Thursday, August 22, 2013

On A Mission For A Little Red Suitcase

Every parent of a young child has experienced this--the dreaded toilet training phase. For some lucky people it is a relatively painless process but for others, and I put us in that category, it is a long and painful period filled with power struggles, mutual frustrations, and battles of the wills.  And between years of diapers, toilet training educational materials, and incentives, it can be down right expensive.  Most people claim girls are easier to train than boys. And of course there are different schools of thought as to how one should go about potty training.  Do you begin at age two or three or somewhere in between?  Do you just go cold turkey by taking away the diapers or do you ease into it?  For some simply discussing it and modeling behavior is enough while for other children incentives are necessary. I've come to realize that there isn't any right or wrong way but rather you must do whatever works for you and your child.  And for our child it took all of the above and then some.

From the onset Glenn and I suspected that the toilet training process was going to be a long and arduous one with Sidney and we were right.  Like his parents, Sidney is incredibly stubborn and will only do things on his terms and only when he is ready.  We weren't sure when we should introduce the concept of using the toilet but when our nanny suggested doing it shortly after Sidney's second birthday, we were game.  After all she had raised two boys of her own and has been toilet training American boys for over a decade.  Her initial attempts were met with disinterest and our attempts were met with down right refusal.  My own mother kept telling me that he was too young so we backed off.  A few months later after witnessing the fact that so many of his peers were regularly using the toilet, we tried again.  Armed with an Elmo themed potty and Elmo's Potty Time DVD, we thought we were good to go. After all Sidney had been a quick study in everything else we had introduced so we were sure (?) hopeful (?) that he would be in this venue as well.

But the Elmo potty didn't work. Neither did the video. Sidney loved watching it but wasn't inspired to emulate Elmo.  As age two crept closer to age three we increased our efforts.  We started offering small incentives for each success; a tiny piece of chocolate was the initial bribe, the option to pick out underwear just like dad's, the pleasure of being a big boy soon followed.  And still it was a no go on his part.  My nighttime reading became self help manuals for toilet training boys.  According to the experts we were doing everything right but it still wasn't working. Despite my threats that it was the last one I would buy, case after case of Pampers continued to arrive via and I became increasingly frustrated.  Our "deadline" of being toilet trained before this summer got pushed back to before we move onto our next assignment.  At that point we will be enrolling Sidney in a school with a no diaper policy so I was beginning to feel desperate.  We upped the ante on the incentives.  Sidney loves Matchbox cars and asked for "20 new makinas (cars)" when he only uses the toilet.  At last I felt a glimmer of hope since he was identifying his own reward. Every once in a while I felt as though we were making progress.  He would occasionally request to use the toilet at home and dining out in restaurants was always a sure way to solicit a request.  This is a rather scary proposition in this part of the Balkans since many restaurant rest rooms are rudimentary at best.  The driving force behind the requests was usually the reward of getting to wash his hands but we were taking what we could get.   Increasingly Sidney would ask to go when we were bumping down some Albanian road.  Of course he would choose some inconvenient time but fortunately much of the country is rural so stopping by the side of the road really is an option. 
About one month ago while we were packing for our Corfu trip and I was filling my suitcase with a large sleeve of diapers, Sidney upped the ante.  He said he needed his own suitcase for trips.  He went on to tell me that it needed to be red and have wheels so he could pull it himself.  We leaped upon this request and told him that once he was only wearing underwear he could pick out his own suitcase.  He was excited, we were excited and I thought we had turned a corner.  But still no dice. During our recent road trip Sidney made a couple of requests to use the toilet but that was it.  He still talked in great detail about this red suitcase but didn't make any effort to use the toilet.  Glenn and I decided, and informed Sidney, that upon returning to Tirana he was not going to wear diapers any more.  He could wear underwear or be naked but as long as we were in the house diapers would not be touching his little tushie.  He agreed, but we had heard that one before.
The first morning home was a test and as I was getting Sidney dressed I asked him to pick out which underwear he wanted.  I expected a protest but instead he thoughtfully selected a bright blue pair.  He then asked me if daddy wore underwear. When I assured him that he did he proceeded to ask if I did.  A yes answer resulted in the question of whether most people wear them.  After hearing my positive response Sidney declared that only babies wear diapers and he was a big boy and would wear underwear too.  Long awaited success?  Actually yes.  The single accident that day and the one the next resulted in requests to put on new underwear.  (And a request to watch the well worn Elmo video again).  The next week passed without a single accident.  Yes, he still wears diapers at night but he is also increasingly getting up at night to use the toilet.  Sure this is interfering with a solid night's sleep for us, but we'll take it.  Upon her return to work after her extended vacation, we proudly informed Sidney's nanny that he was only wearing underwear.  I dare say that we've finally crossed the hurdle!
So this past weekend we went out and bought Sidney his promised little red suitcase.  He spent quite some time "test driving" the suitcases at the local Samsonite store before making his selection.  A few he dismissed as being "too big for Sidney" before selecting a small red carry on with four wheels.  After making his selection he thanked the sales clerk in Albanian and pulled the suitcase through the mall and out to the car.  At home he moved it into the garage and placed it next to the pile of our other luggage.  Then he went upstairs and said he needed to use the toilet.

Of course, prior to our vacation I recently purchased an extra large case of diapers and not one, but two cases of wipes.  So if anyone  is in need of size 5 Pampers or 1500 wipes, let me know.


  1. I loved reading your post!! Brings me back to potty training each of my girls - and all three were different. The little bribes and gifts also different for each - one hairclips, one a small stuffed animal.etc... Your story reminds me most of my youngest who was going to turn 3 and start at a new pre-school at the same time and the school also had a no-diaper policy. Yes, when we enrolled her the Winter before for the Fall - 6 months seemed like plenty of time! We also did a 3 week car trip in late July/August prior to school starting and she still wasn't trained...(they all can be stubborn when they want!). I figured we would go all out after the trip - gave myself a month...But wouldn't you know it - She decided on the trip to tell us each time she needed to go...and we stopped and found the bathroom. As she said, just like her parents and sister. After that trip, she has always wanted to check out bathrooms where ever we are! Thanks for the fun trip down memory lane and Congrats on the milestone!

  2. Thanks Jennifer. This was one of those milestones that I knew would come yet as is the case with most things in parenting I'm never quite sure how we are going to handle. It is a true battle of the wills but I can only imagine what the next milestones will bring.