Child Rearin'

Published on January 31st, 2015 | by Richard Black


To Potty, to Pee Pee or Poo Poo?


At the age of four my daughter can’t use a urinal but with a lot of nagging and, perhaps, some sort of urinary prosthesis, she will be able to urinate from a standing position and fulfill two of my three hopes for her as a child.

I’ve never liked the term “potty” or, to be more specific, I’ve never liked the phrase “do you need to go to the potty?” Now that I think about it I really don’t care for either one.

Even as a kid I found the word and the phrase to be demeaning implying that the recipient has the mental bandwidth of an eggplant which, to be fair, is true of most children.

As much as I dislike the word “potty” it’s still better than many of the alternatives. It’s really a sad state of affairs when the national lexicon includes the word “twerk” to describe Miley Cyrus’s gyrations but we can’t come up with an acceptable euphemism for asking children if they need to take use the facilities.

Maybe it’s because most people teaching their kids to use the toilet are more concerned with getting them to the can than watching Miley Cyrus’s career circle the drain. I couldn’t say. I’m not a sociologist or even an anthropologist. I don’t believe in ist.

I was fortunate as a child in that my mother and father never asked if I needed to “go to the potty” at least not that I remember. I was already a heavy drinker by the age of four so it’s possible that, just as I became capable of remembering events, my mind was inundated with large amounts of alcohol which precluded me from noticing just about anything.

It’s actually a bit sad because if my memory is to be trusted being potty trained may have been one of the few tasks I was able to perform adequately and according to my mother’s expectations. To this day my mother still includes my ability to use the facilities as a child in a short list of my accomplishments and, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that she was probably right.

My paternal grandparents were particularly enthusiastic about asking whether I needed to potty and, when I was in their care, would do so about every fifteen minutes. When I was old enough to take offense I recall being slightly put off by their constant intrigue regarding the contents of my GI tract and bladder. I was in fifth grade after all and hadn’t soiled myself in quite some time which is something I wouldn’t be able to say a few years into college. Fortunately for both of us they remained blissfully unaware of those incidents and I’ve successfully repressed them up until this very moment. Thanks a lot you bloodsuckers.

As I got older I interpreted my grandparent’s  obsession as one of paternalistic affection. Once I became a little older still I understood that their concern was also reserved for the few possessions they owned that were not encased in plastic sheeting.


I know you can’t see it but just behind this sheep that I’ve never seen anyone ever try to hump is, in fact, a toilet, which now makes this picture relevant to this post.

Neither age nor my proximity to a bathroom had any part to play with the frequency the question was asked. I was well into my thirties before my grandfather finally stopped asking if I needed to use the potty and that’s only because he passed away rather ironically from a burst bladder.

My grandmother however doggedly continued to ask anyone, guests, offspring, and even occasionally the radio, if they needed to use the potty until we put her in a home. I now understand that my grandparent’s agenda wasn’t personal as far as I was concerned. More than likely it was a reflex from having raised three strong willed, hyperactive boys with attention spans the size of a peanut and bladders to match.

It was, perhaps by design, that they chose to live in a small town where no one was ever further than thirty seconds from a toilet or a convenient field. I’ve often wondered how my grandfather, a graduate from the law school of the University of Michigan came to live in rural Indiana and now as a parent myself I can certainly see the appeal.

As an adult and father I’ve been fortunate in many regards. Unlike my daughter I can usually put on my shoes and even tie them without breaking into tears. It’s the small things that make life worth living. More on topic however I’ve been blessed with a daughter who hasn’t crapped herself silly all that often and has only relieved her bladder on my bed a few hundred times in four years.

Despite my good fortune I still find myself asking my Darcy about a dozen times a day the same question my grandparents asked of me not so very many years ago.

“Darcy do you need to go to the potty?” I’ll ask and even at the age of four she’s already casting the sort of irritated eye rolling glances I must have shown my grandparents.

I suppose it could be worse. I have friends who ask their children if they need to go “poo poo” or “pee pee” which I find to be deeply unsettling in any but the most comedic settings. Combine the phrase with a forty year old man who is addressing his daughter with the same level of gravity one usually reserves for telling someone how to defuse a bomb and the entire situation becomes more than I’m capable of handling without a ruffie or a sharp blow to the head.


Can’t you just see this disgustingly happy young woman telling her OBGYN about her vajayjay!!!

The real tragedy, of course, is that these parent’s kids will grow up thinking that this sort of talk is socially acceptable. Cutesy euphemisms for bodily functions are all well and good when kids are in preschool. They harbor an altogether different and creepy tone later on in one’s life.

These are the men and women who will still be referring to their vajayjays and…well whatever it is that strange men in their fifties refer to their penises. These are the men and women who will remain celibate while hording dozens of feral cats.

Back on topic. Unfortunately there is no good replacement for asking one’s children if they need to go potty.

“Do you need to have a bowel movement or urinate?” is too clinical and “tell me if you need to take a crap or a leak,” is much too crass. “Do you need to use the facilities?” is too abstract and, honestly, reminds me of something that Norman Bates might say. I hate asking if Darcy want’s to go to the toilet because…well…I’m not British.

Until we come up with something better I suppose that we’ll just have to muddle through with what we’ve got. My daughter is already and most likely ruined but there’s still hope for the rest of you and your children and that’s really my message. Do better than I have done. Do better than my parents and grandparents and when you find an appropriate way to address this issue in adult terms please let me know. I might be adopting a child and, if that falls through, there’s always a slim chance that my daughter might have children of her own despite my requests for her to potty or poo-poo when she’s in her mid twenties.

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