I’m not one for bathroom humor, but I do want to talk about something no one else will: potty training twins. Certainly there’s no dearth of advice for potty training one child, but when it comes to twins, I’ve found zilch. Even my twin parenting books are silent on the matter, jumping directly from chapters about transitioning to solid foods to those on preparing for kindergarten. But if it’s true what they say and no one starts kindergarten in diapers, clearly there’s an information gap here.
I’d been dreading the inevitable potty-training milestone since my identical twin daughters, Zoe and Yael, hit 18 months old and Baby Center began e-mailing me newsletters entitled, “Early Potty Training: Is Your Child Ready?” My daughters were not ready, as neither of them had expressed any interest beyond throwing the occasional Sesame Street figurine *into* the toilet. But still I knew the day would come. It had to. As Elmo says in the film Elmo’s Potty Time (perhaps the most significant contribution to our modern-day potty-training canon), “Everyone learns to use the potty sooner or later.” Which means even twins. (Case in point, my ninth grade boyfriend was a twin, and though he was by no means the brightest bulb in the box—by several watts—he was in fact potty trained.) So what was the trick for training, times two?
Many of my singleton parent friends touted the success of a three-day “boot camp” approach. From what I understand, you strip your child naked from the waist down and let them pee on themselves for two full days, and by the end of the third day, they are potty trained. I did consider this, since we were at the time renting a house with hardwood floors. But rental or not, the thought of me chasing two naked toddlers through the house with paper towel and a Swiffer Wetjet made me physically ill.
Opting for a more low-key approach (or better yet, hoping the girls might decide to potty train themselves), I stuck a pink princess potty in their bathroom a few days after their second birthday and prayed the peer pressure of preschool might push them in the right direction. For several weeks, the girls alternated between pushing the potty up and down the hallway and wearing it on their heads like a hat. Then one spring day, Yael did ask to “go pee-pee in the potty.” She asked the day before we left Memphis to drive 1500 miles cross-country to our new home in Las Vegas. I suggested she hold that thought.
By the time August rolled around, I was out of excuses and knew the time had come to launch Operation Train the Twins. I laid in supplies: one Elmo’s Potty Time DVD (of course); a number of girl-specific potty training books; three princess potties and a random green potty my husband picked out “just to mix it up” (side note: no one liked the green potty and it soon became just a stool); two cushioned potty seats (one Sesame Street and one Disney Princess); a Costco box of Pull-Ups; every make and model of toddler underwear including thick cotton training pants, plastic training pants, regular underwear, and plastic covers to put over the regular underwear; one bottle of Woolite carpet cleaner/ pet stain remover; one box of donuts and a giant bag of Skittles (I’m a stress eater, don’t judge).
I kicked off Day One with a morning “sit” on the potty and a dramatic reading of Princess of the Potty, followed by the first of what would become daily screenings of Elmo’s Potty Time. I also whisked a plastic-pants wearing Yael to the potty every 20 minutes. Yael was my primary focus during this initial stage for a number of reasons, but mostly because I thought maybe I could get away with potty training like the singleton parents do—one at time. Also I had hopes that either (a) Zoe would catch on and potty train herself or (b) Yael would catch on and then train her sister without my involvement.
A few days in, it seemed clear neither of these scenarios would take shape. Zoe regarded potty training as Yael’s “thing” and wasn’t too interested in joining. Meanwhile Yael seemed irritated that she was the only one called to abandon the Little People farm to take a potty break. I had no choice but to level the playing field and get everyone on board. And so it was I found myself potty training both twins at the same time.
How is potty training twins harder than potty training one child? I’m not entirely sure, since having twins is all I know, but I can share a few quandaries twin parents face that maybe singleton parents haven’t considered. For instance…
· What do you do at the park when one child has to go NOW and her twin is sprinting for the hills?
· In a situation where there’s only one potty and two toddlers who have to go, how do you decide who’s most desperate and who could maybe hold it for a couple minutes?
· What do you do when you’re in a public restroom precariously holding one two-year-old on the potty and the other one crawls under the door into the neighboring stall?
· What do you do when you have one twin on the potty trying to go number 2 and the other one keeps coming in with toys to coax her sister off the potty?
· When both twins are on the potty in two separate bathrooms (one upstairs, one downstairs), how do you keep one from climbing off the potty into the bathroom sink and finger painting on the mirror with toothpaste while you check on her sister?
August was a dark, difficult time as I grappled with these and other maddening dilemmas. I spent my days shuttling the girls to the potty every 20 minutes, often getting there too late. During naptimes, I’d shove Skittles into my mouth, pace the kitchen, restrategize. It seemed like one day we’d take a huge leap forward; the next, several steps back. I wondered if I should give up, if I’d started too soon, if I should stop and try again in six weeks?
One day I found myself inexplicably weeping during Elmo’s Potty Time as Elmo sang, “Boys do it, girls do it, big kids all around the world do it.” I realized then that Elmo wasn’t just talking to the toddlers; Elmo was talking to the parents. His message of hope and encouragement—to soldier on with potty training, because everyone can learn to use it, even total morons (I paraphrase, but that’s what he means)—wasn’t just for little ears. It was for mine. And I heard him loud and clear. Operation Train the Twins carried on.
Eventually the every-20-minute potty breaks became every 30 minutes became every 45 minutes became an hour. Preschool resumed the last week of August. Yael started the first week in thick cotton training pants, Zoe in Pull-Ups. By the second week, they were both in regular underwear all day. By mid-September, we’d returned to a pretty normal life.
We’re still not there yet. It’s been three months and we’re still very much “potty training” versus “potty trained.” But we’ll get there; we’re getting there. The trick to training two at a time, I’m learning, is just that—time.