to see her totally naked, nor check her there. Detrol LA has been a lifesaver for our family.

  14. Melissa says:

    I think that it is crazy that this woman finds that children in a size 6 diapers are in them because their parents are “LAZY”! I want to say something really mean an call her a witch with a captal B, but instead I will say this. My six year old daughter is still in a size 6 diaper. Why because she has Spina Bifida and will more then likely never be able to use the potty like a regular 6 year old would. However, I also have a 2 year old who i in size 4/5 and she refuses to use the potty because she is just not ready! I refuse to push her into potty training because I did with my son (we started with him at exactly 18 months) and all it did was make him not want to use the potty at all! Took me almost a year to get him trained after we started! My main point though is that before you make a statement or put judgements on kids or their parents….make sure you aren’t just being a WITCH and opening your mouth when it is none of your business!

  15. charleen says:

    well the right age is when they are ready for it. They will go when they want to go they will let you know. I bought my son a potty really early has he used it once. He is now 22 months and he isnt using his little potty for anything other than a step stool. We have never shut the door to go potty not for my 6 yr old or my 22 mo old not even now. The potty has never been a scary thing or a OMG thing. We clap to let him know yay you did the big boy thing. But he tells me when he wants to go on it. No use in pushing them or they will refuse same thing with homework when your parents told you to do homework all the time you didnt because you didnt want to right. Use your judgemnt use what you feel is right. They make it into a competition use it for what you think it is my son wears a shirt and a diaper since pull ups are just expensive and you can just reattach a diaper and when he is getting closer to consitancy i will skip pullups (to save money) and go to the training underwear on they dont sell them in target or walmart only online but they are thick but not as thick as a diaper and they will teach them it is uncomfortable to be wet or poopy but really it is up to them they want to when they want to

  16. Kelli says:

    My daughter is 2 years 5 months old. She is VERY big for her age and in a size 6. I believe they started making bigger diapers simply because there are bigger kids, not because we’re “lazy” with potty training. She has been “working” on potty training since right before she turned 2 because the signs were there. She pee’s very well on the potty, but not all the time. She is still in diapers. She’s only pooped on the potty twice. I keep telling her that she gets to go to Chuck E. Cheese for a “potty party” when she’s done potty training and it works some days and other days she could care less. She’s pretty smart for her age and can communicate better than most other kids she plays with (her age). She’s now at the point where she will stand still and pee in her diaper and say “I’m peeing!” or “I’m pooping!” as she poops in her diaper. We’ve gotten to the point of taking her to the potty after she goes in her diaper to remind her that that is where her pee and poop go. She really likes to wash her hands so we make sure we let her do that every time she goes potty (even if we wipe her and she doesn’t wipe herself). Washing her hands is her reward…she loves it! We just make sure every time she goes on the potty to scream and clap and make a “big deal” about it. When she comes in the bathroom with me we do the same thing. I know she’ll get it eventually and we’re not going to stress about it right now. I’ll start worrying when she’s 3 and a half and still doing her business in her diapers because at THIS point she’s ready. Your kid is ready when they’re ready… as long as you pick up on their signals you’ll be fine and so will they.

  17. Stephanie says:

    I think it’s great that you are working with your child. After all it’s no one else’s business to judge you. Keep up the good work!
    About the size 6 diapers though, my daughter is in the 100 percentile since she was a few months old. She went into size 4 diapers at 14 months. She is not even two and she is a quarter my weight and half as tall as her 120 lb 5′ 4″ mother :) nowhere near potty training and almost in a size 5 already.

  18. Jessika says:

    I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong age. I introduced the potty to my daughter when she was about 18 months old. I would sit her on it in her clothes and let her get used to it while I went potty next to her. Then I’d start taking off her pants & diaper and sitting her on it, and explained how to use the potty. I bought her one of the ones that sing when a “deposit” is made. But…she started working around that, by putting towels in the potty chair to make it sing, lol. She’s now 2 1/2 years old. She definitely understand what the potty is for, and she almost always poops in the toilet. But…she wears pull-ups most of the time and doesn’t pee in the potty very often (unless it’s accompanied by #2). I tried the whole panty thing (which my mom said worked like a charm with me), but she would have accident after accident and I just got tired of cleaning up the pee from the carpet, so pull-ups it is. My husband and I encourage her to go, ask her if she needs to go. But she’ll say she doesn’t have to go, then pee in her panties or pull-up 2 minutes later. She’s very independant, so with her, it looks like we’ll just have to give it some time. I’m not worried about pressuring her. Ideally, I’d like her to be potty trained before she turns 3, simply because we have another baby on the way and it would be nice not to have to continue to buy pull-ups. I can’t see her turning 4 and still wearing pull-ups, simply because she’ll be older and I don’t think she’ll want to be wearing them anymore (she doesn’t like being in a wet pull-up usually).

    So…now that I’ve written a novel about my experience…I think every child and every situation is different. The more that’s going on in your child’s life, the harder it will be to potty train them (in my opinion). Some children are more independant and want to do things their own way in their own time. My daughter has always been this way. It’s not exactly easy when they’re like that, but in this instance, I’m okay waiting until she has decided that she’s ready. Of course, I’m not gonna let her start school in pull-ups. Teachers are not gonna want to wipe my daughter’s butt for her and change her pull-up, and I wouldn’t expect them to. Plus, by the time they’re 5, they definitely know what’s going on and should know better. But, as long as they’re potty trained before the 5 year mark, I think it’s fine. The younger the better, but I don’t think it should be a big issue.

