First of all, I want to let you all know that I’m Very Officially switching to a Tuesday-Thursday schedule for posting here. I ran it by the Board of Directors (me) and the CEO (me) and we all agreed that it was the best course since those are days I’m not looking after the Changeling all day and will be better able to write.
Second, on the topic of the Changeling, did you all know we’re so excited about potty training? Except that the Changeling calls the potty the “teapot” (pot-ty; ty-pot; more easily spelled “teapot”). And we aren’t exactly excited. In fact, I think a more accurate word for my feelings is “resigned.” As in, rather than spend another five minutes trying to cheerily encourage my daughter to wear underwear rather than diapers– I resign myself to changing diapers. It’s not worth the time. Or rather than find a dozen systems of entertainment to keep my daughter on the toilet (or potty, or teapot) for twenty full seconds before she declares, “I don’t have anything in my bum,” and jumps off– I resign myself to the fact that she’ll be back sobbing out, “I have a peepee!” within another two minutes. I’m resigned.
And this is the part where I should declare cheerily– “Or I was resigned until I found this book which changed everything!!!” And, well, I did find this awesome new book, and it is helpful. It didn’t change everything, not really. It does keep the Changeling sitting on the toilet (or potty, or teapot) for a good bit longer before she jumps off and says, “I don’t have anything in my bum” (and runs back two minutes later). It does engage her interest. It does make her smile and recite along with it. I think, in a word, it empowers her.
But what really makes it worthwhile? It’s affirming to both of us, not just her. And who knew that parents needed the affirmation of potty books? But apparently we do.
The book is I Use the Potty by Maria van Lieshout. (Hi, Chronicle Books! You’re still doing amazing stuff, aren’t you?)
And you see that cover? That’s a truly magnificent representation of the sort of thing you’ll be seeing in this book. The bright, warm yellow background with the strong lines of our protagonist standing out from the page, arms flung open victoriously, big smile– that’s the kind of energy that carries you all the way through the book.
In fact, look more closely at the cover: that limited palette (yellow, blue, white, and black) is the palette that’s used throughout the book, and I love it. Much as I adore really rich illustrations (think about The Owl and the Pussycat, A Castle Full of Cats, Little Red Riding Hood— all of those have a wealth of colour, subtlety, and detail), I am coming more and more to appreciate the effect of a limited palette and simple, strong lines when done effectively. And, to be clear, in this case it’s done really, really effectively.
How so? Well, Maria van Lieshout has done something wonderfully well: she found the simple, core, essential message of her book, and stuck to it, both in the text and in the illustrations. What’s the core message? “Because I’m a big kid I can do it myself.” (In this case “it” being “using the toilet”– or potty, or teapot.) Every outflung arm and triumphantly smiling face, all in those strong, simple lines, emphasizes that same message: “I did it myself!” the pictures dance with glee. Oh, hell, I’m going to show you another example and save myself a thousand words. Check out this picture:
Simple colours and lines and textures, but every bit of it is closely directed towards the same message: “I do it myself!”
As for the text– conveying that message in the text looks so simple that I can only imagine it took a lot of work. (Kudos, Maria van Lieshout! I hail thee from the depths of editing hell.) She follows a straight, chronological trajectory from babyhood to Big Kidhood (erm, as it were). When our protagonist was a baby, he tells us, he drank a lot of milk and peed and pooped in diapers all the time– Yucky, Stinky Diapers! (Yes, part of what attracts kids with this book is that it’s full of sound effects and gross descriptions. It’s easy to emphasize those bits so that kids love it even more. Or you can try to tone it down if it bothers you, but I warn you that you’re missing half the fun.) But now our protagonist has grown up and become a Big Kid! Big Kids use the potty, he tells us, and they wear underwear. And he goes on to deliver a graphic illustration (graphically illustrated) of exactly how Big Kids use the potty. Perhaps the most useful page to us is the one where he shows that “Sometimes it takes a while. But then… PLOP!” (See above re: getting the Changeling to sit for more than five seconds at a time.)
But I made the argument that this book is as useful to parents as to kids, and here I am describing gross potty humour clearly directed towards children. Where’s the point for parents? Or am I just arguing that what’s effective for kids will also be helpful for parents? What a cop-out, Deb!
Please, no, have a little more faith than that. Here’s the thing: this book is such an accurate representation of potty training and the struggles you face, the goals you set, and the milestones you achieve (“Good job, you sat still for a whole twenty seconds!”), that it makes you feel less alone, both as a child and as an adult. Children say, “That’s me!” Adults say, “That’s my child! Hey… that child has a parent… maybe that parent’s going through the same thing I am!” And the answer to both is this:
“Yes. You’re here. You’re not alone. Potty training can be tricky and fragile and you do have to clean up poop from the floor occasionally, soothe tears, and calm frustrations, but this, too, will pass. It has for others. You’re not alone.”
And that’s why I recommend this book not just to encourage your kid– although it’s great for that, honestly– but also to calm yourself as a parent. You’re really, truly part of a grand and splendid tradition of teaching your kids where to take a dump, and you should be proud of yourself, not just proud of your beautiful growing child who is so not a baby any longer.