Early in life, when nature calls, there's no waiting for the "occupied" light to dim, no trudging down the hall in the middle of the night, no checking your watch during an endless meeting, no need to even pull down your pants, for that matter. You simply go where you are. Dealing with the consequences is someone else's problem. Then, like the rest of life's worries and tasks, it becomes yours.
But there is an in-between stage, post-diaper and pre-bathroom, when carelessness is not an option and yet a full-size toilet is an unscalable behemoth. Thus, the potty chair. You might think that purchasing a potty chair would be a simple proposition. We are, after all, talking about a glorified bucket. But some of those buckets have been glorified with lights and buzzers, cartoon characters, and assorted craziness. They play music, talk, and come equipped with sensors that know when kids sit down and when they do their business. As far as I know, none is WiFi-enabled. Not yet, anyway.
To find the best potty chair on the market, I knew I'd need the assistance of an age-appropriate volunteer. Luckily, I have just such a person in-house. My son is 3 years old, was willing to sign the requisite consent forms, and agreed to be compensated solely in lollipops. For the past month, he has peed into a range of receptacles, and our den has been transformed into a wonderland of miniature toilets. To help my son deal with variety anxiety, I've encouraged him to read The Paradox of Choiceby Barry Schwartz, but he continues to request Days With Frog and Toad. I can't say I blame him.
My wife and I kept track of which potties my son used most often and which were easiest for him to operate. We listened to his enthusiastic, if not always consistent, commentary (the concept of "favorite" remains slippery). While his preferences, comfort, and convenience are relevant, we also noted which potties were easiest to clean and least annoying to those over the age of 3. We love him, sure, but there are limits.
Kid friendliness (10 points): Is it easy for him to use? Comfortable? Functional? Fun? Does he seem to like it?
Cleanup (10 points): If it's a pain to empty, I want no part of it. The reservoir should slide in and out easily. Also, considering that potties require frequent wipe-downs, it shouldn't have cracks and crevices that permit the buildup of unspeakable gunk.
Design (10 points): I allot points for cleverness—like a potty that doubles as a stool—but only if that cleverness doesn't detract from the potty's primary function.
Value (10 points): I'd prefer not to spend more than $30 on a potty. I'd much rather spend $20. If it's going to be expensive, then it better be better.
The results, from crappy (sorry) to not:
Fisher Price Cheer for Me! ($34.99) Why must all Fisher Price products talk in the same sickeningly upbeat voice? The chirpy, over-the-top patter is transparently insincere. It's the same psychotically ebullient tone that certain adults adopt when in the presence of someone else's child—"What's YOUR name?!?" and so on.
But there's so much to hate about Cheer for Me!. Unlike other, more reasonable potty chairs, Cheer for Me! is bizarrely obsessed with toilet paper. When the kid pees, the potty plays a little song:
Toilet paper, toilet paper
On a roll, next to me
I can have a few squares
Maybe one or two squares
How about three?
I'm not sure maximizing toiler paper usage is the right message to send. But the larger point is that a lot of toddlers aren't ready to fly solo quite yet. My kid immediately removed the roll from the holder and began to unravel it. When he tried to put the roll back on, he struggled because the holder is retractable. Total mess. In addition, Cheer for Me! has a pointless lid and an equally pointless removable splash guard that has to be pushed down in order for the pointless lid to close. But you have to remember to pull it back up before the next use. That is a whole lot of hassle for zero benefit. Plus, I dislike the smiley face. Cheer for me? Boo for you.