A hot wheels car, a transformer, and a dinosaur stand propped on a turquoise, wooden stool—all three staring at the toilet. My two boys are about to go to their grandparents’ house for the weekend, and I’m doing a once-over to avoid leaving anything of importance to them. Either this is Toy Story in real life, and I’ve walked in on the toys screaming, “Andy’s coming!”—or this is the scene my potty training toddler set up as he pooped before we headed out the door.
I am not the mother who compares her children’s accomplishments and milestones, but this potty-training gig has really gotten me this go-around. I remember my firstborn giving me a little trouble. He had it down pat within a couple of days. The newborn phase was a breeze. I was totally prepared for breastfeeding the second time. I requested a lactation nurse–a saint, an angel–and I remembered what to do to sleep train my youngest so that I wasn’t forced to drink pots of coffee every morning in order to keep myself and the tiny humans alive.
Everything was familiar with boy number two, and I fell into a rhythm. Within three years I finally unlocked The Mother’s Guide to Parenting.
But potty training? Someone wiped my memory. It’s lying at the bottom of Dumbledore’s magical pensieve along with the memories of rinsing poop out of fresh underwear.
I know what I have to do, and I call the only person who can save me from the insanity of potty training: my aunt.
I had a great-great-aunt who swore by the “rules of the signs.” While this concept may not be familiar to many, the information has been passed down to women for generations in my family. For example, according to The Farmer’s Almanac, one “rule” for weaning is to do it when the moon is in the astrological zodiac signs of Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. These signs correspond to the thighs, knees, ankles, and feet. The dates listed in the Farmers’ Almanac are based on this rule.
The women in my family were to consult my great-great-aunt before doing anything, and she would tell them if the signs were right. When my great-aunt passed, my aunt became the “sign reader.” It is apparent why I cannot for the life of me figure out when the signs are right to potty train my son. It’s too much to remember, and there is plenty of matriarchal wisdom to go around for me to be required to figure this out on my own.
I am being stubborn–I know. I want to do this all on my own to prove something about maternal persistence. I want to be able to tell all of the mom friends I have, “Oh, potty training? It was so easy. I just did it in the summer when they could run around naked as the day they were born and somehow, they just knew one day how to go to the toilet!” I am ashamed I cannot teach him a simple task, one that falls to me while I am home during the summer months and my husband is still working. It’s a baton I pass to him as soon as he walks in the door. Meanwhile, my kid keeps soiling his undies and appears to be as unbothered as a fly on crap.
I breakdown. Enough is enough. I finally realize this isn’t a matter of memory—it is a matter of a different child.
As much as I pride myself in this whole “not comparing my kids” deal, it’s exactly what I am doing. I call my aunt—weeping—and she walks me through the signs. While attempting to potty train my son using the signs might sound like superstitious nonsense, I don’t care because I will follow these groundless astrological moon phases for the rest of my days. Generations of women before me successfully raised their children using these unfounded methods, but they work.
I remind myself at this moment to give myself some grace.
Next time my youngest takes his three toys to the bathroom and places them on his little turquoise stool, I will remind myself that this might be the greatest accomplishment in all of my life: potty training my son.
Alex is a reader, teacher, and writer balancing life with autoimmune diseases while carving out spaces for creativity. She lives in Paris, Tennessee, with her husband and two sons. Alex teaches 9th grade English and Creative Writing. She is an Enneagram 3 who loves to put aside her to-do lists to read in her comfy chair.
You can find Alex on Instagram at @megahast.