From Bowser to Bam-Bam: Adventures of an Addled Potty Trainer
By: Sheana Ochoa
Potty training my toddler —whom my husband and I often refer to as Bam Bam —is no different from training my late dog, Chloe. They hem and haw, have accidents, and require loads of paper towels and consistency. I realized the similarities last weekend when my brother, who is rather fastidious, invited us over for lunch. It was a perfect afternoon with excellent food and a cool breeze on the patio. I went inside to retrieve something and when I returned, I discovered marble-sized turds all over the carpet next to the lunch table. My brother was shocked, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Needless to say, he isn’t having children; they don’t go with his immaculate home décor. The only difference between training an animal and a person is psychological, which can actually become a chasm of difference if your child is as stubborn as mine.
Once my dog Chloe knew the difference between going potty inside and going potty outside, I wasn’t forgiving of her disobedience. She knew better, but would sometimes deliberately pee or worse, poop, in the house. Once, we were having Christmas dinner at my sister’s house and she pooed inside, so I struck her on the rump. Yes, all you PETA-philes, I hit my dog. My sister exiled Chloe from her home, which made it very difficult every year on the holidays because we had to travel distances to be with the family and I didn’t travel without Chloe. We found solutions for temporary places for her to stay while I ate dinner, even if she had to stay in my car, but I was not happy about it. If you think I’m a horrible person for having hit my dog, it gets worse.
Because I planned my child, I had an entire year to study and prepare for motherhood even before conceiving, but none of the research, talking to experts, interviewing other moms helped me with the real-life decisions I have had to make intuitively. Having said that, I went through my pregnancy as the attachment-parenting poster mom. Corporeal punishment? Absolutely not! I just had to get on the floor to my child’s level and “acknowledge” his frustration, fear, or anger. Yeah, that worked out real well at giving him the vantage point of socking me in the nose or head, banging me in the brow as he flailed about in a tantrum. There was plenty of corporeal punishment his first two years: I was the one getting beaten up.
As Noah began talking, he gained even more confidence defying me. He could tell me what he wanted, and if I didn’t understand his pre-verbal mumbo jumbo, I’d be in trouble. “No!” he’d yell at me and repeat what he wanted which sounded like some sub-Saharan dialect. I’d guess wrong. “No, Mommy!” he’d scream as if I were an imbecile, swatting at me. So, it began with grabbing his hand and firmly saying, “Don’t hit Mommy.” No matter how hard I squeezed, this tactic didn’t work. Month after month he continued hitting me. One day, he hit me so hard, I paused so as not to be angry as the experts say. After a few seconds the sting of his blow passed, and I slapped his hand. He cried incredulously.
Fast-forward to potty training. Setting a timer and asking him every 20 minutes if he had to pee wasn’t working because he was still wearing a diaper. So I made the leap: I purchased a dozen underpants. At first he peed in his underwear, while sitting on his training toilet, but at least he was sitting on the toilet. Then I discovered, since he was a boy (and would be teased in preschool for peeing sitting down, I shouldn’t be training him to sit and pee. Why do they sell those damned training toilets then, especially when cleaning up number two is so impractical?
So I invested in a toilet seat that goes over the real toilet seat so he doesn’t fall in for number two and began training him to stand while peeing. At this juncture, Noah mastered taking off his underwear and although it took a couple weeks to get him to stand, he does so, but it’s uncomfortable. He hunches over, which doesn’t allow a steady flow into the bowl; the urine gets all over the floor. I tell him to stand up straight and when he sees how successful this is in not getting the floor wet, he begins to overcompensate by squeezing his penis as if it will make the stream flow straighter. He is trying his best to get the urine into the toilet – although that last trickle is impossible because the stream has been interrupted.
The other night, Daddy took him to pee and I could hear him saying, “Noah, don’t move around. Noah you’re getting pee everywhere.” And I knew Noah was playing with the stream of pee, moving it out of the bowl because he had tried that business on me a few times and I wasn’t having it. I had sternly told him to pee in the bowl. After I overheard that Noah had gone as far as to pee on my husband during these shenanigans, I waited till they were finished. Then I spanked him. Yes, I put my hand to his flesh and he didn’t even have his underwear on.
“You can’t spank me!” he cried.
I couldn’t believe it. I have raised him to have such an upper hand that he believes I can’t spank him when he intentionally pees on Daddy. That was eye-opening. “Yes I can. I’m in charge, not you,” I told him and something changed, a look in his eye akin to admiration. He wasn’t happy Mommy spanked him, but something shifted and we both knew it. I was in charge to protect him. I wish my son had the temperament of someone that I could discipline with a firm No! and consistency, but he doesn’t.
Allowing him to continue believing that he is in charge would be nothing less than negligent. I know I’ll get plenty of advice from non-corporeal punishment advocates after publishing this blog, but believe me, I have studied it all. I was sold on it myself from the No-Cry-Sleep-Solution to all of Dr. Sears’s books. It didn’t work with my child and there’s no one that knows my child like I do. In fact, it’s all I can do not to take him in my arms the minute those crocodile tears flow after I scold him, but I resist a couple of minutes until it sets in that I’m serious. Afterward, I cuddle him and explain that just because Mommy yelled or swatted his hand doesn’t mean I don’t love him. And his tears dry up even though my heart is still aching and the irrational part of my head is saying, “Please don’t stop loving me, I’m just doing it for your own good.”
But, as I learned during ten years’ of teaching other kids, my job isn’t to be a child’s friend; it is to instruct them so they can become respectful, well-adjusted, informed, compassionate human beings.
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