Potty Training or Teaching Patience

My younger sister was the first of my siblings to have a child, so when she began the potty teaching episode with her son, I was not particularly empathetic. "They say if you wait until kids are ready, it only takes one day," she offered, as if to explain why her 3-year-old was still in diapers.

I have to admit thinking that my sister was a bit lazy. I certainly didn’t want to give my child a complex by pushing her too soon, but changing diapers for more than three years seemed excessive. So, when my turn came, I decided to start earlier than my sister and take the gradual approach.

When my daughter, Alexandra, turned 1, we bought her a deluxe new potty seat, thinking she would have ample time to get used to the idea. Next month, we will celebrate her third birthday, and she has actually used the potty seat numerous times – as a drum, a pot in which to "cook her soup," a receptacle for her toys, and as a stool to reach the light switch.

Well-meaning friends say our daughter is giving all the signs of being ready. Unfortunately, Alexandra has been giving the same signs for more than a year. Early on, she developed a ritual of pooping only in her bedroom. I don’t know where this came from because neither my husband nor I remember saying or doing anything to make her feel ashamed.

My husband is convinced that with the newest sign, Alexandra is very, very close to being ready. For the past several weeks, she still goes into her room, but now she stands on top of a little table while doing her business. My husband says it is a good sign because she is trying to "distance herself further from the poop." Frankly, I am too tired to theorize anymore. Can’t I just attach her to the toilet with duct tape until she goes?

I’ve taken somewhat of a gamble and signed Alexandra up for preschool. After waiting in a long line in the cold predawn hours to enroll her, I am hoping she will "be ready" soon. Her preschool only admits children who are no longer in diapers, so I had to fudge a little on the application. I figured with several months to go she’ll be an old pro by her first day. But now I am starting to worry.

In an effort to reassure me, a colleague recalled how she became obsessed with worry when her daughter turned 3 and showed no signs of being ready. Once, when she and her husband were at a football game, she talked about it constantly and bothered him to the point of distraction. "What if she can’t go to school? What will her friends think? Will she ever have any friends? What if she never learns?"

Having heard more than enough, her husband stood up in the stands and gestured to the crowd. "Of the tens of thousands of people here from all walks of life," he stated very loudly and crisply, "every single adult uses the toilet. Why would our daughter be any different?" That was over 20 years ago and, of course, he was right.

However, knowing that my daughter will be able to use the toilet in college doesn’t make the teaching process any easier. I’ve tried peer pressure: "Your friend Samantha goes in the potty. Don’t you want to be a big girl like her?" My little smarty-pants is on to me. She just shakes her head and tells me she likes to be Mommy’s "little girl."

So, now I am on to bribes. Yesterday, I worked very hard to encourage Alex to sit on the big potty. I started by promising her "big girl Barney panties," and then added cupcakes and a special present. In fact, we are going to have a big party when "it" finally happens.

So with her sweatshirt on and diaper off, Alex sat on the big potty, and I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her. She appeared to be listening intently as I described all the fun we would have. Then, all of a sudden, she stood up on the toilet seat, one foot on each side, and with her arms held out like Superman, she shouted, "To infinity and beyond!"

What could I do? I laughed until I cried. But the whole time, I imagined myself as a gray-haired, tired, much older woman sitting in front of the toilet, pleading with my teen-age daughter: "OK, we’ve got the big girl Barney panties, the cupcakes, the special present, the pony, the trip to Disneyland, the red sports car …"