Monday, June 27, 2011

Potty Training, You Crazy Mystery

New Undies!  Lots of Enthusiasm!
So far, in my almost three year stint as parent, I think it is safe to say that I have dreaded nothing more than this crazy, elusive, mixed-up, messy business they call potty training. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. This so-called business of “giving up the nap” makes me shudder with fear, but I am still in denial about this one and determined to keep Finny’s three-hour-nap going until at least kindergarten. This is why every day I do a careful dance of closing the room-darkening curtains, turning up the air purifier for white noise, delicately adjusting the volume just so on his lullabies, pulling the cord on his ceiling fan so that he has just the right amount of breeze, and of course, bringing good old Tissa out from her little box. I know, I know…he’s almost three…can’t keep the pacifier forever, but is orthodontia really that expensive when weighed carefully beside the sanity that a quiet, peaceful afternoon cup of coffee provides? Well, one thing at a time. Now, to the potty training…fiasco.

I read books. And articles. And talked to friends. And moms. And moms of friends. I wanted to know the BEST way to go about this odd business of somehow convincing my two-year-old to no longer pee and poop comfortably into his pants wherever he wants, whenever he wants. I mean what could be better than that? Ever fidgeted uncomfortably in a restaurant seat because you don’t want to leave the juicy conversation just to pee after a few beers? I have. Diapers would be a marvelous solution. So, why, I wondered would Finny ever want to give them up on his own? How, I wondered, was I ever to convince him to stop doing it in his pants on a regular basis in order to pee and poop on the potty when he seemed quite content to just sit in it?

I read books about potty training is one day. I read books about potty training in less than one day. Potty training in a three-day weekend. Potty training in 3- 12 months. Potty training as early as 9 months. Potty training as late as three and a half. Books that said cold turkey underwear. Books that said be willing to bend. Books that said you’re the boss. Books that said he’s the boss. I talked to moms who said their kids potty trained themselves. Moms who said their kids kicked and screamed through the whole ordeal. Moms whose kids cried when they peed themselves. Moms whose kids could have cared less to walk around in wet underwear all day long.

After gathering as much information as I could to make an informed decision about the best way to approach this toilet garbage, I was left confused, bewildered, and befuddled. So I just tried a few things.

I introduced Finny to the old potty chair and the sticker chart back in March to get him jazzed up about the party going on in the potty room. He took the bait. He loved the potty. He peed, he pooped, he partied. He developed a full on proud-to-potty strut and things were looking good. Until…he got sick. Then we stopped. We never made it to underwear. Instead, we kept on the diapers, shelved the potty talk and focused intently on getting him well.

Once illness passed and life resumed as normal, we tried again. This time we came back rejuvenated with a Pez dispenser and an assortment of Mickey, Thomas, Diego, Nemo, and Buzz Light Year underpants.

Before starting, I had reviewed the old “signs of readiness” and found quite a few checkmarks on the list:

• Demonstrates signs of independence

• Knows when he is peeing or pooping

• Has dry periods of at least 3-4 hours

• Can pull his pants up and down

So my thinking was: put the kid in underwear, let him pee and feel wet and not like feeling wet and therefore, learn to head to the potty when the urge strikes. My thinking was: load him up on drinks, watch him like a hawk, catch him in the act and rush him to the potty. Eventually, he would begin listening to his body and heading to the potty before he started peeing on the floor. My thinking was based on advice I had received from both the pediatrician and a manual I had read titled “3 Day Potty Training” by Lora Jensen. Since I had no personal experience of my own yet, I listened to veterans who had been there, in the trenches, and who returned to tell their stories.

Then, we did it. We plunged in. Put on the old underpants and watched and waited to see just what would happen.

The first day he wet through every pair of underwear, at least ten in total, but there was not a single pair of poopy underwear. Three poopies in the toilet and lots and lots of celebration over poopies! Lots of “Hoorays!” and “That’s AWESOME!” and “I’m so proud of you!” Not that far off from what I’m sure many proud parents say as they’re patting their son on the back after he wins his first PGA major or his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

And I too needed a big pat on the back. I had successfully remained patient through it all. Through the accidents and through the general schizophrenic rants that accompany my two-year-old to the toilet.

For example:

“Mommy, I wanna sit on the big potty. Can I sit on the big potty?”

Seated. Climbing all over potty. Sitting on back of the potty, on the edge of the potty, dangling feet into the potty. Stepping off the potty, sticking face dangerously deep within the potty bowl.

Cue sound of the washing machine floating up from the air duct. “Oh, Mommy, what’s that?”

“The washing machine, Finn.”

Cue sound of lawnmower outside. “Mommy, what’s that?”

