We are always practicing

Depiction of potty training's emotional state. Jari Schroderus/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 "Where do you pee?"

"In the potty."

"Where do you poop?"

"In the potty."

"Let's sit on the potty now."


"Time to get up."


"You can go play again!"


::20 seconds later, usually on or near the rug::

"Uh oh."

So went my household's Easter weekend. Over and over and over again. For three straight days. At a time when it's not advisable for me to guzzle gin.

We'd chosen to take advantage of the three-day holiday weekend to kick off potty training, thinking our 2.5 year old was capable and up to the task. My visions of instant success, however, were dashed faster than Google could return search results for "how to clean urine from upholstery."

No matter how often we asked my son to sit, no matter how much we enticed him with videos and books, invariably he would bounce up after each non-productive potty interval, neatly pull up his pants, return to his play, and without so much as a flicker of recognition about his own bodily processes, pee on yet another spot on the first floor.

God bless hardwood, is all I'm saying.

In an effort not to scar or shame him—my eternal fear as a parent—my husband and I relied on a steady refrain after each accident: It's ok. We're practicing. We're learning how to do it. Sometime our tone was chipper, sometimes mechanical, sometimes flattened by gritted teeth. Still, we said it every single time, ever hopeful that if our son absorbed no other takeaway from the weekend, that he at least would have this affirming, encouraging echo bouncing around his burgeoning psyche.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it—this potty training attempt was one of the most tiring and maddening weekends of our parenting journey thus far. Everyone in our household had at least one major meltdown, many tears were shed, many linens were laundered, and at the end of the three days we had zero progress to show for our efforts. All of us were disheartened, exhausted, and pee-soaked ... a terrible combo.

But as I move further from what we now consider "the lost weekend," hindsight reveals that my husband and I would have benefited from repeating our refrain to each other as well: It's ok. We're practicing. We're learning how to do it. Just as our toddler was wrapping his mind around a brand-new behavior, so too were we striving to figure out how to lead him safely along the path—and feeling experiencing all the same confusion, frustration, and discomfort that productive growth generates.

The facilitation program I'm in right now introduced me to the acronym "FAIL = first attempt in learning." Potty training was the perfect scenario to apply this framing, for kid and adults alike. Because really, what have I ever done in my life where I "nailed it" on the first go? Considering this personal history comforted me, gave me perspective, and kept my looming sense of parental inability and inadequacy (mostly) at bay.

Moreover, the compassion inherent in a growth mindset makes our potty training refrain more of a life mantra: We are all practicing. We are always practicing. Through this lens, I am practicing writing. I am practicing activism. I am practicing parenting. Just as every person I encounter is practicing different behaviors, new skills, re-imagined ways of moving through their one life.

Once our daycare provider confirmed that our toddler was indeed not ready to potty train right now (a diagnosis my husband and I received with equal parts embarrassment, relief, and glee), our little family fell mostly back into our old rhythms. I say mostly, because the lost weekend stretched us to new capacities as individuals and as a unit. Mostly, because we know we will try again and we know we will eventually succeed. Mostly, because we are always learning, always growing, always practicing.

Prayer #367: The Unfired Clay

You make/remake me, shape/reshape me, mold/remold me, patient hands softening a stubborn, earthen clay hell-bent on hardening.

As I experience Your gentle pressure, as each day leaves Your fresh fingerprints along my lumpy sides, may I relinquish my desire to be superlative and instead welcome the opportunity to be mediocre, curious, and loved.

I need not enshrine my attempts; celebrating that I attempted will suffice. In the name of the One who applauds iteration—