  19. Cassandra Barry says:

    Dear Everyone, Thank you for reading and commenting! Many of you didn’t read the last sentence of my blog post, in which I put my disclaimer: Maybe ANY age is the right age! You and your kid can decide. And if your kid is withholding or hating his underwear that you’ve moved on to or pissing all over the place for an extended period of time, then don’t do it! Update on Laszlo, for all of you who were wondering (Anybody? Anybody?)… He’s doing great! After a first week of some accidents (to be expected), he took to it no problem. He just needed to figure it out. Now he loves checking out new bathrooms everywhere.

  20. Cassandra Barry says:

    @Melissa: Go ahead, you can say it. The word is BITCH! Ah, didn’t that feel better? Obviously, there are always exceptions to everything and there are kids who NEED a size 6 diaper for medical reasons. “Morgan”‘s parents supposedly admitted that the reason HE wasn’t potty trained was THEIR laziness. (Their supposed words, not mine.) Hope that helps!

  21. betsy says:

    what an exciting time for laszlo — a world of bathrooms to see and toilets to flush! i almost envy him.

  22. Helen says:

    Just to clarify, I didn’t mean that children cannot be ready to train at 18 months, I know they can. I meant it’s ridiculous to “make” them start then…
    How fab for Laszlo!!! I hope he continues to do brilliantly! : )
    I spoke to my sister (in England) and she said most people seem to try to train them at about two and a half; so if I said differently earlier, I was wrong! : ) They start pre-school at three and they can’t really go not trained : )

  23. Nancy Edwards says:

    Hey Cassandra,
    Funny article! We are always looking for that magic bullet to our problems.
    I decided that potty training was stressful for all involved. I put my almost 3 year old in training pants and left him alone. After a few weeks he got tired of the soggy pants and went on the toilet by himself. End of story.
    Old Lady Wisdom

  24. Paula says:

    My lil man just turned 2 and i already started putting him in the pot….no threats just relaxed play time is what i make of it…everyone says he will learn when he is ready but i dont think there is any harm in trying now…as long as im not forcing him we should b good..

  25. Paula says:

    My lil man just turned 1 on Dec 27th and i already started putting him in the pot….no threats just relaxed play time is what i make of it… everyone says he will learn when he is ready but i dont think there is any harm in trying now…as long as im not forcing him we should b good..

  26. Jenny says:

    Is Laszlo is a nickname, right?

  27. Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE says:

    So ironic to see the potty training post. I just finished potty training my second child and it was so much easier than the first time around. Read my blog entry on potty training without food rewards available Wednesday Jan 4th at

  28. marrissa says:

    My daughter wears a size 6 diaper to bed she has been fully day time potty trained since 22 months that’s means no help she is able to pull her own pants down climb on the tolite with out a step stool get down and wipe her self also we still use flush able wipes i think it gets her cleaner she is now 25 months and is not night time trained she has always been in the 95% and higher so your comment on the size 6 diaper is a little offensive

  29. KaliLove says:

    Ya I’ve got a huge kid too. He’s 27 mos old and in a size 6, he’s the size of most 3 or 4 year olds. We’re about to start potty training, but something always is going wrong. The holidays came up and his schedule went to hell. The daycare has had a few staff changes in the past few months so there’s nothing consistent there. There was a death in the family so my husband has been flying all over creation and isn’t around to be his “potty role model” whatever that is. But I know I’m sick of shelling out $50 or more a month for diapers so its time to get the potty train on the tracks.

  30. Caraleisa says:

    I’m a grandma now, and have the luxury of time since potty training to gain perspective. My daughter learned easily at 18 months. My son refused to use the potty despite several attempts right up to age 4. On his 4th birthday, I told him he could go wherever he pleased, but I was through with diapers and it would be up to him to clean up whatever happened. (No, I didn’t really make him clean up!) He tested me once or twice, and then got his act together and used the potty. Now they’re both in their 20s, and when they were trained is really nothing but an anecdote.

    Don’t worry about it. No healthy (mind and body) kid ever didn’t eventually get out of diapers.

    My oldest grandson is now two and a half, and he’s started learning to use the potty. He screams out a “poo in the potty!!!” alarm when he’s got to go… and makes it most of the time. No one is uptight about it, and I have no doubt it’ll go smoothly.

  31. Cindy says:

    I started training my first boy shortly after his 2nd birthday, after being told by my pediatrician and my MIL that ALL 2 year olds are ready, despite the fact that he was showing zero signs of readiness. I had read to watch for him complaining about a soiled diaper, hiding to poop, staying dry at night, etc. He was doing none of these things and could care less if his diaper was poopy. But I started trying. He wanted nothing to do with it, ran the other way, sucked his poop back up and said he didn’t have to go, and went around farting for a few hours. He would wait until I put either pullups or underwear on him and then do it. I tried everything, reward charts, candy, poo poo song and dance, toy rewards. Nothing worked. Then, just after his 3rd birthday he decided he would do it and it was smooth sailing ever since. I’m not going to let anyone tell me when my 2nd one is ready. I know my children and when they are or are not ready. Some kids are more mature than others. They will show you signs.
    People need to quit judging eachother. You don’t know until you have that kid.

  32. Jaszel says:

    These stickers have been rlleay useful in trying to support my son with the toilet training process. We have been struggling for a while, but with the help of year stickers my son has made progress. My son is profoundly deaf so visual tools help.he loves stickers so these have been so helpful too. With lots of praise and the use of the stickers we are progressing. I would recommend these to others.GD Star Ratingloading…

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