We’re knee-deep in wet undies and naked bums at our house these days. Ever since our return from the US in August, I’ve been giving full-attention to Samuel’s potty training progress. Even before his second birthday, we’d practiced using a plastic blue nočník (a training potty, literally in Czech, a piss pot). At our house, it’s known as “Sammy’s potty,” and despite joking threats to use it themselves, the older children have kept their hands off of it. Potty training this time around seems to be going smoothly, at least in my eyes, although if you ask Sammy, he may voice a different opinion.
As a parent who’s loosely adapted her toilet-training approach with each successive child, I believe that there’s no single right way, even within a family, for a child to reach the golden stage of being diaper-less and dry, all day every day. Toilet-training, regardless of the age of the child, takes time and careful attention, both for the child involved and the supervising adult. It may amount to a one-week boot camp after a child’s third birthday, or it may be a much longer diaper-less process, beginning within a few days of birth.
Throughout the world, children are toilet-trained at various ages and by diverse methods. There are children who don’t wear diapers because they’re cost-prohibitive, or moreover, not a part of their native cultures. Other modern babies are kept diaper-free on principle, their parents heralding EC or “elimination communication” as a more natural and more ecologically-friendly way to toilet-train children. Culture, individual family preferences and of course, the child, mix to create each family’s toilet-training approach. I know parents in both the Czech Republic and in the US, who have successfully raised a diaper-free baby. I am not, however, one of them.
Realizing that toilet-training is a sensitive and ultimately personal topic, I’m not aiming to preach my own methods. Certainly, they are fallible. If not, I wouldn’t be washing so many pairs of wet undies as of late. However, I would like to share a few differences I’ve noticed during my years of toilet-training.
When a friend recently returned from visiting her family in Washington, DC this summer, she commented on how difficult it had been continuing to potty-train her two-year daughter while on vacation. Whereas in Prague, she was used to children being able to pee practically whenever and wherever the need arose, she discovered DC parents instead brought port-a-potties with them to the city’s local playgrounds. The parents popped the potty out when the kid needed to go, then carted the refuse away to flush away at home. Having gotten used to the availability of public restrooms in many of Prague’s city’s playgrounds, especially the newer facilities, she wasn’t prepared for the culture shock. Even when toilets aren’t around in Prague’s parks, children (and many adult men) don’t hesitate to relieve themselves in the bushes. Her two-year old didn’t understand why she couldn’t drop her pants and pee near a tree or a bush like she was used to at home. Inevitably, once they returned to Prague, potty training became one step easier.
Although my parents live in a rural part of Virginia where city playgrounds without bathrooms aren’t an issue, we still found potty-training Samuel more difficult in the US. Apart from the privacy of my parents’ backyard, there weren’t many public places where even a small child like Samuel could take a pee without drawing attention.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of watching grown men leap from their cars at stoplights to relieve themselves as they commonly do in Prague, nor do I like passing male hikers in the woods near our house, who haven’t even left the path before they’ve whipped it out to take a pee. Still, as a parent I’ve definitely found it easier when nature is considered fair game for peeing. With Anna Lee aged seven-plus now, I’ve already stopped letting her pee in public, unless we’re camping or it’s an emergency, and then she finds a discreet spot and does her business. Oliver, on the other hand, like many of the Czech five-year boys olds I know, is still of the opinion that when he’s got to go, he goes, whether the spot is secluded or not.
Yet my husband and I cross cultures with some of our toilet-training beliefs. While Radek would prefer that Samuel wear a diaper until he’s perfectly trained, I’m of the belief that unless he feels himself getting wet, he won’t learn what it means to stay dry. Being the parent who’s usually at home with him, means that I’ve gotten into the practice of regularly taking Sam to the bathroom, whether he asks to go or not. In fact, he quite often flat-out refuses to cooperate unless I pretend that it’s a race to the toilet, and I’m going to win. At those moments, I’ve never seen two chubby legs move so fast. The competitive streak in our family obviously extends even to toddlers.
Of course, sometimes I forget to ask and Sam forgets to go, then we have a wet mess. When one of these wet messes happens more than once in a 24-hour period, Radek begins to lose his good humor. He then wonders why I didn’t put Samuel back into a diaper after his first accident – a point well-made. Except for the fact that toilet-training is supposed to be filled with these kinds of wet messes and temporary lapses. At least that’s the toilet-training I’ve always practiced.
During a recent lunch at a nearby café, I found myself in the unfortunate circumstance of being out-on-the-town with a not-perfectly trained toddler and no spare pants. On the way to the café, we stopped for a potty break. Samuel dutifully shot a long stream of pee into a clump of bushes near the Letná tram stop, and I breathed a sigh of relief, anticipating a successful lunch out without worrying about when the need to pee would strike. If I’d remembered the 300 ml drink Sam had happily sucked down on the way to the café, I’d probably have asked him to go to the bathroom again at the café. But, by the time I remembered, it was too late.
With his underwear and pants soaking-wet through, Sam stood sheepishly in the kids’ corner. There was no need to remind him that he should have told me sooner; his face told me clearly enough that he was uncomfortable being wet. There was nothing to do but rummage in my bag and pray that I’d find extra pants, even though I knew I hadn’t packed any. As luck would have it, I found a pair of big-boy underwear hand-me-downs from Oliver. Sam looked a little skeptical when I stuffed his legs into the underwear and told him he could go back and play without his pants. However, the lure of the toys was greater than any toddler-size anxiety about the indecency of his naked legs, so he toddled out and played happily until we left the restaurant. He pranced through Letná park and the playground and even had an ice cream, before I took him home for a nap and a clean pair of pants. Good thing the weather had been mild. Although I always think twice now before I leave the house without an extra pair of pants, Samuel’s accidents seem to be getting a bit scarcer, and I dare say that before I know it I’ll be counting him in the ranks of the successfully toilet-trained.