Thursday, February 21, 2008

Parties and poop don't mix.

For most of my life, I have been the kind of girl who loves a good party. If you're like some of my readers, you may think "party" means two or three pimply-faced social outcasts sipping root beer while watching Interview With A Vampire and eating mom's fresh-baked cookies, but hopefully not all of you are as socially awkward and universally disliked as that. Among my friends, parties used to involve lots of cheap (or possibly stolen) alcohol, mean-spirited laughter and the occasional harmless felony. Ah, the good old days. My liver and I sometimes sit and reminisce about those times, before a coughing fit causes me to pass out in a pool of bloody phlegm.

It's strange how things change. The most recent party I attended was just a week or so ago, and it was a Potty Party. Easy there, hippie, I didn't say "Pot Party," I said "Potty Party." And no, I'm not part of some underworld creep club that hosts golden showers in dingy tavern basements. It was my last-ditch effort at potty-training my son, Jake.

I don't know much about parenting--any of the Child Protective Service workers who have visited my house will vouch for that. But I really didn't think potty training would be a big deal. I assumed all children eventually reach an age where a few well-placed bribes are enough to entice them to pee in the appropriate location, and an exuberant display of praise and a few rewards would be enough to encourage them to keep it up. I even assumed that all children eventually reach an age where they dislike the feeling of a wet diaper or underwear enough that it creates a deterrent. Either I was naively wrong, or Jake is just especially lazy and slovenly.

I first tried to potty train him when he was two years old. Right from the start, he would cheerfully pee on command, and had no complaints about sitting on the potty reading books as long or as often as I asked. He was highly motivated by the stickers I gave him as a reward, and was proud of his successes. But he was still likely to pee himself at any time, even shortly after going on the potty. I offered bribes and praised him enthusiastically when it was warranted--but still, he'd pee in his Pull-Ups. So I tried putting him in underwear, making a big deal out of the fact that he was wearing "big boy" underwear and being sure to supply him with the ones he'd most be interested in--Spongebob, Thomas the Train, etc. Alas, he would still pee himself and blithely continue playing in his urine-soaked Elmo undies. Then I tried letting him run around naked--and the limitless fountain of toddler pee continued on unabated. I'd find him playing with Leggos as he sat in a spongy puddle on the carpet in his room. The little grimy little rat didn't even have the good sense to scoot over to a dry spot.

Why couldn't it be as easy to potty train a child as it is to housebreak a puppy? Wasn't my kid smarter than a Cocker Spaniel? Discouraged, I eventually decided to put the whole thing on hold--not even mention potty training again for several months, and then try again.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks ago; with Jake about to turn 3, it suddenly felt like I had let too much time go by. Not only is three a bit old for a kid to be running around in diapers, but in addition, Jake looks older than he is. He regularly gets mistaken for a 5-year old, which makes it even more embarrassing when we're at the grocery store and he sternly orders me to change his diaper. So I bought a book called Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day. One day! This seemed too good to be true.

And it was. While the "just one day" concept conveys a sense of simplicity and ease, the whole ordeal was a big pain in the ass. Turns out I had to throw an elaborate party for the urine-soaked little ingrate, and spent nearly as much time purchasing the supplies and putting the whole affair together as I spent raising him to potty-training age. On top of that, I had to do a long list of things so silly and ridiculous that I began to wonder if I was part of an elaborate Punk'd-style prank, and I began looking around for hidden cameras.

The party was to involve only two people--just me and Jake. My six-month old daughter and husband were banished from the house that day, as the book instructed. The first half of party day was to revolve around Jake and I potty-training a stuffed animal together; the second half of the day was to be all about me potty training Jake. The stuffed animal I chose was a bear, which we named Fred. Fred had, as the book dictated, about 9 pee accidents during the course of the morning, and 3 poop accidents. Upon "discovery" of each accident, I had to exclaim, "Oh no! Fred had an accident!" and the three of had to hustle to the bathroom to clean him up, make him sit on the potty, and then scold him gently, "No more peeing/pooping in our underwear." When did my life take a turn for the ridiculous? Yet I was determined to do exactly what the book instructed, in the hopes that one day of full-throttle ridiculousness might pay off in potty-training success, and I could get on with my life. Hence, the stuffed bear did a lot of peeing and pooping.

How can a stuffed bear pee and poop, you ask? How, indeed.

