Potty Training Little Boys: A View From the Cheap Seats

No Telling

The Perfect Grandson won’t keep his pants on. This is a male phenomenon I’ve got little to no experience with, although everyone tells me it’s What Boys Do. Interesting.

I raised a daughter. My parents raised two girls, and most of my experience with small children is braiding hair and sitting with books and picking flowers and hugging stuffed animals and incessant talking. Little boys are different. The Perfect Grandson is a running, jumping dervish. Every waking moment he’s on the prowl, fixing things with plastic tools and throwing them with deadly-accurate aim. These are boy-things I expected, and it’s a great fun to watch him scamper everywhere to do everything Right Now.

It’s the naked-from-the-waist-down business that’s a challenge, though. A few minutes of quiet at naptime usually means a semi-naked boy peeing between the crib slats and onto the floor. He likes to point, then, at his little parts and growl “Heeeaaah!” proudly. I’m not allowed to laugh.

And that’s if we’re lucky. A tossed diaper full of poop is, well, exactly what it sounds like. Yikes.

So even though he’s only a year-and-a-half old, my daughter has begun potty training The Perfect Grandson. She bought a lot of books, scanned the internet, then introduced him to a convincing plastic potty that he immediately took apart and reassembled half a dozen times. So far his gnat-like attention span allows him to sit on it for two, maybe three seconds before running across the room and grabbing a soccer ball instead. Again, no laughing.

I’m not much help. My potty-training expertise is nil. A million years ago I bought the potty, my daughter sat on it, we read books and sang potty songs until – voila – the child was trained. I don’t think it took a week. There was a Sitting Still component to that experience that doesn’t look promising this go-round.

There’s also the lack of a Visual Aid in this manless house, if you don’t count the dog. Boner (don’t ask) our little black daschund is also a boy, but he’s constantly lifting his leg on bushes in the yard. He’s no help at all and has other bad habits that make him more of a cautionary tale than an example.

The word out there is that boys take a long time to potty train. Sometimes forever, they say. A friend of mine raised boys and tells me with a straight face there’s a trick with floating Cheerios and aiming and such. What? In the meantime we’re keeping an eye out for his lightning-fast Pants Off maneuver, my daughter is giving me stern looks, and I’m not supposed to laugh.




My daughter had her very first Mother’s Day yesterday, and it was powerful. I watched her all day basking in new motherhood, remembering the instant when he was pulled from her under all that sterile white surgery light, and looking forward to the mysterious string of years ahead with her son.

Her son. She spent every waking moment yesterday delighting in the gift of him and wondering how, years and years from now when he’s all hairy and mannish and wearing his cap backwards, how she’ll ever be able to let him go into his life without her. She talked about first days at school and terrible girls gathering, and how the hugs will be fewer.

He is a baby. Levi cruises around testing his periphery, his abilities, his almost-walking-alone freedom, and he falls down. A lot. As a spectator yesterday I watched my own daughter mothering, and what she didn’t know – what it’s so hard to explain – is that it happens by degrees. Levi took three fast steps yesterday, tottering and grinning and breathing hard, his fat fists in the air balancing like an infant tightrope walker. Three fast steps away from Mom and toward a footstool. That’s how it begins.

It’s easier to see the milestones when you’re not the mother and that is not your child. There he goes, I wanted to tell her, and he’ll never come back to you exactly the same boy who left. That’s the whole delight and ache of mothering, because at the same time there is my own baby, the one pulled from me in the white light of another room almost 22 years ago, and she’s having her turn now. A woman.

As a grandmother and a mother, I’m hoarding these moments.

Running off with the circus


My parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. It made me think the world was a gigantic circus where I might crawl right out of the peanut gallery and onto the high-wire. Ta-da.

Well, it is. Kind of.

This morning I watched The Perfect Grandson will his left fist into his mouth. It took a long time and many unsuccessful attempts, but he stared down that fist until he had it right where he wanted it. Determination.

Very soon I’ll tell him he can be anything he wants to be when he grows up. I won’t mean it, though. I’ll let my daughter work out the finer points on this when he’s older, but for now my mind is clear: there are some things he simply cannot become.

During his last months in utero and ever since, my daughter and I have made a running list. We add to it as the need arises, or during particularly worrisome Discovery Channel documentaries. Levi can never be…

1. a prisoner. Of any kind.

2. a Bering Sea crab fisherman.

3. a Pro-rodeo bullrider.

4. an ice climber.

5. a firefighter in Southern California.

6. in any branch of the military stationed in an oil-producing country.

7. a bum.

8. a drug addict.

9. a Republican.
I have no doubt this list will grow. He’s only four months old. There’s time. If you have any more to add to the list, let me know.

I understand that telling him he can be anything he wants when he’s grown has more to with the limitless possibilities than with dangerous choices. Fine. I’m perfectly aware that someday The Perfect Grandson will be a hairy-legged, back-talking, reckless-driving, hormone-driven teenager. Those things happen.

I just don’t want him to run with scary boys or vote Republican.