The Potty Files: In The Trenches

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Eva Amurri Martino holds daughter Marlowe's hand while she uses the potty

Potty Training is the absolute worst.  I would take Sleep Training over Potty Training any day of the week, and I’ve done both in the past 90 days.  I swear I’ve aged five years in one week.  Anyway, where were we?  Last time I wrote a piece in this series, we were gearing up to Potty Train.  I had my method ironed out, and a toddler who was definitely ready but suuuuuper resistant.  So, here’s what happened between then and now:

Miraculously, right after I wrote my last Potty Files installment, Marlowe became interested in the potty.  A couple of the girls in her class were starting to potty train, and one day I picked her up from school and her teachers told me she had actually peed on the potty that day! I literally cheered at the top of my lungs.  From that point on, we started waking her up 15 minutes early every day to put her on the potty before she went in her diaper.  She would pee every morning on the potty! Aside from that, we weren’t really pushing it.  The book I’ve been going by says to pick a date for the intensive “Naked Potty Weekend” and not to push the agenda before then.  I chose the third weekend in March– the only weekend that my husband had off from work.  I knew I’d have to have him taking care of Major the entire time so I could devote my Eagle Eye to Marlowe and her potty cues all weekend.  Any time before the official Potty Training weekend when Marlowe wouldn’t want to sit on the potty, I would just let it slide and not make it in to a big deal.  Meanwhile, I was reminding Marlowe of our upcoming Potty Weekend like it was a Dancing With The Stars Promotional Tour: “Hey Lowie, remember what’s coming up? In ten days, we are going to take away your diapers and you are going to put your pee and poop in the potty! It’s going to be great! Only in the potty from then on! No more diapers!” She would give a little side eye, and occasionally seem excited.  I’m not gonna lie, I was not particularly confident that my countdown was doing anything at all.  But I was relentless.  Every morning when she would wake up, we’d talk about how many days it was going to be until we taught her to go in the potty.

Finally, the night before, I snuggled with her before bed and gave her a special pep talk: “Marlowe, I’m SO excited for you! Tomorrow is the big day! When you wake up we are going to go pee pee in the potty like always, and then we are going to take your clothes off and be naked for the whole day and we are going to learn how to go pee and poop in the potty! It’s going to be so fun to flush your pee and poop down the toilet! It’s going to be really funny! No more diapers! I’m so proud of you that you’re a big girl now and can learn new things! If you do well with learning, we are going to give you a big treat at the end of the weekend!” By the way there were exclamation points at the end of every sentence.  If I got any more enthusiastic my head was going to spin around on my body.  Her only reaction: “I’m going to be naked for the whole day?”  She seemed skeptical.  I said goodnight, had two glasses of wine, and went to bed hoping for the best.

Marlowe Martino wears a tweed suit and sits on the toddler potty holding a flower in her hand

The next morning was like a scene out of Sophie’s Choice.  We peed on the potty upon waking as per usual.  When I brought her back in to her bedroom, I took her pajama top off (the bottoms and diaper had come off already in the bathroom) and told her that we were going to go downstairs for breakfast right now, just like this.  Naked.  Immediate hysterics.  “WHERE’S MY DIAPER?!”

“We don’t use diapers anymore.”  Her face was a gut wrenching mix of panic and heartbreak: “MOM! I NEED MY DIAPER. I NEEEEED MY DIAPER!!!!!! DIAPERRRRRRRRR” She threw herself on the ground and started sobbing.  Not tantrum-type sobbing, but heartbreak sobbing.  I almost aborted the entire mission right there.  But I remembered the book I read, and what the author had said about diapers being so emotional for toddlers– they’ve had a diaper on the their body for their entire life since they were an hour old. This wasn’t just a routine change, this was practically like a divorce! I picked her up gently, and held her in my arms, I whispered in her ear that I knew it was such a big change, and big changes are hard.  I stroked her head and rocked her and told her that I knew she’d do great, and everything was going to be OK.  I told her I would be with her every step of the way, helping and teaching her.  After about ten minutes, she calmed down, hiccuping with every breath.

