Nature Calls: Lessons of the Loo

The East Village Mamele

By Marjorie Ingall

Published May 18, 2007, issue of May 18, 2007.
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I believe I last wrote about poop back in July. So it’s high time to talk about it again. (Just be thankful my children are aging out of the Effluvium Years. Honestly, I have no idea what I’ll write about anymore.)

When we last discussed toilet training, 21-month-old Maxine was quaking in terror of a poop she’d accidentally made on the floor. She thought it was a frog. From this, I deduced that she was not quite ready for toilet training.

At 30 months, she still didn’t seem particularly interested. I’d occasionally ask if she wanted to try sitting on her potty, but she always answered brightly, “I’ll do it on Sunday!” Most of her little friends became potty veterans while she continued blithely on her Huggies-clad way. But I was unconcerned. (The nice thing about having more than one kid is that you stop sweating the small stuff. If Max wants to wear a Dora the Explorer pull-up under the chuppah, she can be my guest.)

But a few weeks ago, Max announced, apropos of nothing, “I want to wear big-girl panties like Josie.” I put her in an old pair her sister had long outgrown. (I’d designed them myself. Josie had wanted Minnie Mouse panties; we couldn’t find any; I illegally downloaded pictures of Minnie from the Web — sorry, Great and Powerful Disney Empire, please don’t lock me up in Intellectual Property Dissing Prison, because then who will empty Maxine’s potty? I printed my ill-gotten graphics gains out on iron-on heat transfer paper, carefully cut them out with an X-acto knife and ironed them onto pairs of K-Mart panties. Would I go to these lengths for my second child? I would not. Because I love her less.) (I kid! I would not go to these lengths because there’s still half a giant box of Costco diapers in the bathroom closet, and they weren’t free, you know.)

On Day 1 of Operation Evacuation, Max wanted to wear panties, but did not want to sit on the potty. (Josie, more fashion-oriented than Maxine, almost immediately understood that if she didn’t pee in the potty, her beauteous Dora panties would get wet.) Bribery quickly solved Maxine’s problem: I offered her three M&Ms if she’d pull down her pants and pull up a seat. (Better mothers use sugar-free, fat-free motivational tools like stickers, puzzles and hugs, but they can bite me.) Maxine loved getting to dig through the bowl to find the blue M&Ms, her favorite color. (Woe betide anyone who simply tried to hand her three blue M&Ms.) Once she was sufficiently incentivized, to use the horrific non-English of marketers and consultants, we quickly dialed it down to one M&M for a well-aimed pee, two for a pottied poop.

To my shock, the biggest difference between potty training Josie and potty training Maxine was…Josie. Josie did most of the work in training her sister. When Max yelled, “I need to pee!” Josie shot into action. She grabbed Max’s hand and they ran to the potty. She pulled down Max’s pants, got her settled, read her book after book while they waited for action. Josie celebrated every success, jumping up and down and cheering. She even emptied and washed out the potty. She loved reporting to Grandma and Bubbe on Max’s progress. Part of her incentivization (kill me) came from the fact that she got an M&M every time Max produced, but that was a minor joy. The big deal was feeling important, feeling like a guide to the grownup world. In fact, she had a hard time coping with the knowledge that Maxine could use the potty without her. Like a urinary Kubler-Ross, she cycled through denial, bargaining (“if Max makes a poop and two pees while I’m in school, can I have four M&Ms when I come home?” which meant that at least she was practicing arithmetic) and acceptance.

For the first couple of weeks, we batted about .700. When we left the house, I brought our little folding travel potty and a change of clothes. The only terrifying moment came in a skanky Toys R Us in Brooklyn, where we went to get Josie her first big-girl bike. I’d left the potty in the car, because whoever heard of a toy store without a bathroom? Toys R Us in Brooklyn, apparently. When nature’s call came, it necessitated a mad race back out of the store, with its narrow, slow, shoplifter-discouraging escalators and funnel-type guarded exits, through the Fulton Mall, hurling ourselves down broken escalators and around corners to a filthy bathroom while screaming, “Bathroom! Bathroom! NOW!” to every sleepy security guard and sullen milling teen. We made it. Max peed in the foul bathroom. As we made our way back to the toy store (where Daddy, who occasionally reverts to being 13, was waiting in line for a Nintendo Wii), the pretzel vendor who’d given us directions asked eagerly, “Did she make it?” Upon being told she had, he hollered, “Yay!” and gave both girls a little Dum Dum lollipop. It was a Moment.

Maxine’s potty-to-panty average kept improving. She began offering me M&Ms every time she used the bathroom. “You love when I pee in my big-girl potty!” she crowed to me. I got cocky. At this point, I should really know better. Anything you’re self-congratulatory about as a parent generally turns around to bite you: The talented baby who learns to sit up early, then doesn’t walk until he’s 15 months old; the 6-year-old who can pontificate beautifully on the week’s parsha but picks his nose like a banshee and eats paste. But I never learn. I laughed at an item on the Web about a little British boy who got a potty-training seat stuck on his head and had to be taken to the local fire department to have his head lubricated and professionally de-pottied. I forwarded the item merrily hither and yon. A week later we went to a birthday party at a YWCA in New Jersey, where in all the excitement Maxine pooped spectacularly in her panties, probably while I was bragging about how great she was doing with potty training. I brought my now-fragrant child to the kiddie bathroom. While I was rinsing out the vile panties in the toilet (I know, gross, but I didn’t want to use their sink!), I heard a shriek and turned around and saw Maxine with the little removable padded Big Bird potty seat stuck solidly on her head. She lurched around like Peter Boyle in “Young Frankenstein” for a while, screaming, until Jonathan forcibly yanked the thing off. We dabbed antibacterial ointment on the abrasions on her ear and forehead.

Presumably there will be more misadventures along the road to complete bathroom reliability. And there will be setbacks and disappointments, as well as triumphs, in Max’s life in general. That’s the straight poop. Welcome to parenthood.

Write to Marjorie at

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