For the love of potty training

By Anna Gracia

“Why?” I screamed. “Why would you do this? What is wrong with you?” Clutching my aching, pregnant belly, I grabbed the nearest towel and angrily began sopping up the pool of urine on the floor. It stank of asparagus.

I looked at my 20-month-old daughter as her eyes widened, her mouth slowly turned down. She began to wail.

“No! No! Nooo!!! You don’t get to cry! This is your fault!” I howled. “Just get out of here!” I pointed at the door, my face turned away from her.

I was raised by “tiger” parents in the spirit of Amy Chua herself. They subscribed to the 10,000-hour method and expected nothing less than perfection in every endeavor. I remember one day after a middle-school test, excitedly telling my mother I had scored a perfect 100%. She looked at me blankly and said, “What, no extra credit?” In my family, it wasn’t about the effort you put in, it was about the results you produced. Anything less than an A in school got you grounded. When my PSAT results showed my scores in the top 10th percentile, my parents shook their heads and told me how disappointed they were I didn’t try harder. We thought you were smarter than that, they said. They had expected me to be in the top 5th percentile so I could become a National Merit Scholar.

I hated my parents growing up.

And yet, when I gave birth to my daughter, I found myself gravitating toward similar authoritarian methods. I rarely held her for long periods; terrified I would “spoil” her. My number one goal for the entire first year of her life was to train her to sit quietly through a restaurant meal. I vowed, like many first-time parents, that my child would never be that one at the supermarket, having a meltdown in the candy aisle. Though it may have seemed counterintuitive to follow techniques I myself hated living through, I figured since I turned out to be successful and only semi-neurotic, surely my daughter could thrive under similar  circumstances. Besides, I could now laugh about some of my parents’ more creative attempts to instill discipline and purpose, like the time my dad assigned me a book report on The Chinese Machiavelli as an eleven-year-old. And when compared to the often overindulgent San Francisco parenting that now surrounded me, being a parent who produced obedient children didn’t seem so terrible.

So, with a mere two months until my due date, I decided that potty training was not only feasible, but an excellent idea. She’s capable of it, I kept telling myself. It’s just a matter of me being dedicated enough making sure she sits she on the toilet every 15 minutes. Her success hinged on my ability to replicate my parents’ unwavering commitment to anything they deemed important.

And for a full day, it worked beautifully. She sat; she peed; she clapped for herself time after time. She even initiated a few of the trips. Less than 24 hours in and I was already feeling triumphant that I had somehow passed on to my daughter the intrinsic sense of pride that comes with accomplishing a task simply because you were asked to do so.

Two days in, the first accident happened. Then the second. By the third time, I realized it wasn’t an accident. She was doing it on purpose. She sat on the toilet for ten minutes then smiled, telling me “all done.” Now two minutes later, she squatted over the floor with her naked butt, looked straight into my eyes and peed. When she saw the horrified look on my face, she laughed…and clapped.

I gave her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she was overwhelmed with all the new information and confused about when one should cheer for peeing. But then she did it again. And again. And again, until she was no longer peeing in the toilet at all, but peeing on the floor every single time. Each trip to the bathroom, she would wait until my back was turned or my arms were out of reach and slip off the toilet, squat six inches away from it, and let it loose on the floor. Occasionally, as an added insult, she would subsequently run around the house, leaving stinky, wet footprints in her wake.

She was capable of peeing in the toilet. I was sure of that. Yet here I was, after her latest show of rebellion, slumped over a pool of hot urine. My shoulders heaved up and down as I gasped for breath between sobs. I had one thought running through my head.

I hated her.

Crying is supposed to be cathartic. It releases emotions we can’t put names to and physically exhausts us to the point where we can’t think anymore. I wanted to reach that point. And so I cried. I cried because I hated her for doing this to me. I cried because I felt ashamed for hating her. I cried for screaming at her with such vehemence that she actually looked frightened. I cried because I wondered if she would grow up to hate me, like I hated my parents, for forcing her to do things. And I cried because well, she just wouldn’t pee in the fucking potty.

With my face buried in a (different) towel and my body all out of tears, I heard the patter of small feet padding towards me. Would my daughter be traumatized from my screaming? Would she be afraid of using the toilet now? My mind was ruminating the possibilities when I felt her little arms wrap around my shoulders. She held me like I had done to her a hundred times when she cried. When I uncovered my face, she smiled at me and kissed my cheek. “Mama sad,” she said, hugging me again. I hugged her back with the force of someone who might never see her child again, willing myself to remember that all children really want from their parents is to feel loved and supported, no matter their successes or defeats.

I exhaled slowly, stood up, and threw the towel that contained my tears and hatred atop the crumpled, wet towel that had already absorbed her failure and my disappointment. I grabbed her tiny hand and we walked out of the bathroom—and then I promptly put a diaper on her.

Anna Gracia is a writer living in San Francisco. She vacillates between initiating heated discussions on inequality in the world and making awkward jokes in uncomfortable situations. She blogs about movies and the occasional book at The Snarky Reviewer. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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