We went downstairs and started breakfast.  From then on, I watched her like a hawk.  Luckily, I pretty much knew Marlowe’s potty signals already and so besides having her sit on the potty every hour or so to “try”, I also could tell when she had to poop or pee and rush her to the potty if I knew something was about to go down.  As a result, she did AWESOME.  No accidents, and made consistent pee and even one poop the first day! Every time she went, I would go crazy with celebrations.  We decided we weren’t going to use a food or sticker “reward” system so I made sure we basically set off emotional fireworks every time to compensate.  We jumped up and down, we cheered, we high fived.  We Facetimed everyone we knew to tell them when she pooped on the potty just a few hours in.  I could tell that all of the attention and congratulations were really making Lowie feel great about herself and that she was starting to be really in to this potty attention.  But I’m not going to lie, the day felt weeks long– it was exhausting.  I haven’t been so vigilant on such a small scale in years.  Every muscle my daughter moved, I was all over it.  By bedtime, I needed a vacation.  She probably did too! Ha.  The next day was equally exhausting, and equally successful.  By the end of the weekend, I was kind of wondering what all the fuss was about.  Why did people say this took weeks? Sure it was really, really tiring and super boring to bring somebody to a potty all day long and do nothing but watch them for potty signals– but she was doing so well! It was worth it! I asked her what she wanted as a treat for doing great all weekend with the potty.  Marlowe response: “A blue manicure.”  Proof we are related.  LOL.  I promised her we’d go on Monday or Tuesday after school.

The next morning I dropped her off at daycare with NO DIAPER! Cold turkey.  We were both so excited to tell her teachers how great the weekend had gone! Before I left I had a slight pang of anxiety– school was a bit more distracting that being alone with Mom all weekend– but I figured we had enough hours under her belt and she knew what to do. I left feeling pretty optimistic.  I emailed the head of her daycare halfway through the day to see how she had been doing.  The reply? NOT GOOD.  Accidents.  Two.  One just pee and one pee WITH POOP.  I actually said “NOOOO!!!” out loud when I got the email back.  I immediately had this weird mix of emotions: anxiety, frustration, and intense guilt.  In that moment I realized that this would, in fact, be a process.  Naive Mom strikes again! Hadn’t I learned by now that nothing is as simple as you wanting your kid to do something and they just do it.  They’re human, and little, and learning– and like with anything else in Kidland, it is a constant dance of two steps forward and one step back.  But I also felt so guilty.  My Working Mom brain went to a dark place of feeling like it was my fault– that if I didn’t work and Marlowe had been at home with me, instead of at daycare, that she wouldn’t have had her accidents and wouldn’t be feeling badly about herself.  Of course they can’t monitor her at daycare every moment like I could do at home on the weekends.  She’s doing a hundred fun activities and so distracted–  but I was so worried that her accidents would make her discouraged and would stick with her forever.  Of course when I think about these things intellectually, I know it sounds crazy.  Accidents are a part of potty training, especially when kids are in a school setting and not one-on-one.  But it was interesting to see how my mind went to a deeply personal place when faced with my child’s small-scale shortcomings– and that I blamed myself.  It definitely got me thinking about parenting down the road, and how important it will be to learn to separate my feelings about my child’s behavior and my feelings about myself.

Marlowe Martino wears a tweed suit and sits on the toddler potty holding a flower in her hand

When I picked her up at the end of the day, the teachers told me that there were just those two accidents– and after each time she had cried and hid.  She definitely was aware that it was happening, and was not what was supposed to be happening.  A good sign, I guess? They told me that all in all, though, she had done great.  There were lots of other times during the day that she had successfully used the potty!  On the drive home, I could tell she was in a funk.  She wasn’t as talkative as she normally is and stared out the window.  When I asked her what she did at school today, she just answered with “Nothin'”.  When we got home, I held her in my lap.  “Listen, babe.  You know that poop and pee goes in the potty, not in your pants.  But I know you’re still learning.  I know you will do better tomorrow.  The most important thing is to try your best, and I think you tried your best today.  I love you and I’m really proud of you.”  She hugged me for a long time, and I tickled her.  She went pee on the potty for the rest of the night.  The next day brought another road block– another poop accident at school.  But… no pee this time! The fact that that was a small victory for me really shows the kind of brainwashing that potty training can do to you.  LOL.  Also, if you want to instantly reexamine where you are in life and how you got there, I recommend rinsing poop out of a pair of toddler leggings with a hose at the end of every day.  A truly “grounding” experience! Ha.

That afternoon, I took Lowie for her potty training manicure.  She was so proud and sat so still while the manicurist applied two coats of blue polish and little tiny glitter flowers to her fingers.  That night, Marlowe had a talk with me.  “Mom. I really want to wear underpants.” This potty training book emphasizes two weeks of NO underpants in the beginning of potty training.  Just pants. The author claims that underpants feel too much like a diaper and that it leads to accidents.  This made total sense to me! I had been sending Marlowe to school with leggings or sweatpants without underpants underneath.  So, I reminded Marlowe that underpants might feel too much like a diaper and might be confusing.  She might poop or pee in her pants without realizing.  She stared right in to my eyes: “Mom, I really want to wear my underpants.  It makes me really sad to be naked under my clothes.  I don’t like it.”  She was being totally serious and looking at me with so much conviction.  Suddenly, she seemed 25.  Suddenly, I felt like the World’s Biggest Jerk for making my kid wear clothes with no underpants.  “Well, Lowie,” I told her, “I just want to make sure you don’t have an accident at school because of the underpants.  If I send you to school in underpants tomorrow…are you sure you won’t pee or poop in them?” Her ENTIRE FACE lit up.  “YES MOM! I won’t! I won’t pee or poop in them! No way, José! I won’t!”

