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.
Kid Friendliness: 4
Boon Potty Bench ($29.98)
I was enamored with the Boon at first. It doesn't look like a potty chair; in fact, when it's in the closed position, it looks like a stool. Guess what? It is a stool! The dual stool/potty chair design is undeniably nifty and the stool itself is remarkably sturdy, so your toddler can use it to reach the sink, or you can use it to reach the liquor you keep in the upper cabinet (maybe that's just me). My wife and I stood on it at the same time with no problem other than feeling silly.
As I spent more time with the Boon, however, my ardor began to fade. The Boon has compartments built into either side that are large enough for holding rolls of paper or other toiletries. But the doors are tricky to open and shut. You can't operate them at all when the potty is in stool mode, which I'm certain is a safety feature, but this makes them decidedly less handy. The removable rubber splash guard is an improvement over its plastic counterparts, but because of its placement, it interferes with removing the reservoir. In general, I see little use for splash guards (or deflectors, in potty argot), though apparently others must or they wouldn't be on the potties.
The Boon is low to the ground so you can easily slip it under a bed, and it's probably the best of the lot for taking on trips. Overall, not perfect but not bad.
Kid Friendliness: 7
Safety 1st Jack Potty ($33.65) Just as I was set to love the Boon, I was ready to despise Jack Potty—a potty chair that looks like a slot machine? Has there ever been a worse concept for a children's product? Excluding lawn darts and candy cigarettes?
The Jack Potty has multiple colored lights and a spinning display that features guitar-playing bananas. When the potty has been used successfully, lights flash, buzzers buzz, and a voice offers congratulations. For additional verisimilitude, the potty plays the sound of cascading coins, though no actual money pours out (Version 2.0?). The Jack Potty is the only addiction-themed potty I ran across in my research, and I half-worry that my son will, as an adult, find himself inextricably drawn to casinos, sitting there day after day, glassy eyed, wearing diapers so he doesn't have to leave his machine. Oh, the irony.
I was fully prepared to dismiss Jack Potty as a ridiculous creation worthy of endless derision. And it is. But, I have to say, my son loves it and I can see why. It's the only potty we tested that knows when the kid sits down. Along with the welcome message, the potty encourages kids to try again if they fail to make a deposit. If the kid does follow through, the reaction from the potty is both obnoxious and awesome. I don't want to like it, but I do.
Kid Friendliness: 8
Babybjörn ($18.81) This is hands down, no-kidding-around the best potty chair I've ever seen. It's not as spectacular as Jack Potty, nor as nifty as the Boon, but the design is simple and elegant. It's lightweight, stable, super easy to clean, and the splash-guard is built-in and doubles as a handle for the reservoir. Emptying is a dream. The thing is only two pieces and therefore almost impossible to break. The back of the potty wraps around your toddler so he or she is unlikely to tumble off. The kid can even lean back and rest, which is nice considering that potty time can turn into an extended, dilatory ordeal.
There's no lid to get in the way, no batteries to go dead, no lights or buzzers. My son approves of the Björn, too, and insists on having it next to his bed. Also: cheap! Nineteen bucks. Honestly, just get this one.
Kid Friendliness: 8
Bonus review: Peter Potty Toddler Urinal ($39.00) OK, so this is only going to work for half the toddlers out there, but I feel obliged to mention Peter Potty because it's a minor work of genius. Learning to point is a life skill for the male of the species, and Peter Potty provides important practice (say that 10 times fast). Plus, it really flushes. Push a button at the top and water flows down the urinal and into the plastic drain. Granted, you then have to refill the tank, and your kid may decide that pushing the button is more fun than using the potty. But if that happens, don't fill it up. Problem solved.
In summary: Buy the Björn. Or, if you think your kid will respond to lights, buzzers, and guitar-playing bananas, go with Jack Potty. If you're looking for dual stool action, I suggest the Boon. And if you want to frustrate your child and yourself, by all means choose Cheer for Me!