Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Illustrious Literary Genre of Potty-Time Books

So, the Adrenaline Junkie (age 3) had an accident today. And it was apparently a doozy*. Usually, I'd rather be at home with my family than spending all that time at work. Today, I'm not so sure.

Ironically, the accident came about precisely because the Junkie wanted to be a big girl, and wanted to do it by herself. And these are really good things! These are prerequisites to successful potty training; the fact that she's displaying these inclinations shows us that there is a light at the end of the diaper tunnel. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)

The problem was, she already had a nasty diaper, and she tried to change it herself... and the bathroom apparently ended up looking a little like that episode of South Park that had Mr. Hankie in it. If you don't get the reference, don't ask.

So the Adrenaline Junkie wants to do what needs to be done; but she isn't clear on the proper sequence of events, which is actually quite complicated when you're only three:
  1. Notice that you need to go before it happens.
  2. Notify parents (optional, when the child starts to get the hang of the whole thing).
  3. Head to the bathroom. Hurry, if necessary.
  4. Remove all necessary articles of clothing.
  5. Sit.
  6. Allow nature to do its thing.
  7. Use the toilet paper.
  8. Get up.
  9. Restore all articles of clothing to their proper locations.
  10. Flush.
  11. Wash hands.
  12. Turn off light as you leave bathroom.
  13. Depending on the household in question, close the door behind you.
Additionally, there are contingencies that must be mastered in case one or more of these steps is impossible. What if the bathroom is occupied? What if you're out of toilet paper?

You know, spelling it out this way, it's actually a pretty complicated task. And importantly, all steps must be done in the proper order. Performance of these steps in the wrong order can get pretty messy. Alas, this appears to be the cause of the Junkie's troubles this morning.

So how does one teach a preschooler to do all of these things, in the right order, every time?

Well, some people use books to do it. And there is a veritable library of books available to children to do this. Some of these books have lovable, cute looking characters in them! Some of them have pop-up features, and flaps to be lifted, and sliders! Some of these books have buttons that make sounds when you press them! Some of them have Elmo! Who could possibly fail to learn how to use the loo when they have all this going for them?

Er, hm... except my wife (who is rather observant) noticed that these books have this self-defeating way of talking in euphemism when it comes time to explain how to do the deed.

Three-year-olds don't handle euphemism very well.

I mean, these books show their protagonists proudly declaring, "It's Potty Time!" as they march with joyful anticipation to the water closet. "It's Time to Use The Potty!"

But they don't often actually explain how one uses it. Use it how? As a fishbowl? Float some bath toys in it? Let the dog drink from it? What am I supposed to do with this thing? Throw me a bone here....

But part of the problem, of course, is that if you explain exactly how you're supposed to use it, and what you're supposed to make your body do while you're using it, you wind up with some seriously grossed out parents. Note: you don't wind up with seriously grossed out kids. They actually think it's pretty cool. But it's the parents that buy all the books about potty time. I suspect that if a book came out that really explained, in plain language that kids can understand, what it is that people are supposed to do--well, I remember my utter revulsion the first time I read something in the genre, and it was actually pretty tame. I can't imagine the a new title like The Truth About Potty Time moving off the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble in any numbers.

Thus, euphemism. You'll notice that even in my own list above, number 6. talks about letting Nature take its course. It just assumes that you know what I mean. I just let your own imagination fill in the blank, because I want to see my hit counter continue to rise after I publish this post tonight. I trust that you won't start thinking, oooh! I like nature. Waterfalls are part of nature. Deer and elk and bison are part of nature. Big pine trees are part of nature. I get to let all of this happen! How blissful.

You see the problem.

So yes, we've got a little problem with all the potty training books. And it seems the Sesame Street ones are the worst. After all, you don't want Elmo explaining in detail...

I'll stop.

Anyway, my ever-practical wife made a suggestion tonight: maybe we should write our own Potty Time manual.

After about a second or two to let the suggestion sink in, we both laughed. But it wasn't a natural laugh.

P.S. Tonya is just full of good suggestions tonight. We should let the Pillowfight Fairy write it! She's already pretty accomplished, you know...

*The amateur linguist in me is amazed how the name Duesenberg, once synonymous with such ostentatious luxury and wealth that it took one's breath away, has so changed in meaning that it can be used to refer to a potty-training accident. There's at least another blog post in that, if not a whole Masters' thesis.


andrea said...

I think potty-time books should have a warning on the back "Caution: If read repeatedly over a long period of time, this book may cause periods of parental insanity. Use sparingly."

Karen S. said...

You need potty training rewards. The audio (which says you are a Big Girl or Big Boy) and chocolate rewards were powerful incentives to fully potty train our son. Here is the website