An ode to potty training

A child’s first successful bowel movement is surely among life’s most underrated joys, writes Joe Banks.

potty-2She bolts from the bathroom with all of the grace of a skittering newborn fawn, limbs flailing, mouth agape and impatient, as the words can’t exit fast enough. Her eyes are ablaze, and the gathered friends and relatives are so momentarily shocked by the little one’s behaviour, they fret that something awful just happened.

And yet, it’s most certainly quite the opposite.

“I pooed!” she shrieks. “I pooed in potty!”

And, of course, wanting to show support for the occasion, to mark that magic moment on the throne, which everyone knows is far more significant than the act itself, the room erupts into a thunder of applause, hoots, laughter and words of encouragement.

“Atta girl!” shouts an uncle.

“Oh, you’re such a big girl now!” an aunt enthuses.

“Mommy is so proud of you!” shouts the little girl’s mother.

“How big was it?” asks the beaming dad. It’s always the dad.

Oh now, don’t wrinkle your nose. The first successful bowel movement of any child’s life is surely one of the most underrated joys, for parents and child. And yet it is an event so confined by our sanitized culture that it remains not much more than a bemused topic of coffee talk under the most limited of social situations.

And yet, it is truly, honestly and genuinely a moment of, um, passage for all concerned.

For parents, it means the end of diapers, whether cloth or disposables, and all of the financial and environmental spin-offs that begets. For without the price of those mud-catchers, there is suddenly and perceptibly, the extra room in the budget for a college fund, a trip to Disneyland or the purchase of Huggies stock options.

For the child, it is at once both exhilarating – everybody turns a bodily function into the Mardi Gras – and what must be a creeping realization that nothing they do ever again can make this many people so happy.

Fortunately, potty-trained wee ones have the attention span of the common amoeba, and enter into toddlerhood with as much thought as they had when they were born. For them, it’s all a new adventure, with each moment celebrated and forgotten like a meteor in the sky, flaring up and burning out, just as it got good.

Regrettably, the first solo flight aboard the poo-poo choo-choo does not instantly mean the end of soiled pants, as “accidents” will happen. At least, that’s what we call them. If the child had a vocabulary, they’d rightfully call them practice poos.

After all, what the heck did we expect after just a couple years out? It’s a downright crappy deal, having to give up the ole let ‘er go, when-and–where-one-wants thing. And then, once unloaded, having someone clean it up with a smile on their face and pleasant-smelling powder lavished generously over the posterior.

Grown-ups pay spas big money for that.

Oh, and let’s not forget the number ones, which bring their own series of directional challenges. Only dad can appreciate the nuances involved in steering the stream under pressure, and so advises his boy to pick a target and stick to it. Funny how that bullseye is a moving target, and so often becomes the toilet seat, the shower curtain or the toothbrush cup.

Considering all of the above, potty training needs to be elevated in our celebratory vocabulary, perhaps eventually finding its way into our collective life signposts like birthdays, graduations, weddings and anniversaries. We could call it Toilet Day, with tastefully-shaped chocolate cake and lemonade and pin-the-diaper-on-the-donkey.

But then, no. There’s no way they’d be allowed to forget; they’re a baby no longer.

They’re pooping and peeing with the big dogs now, and there’s no going back.

Not ever.

At least, not until Depends become part of the grocery budget.