“Ok,” I told her.  “I trust you.  Underpants tomorrow!” And guess what?  She never had an accident at school the entire rest of the week.  I’m not kidding.  Lesson #239 in how our kids know way more than we do. She also stopped pooping at school– at all.  Interesting development.  She does still poop at home.  Not sure how this is sustainable long term (it isn’t), and also not sure that in this moment I really care.  As my Movie Buff husband reminded me, “You know, she’s just like “Shit Break” in American Pie.  He wouldn’t poop at school either.”

Stay tuned for more updates.  Sincerely, Shit Break’s Mom.

Photographs by Stephanie Elliott Photography


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  1. Julie says:

    Great post! I understand the emotional pull to want to safeguard your kid from emotional discomfort-hard for mamas. I also had to step back and understand that these little beings have to learn incrementally to navigate through tough situations. Little struggles that are commensurate with their age and development are such important building blocks for overcoming future adversity. It can get tough out there!!! Marlowe appears to have it all going on- mix of humor, warmth, smarts, tough resolve and the all important complete knowledge of Frozen!?

    04.03.17 Reply
    • ugh, it’s so tough right? Being a parent is such an emotional education…aside from the beautiful parts of parenting, I feel that I’m really becoming a better person just by navigating through all these tougher emotional milestones along with my kids!


      04.03.17 Reply
  2. Amy says:

    Great job Marlowe (and mommy)! My son is about 2 months younger than Marlowe and very verbal. He tells me when he poops and I know I should start the process but whenever I bring it up to him he gets so upset and says “no I want my diaper.” I have an almost 4 year old who is trying to get his little brother excited about it but he just keeps saying “I want to stay a little boy.” Breaks my heart.

    I know I need to just get to it, set a date and do it, but it’s soooooo much work.

    Thanks for The Potty Files. It’s giving me a little more confidence that I can potty train my younger one.

    04.03.17 Reply
    • I TOTALLY understand your reluctance. Even when we know they’re ready, it’s like…uuuggghhh doooo I have toooooo. LOL.

      04.03.17 Reply
  3. Elizabeth says:

    I love this post so much! You’re an awesome writer.

    04.03.17 Reply
  4. Irina Visan says:

    The Shit Break part was sooo funny! Well done Lowie and mommy! I don’t have kids yet but your blog is so inspiring and honestly the first thing I do in the morning is checkup for your adorable Insta stories (different time zones). Good luck to Lowie with the rest of the training!

    04.03.17 Reply
  5. Valerie Branham says:

    Potty training is the absolute worst. Sounds like y’all really have done a perfect job of it. Not pushing her, etc. So happy for y’all. Ha ha I freaking love that you signed this post Shit Break’s Mom. No really…who likes pooping at school anyway?!?!

    04.03.17 Reply
  6. Sara says:

    This was great. I went through a similar experience except that the potty trainee is my niece. It was definitely challenging being an additional “trainer”. Now she loves all her new underwear, especially her “days of the week” ones.

    04.03.17 Reply
  7. Ashley says:

    Great job Marlowe and Mommy! I remember the weekend when I potty trained my son. It was so exhausting, but it worked out great! My son is 5 now, and in a Transitional Kindergarten class (he turned 5 too late for Kinder), and he still refused to poop at school. Sometimes we’re late for school because he has to go in the mornings. But I totally get it. I’d rather go to the bathroom at home too. The next tricky step: teaching him to successfully wipe his own heiney. He always helps, but I have to finish the job. I feel like this is harder than potty training!! And from what I’ve seen on your blog, Insta, etc. it’ll stress you out just as much as it has me!!!

    04.03.17 Reply
  8. Shauna says:

    OMG – my daughter won’t poop at school either. She sometimes won’t pee or poop – she has gone up to 16 hours without either – totally emotional trauma for me. But man the most exhausting times ever. Sometimes she won’t go for her dad either. But the other day I picked her up and she said ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’ Went in the bathroom and went potty, flushed and washed her hands. All casual like! Like, this is an everyday thing and I don’t have to bribe her or get excited for pee or poop. No big “I DID IT” yells. It’s been 6 months and I left school like I was the world’s best mom.

