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Potty Training the Wrong Way, at the Wrong Time

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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