Potty Talk

Today we met a good friend of mine in the park. I met her soon after we moved to Stamford, when we were both pregnant with our first child. We hit it off instantly, and although we don’t spend a lot of time together, we seem to have the kind of relationship where we can go for months without seeing each other and still feel close. She was one of the most supportive moms around after Jo Jo’s birth. We had just started to catch up when her daughter—who is two months younger than Jo Jo—began tugging at her arm. “Mommy, mommy,” she said. “I have to go potty.”

My friend looked at me and rolled her eyes. “She says she has to go every five minutes now,” she laughed. “She doesn’t really have to—I think she does it for attention. It’s getting very annoying.”

I didn’t say anything. Jo Jo is light years away from being potty trained. She’ll usually pee when she’s placed on her potty, but she’s never told me when she actually has the urge. It may be that she hasn’t quite cognitively grasped the concept of toilet training. Or it may be that because of her low muscle tone, it’s harder for her to feel the sensation of when she has to go. Or it may just be that in typical Jo Jo fashion she doesn’t want to do things like pee in the potty unless it’s convenient for her.

Or it could be a combo of all three. I don’t really know.

I’ve developed a thick enough skin now that it usually doesn’t bother me when I see other little kids Jo Jo’s age doing things she can’t. I don’t compare Johanna to her typical peers anymore—I realize she has her own milestones. But today, watching my friend lead her daughter to the bathroom, I was reminded once again that the chasm between Jo Jo and children her own age was gradually widening.

When we got home, after lunch, Jo Jo dutifully sat on her princess potty while we read two Madeline books, but nothing happened. I changed her diaper and put her in her room for “quiet time.” When I checked on her an hour later, her diaper was still dry, so I put her back on. After a few minutes, she started gritting her teeth and grumbling to herself. I figured she’d had enough, so I took her arms to try to lift her up.

"No!” she yelled, and sat back down and began complaining again.

“Jo Jo what’s wrong?” I asked, not really expecting a response.

She looked at me plaintively. “No pee-pee,” she said, drawing out the syllables. “No pee pee potty.”

She seemed very upset by this and then I realized: she knew she was supposed to pee but she didn’t have to go, and she was frustrated.

“It’s okay Jo Jo,” I said in my most reassuring Mommy tone. “We can try again later.”

I started to put her diaper on but hesitated. Why not put her in underwear? I thought. Maybe she was really ready, maybe she did grasp the whole toilet training concept, and maybe if I did put her in underwear she would hold it—or let me know—when she had to go rather than just pee in her diaper.

I got out her favorite pair of underwear—pink panties with Minnie mouse on them—and put them on. She looked at me strangely and then rubbed her behind. Aha! I thought smugly. She knows the difference.

A half hour later, I put her on her Elmo potty downstairs and she peed immediately. I felt vindicated. Another half hour went by and then Jamie came home from a weekend business trip in California.

“Jo Jo’s in big girl underwear!” I said triumphantly.

He looked confused. “What?”

“We’re trying out the no diaper thing,” I said. “It’s an experiment.”

He stared at me. “She is so not ready for that yet,” he said.

“We don’t know,” I said. “We don’t know what she’s truly capable of unless we really, really push her. Besides, I’m putting her on the potty every half hour.”

We both turned and watched Johanna, who was lounging on the couch in our family room, reading Green Eggs and Ham to herself.

“Okay,” Jamie said finally. “I agree. Let’s try. But if she’s really not going to wear a diaper can you keep her off the leather Ralph Lauren couch? Please?”

A few minutes later we sat down on our deck for a family dinner. I thought about bringing her back to the potty but she’d peed 45 minutes ago and was already outside. Besides, I thought, it’s a test. Either she’ll tell me she has to go, or she’ll pee on herself and be so uncomfortable sitting in it she’ll think twice about doing it again.

I went back inside to cut up more grapes, and when I came out, I saw a widening dark wet spot on Johanna’s purple cotton shorts. If she was bothered by it she certainly wasn’t showing it; she was devouring her pizza with gusto.

“Oh no, Johanna!” I groaned. “You peed!”

I tried to grab her arm to bring her inside to change, but she shook me off. “No!” she yelled, and continued shoving food into her mouth.

Jamie rolled his eyes. “I told you,” he said. “Try again in six months.”

The Great Experiment had clearly failed.

I silently went inside to get a fresh diaper and a clean pair of shorts. As I walked up the stairs, I wondered if she’d be potty trained by next summer, in time to join all her other little friends at camp. I wondered if Teddy would be trained before her, and if so, how I’d feel about it. And I remembered my friend that morning, jokingly complaining about her daughter always announcing she had to go to the bathroom.

I knew she hadn’t meant anything by the comment. It’s one of those things typical moms say when they have a typical kid.

But at that moment, I would have given anything for that problem.