    04.03.17 Reply
  9. Karen M says:

    This was a great post. So proud of Lowie! Kudos to her for letting you know EXACTLY what she wanted. Proof to you Mom that you are raising a very strong young lady! Congrats to both of you on a job well done. BTW – shoe laces and tying a bow was a greater fear to me than potty training. Glad those days are over!

    04.03.17 Reply
  10. Linda says:

    Eva, Loved the story — and your dress and shoes 😉 Sources?

    04.03.17 Reply
  11. Stephanie Almhem says:

    My son is 20 months and was doing so well about telling me when he was about to poo. I bought the potty and tried sitting him on it every time he said the word “pooparoos” each time he would throw himself back crying, kicking and screaming. End result he totally stopped telling me before he was about to go and is now hiding to do it. UGH!I gave up and waiting for him to become a little older and understanding but my potty training files are not going well so far. I feel like I am going to have a MAJOR issue once it’s time. Love this post and hopefully I can be successful one day. Go Lowie!

    04.03.17 Reply
  12. Jill says:

    Very relatable post. As for the no pooping at school thing, this might be sustainable. Both my boys did the same thing. From the time they went to preschool, they somehow trained themselves to poop before or after school only. They are 7 and 9 now, and they still only poop after school, usually when they get home and before bed. Kids are weird and wonderful!

    04.03.17 Reply
  13. Annie says:

    We are going through it right now with my second. I feel ya- sleep training over potty trading any day!!! My first kid was a disaster from beginning to end so I’ve been dreading it…. so far so good the second time around. If you are nervous about school time, look into getting her a “buzz” watch. You can program it so that it buzzes every 15 or 30 minutes so she has a little, silent reminder to think about if she needs to use the potty. This helped sooooo much when my first was having accidents at school!

    04.03.17 Reply
  14. Thea H. says:

    Sounds like she’s doing really well so far! My son was a rockstar potty trainer but like Marlowe, he stopped pooing at daycare…and now at 4 years old he still always saves it for home. So weird!

    04.03.17 Reply
  15. Tina says:

    Hi Eva,
    Had the same exact experience…
    my little Scarlett was perfect on The potty at home and was having accidents at day care , first pee accidents and was not pooping there… Then no more pee accidents but poop accidents… i was like oh my god is it going to last forever…?? And now it’s perfectly ok and it lasted less than one month and now i feel stupid for being so crazy and that i was so much questionning myself like it was the hardest thing of my Life… i stressed myself so much for something that is so easy now… so relax it’ll be ok in a flash i promise

    04.03.17 Reply
    • Tina says:

      And oh my god “shit break…” had the exact same joke with my husband when She wasn’t going in day care…?

      04.03.17 Reply
  16. Jo says:

    Hi Eva, honestly, it might seem like an exhausting trial getting Marlowe through this stage but perhaps she’s giving you a hard time now and will be a breeze later…. My daughter is 12, she toilet trained herself with absolutely no difficulty at 20 months, I thought I had this mothering business sorted….. BUT she is an absolute madam at the moment, testing EVERY boundary and pushing all my buttons! Ex-haust-ing I can tell you! Definitely pay back for my smugness all those years ago when other Mums were pulling their hair out and rinsing poo out of leggings at the end of another challenging day and I was casually sipping a G&T! x

    04.04.17 Reply
  17. Valerie Eidson says:

    How old is Marlowe? I just started reading the book after I read your first potty training post last week and I’m nervous now because my daughter is past 30 months. She is 31 to be exact. This book has me nervous I’ve waited to long? We are starting after ou Easter trip. ?? Thanks for the info and tips. Your babes are adorable!

    04.04.17 Reply
  18. Glenda says:

    Did you put a pull up or diaper at nap or bedtime during the weekend she went naked?

    04.06.17 Reply
    • Yes! She still uses a pull up at nap and at night time. BUT (and this is a new development) she recently started waking up in the night to use the potty by herself and climb up to the big potty, which worried me about her being groggy and potentially falling off. (I actually heard her several nights in a row dragging her little step stool to the toilet so she could get up there. So cute) So I put a little potty in her room and she has been using that without incident the past few nights. Soooo we may pull the night time and nap time diaper? I think she’s telling us she’s ready!

      04.09.17 Reply
  19. Madelyn says:

    Well, I mean….I’m 38 years old and I’m basically Shit Brick. I’d rather explode than “go” at work…..so maybe it IS sustainable long term??