“The lawnmower, Finn.”

“Mommy, do we have any goggles? I need some goggles. Where’s my flashlight? I think we left baby dinosaur in the car. Did we leave baby dinosaur in the car? Does he go ‘ROOOAARR!!!’?” Now in a tiny voice, “Or does he do a little rooaar?”

“Okay, Finny. I think you’re done. Let’s wash your hands.”

“NO! I just want to sit here for a little minute.” Reclines back against the toilet seat. “I think I’m a little sleepy. I think I’m just gonna sleep here for a little bit.”

And this is all before the handwashing begins. That’s another ordeal in itself. He spends an hour and a half trying to get the temperature and the pressure of the water just right and is always looking to have something on hand to give a bath to. Baby dinosaur, cheetah, hair dryer. What have you.

This is all going on while I do, in fact, have another child who has been left once again on a blanket on the floor to fend for himself.

But we made it. Made it through the first day. Lots of accidents, but not so bad.

And then the second day—Finny exploded.

In the morning, things were looking good. Twice, Finny told us he had to go pee. Noticed the urge and told us he had to go before an accident occurred. For the first time, he had dry underwear. He did poop his underwear, but I blamed myself because I wasn’t watching him closely enough. So, I called our friends Audra and Kyle and told them we were on for dinner after all. This potty training business wasn’t so bad. I had called Audra the day before claiming dinner would be too much while we were supposed to be watching Finny’s every move. I didn’t want to be distracted. But, then, I figured what the heck? What could possibly go wrong while we grill some burgers for dinner with some friends over?

Well, Finny could explode. That’s all. None of the books mentioned that. Didn’t show up in a footnote or an index or a chapter heading. “What to Do if Your Child Explodes.” They talked of setbacks. They did not talk of explosions. “Load ‘em up on drinks and send ‘em into the yard!” Dr. Mumma said. Dr. Rath said. “3 Day Potty Training” manual said. So around 5 p.m. when Finny was throwing back Capri Suns like a freshmen at a frat party, I let him go. “Can I have another Prisun?” Sure! No problem! Slurp it back, little one!

Five. Five Capri Suns in one hour. Someone should report me to the authorities.

6 p.m. Changing Charlie’s diaper. David’s at the grill. Audra and Kyle are in the driveway. Finny becomes a human Bellagio fountain. It starts in the family room. I leave poor Charlie, once again, naked on the changing table to scoop up peeing Finny and rush him to the toilet. But there is no stopping him. Pee in the family room. Pee in the kitchen. Pee in the foyer. Pee sloshing around in my flip flops. I am wiping up Finny and myself while David mops the entire first floor. Audra and Kyle walk in with their adorable six-week-old who is sweet, angelic, and properly diapered.

Dinner party resumes. Finny pees again. More mopping. Accidentally lay Charlie down in some of the pee on the rug. Sorry, Charlie.

Dinner party resumes. I sit down to nurse Charlie, hoping he knows somewhere in the depths of his soul that I do, in fact, love him too. David attempts once again to grill the burgers. Audra, Kyle and I attempt to have a conversation. Finny has disappeared. But not for long.

Running in from the living room, “Mommy! Mommy! I’ve got poop on my legs! I’ve got poop on my legs!”

And sure enough, he looks as if he just accidentally waded through a bucket of shit we keep in our living room.

“David!!! We need the hose. You have to use the hose.” Audra and Kyle cling to sweet, diapered Madeline who is still years away from exploding in this capacity all over the living room.

Then, when Finny is hosed off and the burgers are cooked, we sit down to dinner. Glasses of wine are poured, corn on the cob is buttered, burgers are ketchuped. And Finny pees again. In his booster seat. At the dinner table. Something he’s probably been doing quite comfortably for ages. And here we go again. Audra and Kyle are good friends. I’m sure they’ll come back again. But maybe not for awhile. And we would totally understand.

After that, I think we were all a little sick of potty training. I tried putting Finny in underwear with a pull-up over top so that he would feel wet, but it wouldn’t end up on the floor, but he just started getting obstinate and stubborn.

On the fourth day, standing at his train table, he casually whispered, “I didn’t go potty.”

“Did you just go potty, Finny?”

“No, I didn’t go potty.”

“Are you wet?”

“I’m not wet and I’m not dry.”

Then, the kicking and screaming. “I don’t want to go on the potty! I don’t want treats! NO! NO! NO!”

So, by the end of the fourth day, potty talk ceased. The underwear were put away. The pull-up became our friend.

The “3 Day Potty Training” manual says throw away the diapers, the pull-ups, the training pants. The “3 Day Potty Training” manual says anyone can do it in three days. Her five kids did it. So yours can do it too.

