training days

The project of the summer: potty training The Button, who turned three-and-a-half in July. Yeah.

When her older sister The Pumpkin turned two, I went back to work outside the home for the first time since before she was born. The preschool we wanted to send her to required students to be potty trained, so we naively thought that we could do one of those “potty train your kid in a (poop- and urine-stained) weekend” things. A year of fits and starts (and a wonderful in-home daycare we miraculously found a block from our house) later, we came home from her third birthday party at her grandparents’ house, got her ready for bed, and she refused to change into a pull-up. “Ohhhh-kay,” we said, anticipating the worst. But that, basically, was that. After a year of noncommittal tries and lots and lots of sitting by her side in the bathroom waiting for nothing to happen, she basically potty-trained herself. It was like she said to herself, “Okay, I’m three now, that’s it.”

At least, that’s how I remember it. I have no idea how close a resemblance to what actually happened that version of events bears. But anyway…

So last December, with The Button’s third birthday just around the corner, I ignored the “you’re not supposed to compare your children and their development, they’re their own individual people” voice in my head and made myself freak out a bit. Well, just enough to decide to spend one day of The Pumpkin’s winter break sequestered in-doors with The Button sans diapers, but not enough to not give up after that one day of multiple laundry loads and lots of rug spot-cleaning. In the intervening months, we’d try to get her interested in the potty, try to get her to sit on it, try to read potty books and watch potty apps and use candy bribery methods, try to get her to be inspired by wearing pull-ups instead of regular diapers (yeah, right!). But it was all so half-hearted. Because really, I was scared. Scared of change, scared of what I didn’t know. Because in my head, the story of The Pumpkin’s potty training was that she did it herself. And in my head, the biggest difference (besides, of course, innate personality and all that junk, but we can’t take that into account when we’re being self-pitying) was me. I went back to work and The Pumpkin went to daycare when she turned two. The Button has had a whole year-and-a-half more at home with daddy, and I’m afraid that I baby her—and she looks younger than her age, as it is. And so, for the last six months, I’d meet the dreaded “How’s the potty training going?” with a quick shake of the head and answer “Is she going to preschool yet?” with “Well, this fall, if….”

Then The Pumpkin’s school year ended the last week of May, and there was a dead week between that and the beginning of her summer activities. The start of preschool at the end of August loomed. So I stocked the kitchen counter with paper towels, rags, pet stain/odor remover, and Clorox wipes, bought a new multipack of toddler underpants, blocked off extraneous carpeted areas of the house, and told everyone we weren’t coming out of the house for a week. The Pumpkin drew up a daily potty chart and taped it to the bathroom wall next to the toilet. And for the next several days, we didn’t leave the house. I don’t even know how many loads of laundry I did. But over that first week, The Button learned to recognize the signs of imminent having-to-go and to signal such by exclaiming “I have to go!” accompanied by running to the bathroom. [I also created a rhyme to recite with her while quickly carrying her from living room to bathroom: “Hold it in your body/ Till you’re on the potty!” Genius, I know.] Over the next few weeks, the frequency of both successful trips to the potty and accidents recorded on the post-it wall chart each day declined until finally, by July, my dear wife decided that I didn’t need to record anymore and took down the chart [flashback to when I recorded The Pumpkin’s feeding amounts and nap duration as an infant and made photocopies of the chart in the back of the breastfeeding book to keep doing it long after the pages in the back of the book ran out]. [She’s also become a little bit addicted to my iPad and the PBS Kids streaming video app, which we’ve used as her incentive. But hey, it’s educational. Heh.]

Not looking forward to cleaning up accidents in Trader Joe’s or detaching the car seat straps in order to wash the cover, I was still hedging my bets on trips outside of the house by putting her in pull-ups. Actually, I was still doing that a week ago. I know, I know, lazy daddy. But an inexplicable regression after the Fourth of July freaked me out—for a few days, it was like that first week all over again, and I’m ashamed to say that The Button picked up the phrase “I don’t know what’s going on” from me during that time. I went from frustration to fear that preschool and its promise of a few hours alone a day were beyond my reach to guilt that I was making it all about me and not her. So I got over it, we retrained, and almost a month later, The Button is basically potty trained.

Accidents (knocking on my wooden desk as I type) are few and far between, though I know they’ll happen when she starts preschool. The portable travel potty we used when The Pumpkin was first trained is ready to go at all times in the back of my car, and my bag is crowded with paper towels, plastic bags, and extra clothes when we go out. Shopping at Target is a workout when you have to get from the far reaches of the store to the restroom—multiple times, of course, as the first three or four visits result in nothing but another “I have to go!” a mere five minutes after you’ve left the bathroom. And though her short little arms still can’t reach very easily, she’s getting a lot better at the whole wiping and pulling-up-her-own-pants thing.

She’s so proud of herself, she runs out of the bathroom (after flushing and washing her hands, of course) to announce to whoever is in the living room, “I peed in the potty!”

My baby is growing up.

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

About Jason Sperber

Jason Sperber is a stay-at-home-dad of 2 daughters, a writer, and a professional ice cream taster in Bakersfield, California. Once upon a time, he was an OG dadblogger at daddy in a strange land and co-founded Rice Daddies, the seminal group blog by Asian American dads. He is a co-founding writer of, and is the resident hapa Trekkie at, The Nerds Of Color. Follow him on Twitter at @dad_strangeland and on Instagram at @jasonsperber.
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6 Responses to training days

  1. Pedro says:

    I think that “announcement run” to the living room is standard. My daughter (who became potty capable a couple of months ago) still does it 🙂

  2. Great stuff buddy! Thanks for sharing! Nice to know I’m not alone…

  3. Lisa Wuertz says:

    We just had the same summer! Haha! 🙂

  4. superha says:

    I guess she really did hold it in the body until she reached the potty. Good job, daddy! 🙂

  5. I’m happy training is all in the past for you. But more importantly for me. I can’t recall it at all with my kids. I think I wisely blocked it out.

  6. Pingback: i think i’m alone now | daddy in a strange land

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