    Love your blog!

    04.07.17 Reply
  20. Kelli says:

    You are doing so great!!! Refusing to poo at school is actually not at all uncommon for little ones. For a little person the whole poop process seems to take a looooong time. When faced with a choice, poop or play, they tend to choose play. It’s much easier to delay pooping than it is peeing. It’s very much about the realization they can control when it comes out and the power of that realization. It’s a tough thing to relinquish such power. A lot of littles will go through a period of conscious delay. As they grow and continue to learn about their body cues that delay begins to lessen. She will figure out her routine! I actually said right out loud “good for you Marlowe!” Upon reading about her telling you clearly her feelings about not wearing undies while at school. How amazing that she could be so clear and consise about her needs! Such a bright little spirit!!! She must have amazing parents! 🙂 keep up the good work sweet girl! You too mama!!

    04.07.17 Reply
    • Thank you for the sweet words of encouragement!!

      04.09.17 Reply
  21. Jordan says:

    Love following along with your adventures, Eva! My daughter, Eisley, is very close in age to Marlowe, and we tackled potty training just about two months ago. I had read the same book, and was SO nervous (more than she was, I’m sure) about this big step. My husband and I each took a day off of work, to give it a four-day weekend, and had a very similar experience (except she LOVED being naked) and the weekend felt like “no big deal”. Going back to school was tricky, and she is still having 1-2 accidents per week at school. Her teachers are super supportive, so I feel like it’s not “abnormal”, but it’s amazing how much energy I put into thinking about where restrooms are wherever we go, and how long it’s been since she gone, etc. etc… So much energy, and so much learning for both of us!
    Thank you for sharing your joys and your struggles, I relate to so much of what you have posted (and instagrammed!) and it makes me feel a little less alone in this crazy journey called parenting. Our tribes are important!

    04.07.17 Reply
  22. Julie says:

    You are SO much braver than me, mama! When my daughter was potty training and had a poop accident, those clothes went straight to the trash. Also, it took my daughter 6 months to poop in the potty. She started to hold it until nap time (when she had on a pull up) and poop in that. Shopkins were the magic ticket to get the poop in the potty.

    04.09.17 Reply
  23. Sara says:

    Loved everything about this! When Marlowe wanted her underpants, it reminded me of my oldest. She was over 2.5 but before 3 when I started. She had no interest in it and I didn’t push it. But at that time, I was also 20 something weeks pregnant with our second. I tried for more than a week with little success. Then she looked at me and said “I will go potty on the potty when I turn three”. I said “Okay, I am going to hold you to it!” I had our second daughter 2 weeks before she turned 3. We were at our cabin and I gently reminded her that she is now 3 and needs to go in the potty. And by golly, she did! Not one accident and was in pull-ups for 3 or so months at night only. They just know. I didn’t even start potty training my second until she was closer to 3. That may sound like they were too old, but it worked for us!

    04.12.17 Reply
  24. Anna says:

    Day 2 of the naked potty training underway here, and things are going so well! Thank you, Eva. I’m so grateful for your blog (and Insta page). Your remark about separating your feelings about yourself from the actions of your child has really resonated with me these last few days. This is our second attempt at this method and I needed to understand that the first unsuccessful attempt was not directly correlated to my worth as a mother. (Even though she’s killing it this time around and I’d love the credit — but it’s all her!!!)

    03.03.18 Reply
  25. Mallory says:

    I know this is an older post of yours but we are in the middle of potty training our son and his first day not at home went terrible. I checked back to see if you had written about your experience and it’s as if I wrote this post myself. I cried to my husband tonight saying “If I didn’t work he wouldn’t have these accidents” which is obviously so irrational. Anyways, I just wanted to let you know your post really helped and I appreciate you sharing such personal milestones about your family.

    04.10.18 Reply
    • aww I’m sorry you’re going through it right now– it really is such a challenging milestone! I promise it gets better! Hang in there xx

      04.12.18 Reply
  26. Julie D says:

    It’s like my computer is listening to me conversations. Today, my husband and I were talking about how our potty training weekend was coming up (coinciding with sleep training our baby) and I have so much anxiety. I casually popped on to the site and this is on the homepage. Thank you for verbalizing all my fears and setting them at ease. As my mom says, no one goes to college in diapers.

    04.29.19 Reply
    • Ha! Yes so true. Make sure you check out all three posts in the series because I posted all through the process! I will say that potty training is HARD. But worth it, I promise!

      04.30.19 Reply
  27. Carla says:

    Did you use a little potty or just a potty seat? I’m about to be going through this myself soon…

    06.03.19 Reply