The week I first tried to potty train Anna is up there with my all-time worst parenting experiences. She was coming up to 2.5, and I’d already had a few months of subtle (and not so subtle) hints from her grandmothers that it was about time she was out of nappies. I decided that the best approach was to stay at home for a week, and go cold turkey – putting her straight into knickers. I prepped with bribes of stickers and Smarties, had reward charts set up, talked her through what was going to happen, and got her to help me choose her new ‘big girl’ knickers. And then launched into a week trapped in wee-smelling house, with an increasingly bored and feral toddler, the washing machine on nonstop, drying clothes draped over every surface, and a bottle of Dettol spray never out of my hand. I was prepared for accidents, but I wasn’t prepared for not one single excretion to be passed on the potty, even by luck. She could sit on the potty for half an hour while I read endless Peppa Pig stories, nothing at all, and then get off and pee on the sofa thirty seconds later.
Towards the end of that week I went out for dinner with a very close and, at the time, child-free friend. She made the mistake of asking me how I was. After a twenty minute rant on the frustration, restriction, irritation and utter mundanity of potty-training in particular and child-rearing in general, I asked her how she was. Pregnant, turned out to be the answer. I spent the rest of the evening desperately backtracking and muttering words like ‘fulfilling’ and ‘adorable’ in a fairly unconvincing and futile fashion.
At the end of the week I admitted defeat. My daughter’s will was stronger than mine. She wasn’t ready – physically or psychologically, and neither was I. The grandparents who had been so encouraging of my attempt were strangely reluctant to accept my open invitation to have Anna to stay for a week and send her back potty trained. She went back in nappies for another six months.
A couple of weeks before her third birthday, with the added pressure of a forthcoming nursery place dependent on being fully toilet trained, we made another attempt. The difference was incredible, We had a couple of accidents the first morning, and then she just got it. Sorted. Done. Three or four months later she announced she didn’t want to wear nappies at night either, and then didn’t. There was a run of nighttime accidents for a few months, but she was determined not to go back to nappies, and so we persisted. Her willpower this time was working in my favour.
After this experience I thought it would all be a doddle with Sophia. Just relax, don’t push it, wait until they’re around three, and then get it done and dusted overnight. Simples.
Except that she had other ideas. From a very early age she hated having a dirty nappy, and would rarely poo outside the house, so I knew she had some degree of control. She also had an adored elder sister who she likes to emulate in every way possible, and so she first started showing an interest in using the toilet or potty at about 18 months. It would obviously have been perverse not to encourage her, and so I did.
We inherited a gargantuan pile of unused knickers from a friend who had bought them in preparation for potty-training her 2 year old, but whose child had also had other ideas, and had outgrown them by the time she eventually got there at 3. I rooted out the potty and the booster seat for the toilet and the step-stools, and prepared to sit back smugly as Sophia potty-trained herself. Ha ha.
She was stop-start for months – firstly demanding to wear knickers, and then regressing totally and utterly refusing anything other than a ‘lup (Sophia-speak for a pull-up nappy). Then back in the summer I made a terrible strategic error. She had been fairly confidently using the potty 80% of the time for several weeks. Then we travelled to Anglesey. Reader, I was cowardly. I simply could not face a long solo train journey, with two children, a pile of luggage, and buggy, when one of those children might either demand to use the potty or wet herself at any moment. She wore a ‘lup.
And when we arrived at our holiday home, to be greeted by pages of instructions on how we must avoid so much as a grain of sand soiling the plush purity of the light-coloured carpets, I quailed. Sophia had taken against the potty we took with us, and with a vision of spending my holiday on hands and knees scrubbing carpets, or being presented with a mammoth bill on leaving, I gave in to the lure of a week in ‘lups. Only, of course, it wasn’t a week. By the time we got home, Sophia had decided life was much easier when playtime wasn’t interrupted by mummy nagging you to use a potty and that ‘lups were definitely the thinking baby’s solution.
We were away a lot in the summer, then she was a bit unsettled by her preschool’s move to a new building, then she wasn’t very well, then I wasn’t very well…suddenly a week had become weeks had become months.
And then on Saturday she suddenly announced again that she wanted to wear knickers. I know I need to be consistent this time, but I desperately need an infusion of saintly patience. On Monday she decided she needed the potty just as we were leaving to take her sister to school. Luckily husband was still at home, so I screeched at him to take Anna while I looked after Sophia. I’ve tried to learn from this, and encouraged her to try on the potty earlier in the morning routine. Which is fine, except that this morning she sat there for 20 minutes, claiming she needed a poo. Until we reached the moment where we had to leave or be late. Husband this time was over 100 miles away in Nottingham. I had to physically remove Sophia from the potty, screaming and kicking. Anna was crying because she was worried she’d be late (and, probably, because I had totally lost it and was shouting at both of them). It was an even more than usually stressful start to the morning, and I’m still battling the guilt.
I should probably issue a dual apology for this blog post. Firstly to my readers – I do realise that this is probably 1,000 words more than you wanted to read about my children’s toilet habits. It has been very therapeutic to write though, so if you have borne with me this long, thank you. And I promise I’ll write about something else next time. Secondly, to my children. I am very sorry indeed that there is content forever immortalised somewhere in Internet Land about your bowel movements before you were old enough to know better. One day you might have children of your own, and then maybe you’ll understand.