If there is one benefit to being a man it is the luxury to be able to pee standing up.
We take this ability lightly because we’ve been doing it so long, but I’ve recently learned that training a newbie in the arts of the standing wee takes a fair bit of reverse engineering. For the first two years of my son’s life his nether regions were encased in environmentally-unfriendly nappies, peeing without thinking into these moisture-wicking modern miracles.
But one day, not long after he turned two, he started to become resistant. He hated getting his nappy changed and he hated change rooms. As his strength and willpower grew my partner and I had no choice but to embark on the dreaded potty training.
Potty training is notoriously difficult. For parents, it brings an increased attention on their kids bowel movements and output. For the child, it introduces a raft of new concepts including that there is right and wrong behaviour when it comes to what goes on down there—remembering that he has spent his entire life peeing into a nappy without thinking anything of it.
Depending on what you read, there is no set age to begin the training. Some cultures start years earlier than us in the West, because we have disposable nappies which are so damn convenient and because it’s common practice. There are even conspiracy theories that Westerners are encouraged to wait longer by the very companies that benefit by our continual purchase of their products with talk about your child ‘being ready’.
We didn’t make the choice of nappies. We didn’t determine that he had the necessary physical aptitude and mental wherewithal to cope with a shocking change to his daily life. We started when his tantrums over nappy changes became more than we could bear.
As a dad, even a primary-carer dad, it can be unwelcoming in the parents’ rooms at times for males. It can also be quite common for the baby rooms to be inside the female toilets where you aren’t meant to be. Which means you have to take your kid into whatever putrid hellhole other men have been pointing their arses at to try to find a clear clean space to lay out the mat and get the job done.
We were lucky to have a kid driving the change, but because we started early it meant he only had two years indoctrination to the way of the nappy rather than four.
The longer the practice goes, the longer and harder it can be to change it later.
I tried to study up, googling and searching for potty-training techniques, but in the online world the only agreement seemed to be that there wasn’t one true path. All kids are different. In the end a book was recommended to me by another dad, Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki, that acknowledged all differences, but also set a series of milestones and how to get from one to another.
The steps in potty training are basically to get from fully nude child learning to wee when they need to, then adding clothes and getting them to recognise when they need to go early enough to get to the potty and get their trousers down before wetting themselves.
The nudie phase takes a few weeks at home; kid naked, you watching him like a hawk for signs he is about to wee. Then you add trousers, watch him like a hawk and get him to go when he shows signs he needs to pee.
Then you add undies, watch him like a hawk and—you get the idea. That sense you have in yourself that you need to wee? You have to be that for him.
But you can’t keep a kid inside all the time and there are always errands to run. In preparation for going out you try to get them to do a wee before leaving the house, but you can’t always get a toddler to pee when you want them to.
One morning, five minutes into our journey down the hill, he says “I need to wee.” This is great, I’m so proud we’ve reached this phase of our relationship, but we are ages away from any toilet.
I ask him, “Can you pee on this pole?” and he shakes his head. Then I flash-backed to something I’d read about in that book and asked him if he could pee in a bottle, and he said yes.
I emptied the bottle of juice in my bag then held in place. Light golden liquid—like Pink Lady apple juice— he filled the bottle halfway. I held it up and looked at it. No mess. No drips. No fuss.
I held that bottle of golden water up like it was the holy grail. This was the beginning of our first pee jar.
The standing wee is great for a few reasons, but one motivator for me was no longer having to hold him on adult-size toilets to do a three second wazz. Some of those single-person toilet stalls are so narrow you have to get on your knees to hold up a kid so he doesn’t fall in.
Holding him up in front of a urinal is comical, but challenging.
And thus the era of the pee jar began. Now, wherever we are, whenever my kid says ‘I need to wee’, I take it out, attach it astronaut style and pretend nothing is out of the ordinary and then close up.
We disguised what it was by keeping it in a small canvas tote bag so we could whip it out anywhere, tuck down his trousers, attach, and no one be the wiser. I’ve used the pee jar on the street, on trains, and many other places where my choices were either he wets himself or I pull out the bottle.
Society be damned, this is a compromise, and a more hygienic one overall (with regular hand and bottle washing, of course).
We also managed to reduce the baby junk we carried around everywhere to snacks and pee jar. Any wide-mouth bottle will do, and the book says it can work for girls as well. The only hazard is if I go to work with the same bag accidentally carrying a jar of day old wee.
We’ve saved ourselves a bundle on nappies and thus shrunken our environmental footprint but the other great thing is that the pee jar is a good stepping stone to the standing wee. Once he had gotten used to standing and peeing in the jar, it wasn’t hard for him take that next step and pee without the jar.
All up, it took less than a year to get him to the standing wee: on bushes, light poles, into the little kids-sized toilets in the really good parents’ rooms, pub troughs and car tires.
It isn’t all good news of course. I am still, sometimes, caught out underestimating the velocity of a three-year-old boy’s stream. Do I need to say more? You imagine trying to stop a giggling little boy as he triumphantly slashes like a horse over everything in front of him.
All hail the master of the standing wee.