When the Clock Says Fourteen

A few weeks ago Beth asked June when she would start to use the potty. Her answer: “When the clock says fourteen.” As far as we can tell, that does seem to be her current plan.

We approached potty-training June with deep dread. She has not shown much interest and we probably would not have started yet if not for a looming early September deadline. She is supposed to be trained when she starts the 3s class at the Purple School. We’ve heard from another parent of a late trainer that the rule is not ruthlessly enforced, but I think we need to make a good faith effort, so a week and a half ago, we switched June over to underpants when she’s at home and awake. So far this is the score: eleven days, one success, and more loads of laundry than I care to count.

A little background–training Noah was a nightmare. Looking back on it we’re pretty sure his then undiagnosed sensory issues played a part. The summer he was three, several discouraging weeks into potty training, we urged him to “listen to his body” and he replied, “Sometimes it doesn’t talk. It needs a microphone.” It turned out to be an apt description of the problem. Even now a lot of the time he still doesn’t know when he needs to go. He has a schedule and that’s when he goes.

Meanwhile, he flummoxed his daycare teachers who ended up breaking their own policies by allowing him to move up from the younger preschool group to the older preschool group untrained. After six months of changing his wet and soiled underpants several times a day they gave up on him and put him back in diapers when he was three and a half. He was just barely trained when he started the Purple School at almost four and a half. He was still having frequent accidents, but we counted on the fact that he was only at school fifteen hours a week to minimize how many of them occurred there. It worked out pretty well. We still were peeling dirty underpants off him a couple times a week, but it only happened at school two or three times. We felt like we were pulling off some kind of ruse, passing him off as a potty-trained child. He was close to five before he was what I’d call functionally potty-trained.

Although it manifests itself differently in me, I think I have at least a touch of Noah’s sensory difficulties (I’m pretty sure it’s why I have never learned to drive) and I am almost certainly the genetic source of them. But we’ve been watching June for signs since she was a baby and she doesn’t seem to have them. She’s reasonably well co-ordinated for her age and other than a sensitivity to light (which I’ve heard can come with blue eyes) she doesn’t seem to respond to sensory data in an unusual way. So why is she the oldest untrained child in her class? Did we jinx her by unconsciously communicating our fears to her? When June was younger we used to say when she reached potty training age we’d find out if Noah was really hard to train or if we were really bad at it. We were joking (mostly) but right now it’s not seeming very funny.

One day last week, after an accident, I asked June what it feels like right before she pees. “I don’t know,” she responded in an annoyed tone. I asked if she ever had a funny feeling right here and I pressed lightly on her bladder. “I don’t know,” she repeated. Please not again, I thought.

Last week at Kindermusik, conversation turned to potty training. There’s a girl in the class, who just turned two, who is already trained. Someone else mentioned training her son shortly before his second birthday in a weekend. I will admit I had some uncharitable thoughts upon hearing this, but I congratulated the mother of the recently trained girl and shared our tale of woe. One mom asked if we were using rewards. I explained June was getting one M&M for every half hour she kept her underpants dry, three if she peed on the potty, and that each time she pees on the potty (or sleeps through the night) she gets a sticker on a chart. Four stickers are redeemable for a trip to the video store. “That’s a complicated system,” the mom said. That’s the problem, I immediately thought, it’s too complicated. We’ve confused her. Clearly, I am more than ready to second guess myself.

I don’t know what our next step is. June likes her underpants (especially the cheap, thin Elmo ones, which she prefers over the soft, absorbent, organic training pants I favor). I don’t think she wants to go back to diapers. The Velcro on her diaper covers is wearing out so they pop open at inconvenient times and scratch her legs. I know I don’t want to invest in a whole new set of covers now and I’m pretty sure the ones we have in the next size up would be too big. But one success in eleven days is pretty discouraging. Basically, we are using the training pants and underwear as diapers. June doesn’t like to sit on the potty, never volunteers to do so and has to be jollied or bribed into it. The one time she did pee there she was so alarmed she jumped up and started to cry. Not that she’s comfortable wetting her pants, either. That makes her cry, too.

Yesterday was my day off. I went out for coffee, read down by the creek and swam laps. Beth took June to Circle Time at the library, picked up Noah from his after school science class, made dinner (with banana splits for dessert!) and handled most of the underpants changes and potty sits. I’m hoping this break will let me go into today and the days that come with renewed patience. I will try, but I’m not sure my subconscious is getting the message. I dreamed last night I had to take June to a party where underpants were required and I kept changing her into outfit after outfit but each time I got her dressed, she would wet herself and I’d have to start over. For his part, Noah’s tying to create underpants excitement by calling out from his room which ones he’s chosen for the day each morning: “I’m wearing my star underpants because I’m a star!” he’ll say. Leave it to Noah to put a positive spin on the situation.

Still, I’d say we are all getting pretty impatient for fourteen o’clock.