- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

As the father of a little boy, and as a work-from-home parent, I knew the burden of potty training our 2-year-old, Jeremy, would fall largely to me. I wasn't looking forward to it.

Part of it is the nasty business of potty training itself and the accidents and messes that go with it. But the other part was our experience with our 5-year-old, Sean. He was positively terrified of the potty-training experience.

We tried everything when Sean's turn came to learn to use the toilet. We tried positive reinforcement. We tried bribery. We rented every video on toilet training we could get our hands on. We watched the "Bear in the Big Blue House" potty-training video until it felt like my eyes were going to bleed.

After watching the video for the 22,503rd time, I began to feel for the poor souls who provided the music and singing for the songs on that video. I imagined them graduating from Oberlin or Juilliard or some other majestic music school or performing arts academy, dreaming of opening nights at the Met or standing-room-only shows on Broadway, only to find themselves 10 years later in a recording studio rhapsodizing about the joys of wiping and flushing. The smiles of cruel irony that flickered across my face were the only things that kept me sane.

Finally the momentous day arrived when Sean finally did his business on his toddler potty. He might as well have been passing a kidney stone. He screamed and howled, with teardrops big enough for us to see our reflection rolling down his face. And that was just the urinating part. As Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story" didn't come for another three or four days, and when it did, the same histrionics accompanied it.

It was downright awful, enough to make me rue having another little boy.

So when Lisa and I began to discuss Jeremy's toilet-training timetable, I started making a mental list of things I would need to have around the house for D-Day.

Earplugs, certainly. That blasted "Bear in the Big Blue House" video if it hadn't been worn down to the point where the VCR would gobble it whole the moment we stuck it in the machine.

A bottle of scotch definitely.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the insane asylum. Jeremy took to potty training as if he had been waiting his whole young life for this one moment. Barely had we dug the potty out of the cabinet under our bathroom sink, disinfected it and set it on the floor than Jeremy was using it. On Day One. Not only that, but he insisted on carrying the bowl to the "big potty," dumping its contents, flushing the big potty, and returning the bowl to its place in the little potty.

It can't be this easy, I thought. But it was. Not only that, but on Day Two Jeremy did "the rest of the story" in the potty and took care of that, too.

"What are you up to, Jeremy?" I demanded. "Tell me now." He looked at me casually, almost languidly. Clearly this was no big deal for him; he couldn't understand why it possibly could be a big deal to me.

Then it dawned on me. This was no big deal for Jeremy because he had seen it done only about 10,000 times. He had made countless visits to countless men's rooms and home bathrooms in the Mid-Atlantic region with his daddy and older brother and had a front-row seat for everything that went on.

As the late great Dr. Seuss might have said, Jeremy has seen it done in the mall, he's seen it done in the hall, he's seen it done at the grocery store, he's seen it done at his friend's house and more. In fact, one of his first words was "potty," if I recall.

It's true what they say about second children in many ways they are easier to teach than firstborns. Part of it is certainly personality. Jeremy is much more of a daredevil and risk-taker than Sean, the conservative, shy child. But part of it is behavior, too. Jeremy has seen what the road ahead is like, whether it's potty training or going to school or anything else challenging and new.

I gleefully burned the "Bear in the Big Blue House" video, only because I had no sledgehammer handy and buying dynamite presumably is illegal. Then I turned to Sean and said, "Son, it's time to learn to read. Jeremy, watch carefully …"

Mark Stewart, the stay-at-home dad of two boys, is a free-lance writer.

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