Sunday, October 09, 2005


book Okay, this is something I've hardly ever told anyone. My mother toilet trained me when I was nine months old. That's right. I wasn't walking. I wasn't talking. But when my mother sat my little bum on the toilet and gently told me what to do, I did it.

I quickly learned that my title as the wunderkind of potty training was one best kept under wraps. For one thing, most people didn't believe me. Not possible, I was told. Babies don't have the muscle control, the more scientific minded added. And if the people I was talking to happened to be parents, they had a story about their three year old's struggle with the process to convincingly debunk my tale.

"Are you sure?" I asked my mother skeptically on several occasions.

She never wavered. "You were nine months old."

If, for some reason, I was believed, the result was even worse. So that was my problem. Hadn't my mother read Dr. Spock? they'd say, looking at me suspiciously, sensing that I was probably even more screwed up than they thought.

Well, uh, yeah of course, but she was more focused on the bit about what to do when your child gets into the strychnine or the symptoms of spinal meningitis. (We tend to be worriers in our family.) She must have skipped the chapter on toilet training.

I, of course, read it avidly, and what I learned was that potty training before the child was absolutely ready led to major psychological damage. A lifetime of "issues".

Being about 18 at the time, (the prime age for parental persecution) I experienced an Aha! moment right there on the spot. I thumped the book down in a kind of triumph. So it was all her fault. I knew it! I just knew it.

Now, for the most part, mothers are much more satisfying guilt absorbers than fathers. At least that was my experience. "Is that the kind of crap they're teaching you in college?" My father would say when I tried to toss a little guilt his way. Then he'd shake his head and tell me to go mow the lawn or something. Not the reaction I was looking for.

We mothers on the other hand are natural blame magnets. That's why we sit around poring over Dr. Spock and every other self-proclaimed expert like we're studying for an exam. From the start we know that if anything goes wrong, it's gonna be all our fault. And we're going to hear about it.

In the matter of my precocious toilet training, however, my mother refused to feel even a twinge of remorse. In fact, she was downright cavalier about the trauma she'd inflicted on me before I was even a year of age.

"You would cry and when I picked you up, you'd look at me in a certain way. Somehow I knew what you wanted," she said smiling in a manner I found infuriating. Was she actually proud of what she'd done?

Well, you could be assured, I wouldn't make the same mistake with my children. They could lounge around in Pampers (which my oldest two wore) or cloth diapers (which I, in my more environmentally aware years, spent hours washing and line drying for my youngest two) till they were five if they wanted to. Of course, once they the school age,we'd have to worry about new traumas. New accusations that might come later.

"Mom, you sent me to kindergarten in diapers!" I could hear it now.

Fortunately, despite my encouragement to take their time, and not to even look at that nasty old potty till it felt right, my kids were all toilet trained before they turned three--with a little help from, ahem, my mother.

"Let me take him to my house for a week," she said when my oldest son was about two and a half. When he came back, the mess and fuss and expense Pampers were history. Of course, I worried that she pushed him, but he, too seemed pretty damned proud of himself.

"Look! I've got Spiderman underroos!" were his first words on entering the house.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read the New York Times this morning, and learned that the experts had changed their mind on the whole subject. Seems that babies not only CAN be toilet trained before their first birthday, in much of the world they are. And what's more, it's now being touted as a good and healthy thing. According to this new research, early toilet training attunes the mother to her child's signals and feelings, and teaches the infant to communicate more deeply with her mother.

I put the newspaper aside feeling abashed. Should I call my mother and apologize for blaming her for my "issues"? Nah. She'd never felt guilty anyway, and once I became the recipient of the adolescent blame game myself, I pretty much gave it up. Besides, I was too busy defending myself: "Hey, I'm human. I did my best. I'm not perfect, you know!" The lines sounded hauntingly familiar.

So no, I felt no need to immediately call my mother and tell her she was right all along. Who knows? Maybe even our lifelong close bond had begun with her early intuition of my toilet needs. But no, I'm not buying that one either. Eventually, I will probably show my mother the article and give her the chance to say, "See, I told you!" She deserves at least that.

