Friday, August 24, 2012

Potty Humor

      I have been working on a little project for a couple of years now and I have stalled at finishing because I am quite nervous about it. It is a book about parenting with lots of stories of messes we have made and things we feel we have done right. It's sassy and honest and, I hope, thought-provoking and encouraging. It's not perfect or perfectly written, but it's much of what we think makes our family fun. In an effort to kick-start my courage to just get it done and send it out into the universe, my husband has convinced me to share a chapter here and see what people think. So, feel free to express your thoughts, criticisms and encouragements. Oh, and if anyone makes grammatical corrections, I will assume they are volunteering to be my editor. ;) Thanks!

potty humor

To train or not train? That is the question. Please, please, please, if you don’t think anything else in this book is useful, take me seriously here. RELAX!!! Do you know very many 17 year olds that wear diapers? There is no need whatsoever for the low grade panic that grips the parents of 9 month olds when they realize Tommy next door is out of diapers. Who are you trying to keep up with? Just like every other milestone, you can not judge your child’s progress on the law of averages. Take a deep breath, slow down, and think seriously about your motives and your methods. A little non-emotional common sense is in order here.

First off, how do you decide when your child is ready to start experimenting with losing the portable poop pants? Is it when your nephew of the same age starts? How about when your mother says you did? Maybe it’s when your child’s diapers get a little more aromatic than they used to be. Maybe your reasons are a little more practical. Do you have to go back to work and your child care provider doesn’t do diapers? Whatever your reasons for starting the process, step back and ask if you are being realistic. If your child is not ready, you will only frustrate both of you by pushing it. This is not a battle worth picking.

There are plenty of ways your child will show you they are ready. They should be able to go a couple of hours between wet diapers and have fairly regular bowel movements. They may start asking to wear big kid underwear and get curious about what you or their siblings are doing in the bathroom. Even if you have had an open door policy on the bathroom, they may become more curious than usual about the actual porcelain proceedings. You may have a child like one of mine who simply decides that they are potty trained. Sounds heavenly right? wrong!

My youngest just decided one day just after she turned two that she knew how this worked. I could not keep her in a diaper. I actually tried duct tape in desperation once. She managed to wiggle out. The thing is, she really thought she was potty trained. She would sit on the toilet for twenty minutes at a time then hop off and pee on the floor. I couldn’t even get mad because she would try to clean up while her little voice chimed, “uh oh!” What is a mother to do in that situation besides make sure there are plenty of towels in reach in every room?

She really kept me on my toes. One morning, I came around the corner to see her reaching down with a little square of toilet paper to pick up a little poop she had left there by mistake. She realized the square of toilet paper hadn’t protected her hand very well. She looked up at me with her adorable little eyes and said, “ewww Mama.” Before I could stop her, she wiped her hand off in her hair. Needless to say, a good floor washing and a shower for both of us followed. I am telling you this story so that you know I have had my share of potty training misadventures. I am not telling you to relax as someone who has had it easy and clearly, younger children being ready to train has it’s disadvantages.

With four children of my own and several that I have provided care for, I have experienced a variety of personalities in every stage of excremental success. I have spent a slightly ridiculous amount of time thinking about ways to do it better since it seems to frustrate so many people. There are two extremes I have observed and everything in between.

The first extreme I have noticed is what I call the “Potty police.” They are demanding and frustrated when their child can’t keep up. They are impatient and insist that their child’s unwillingness to get serious about potty training is a direct attempt at defiance. They view the bathroom as a battlefield and their child as the enemy. There are consequences for unmet expectations and both the child and the parent end up at their wits end. Oh, the child still ends up out of diapers eventually, but at what cost? Fear and intimidation have never led to long-lasting healthy relationships. These are your foundational years. Again, I say, relax.

