I’m practicing my breathing exercises. Inhale. Exhale. Try to count to five. This is to ensure that I won’t end up on the front page of the Annapolis Capital. Today is Day One of potty training.
“Wait until he’s ready,” experts advised me. I waited and waited until I realized everyone else in three-year-old David’s preschool class was wearing underwear—except for my son.
So this morning I pose the regular question. “Would you like to wear big boy underwear like Dad’s or diapers that babies wear?” I ask. Silly question. Never let a toddler dictate the course of your day, some would logically argue.
“Underwear like Dad,” my naked boy replies. I freeze. Uh oh. Right answer, bad timing. I have way too many things to do today to clean up umpteen messes and process the impending frustration. Of course I've read everything ever written about the process of potty training. But how does one actually do it?
“We have to go through it at some point,” my husband tells me as I give him a blank stare, not knowing what to do next.
“Easy for you to say,” I respond to the man of the house, who’s looking for a yellow tie to match his blue oxford shirt. “You get to eat a nice lunch with clients today while I get to clean up poop.”
“I’ll help this weekend,” he says reassuringly, but I¹m not easily consoled. The weekend is more than 52 hours away. It might not get here at all.
The first accident occurs as my kids and I scarf down three low-carb blueberry muffins on the edge of the City Dock in downtown Annapolis. A puddle expands around David, and I realize that he hasn’t spilled his milk. Approximately three seconds later, his monumental temper tantrum provides entertainment for a few Naval Academy families in town for commissioning week. Eight-month-old Katharine follows suit. I forget about our muffins and pack the screaming kids into the sedan.
A half hour later, the second accident occurs with all the drama of the first, possibly more. I try desperately to teach my emotional three-year-old the connection between a wonderful device called “the potty” and the uncomfortable pee running down his leg. By the third accident, there are more tears and distress but still no obvious connection being made between bladder, brain, and potty.
I’m losing patience, operating on two hours of sleep (a cumulative ten for the week, thanks to David’s little sister). I crave a Time-Out for myself, three minutes to stare at a blank wall without any little arms pulling at me and whining about something absolutely necessary for their survival.
Instead I clench my fists and utter the “Serenity Prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like how many times David is going to have accidents before catching on to this potty thing). The courage to change the things I can (like not snapping and putting myself in an indefinite Time-Out behind bars). And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Since I can’t leave the kids unattended, I transport myself mentally to Calcutta, India, where I once worked for a week with Mother Teresa. There on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home, was the famous poem called “Anyway.” It began: “People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered, Love them anyway.” I suspect the poem was referring to adults, but in my exhausted and frustrated state, I find it difficult to make the distinction between innocent screaming babies or kids and selfish screaming adults.
I continue my breathing exercises so I don’t hyperventilate or start crying. I’m convinced that the unrelenting process of toilet training could lead to world peace. If every person could experience this opportunity for spiritual self-control, there would be no more war. Patience on earth would be born.
Here, right at this moment, I remember what Mother Teresa taught. My son needs me. He needs me to be patient. He needs me to love him, to see him as the beloved child of God, no matter how unpleasant the circumstances.
The messes continue throughout the day as do David's outbursts and tears. He has managed to anoint just about every piece of furniture in our house, as well as the wooden bench on our neighbors’ porch. When my husband marches through the door in his yellow tie and blue oxford shirt, I decide enough is enough and put a diaper on our boy for bedtime.
The next morning, I dare to pose the question, the one that got me into so much trouble the day before. “Would like to wear underwear like Dad’s, Sweetie, or a diaper?”
“Diaper,” my boy sweetly replies, transformed overnight from a demon to an angel. I breathe a sigh of relief. One day of spiritual discipline is enough for the week. Or the month. Or a long, long while.