With potty training, desperation can be the father of invention.
My wife, MJ, and I ran into the usual parent challenges when trying to potty-train our son. At first Will, then 2, was confused, then afraid, and next defiant. At 2 1/2 he still loved that diaper, and the mere sight of a toilet sent him into a tantrum. The most frustrating part was that I knew he was ready. He would stay dry the entire night, wake up, and pee into his diaper while standing right in front of us, grinning. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that if Will was going to learn, it would be on his own terms.
MJ and I spent countless hours trying to make the bathroom more appealing. We brought Will's stuffed animals in there, let him flip through his books while sitting on the potty (good training for when he's older, like Dad), and even threw Cheerios in the bowl to give him a target. Nothing worked.
At last we got Will to stand on the stool, lift up the seat, pull his pants down, and loom over the toilet. But he still wouldn't go. "Dad, it's not working," he'd say in the cutest way imaginable.
At first I urged him to keep trying. No go. So I turned on the faucet, thinking the sound of running water would make him feel like peeing. But I forgot that he doesn't like noise, so this move merely upset him.
Finally I had a eureka moment. "Hey, Bud, how 'bout if Dad pees with you, and we race?" I said.
This clearly sparked Will's competitive spirit, because he brightened up and agreed to the challenge. I shifted his stool to the right so I could squeeze in next to him, and we prepared for our duel. I told him we'd fire on the count of three.
But my little cheater jumped the gun. I didn't even get to "two" before he let loose a stream into the toilet. Victory!
Will giggled and grinned with pride, and I silently awarded myself first place in the "Best Dad in the Universe" contest for solving the potty-training riddle. I smiled broadly at father and son sharing a moment, hitting a milestone (er, Cheerio), and having some genuine fun.
A little too much fun, as it turns out. Will became so excited and began laughing so hard that he started falling in mid-spritz. I was still peeing as well, so I did my best to keep him balanced, all the while making sure we hit the porcelain bull's-eye.
Will's left foot slipped off the stool. I was able to catch him somewhat with my hip and right hand, but not before he instinctively turned toward me. Yup, that's right -- he sprayed me. A good father would've taken the punishment. But I'm squeamish, so I jerked my body away from his shower. That caused my own pee to hit the wall and ricochet onto my poor son's back.
We both fell to the floor, shocked and disgusted. We were silent for a moment, until Will spoke.
"Dada?" he said quizzically.
"You peed on me."
"To be fair, you peed on me first."
The two of us started cracking up -- belly laughs, guffaws, cackling, you name it -- to such a degree that I would have peed myself right there if I hadn't just soaked my toddler. The racket attracted the attention of MJ, who came rushing over. When she turned the corner she stared at us: our soaked clothes, the yellow droplets slowly making their way down the wall.
I launched into an explanation. "Honey, you see, there was a pee race ..."
"I don't care," she interrupted, turning on her heels and walking away. "Just clean it up."
I did, and that day turned out to be a breakthrough. Will began using the toilet regularly (he asked me many times to race him again, but I never accepted) and was fully trained less than two months later. The bad news? He can't resist the urge to tell anyone and everyone about the time Dad peed on him.
Solve Potty-Training Problems
Copyright © 2014 Meredith Corporation.
Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Parents magazine.