The “3 Day Potty Training” manual did not have any footnotes about explosions, but most importantly, it did not have a chapter on “Potty Training Finny VanHimbergen”. So, we’re taking a break. We’re backing off a little bit. We’re regrouping.

The moral of the story is this: You can take a toddler to the toilet, but you can’t make him tinkle. You can pull a preschooler onto the potty but you can’t make him poop. You can load up your kid with Capri Sun and send him into the yard, but he will, in fact, explode. And it will, in fact, ruin your dinner party.

A toast to my new undies and this whole "Load em up on drinks" business.

Kyle, exhausted from mopping pee off our floors.

We like you guys...we're just not sure if we love you anymore.

NOTE:  If you are like me and like to read up on things before you begin, I do have one book I would recommend.  After all of the reading, one book I would truly recommend as what seemed to me to be the most common sense approach to potty training is The No-Cry Potty Training Solution:  Gentle Ways to Help Your Child to Say Good-Bye to Diapers by Elizabeth Pantley.  Good luck!

Friday, June 17, 2011

In Praise of the Lazy Snuggle

One of my favorite things to do with my dad when I was a kid was to sit on his lap, lay my head on his chest and watch TV. In fact, I watched a lot of stupid, crappy, low budget TV shows just so I could snuggle up with my daddy.

I vividly remember a time when I was no older than four, when I snuck out of bed and sat at the end of the hallway in our house on Fernandez in Arlington Heights, IL and watched Poltergeist with my dad. I snuggled with my blanky and my thumb and watched a horror film about dead people and little girls getting sucked into TVs and told to “not go into the light, Carol Anne!” I watched an extraordinary amount of science fiction for a little girl including shows like V, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr. Who. I watched golf, football, and nature shows about insects who eat their babies. And I did it all just to be close to my daddy.

A few weeks ago when David and I went out for a mid-week date, my dad came over to babysit for Finny and Charlie and he only did half the job he was asked to do. When we got home around 10 p.m., Charlie was in bed, but Finny was sitting on my dad’s lap with his head on his chest, watching TV. They were watching Black Stallion. I glared, disappointed that now I would have to put Finny to bed when all I really wanted to do was go to bed myself. But then I saw it. I recognized that look in Finny’s eyes, that feeling of absolute bliss to be staying up late snuggling with Pop-Pop. My dad had the same look in his eyes, excited to have his little grandson curled up under his arm, excited to show Finny this “classic” movie. And when it was over, my dad stayed to put Finny to bed, because, you know, I think he wanted to do that too.

And it’s not just my dad; it’s David’s dad too. A couple weekends ago when we were staying the weekend in Louisville, Finny and Pop-Pop would disappear, like two little peas in a pod sneaking off to go love each other. Inevitably, we would find them swinging together in the hammock. One morning Finny was out there until close to lunch time donning sandals and pjs, swinging with Pop-Pop. Two generations of big-lipped, duck-mouth smiles just grinning side by side.

Now I see it with David too. The joy of a lazy snuggle. As much as possible, I try to keep TV to a minimum when I’m home with the boys all week and if it is on, it’s a show for Finn while I empty the diswasher or make dinner, but David shamelessly and unapologetically camps out on the couch some Sunday afternoons with a beer and a golf tournament and a Finny or a Charlie or both under the crook of his arm. Sometimes I think they should be outside playing or using their imaginations building tunnels with blocks or doing puzzles. Sometimes I can’t help but think, “Be active, you couch potatoes!” But the truth is, the sight of the daddy and the little daddy all snuggled up eating out of the same snack bowl talking about Tiger Woods…it’s kind of adorable. The real truth is, I wish I could do it too. Sit, relax, be lazy, snuggle.

A few nights ago, when I walked in the door from my run at 9 p.m., I started to get fired up when I realized that David was STILL putting Finny to bed. When I had left them at 8 p.m., they were crawling into bed to read stories, so what happened? Did he fall asleep in there? Were they reading Moby Dick? What?

When I walked in, I found the two of them snuggled up side by side watching something on David’s iphone. “What’s the story?” I probed once again with a scowl and a glare.

“We’re waiting for the moon.” David said.

“Yeah, Mommy. Daddy is laying here with me and we’re waiting for the moon.”

“Oh, okay.” I softened, “Well, it’s out now. Let’s walk across the street and we can see it from Doris’s driveway.”

And the only thing more glorious than that huge, bright, glowing, yellowy-orange moon, was the sight of Finny’s wide eyes as he just marveled at the sight of it. “The moon! The moon!” He shouted. “That’s a big, yellow moon!”

