A Potty Training Ghost Story

I’m trying to potty train my daughter. When she looks like she needs to poop I scoop her up and dash to the bathroom to plop her on the toilet. Timing is everything. The other day I was in such a rush that I forgot to put on the training seat and she plopped right into the toilet water.

I spent the next half hour furiously scrubbing her butt with disinfectant wipes. I could practically see the microorganisms crawling around on her butt cheeks.

My daughter didn’t make a peep and I wondered if she even noticed. But later that night, as I was tucking her into bed, she asked why did you drop me in the toilet dad?

Tacitus once said that to show resentment at a reproach is to acknowledge that one may have deserved it…


When I was growing up they didn’t have miniature versions of everything like they do now. As a little kid, if you wanted to ride a bike, you just wobbled around on a big-kid bike. You would fall down a million times and come home with bloody knees. But eventually you’d figure it out and then you’d have have earned some serious big-kid bona fides.

Training seats existed but we didn’t have one, so as a little person, if you wanted to learn to poop on the toilet, you had to use a big people toilet. You might fall in and dunk your butt but eventually you’d figure it out.

My mom didn’t make a big deal out of potty training. One day it was pronounced that I was to start using the big toilet, and I was left to figure it out on my own. After some experimentation I devised a great solution. Rather than try to find a place to perch my butt, I started to squat over the hole with my feet on the toilet seat.

Keeping my butt dry was awesome but there was a very important side benefit to squatting on the toilet seat. From a higher vantage point I could look down into the toilet bowl and be ready to ward off the Toilet Ghost…


As far back as I can remember my older sisters would terrorize me with a bizarre Korean ghost story about a little school girl who fell into an outhouse toilet and then forever after haunted the outhouse and all who dared enter.

I shivered with fear when my oldest sister described how the little girl would scratch and moan as you tried to poop.

Middle sister made the story even scarier. In her sphincter-constricting version, the ghost would reach up and pull you into the toilet.

Littlest sister told the most chilling version of all. In her telling, a hand would periscope up between your legs and then swivel around to grab your junk.

I was paralyzed with fear every time I had to use the toilet. I did not want a skeletal hand festooned with toilet paper to grab my junk.


Squatting over the potty was a game changer for me. My butt was always dry, and I could see skeleton hands coming. While admittedly unorthodox, it was a rational solution to the problem at hand. And using the toilet in any capacity made me feel like a grown up.

Then one day my sister barged into the bathroom while I was dropping a deuce. Her fists went to her hips. Her brows knitted. Her lips pursed. I knew I was in trouble. Mooooommmmm Teddy’s doing something weird on the toilet!

When my mom rushed to the bathroom I recognized the panic in her face from other mishaps, like when I got stuck on the roof, or ate a box of ex-lax. I expected the worst, but when she saw me squatting over the toilet, relief washed over her face. -meh- Leave him alone, he figured it out.

That was it. Neither punishment nor praise.

This was before helicopter parenting, when the range of parental feedback was much more compressed. In those days kids weren’t praised for sharing, nor punished for crossing the street without a helmet. Within the range of acceptable behavior between punishment and praise is where growing up happened.

Nowadays, parents are obsessed with trifles. The standard deviation of parental reaction is so vast that kids can’t calibrate their behavior against anything tangible or predictable. Simultaneously coddled and berated, is it any wonder that kids can’t figure out how to be adults?


Which brings me back to the ghost story. As a child my little brain couldn’t quite unpack the disaster that befell the little girl who couldn’t figure out adulting.

Where were the grownups to pull her out of the toilet? Why do we feel fear and revulsion, instead of guilt for letting her down? What would happen to me if I fell into a toilet?

So to my daughter I make this pledge. I may not always be the best parent, but I will not let you fall into the toilet. And if you do, I will be there to pull you back out.