But first, I had another priority...I had to get rid of that paper before any of my kids found it, and figured out I had screwed up yet again. Damn!


rdl said...

Patry, that is so funny! My mother-in-law also claims she did the same with her brood. But she also tells how she spent alot of time in the bathroom waiting for something to happen.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, I was a potty-training success myself at an early age, though, not a maverick like you...

When it came to my children, I, too, read all the books and proceeded along, hoping to dodge that boomerang of guilt/blame I probably launched with my first look at my first newborn!

My first lived in Pampers and those Pull-Ons ... and it seemed like he was content to go on forever this way. Years went by, that's for sure, before the toilet became a viable alternative for him.

With my second one, I went the cloth diaper route, like you did ... and, -- this is just a theory -- the cloth diapers were probably enough of a sensory feedback (unlike the paper ones that always seemed to stay dry on the inside, or skin-side) to help spur on the process of potty training.

On the other hand -- and apart from diapers and Dr. Spock and the whole deal -- there was also the personality question: my younger one can be a perfectionist at times, which drives him to master things with all his might, then abandon them just as fast ...well, at least, this one stuck!

Patry Francis said...

r: I think the time spent hanging out in the bathroom waiting for something to happen would be well worth it, long as I had some good music playing, a cup of coffee and my own happy daydreams to keep me occupied.

Maria: That's interesting what you say about Pampers being something of a deterrent to toilet training with the famour absorption. I had the same experience. My cloth diaper kids learned faster. I think there's some kind of unknown, but constantly-being-proven law that says that's what's bad for the environment is never really all that good for humans either. No matter how "convenient" it might seem.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Great post, Patry, and very timely, as we are currently in the throes of potty-training our youngest. Despite being perfectly capable of going on the potty (for many months now), she simply isn't interested. Cloth training pants with a plastic outer shell seem to be helping, as it is obviously not too cozy when wet or dirty. I just wish I could speed things up a bit more -- any chance I could send her over to your mom's house? ; )

Patry Francis said...

Sharon: One of my kids was the same way. He knew what to do, but dug in his heels and decided he'd rather not, thank you very much. I'm so glad I'm on the other side--reading articles and philosophizing about it, rather than deep in the trenches struggling with the ferocious will of a toddler.

Good luck!

Vickie said...

Well, Patry, obviously you didn't lose your shining moments at 9 months old. You're still a maverick. Great story.

Jean said...

Omigod, Patry, me too, by nine months, or so my mother always proundly said! I'm not sure I'm prepared to give up the lifelong grudge I've borne her for this, but I guess I'll have to look into the research you mention. :-)

Anonymous said...

I wish I'd known your Mother, perhaps my boys would have gotten the idea much sooner :o)

gulnaz said...

that was soo cute! lol. you are right, we throw such blames at mums and they do get affected by it most of the time. :) these scientists are crazy actually!

housecleaning by moonlight- wow, that sounds like a book i must read! you are right, it would be so much easier, if we accepted the premise that life is difficult....with just three words we will be rid of a three tons of heartache.

qarrtsiluni- what a lovely word....have visited that blog and i'll be adding to my faves...really liked it and those maples are gorgeous!

true story- a beautiful and warm story...alzheimers is such a terrible disease!! i like the soft, slightly humourous way you have written it and the ending is heartwarming.

Matt said...

Sometimes I wonder what's scarier -- worrying about how much we're screwing our kids up, or accepting what little control we have over whether they'll be screwed up or not.

Patry Francis said...

Scot! Thanks for returning and of course, for your comment.

Vickie: I hope that wasn't my crowning achievement, but some days, I"m not so sure. Thanks!

Jean! Maybe we should get together and compare our psychological profiles. I'm not totally ready to let these mothers off the hook.

easy! hmmm...maybe my mom could find a new career in her retirement. Travelling potty expert. (And I would be her P.R. person, of course.)

gulnaz! thank you so much for all the reading you did here--and for all your insightful comments. I esp.
like your idea about using "Housecleaning by Moonlight" as a book title.

Matt: One thing I know for sure: there's always something to be scared and worried about once you're a parent. Thanks for coming by. It's always an honor to have the "world's greatest writer" in the house.

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