Sometimes, I’m all business. I always have a list, a chore, a busy mind, busy hands, busy feet. It’s the nature of my job. But the daddy, the glory and beauty of the daddy is that he has figured out how to be a little lazy without guilt or shame or apology. He has figured out that sometimes seeing the moon is more important than going to bed on time. And that time spent lying on the couch or swinging in a hammock is not wasted time at all. It might not be on the list or part of the schedule, but it is real, quality, snuggly time to hold and be held. Two generations of men just loving each other.

Happy Father’s Day to David, Pop-Pop Finnessy and Pop-Pop VanHimbergen. How blessed we are to have such affectionate, loving, lazy men in our lives to show us how to have a proper snuggle.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Zen and the Art of Mommyhood Madness

I’m on the hunt. The temper tantrums, the throwing, the slamming, the yelling, the crying—it’s all too much. “But, he’s two,” you’ll say, “These are all normal things for him to do. He’s learning to express himself.” But it’s not the two-year-old I’m talking about—it’s the thirty-two-year-old who’s the problem. It’s the thirty-two-year-old Mommy who had two kids and has suddenly forgotten how to express herself. Appropriately. In front of her toddler. So, I’m on the hunt. For patience. Anybody seen it? It’s just got to be here somewhere.
Finny, the toddler, is actually a barrel of laughs right now. He has a great sense of humor, a wild imagination, a delightful curiousity, and an affectionate nature that just lights me up, especially after enduring a month of illness where he whined and cried and pouted all the time because he was tired and achy and not feeling himself. But, Mommy, the adult, is having a hard time joining him there in the sweet spot, the carefreeness, the joy. So, I’m looking for my Zen, my enlightenment, my “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” demeanor.

Yesterday, I looked in the card catalog for anything on patience and motherhood and I found these titles:

1, 2, 3 Magic by Thomas Phelan,

The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums, and Raise a Patient, Respectful, Cooperative One to Four-Year-Old by Harvey Karp,

The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Bevhavior without Whining, Tantrums, and Tears by Elizabeth Pantley.

So, I reserved them in hopes that I can glean some wisdom from the experts, but the discouraging thing is, I wasn’t really looking for a book on how to encourage good behavior. I was looking for a book on how to model good behavior. I’m hoping these books will teach me how to “raise a patient, respectful and cooperative child,” by indirectly teaching me how to be a patient, respectful, and cool-headed parent.

The camel’s back broke two nights ago when dinnertime madness ensued. Charlie was screaming bloody murder on his blanket and Finny spilled a full cup of milk all over the kitchen floor and then continued to splash milk all over me as I wiped up the milk on hands and knees below him. This was just after I had mopped the floor and just after making dinner with one crying kid strapped to my chest and the other hanging off my leg as I carefully tried to open the oven door and manage the spaghetti on the stove.

After Finny dropped the milk, I dropped the F bomb. Loud as can be, across the kitchen. Maybe even across the cul-de-sac. My neighbor, Barbara, may have even looked up from her Us Weekly and her Maker’s Mark. That’s right. There was no “Golly darn!” no “Oh, fudgsicles!” not even an “Oh, s*%t!” I went straight for the big dog. It seemed in the moment to be the only truly proper way for me to express how I was feeling. And then I put Finny in time-out. But, the truth is, I’m not sure that the milk spill was even intentional; the time-out was for me.

So, I reserved these three books from the library and I purchased a copy of Soft Spoken Parenting: 50 Ways Not to Lose Your Temper With Your Kids by H. Wallace Goddard.

And then today, at a playdate with four girlfriends, I discovered I’m not the only one who loses her cool with her kids. I’m not the only one who has yet to master the art of “Soft Spoken Parenting.” And it helped. It lightened the load in my big bag of guilt and helped me to forgive myself a little bit.

But, I’m still on the hunt. Deep breaths. Eight hours of sleep. Yoga. A quiet walk. A Bible Study. A glass of Pinot Grigio. Two glasses of Pinot Grigio. Maker’s Mark and Us Weekly with Barbara. A swim. Enya. A night out with the girls. A night out with David. An antidepressant. A multivitamin. A viewing of SNL’s The Best of Chris Farley. A prayer. Serenity Now.

Maybe it is some combination of all of these that will lead me to that sweet spot, the Zen of Parenting, where discipline does not involve a raised voice, a swat on the bottom, or an F bomb dropped over spilled milk. I’m still looking. In the meantime, it was tremendously helpful this morning to discover that some other moms whom I have the greatest respect for also occasionally do and say things in front of their toddlers that they are not proud of. Sometimes even the best mamas need a time-out, a moment to search for the patience that always seems to run and hide right around dinnertime.