I had outfitted the bear in makeshift underwear I had fashioned myself from some Mickey Mouse fabric I bought at a fabric store. (I never thought I'd catch myself saying a sentence like that.) Making him pee himself was no problem--I just dipped his butt in some water when Jake wasn't looking. Making him poop was trickier--I had to scoop some baby food prunes into his undies. Wouldn't baby food prunes stick to his fur, you ask? Yes, if not for the fact that I had wrapped his furry booty in Saran Wrap before putting his underwear on him. When the bear was sitting on the potty chair in the bathroom, I was able to make him pee by using a discreetly hidden medicine syringe of lemonade, which I shot into the potty chair the bear was sitting on, while Jake was looking the other way. Similarly, I made the bear poop by scooping some baby food prunes into the potty chair beneath the bear while Jake was distracted. Then I'd "discover" the pee or poop in the potty and cheer excitedly at the bear's success. I'm fairly certain Jake was silently mocking me all morning, indulgently humoring me in the same way he probably will 40 or 50 years from now when he visits me in the nursing home and I hysterically insist that the nurses are cannibals who are planning to skin me and eat me. But because he's a good kid, he went along with the charade and pretended that the stupid bear was crapping himself. As the morning went along, the bear gradually got the hang of things, and was able to stay dry for longer periods of time, for which we celebrated and rewarded the bear with a treat from the snack tray I had made up...which Jake then ate, because, you know. Stuffed bears can't eat Cheetohs or M&M's.

During the first part of the day, Jake wore diapers like usual, and no mention was made of him using the potty--just the bear. At lunchtime it was agreed that the bear had graduated from diapers and was now officially a "big boy." Then Jake went down for his nap, and I beat my head against a wall for two hours in an effort to knock all traces of the morning's stupidity out of it.

When Jake awoke from his nap, I shifted into second gear. I informed him that he was no longer going to wear diapers, and I presented him with a big bag of underwear with various cartoon characters on them. He chose Thomas The Train first, and soberly informed me, before I had a chance to mention it myself, that he didn't want to "pee on Thomas." Good deal. This was going to be easy.

The book had instructed me to offer him lots and lots to drink--every 5 to 10 minutes. It also said something along the lines of, "Don't even think you can get away with offering milk and the usual boring drinks," but suggested instead offering fun and interesting drinks to encourage more drinking, since you want the kid to pee a lot. Jake never gets Juice Boxes, so I had bought some of those. He downed three of them in no time flat, plus two sippy cups of 2/3 juice, 1/3 water, as opposed to his usual ho-hum mix of 1/3 juice, 2/3 water.

What I wish the book had mentioned, or that I'd been smart enough to realize, is that LARGE QUANTITIES OF JUICE CAN GIVE A TODDLER DIARRHEA. Hindsight is 20/20, and I saw far too much of the kid's hindquarters that day. It took a lot of expectant waiting for the juice to run through his system, but when it finally hit the bladder, it was a pee fiesta. Pee here, pee there, none of it in the potty. I put him on the potty every 10 minutes as the book instructed, which sometimes netted us a little pee, sometimes not, but didn't seem to have any effect on reducing the amount of pee that soaked into my carpets and pooled on my tile floors. When the Party Diarrhea finally hit, the real fun began. Instead of his usual 2 bowel movements a day, he had about 6, none of which bore any resemblance to a solid matter. I spent a good portion of the last part of the day swabbing poop off my tile, my carpet, my child, my feet, my furniture, etc. I did not have the experience of seeing any of it actually in the toilet. A note about bathroom grout: If you are thinking of installing tile on your bathroom floor, and you plan to have children someday, consider the color of your grout. Scrub all you wish; turns out poop doesn't come out of grout all that easily.

By the end of the day, I had grimly decided the whole Potty Party was a huge failure, and that motherhood was clearly not for me. I had started a neat, organized pocket list of places I could abandon my children without being seen. Too tired from poop-swabbing to carry out the child abandonment plan that night, I decided to get some rest and start fresh the next day, so that I might be mentally sharp enough to stay one step ahead of the law after making the drop.

Strangely, the next day things just started to click. Jake, now diarrhea-free and not bursting at the seams with 47 liters of juice, started going to the potty on his own and reveling in his success. Skeptically, I tucked my Child Abandonment Checklist into a dresser drawer, ready to put the plan on hold and see how far Jake was willing to take this whole potty thing.

And he's been doing great ever since. He may never know how close he came to being left near the door to the Greyhound Bus Station men's room. Aside from one unfortunate incident in which he technically pooped on the potty, but accidentally delivered the payload onto the rim of the seat rather than in the bowl, and I didn't notice until I caught him trying to scoop it into the proper location with his hand, things have gone swimmingly.

Now I'm ready for a real party. I need to throw back some grain alcohol like Jake threw back those juice boxes, after which I plan to wake up face-down on the bathroom floor on my poop-colored grout. Anyone else in?