Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Underpants Project

I was not an exceptionally difficult child, for the most part. But I did have two major traits that made my mother’s life difficult, and they have both come back to haunt me in the form of my own son’s most difficult traits: hating vegetables and refusing to use the potty.

Hating vegetables I can live with. My mom was convinced that I’d develop scurvy by the age of 6, and she didn’t even know how often I saved my veggies in my cheek or my napkin and flushed them down the toilet. And yet, I grew up to be the tallest person in my family, so I guess my poor nutrition didn’t stunt my growth too much.

But late potty training is definitely my past coming back to haunt me. I stubbornly refused to use the potty until I was nearly 4 years old. My mom went to the pediatrician in tears when I was about 3-1/2, and he assured her that he had never sent an otherwise healthy child to kindergarten in diapers. And when I decided I was ready, I simply began peeing in the potty on my own. So it’s not all that much of a surprise that my son is still in diapers at age nearly 3-1/2. But I have the added issue that he’s the size of a 6-year-old, and then to add insult to injury, he started showing interest in peeing in the potty at around age 18 months, so he’s been taunting me for close to 2 years now.

I’ve read books, websites, and online advice columns looking for ideas. We’ve watched potty videos, read potty books, and talked about using the potty until I’m blue in the face. I’ve tried rewarding him with M&Ms, letting him pee on Cheerios, giving him special stickers, and I’ve even offered to buy him any balloon he wanted. I’ve tried setting a timer and making him try to go every 30 minutes. I’ve tried to get him excited about wearing big boy underpants. I’ve let him run around naked. I’ve reminded him with every round of diaper rash that his bottom won’t get sore if he learns to use the potty every time. He either wasn’t ready, or he wasn’t interested, or both. But I think that, finally, he’s ready in every way.

Some time ago, I bought him a few pairs of “big boy underpants,” intending to offer them as an incentive. For the longest time, he frankly didn’t care. But when I offered them again recently, he got kind of excited. So for the past few evenings, he’s put on big boy underpants from suppertime until bedtime (usually a “poop-free” zone) for practice. But today, he’s wearing big boy underpants all day long for the very first time.

It’s been an adventure.

Part of the incentive was that we could go to the store so he could pick out some new big boy underpants. So this morning, as soon as he got up, he put on his big boy underpants and a pair of elastic-waist pants (snaps and zippers take too long when it’s urgent), and we started Day 1 of The Underpants Project. After breakfast, he peed in the potty right before we went to the store for our first outing sans diapers. Luckily, TJ Maxx is less than 10 minutes from our house, so I was pretty sure he could make it there and back without needing a potty stop. He had informed me that he wanted lightning bolt and superhero underpants, so he very quickly picked out one pack of Superman/Batman/Green Lantern underpants and another with Buzz Lightyear, Lightning McQueen (close enough to lightning bolts, I guess), and Sully from “Monsters, Inc.” We were about to hop back in the car when he remembered that Dunkin Donuts was in the same plaza and begged for a donut. I figured it was a little added reward for both of us, and off to Dunk’s we went. Before we left, I asked if he needed to use the potty and he declined, so into the car we climbed and headed for home.

Not two minutes later, he announced that he had to pee. I asked if he could hold it for 5 minutes until we got home and he confidently announced that he could not. So I pulled over on a quiet, non-residential side street, all the while explaining that although we don’t pee outside or in public unless it’s an emergency, sometimes in an emergency it’s OK to find someplace where other people aren’t around and pee on the ground, especially if you’re a boy. I pulled over, raced around to unfasten his seatbelt, pulled down his pants for him, and waited while he peed. Or, I should say, while he tried to pee. Apparently, it was not as much of an emergency as he thought. Being the dutiful mother, I reassured him that it’s better to try to pee when it turns out you don’t have to go than to try and hold it and find out you can’t, and I thanked him for telling me he had to go.

When we got home, I encouraged him to try peeing again before we went outside to play, but he informed me that he didn’t have to go. So naturally, not five minutes later he informed me that his pants were wet and that he was poopy. Sigh.

I cleaned him up, changed his clothes, and exacted a promise that he would not pee or poop in his underpants again, and helped him put on his new Buzz Lightyear underpants. So far, he has run in to use the potty of his own volition several times, and his new underpants have stayed dry. So we’ll keep trying. Like my childhood pediatrician said, I’m sure he’ll catch on sometime before he starts kindergarten…

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