When I tell people that Eleanor is pretty much potty-trained at only twenty months of age, they invariably want to know what I’ve done to achieve this. Well, it’s not so much what I’ve done, but what I haven’t done that’s made it possible. Quite simply, I haven’t given root to the false, yet extremely common (for the under-two crowd), belief that you should use your pants as a toilet. Put another way, I have simply tried to raise Eleanor knowing what the potty is for even when she couldn’t use it or tell me she had to go.
To this end, Eleanor has been “toileting” in a more appropriate place at every opportunity since she was five weeks old. At first, it was the sink, although I’ve heard tell of people who keep plastic bowls or buckets near the newborn-family bed for night work. We purchased the smallest plastic potty we could find as soon as she was big enough to sit up steady on it. By “every opportunity,” I simply mean whenever I happened to get the sense that she needed, or was about, to go; obviously, it’s easier to tell in the beginning with a no. two, so we actually achieved diaper-free no. twos about eight weeks before the recent successes with no. ones. Often it happened that I made the assumption her diaper would be wet, given how long it had been since the previous change; upon removal, the diaper would prove to be dry and I would simply hold her over the sink or sit her on the potty to see if she had to go.
For many months, maybe the whole first year we were doing this, it was simply an exercise on my part, lacking any recognition or understanding on hers. But, by consistently showing her how it’s done–and without any real encouragement or pressure–she simply came to know that using the actual toilet is the way toileting is done. And why shouldn’t she have learned that from the beginning? It came completely naturally to her, I think in no small part due to the fact that she was never given the opportunity to learn otherwise, but also because she was equipped for it all along. The potty, for E, was not this strange seat that entered her life on her second birthday (or third or fourth) and gave occasion to her parents to get angry with her or become frustrated with her for not understanding what they wanted her to do. I truly think that Eleanor has done as much at every stage to recognize needing to go, communicating that need, and then doing the deed as she was physically and mentally able to do at the time.
In the last week, something must have clicked. The whole process is mentally and physically there. She’s now going for entire days at a time wearing diapers but never wetting them. She even wears panties around the house sometimes. (She’s so skinny, though, the loss of all that bulk means falls hurt more and her pants are huge.)
Contrary to what I stated above about it being easier to pick up on the no. two cues, so to speak, this whole diaper-free enterprise actually arose because of five-week old Eleanor’s thankfully-short-lived habit of grunting when she had to pee at night. Several nights in a row, she kept me awake for at least an hour grunting as if she was trying to go in her sleep. Each night, when I got her up and took her to the bathroom to change her, I discovered a dry diaper. Each night, the dry diaper was soon followed by a wet diaper and a wet counter. Since she wasn’t get any wear out of these diapers, it seemed a waste that I should still have to toss it in the diaper pail. I figured, every diaper I kept out of the diaper pail meant I could go a little bit longer without having to wash and fold a load of cloth diapers.
Wait: rewind a few months to the pregnancy workshop I attended at a local community center. The discussion leaders that night were Hope and Bonnie, the two-woman doula team that taught the pre-natal class I signed up for post-workshop. They were a little out there in an earth-mother-love kinda way, which is cool, but they had some kinda “out there” pregnancy and childcare books arrayed on the table, one of which caught my eye: Diaper Free, Naturally! or something like that. That’s where I first came across the ideas and methods described above, as well as some shocking data showing that the age at which “toilet-training” (a modern idea, by the way) typically begins, has risen steadily during the decades since the inception of disposable diapering (which I never would have considered even if I knew my kid could never be housebroken). Diaper companies keep making larger sizes, more specialized fits for active toddlers, and now Goodnites for bed-wetting older children. With the addition of adult diapers for the incontinent (probably just the same companies, different names), diaper makers pretty much have you for life. What’s next? Disposable underwear?
Fast-forward. So, on the fourth night, knowing that Eleanor would soon let loose all over the counter, I decided to save a diaper and hold her over the sink. I was struck by how easy the diaper-free approach really could be and I just kept doing it one diaper at a time. She was only five weeks old when we started and her floppy head posed a challenge for getting her into position, but with practice I figured out how to grasp her under the thighs and rest her head between my arms. And, best of all, the grunting stopped and I could get back to my then-favorite past-time: sleep!