Several friends sent this story to me last week. If you didn’t hear about it, here’s the deal: last week, a woman brought her potty training twins to a Utah restaurant. Where she proceeded to potty them. In the restaurant. At the table. Using little portable potties. While they (and all the other diners) were eating.
Now, I’m the last person to be offended by a little baby pee. For one thing, it’s sterile, and for another, I’ve had occasional pee puddles on my floor pretty much constantly for the past few years. Poop is a different matter, but still — I’m not easily offended by baby poop. Even toddler poop is just one of those realities of parenting. No big deal.
But however much I may love diaper free time, even I think it’s totally unacceptable to potty your toddler at the table in a public restaurant.
I’ll admit: I’ve been tempted. There have been times when I’ve sat in a restaurant and noticed my baby signaling a pee. Sometimes I just happen to have the baby potty in my bag or the bottom of my stroller. Sometimes I don’t feel like getting up and schlepping everything to the bathroom just for a quick little pee. But I’ve never done it. Not once in four years. I’ve never pottied my kid at the table, and I never will.
Because even though I think there are times and places where it’s okay to potty a baby in public, at an indoor table of a restaurant is not one of them.
And this is just one of the many reasons why elimination communication is so much less stressful than potty training. Potty training, at least in many of its common methods, is an all-or-nothing deal. You have to ditch the diapers and never look back. You have to commit to it all day, every day. Which means either that you are stuck at home till you finish, or you are going to be tempted to try something like this. And honestly? I understand where this mom is coming from. She’s got two kids in the middle of potty training. They probably always pee while they’re eating. At home, she sits them on little potties at the table, and they pee while they sip their juice, and she doesn’t have to use a diaper, and everything works out great. I’m sure she struggled with what to do at the restaurant. Do I put them back in diapers and undo all the work we’ve put into training? she thought. Do I risk them peeing all over the restaurant seats? Or…do I just do what we do at home?
I can understand why she opted for C. It’s a better choice than B. She probably thought nobody would even notice what she was doing — those chairs do look a lot like booster seats, after all. It was a risk she was willing to take.
Unfortunately for her, it backfired.
But you don’t need to make her mistakes.
If you’re practicing elimination communication, then you know that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. It’s perfectly okay to go back and forth between diapers and underwear as much as you need to. Your baby won’t get confused. You communicate about it, and you potty the baby if you can, and if you can’t then you reassure them it’s fine to use the diaper and then you change as quickly as possible. It’s no big deal. The babies don’t mind.
But even if you’re going for the more conventional potty training route, you can learn a few tips from the EC crowd. Because those of us who are used to pottying our babies from birth everywhere we go, in the house and out in public, have developed a few codes for when and where it is — or is not — okay to potty a baby. So even if you’re doing conventional training and ditching the diapers once for all, you don’t have to be stuck in the house. At least not entirely. Here’s how to find an appropriate location to pee a baby in public.
1. Look for a bathroom first. This is obvious, right? If there’s a bathroom available, use it. If your kid doesn’t like public toilets, bring a little potty and put it in the bathroom. Nobody will have a problem with that. You can even take him into a stall and put the potty on the floor in there. That way he’ll have privacy, and he’ll be in an appropriate place. If there is a bathroom, the fact that it’s gross or small or has a loud toilet is not an excuse to go somewhere else. If you can get to the bathroom in time, then you should potty in the bathroom. Period.
2. If you can’t get to a bathroom, go outside. The basic rule of public pottying for babies is this: if it’s an okay place to pee a dog, then it’s an okay place to pee a baby. So, grassy spot behind a tree in the park: good. Middle of the pavement in a basketball court: bad. Bushes or trees are best; grass is next best; dirt will do in a pinch. Avoid pavement.
3. Bring your bathroom with you. A portable potty such as the the Beco potty (which is compostable, bonus points!), the Ikea potty (cheapest option), or the potette potty (my favorite) is easy to keep in your car or even your diaper bag. Very few people will be offended by a baby or toddler sitting on a portable potty in an appropriate place such as behind a tree near the playground. And if you must potty on pavement, then you should definitely use a little potty. If you’re in a public, crowded place such as a festival and you can’t get to the bathroom in time because there’s a line, then you should put your little potty close to the port-o-potties, in an out-of-the-way corner, and let your child use it there.
3. Look for privacy. This is the reason why I prefer trees and bushes to just grass: you can hold the baby between your body and the tree and screen him from view in most directions. Most babies don’t care whether people are watching (although some do!), but it’s still more polite — to other people and to your baby — to try to avoid public view. You can also use a little potty inside your car (vans, station wagons, and many hatchbacks have a wonderful flat spot in the back where you can set the potty and hold the baby comfortably).
4. Consider the people around you. Other parents will generally be more understanding than singles and childless couples. An outdoor birthday party in a garden for an adult with few or no other children as guests is not an appropriate place to potty your baby, no matter how private and appealing those bushes seem. The playground, however, is probably okay.
5. Always clean up. If you have a potty, this is easy — just dump the potty in a toilet (preferably) or a trash can (if necessary). If you’re using the grass, then pee, of course, requires no cleanup, but you should always be prepared to scoop an unexpected poop. If you know a poop is coming, you don’t have a portable potty, and you have to use the ground, then the easiest way to scoop is to place a disposable wipe on the ground, hold the baby over that, and then use another wipe to pick it up. You can also have the child squat over a diaper. Ideally you should always dispose of it in the toilet, but I’ve thrown poop in the trash at the playground before. I figure since 99% of my kids’ poops go into the septic system, I’m allowed to dump the occasional one in the trash as a last resort. It’s also a good idea to keep a trash bag handy.
6. Consider your child’s age. At some point, it becomes inappropriate for your child to use the bathroom anywhere other than in the bathroom (except when camping). At six months, it’s not a big deal to potty your baby on the grass. At age two, it’s generally still okay in a pinch. At ten, it’s no longer okay. I’m not sure exactly when the transition happens, and it probably depends on the culture where you live. Out in rural parts of Georgia, kids probably pee in the backyard till they’re six or seven. I’m just guessing. Here in Atlanta, the limit is closer to age three. Of course, if your backyard is fenced and you don’t have close neighbors, then nobody will know, so it’s your call. I have heard of boys who insisted on peeing on trees till they were school age. Actually I’m pretty sure my husband has peed in the backyard at some point. Sometimes guys need to mark their territory.
Ultimately, it’s your call how to handle potty emergencies in public. At some point, most children will need to pee in a less-than-perfect location. Heck, even adults may need to take advantage of these public pottying tips on occasion. I won’t lie: I’m not too good to pee behind a tree. Postpartum recovery can be a real pain.