Sunday, September 2, 2012

It Pays to Poop

When you look up information about potty training, no one really tells you how long it's going to take. Do you know why that is? Because no one really knows! A doctor will tell you that girls tend to potty train between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. But boys? From 18 months through 4 years. And no one really talks about the worst case scenario; actually taking all the way through 4 years. Let me tell you, it happens.

Elijah was two and a half when he began staying dry through the night and throughout nap. I got really excited thinking this was going to be a piece of cake. By 3 he was wearing his "big boy pants" all day and all night, but we still had issues with him pooping. The basic problem; he didn't want to. He would hold it until it made him sick, and little bits would sneak out occasionally in his underwear. Then, when he would try to go, it was so much that it would hurt. He then became afraid of pooping, and thus began the vicious cycle.

Between ages 3 and 4 we had moments where we thought we'd concurred this beast. Every now and then he would tell us he had to go, and he'd go, and we would praise God with a joyful noise, certain that we'd turned a corner. But then he'd go back to business as usual. We never knew when it was going to strike. I would try to keep track of when he had pooped last so that as we neared the end of that week, we'd avoid taking him anywhere so as to avoid having to clean up a mess in a public place. Our method worked quite well, usually, unless we took him to a playground. Apparently it's a lot harder to squeeze the poop back in while you're running around and the muscles are loose.

By age 4 and a half, when this battle still hadn't been won, I was at my wits' end. In the time it was taking to potty train Elijah, Chastity began and nearly finished potty training, taking her just over a year. Now we were about to have another baby, and I refused to go on cleaning poop out of Elijah's underwear weekly. I had tried a sticker chart, chocolate candies, and various punishments. Nothing had worked, but then, an opportunity presented itself; an opportunity that I shamefully grabbed a hold of.

For Elijah's third birthday we had gotten him a beta fish. He thought it was the coolest thing. Unfortunately, only a few months after he'd gotten him, the poor fish suffered a horrible death. In our previous apartment, we didn't have heat in the bedrooms. We went out of town for the weekend in the middle of winter and had left the bedroom doors shut. Betas need to be warm, and so, when we returned Sunday night, the poor thing was gone. We disposed of it before Elijah had even seen it, and later explained to him that his fish had gone to be with Jesus.

"Like Great Grandpa?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"Like Patch (my parents' dog)?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered again.

And that was the end of that conversation. During the course of the year that followed he would ask about his fish again, and I'd give him the same answer, but then he started thinking about it harder.

"But, Mommy, it's my fish. When is Jesus going to give it back?"
"Well, when things go to be with Jesus, we won't see them again until we go to be with Jesus too." I don't know why, but I was seriously trying to avoid any word within the word family of "dead." In hindsight, I realize I should have been more clear.

Then, in June (Elijah now 4 years and 8 months), he spent some time in children's church with the older kids, and they talked about Heaven. It was then that he finally asked the right question, one I couldn't avoid: "Mommy, why did my fish go to Heaven?"

I panicked. I ransacked my brain's thesaurus for any word other than "died," but I came up with nothing. I couldn't avoid it any longer. "Well," I responded, slowly, "because he died." The word seemed to hang, suspended in the air, slowly coming out of my mouth, as I watched it register with my, not quite 5 year old son. And then, one year and five months after the fish had "gone to be with Jesus," Elijah crumpled down on the couch and sobbed, because for the first time, he understood what that meant.

It broke my heart. I wanted to instantly run out and buy him another fish, but I was conflicted, because that very same afternoon, he had another one of his "I refuse to poop" accidents. I couldn't reward him for that. And that is when the evil, shameful plot entered into my mind.

Jelani and I discussed it, and agreed. We got a piggy bank out and told Elijah that every time he pooped, when he had to poop, without pooping in his pants at all, he could put a quarter in the bank. Once he had enough, he could buy a new fish for his tank. We had to emphasize the "when he has to poop" part, because that was the problem. He needed to stop holding it and just go, even if that meant he had to stop playing for a minute, and even if it meant pooping every day!

Chastity wanted to get in on the action, and at the time she was still wearing a diaper to bed. She would sometimes wake up dry, and other times not, and so we told her every morning she woke up dry, she too could put a quarter in the bank for a fish. The tank had a divider, so they could both pick out a fish when they had enough money. It proved helpful for Chastity, and I immediately realized she was peeing in her diaper out of convenience, not because she was actually sleeping through it. We were able to transition her to big girl pants for bed within a week.

Even more miraculously though, Elijah never pooped in his pants again, and he began pooping in the potty every single day...sometimes even twice a day! Putting money in that bank became the number one priority, even above receiving a chocolate candy. Beta fish vary in price, so we just got a $10 roll of quarters out of our account, and agreed that once that was emptied into their bank, we'd let them pick out fish.

After about a month, we'd reached the goal, and headed out to a local fish place. They were thrilled.

Meet Fishy Fish and Housey House. <---I have no idea...

Because of my shameful plot, I believe it was doomed from the start. Strangely, Fishy Fish and Housey House only lived 3 days, leaving this Mommy to explain death yet again to, not one, but now two devastated little children. Thankfully, the pet store replaced them free of charge because...well, that's not supposed to happen.

So here's Fishy Fish II and Housey House II. Of course they kept the names.

We've had them for over a month now, and they are doing great. More importantly though, both children were completely cured of all potty training issues before baby #3 joined us. Elijah continues to ask to put money in the bank after pooping. It's not always quarters now, but whatever we have lying around.

I have children who have been conditioned to crave chocolate immediately after pooping, and now they believe that it pays to poop.

What has Mommy learned? Keep trying until you find something that works!   


  1. You have the gift of writing like your dad. I think you should take it further.

  2. wow... amazing mom and great writer! I'm so blessed to know you! love you Er!

  3. Maybe I need to be a little more creative with the potty training!! :) Well done!!