The other extreme is the “Poopy Party Planner.” They have the singing potty with the color changing pull-ups. Every time their kid gets on the potty, they stop whatever they are doing and read to them. The child gets stickers and candy and toys for their performance as well as applause. Eliminating waste in the proper receptacle has just gone from a natural and expected bodily function to a production of grand proportions. Let me just quietly ask, what precedent are you setting in this relationship? Maybe your child is not making choices based on fear and intimidation, and that’s a good thing, but what is the foundation here? Could it be at all possible that the growing attitude of entitlement in our culture may have something to do with the way we parents have taken every small and expected step in our child’s development and turned it into grand achievements? Pooping, for the vast majority of people, is just a gross necessity, not an act that merits a gold medal.

If your parenting consists of making a big deal out of every normal, necessary and common milestone, what will you do when the time comes to celebrate a significant achievement? It’s not that singing potty’s are inherently evil. I am only suggesting that if you set your child up to be lavishly rewarded for things that are common place expectation, you are not doing them any long term favours.

So find a spot in the middle. Celebrate the milestone, but keep in mind the reality that this is expected not extraordinary. Sometimes it is good to remind ourselves and to teach our children that some rewards come automatically with our behaviour. For instance, a dry bum is a happy bum so don’t buy the most absorbent diapers. Let them have the big kid pants and calmly deal with the messes when they happen together.  Getting to be a big kid is exciting all on it’s own. Take a deep breath, relax, and don’t make mountains out of molehills.

In conclusion, I will give you some ideas that worked for me or friends of mine. For several of my children, I didn’t have a potty, they used the toilet and we had a stool in front. We had an open door policy, so they could hang around and begin to get the sense of what was going on in the bathroom. I used cloth diapers so they could feel when they were wet. It takes them some time to figure out how the muscles down there work and if they just stay dry, they don’t necessarily understand that they have caused the situation in their pants to change. If they don’t have an awareness of what’s happening, how can we expect them to anticipate it before it happens? That’s just downright unreasonable.

I know you saw this chapter and were hoping for “three easy steps to potty training!” or “potty train your 10 month old in 12 hours or your money back!” I am ever so sorry to disappoint. Welcome to parenthood. This is a world where the answers aren’t always easy and everyone has a different anecdote to explain why you are wrong. You may have several that oppose everything I have stated so far. I will simply repeat the premise I started with. Examine your methods and your motives. If you truly take the time to be thoughtful and deliberate, you’ll do fine. If you don’t do fine and you just suck at the potty training thing, go back and read the chapter on guilt again and then keep trying. Relax and remember, just like pregnancy and infancy, this too will pass.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

So it begins......

......... the moment I have been dreading since the first little stick showed two lines. Tomorrow we officially enter the teen years. Duh duh duh.

Funny thing is, standing on the threshold of my greatest maternal fear, I am excited as all get out. I was sure I would never get over the baby stage, or the toddler stage (and I haven't, for the record. I could still go for two or three more....) but in the last few years, I have fallen in love with teenagers. I am so excited to parent my kids through the exciting years between childhood and adulthood.

It helps that I actually like the people my kids are becoming. I mean, I really enjoy their company and conversation. The fact that my son can already beat me at chess and talk philosophy only makes him more interesting to hang out with. The reality that he has his very own ideas that I didn't help put there is fascinating!

Certainly, it's not all roses. We had a moment recently that gave me some indication things were changing. Rather than come to the musical shindig that we have always enjoyed together as a family, Levi wanted to go hang out with some friends for the afternoon. His definition of relational time well spent is branching off from mine. I may have reacted a little poorly in the moment, but I wasn't ready for that just yet. I will learn. Slowly, but I will.

In all of the other crazy life changes that are going on around here at the Marriott house, I didn't want to miss the significance of this one. My son is growing up. It has suddenly become a tangible reality that he is closer to manhood than infancy and I don't want to miss these milestones anymore than I would have missed his first steps or first words.

I love him as fiercely, as completely, and as unrelentingly as I did the day he was born, but something new is rising up. I am beginning to respect him. Not the kind of general respect you should give to everyone regardless of age. I respect him in the way a person earns it, by who they are and the integrity they posses. I am losing my cheeky, brainy, little boy, day by day, but I am also slowly getting to know my grown son who is evolving even as the little boy disappears. What a heart-wrenching, yet delightful gift.

Tomorrow, my son will be 13, and I am totally excited about that. :)