This is a proud time in my household. We are walking around with more spring in our step and our heads held just a little bit higher because, after six months of trying, our three-year-old is potty-trained. I say this with confidence because he has been going Number One and Number Two by himself on the toilet for more than a month now. Oh sure, we still outfit him in pull-ups for bedtime and naps but, really, that’s just a precautionary measure as much as anything. And, yes, we still have the Diaper Genie, but that’s mostly because I have a hard time parting with something that has been such a fixture in my life for the past three years. I’m sure I’ll get past that eventually.
So our son is potty-trained. And, yet, maybe because we are older parents who are slow to adjust to change, my wife and I still ask him the same question at least a dozen times a day: “Do you need to go potty?” We ask this when he wakes up in the morning, after he eats a meal, and when it’s been more than an hour since the last bathroom visit and he seems particularly engrossed in an activity. It’s a question we have been asking for so long, through months of on-again, off-again training, through interminable weekends with potty chart stickers and soiled underwear and crying fits (some of them mine), it is now engrained in our daily routine.
“Do you need to go potty?” one of us asks as soon as we get home from daycare.
Our child responds with the weary look of someone dealing with an elderly relative who has lost all short-term memory and keeps telling the same story over and over.
“I just went potty,” he says.
“All right. Well, just checking.”
“Ooookay,” he says, and heads off to the important task of jumping off the downstairs sofa.
Is this what parenthood is about, parroting the same mundane questions over and over, long after they have lost all relevance and meaning to our offspring? Several years ago, when I was a reporter for The Kansas City Star, I did a telephone interview with a University of Kansas basketball player named Greg Ostertag. It was the typical jock interview, filled with awkward pauses and monosyllabic answers. I can’t even remember what the story was about. What I do recall, however, was that our conversation was punctuated with Ostertag occasionally blurting the words, “Ya poopin’?”
I let it slide the first couple of times he said it. Ostertag was a big, country-boy center who had led the Jayhawks to a Final Four and was also known for an off-the-court incident in which he somehow managed to roll a car over his own foot. An intellectual heavyweight, Ostertag was not. So maybe he was uttering some kind of hillbilly expression with which I was unfamiliar. Maybe he was even making fun of me.
Finally, after the fourth or fifth, “Ya poopin’?” I had to ask what was up. Ostertag laughed and explained that he was in the bathroom, urging his toddler to use the toilet. Then I heard a flush and an excited whoop from the Kansas center. I guessed the kid had finished pooping.
At the time, I found it annoying that someone would conduct an interview with a major daily newspaper reporter while taking a child to the bathroom. Now, 20 years later, I get it. Potty-training, when it’s happening, can take over your parental life. It becomes an obsession that can quickly spiral into purchases of books, toys, stuffed animals and miniature toilets, all in the hope of someday getting your kid to use the bathroom on his or her own.
The good news is, once they learn, you can check that one off your list. Some days, a warm smile will wash over my face as I realize that I may never have to change a dirty diaper again. Still, the question persists:
“Do you need to go potty?”
“No, Daddy. I just did.”
If toddlers could roll their eyes, I’m sure he would.