Parenting lesson #7: The harder thing to do is most likely the right one.


Do NOT let your child be plagued by one of these.

As a parent, there are a lot of times I have wanted to change my mind about something Greg and I already decided because the easier option is so much more appealing in the moment.  Last week, for the second time, I was ready to undo potty training Zach.  (The first was in the middle of it.)

For the six of you who read my sporadic blog faithfully, you will recall that a week ago, Zach was interrupted – mid-business – by an automatically-flushing toilet that launched a powerful whirlpool attack underneath him.  The two days that ensued are a blur of pee accidents: at a friend’s house for dinner, at the breakfast table in his seat, twice in Eliza’s bed, and perhaps others that I’ve blocked from memory.  (Greg was traveling for work and I was in a place where I might have approached a stranger to “borrow” my children for a few hours.  Is anybody with me?)

Zach had become terrified of every toilet.  It broke my heart.  He would walk up to the potty whimpering, pull his pants down, sit down, and cry, “All done, all done!” before letting anything out.  He knew what he was supposed to do, but he just couldn’t do it.  And frankly, I thought I had done enough pee-cleaning duty two weeks earlier when we trained him.  I really wasn’t interested in going back to that place.  I wanted to give up and put him back in diapers.

But I knew that Zach wanted to do what he had learned and fear was the problem.  I assumed I would confuse him if I asked him to use a diaper again.  I imagined him as a five-year-old, still conflicted about where he was supposed to dispose of his waste.  I envisioned him holding it all in anyway, afraid to let it out in the diaper because he knew that wasn’t the right place for it either.  So I didn’t give in to the seemingly easier choice in the moment.  I stuck to the plan.

I’m so glad I did.  On Wednesday morning, reluctantly, I took Zach to the museum-like house where I have a Bible study and took him to the basement, describing to the babysitters our situation.  I went down a couple of times to take him to his potty that I brought along for familiarity.  I knew he had to go.  He knew he had to go.  I was frustrated.  He was uncomfortable.  I told him it was going to be okay.  I told him the potty could not flush.  I named all the people who would be proud of him for letting his pee pee out, including Buzz Light Year and Lightning McQueen.

He still held it in.

He got to a whimpering point.  I had lost my patience.  I was done talking sweetly because the niceties were not working.  He was sitting on the potty, crying in fear.  And I stared him down.  In that tone every mother has that says I mean business, I demanded, “Zach, we have to leave soon to get Eliza, but I’m not going until you pee.  You MUST let your pee pee out.”  And his eyes got really big, with full tears waiting to fall, and he released it.  And then he smiled, and started telling me in a delighted way how happy he was that he was peeing in the potty.  It was like he flipped a switch.

That was Wednesday last week, and for the next two days, I stayed close to the toilet, asked him often if he needed to go, and gave him cookies and gummy snacks every time he got it right.  We went to New York on Friday for the weekend.  He spent hours in the car.  We went to the zoo.  He used public toilets successfully, even the auto-flushing ones.  And he has not had an accident in five days.  The training stuck.  I knew that he knew what to do.  He had to overcome his fear, and he did.  I’m so proud of him.

I know that as my kids grow, there are going to be a lot of times they’re afraid, and it’s going to be so challenging to know when to push them and when to give in.  I often ask myself what the harder thing to do is, because more often than not and unfortunately for us as parents, the harder thing to do is the right thing to do.

If you learn anything from this, remember not to put your kids on automatically-flushing toilets.  Both of my children have suffered from toilet flushing trauma disorder.  And if you have no other option (HERE’S ONE!), then cover the sensor with your hand the WHOLE time your child is on the seat.  Leave no room for accidental flushings.  It might be difficult in the moment to both cover the sensor and keep your kid from falling in, but in the long run, you could save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.

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I wish there were Mary Poppins for instant potty training


It's not rocket science ... but it can feel like it.

No matter how you potty train your children or when you believe it should be done, the truth is you have to do it (well, someone does).  It is as inevitable as diapering, and feeding, and answering millions of inane questions.  And like any training, it is learned over time.  It must be worked for, like anything worth having.  Sure, there are methods for speeding up the process, but even so, the concept of “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” sounds too good to be true because it is.  Accidents after training are a part of life.  (Eliza’s been potty-trained for half her short life, and yet she pooped in the pool last week, remember?)  For my kids, so far it has been “Toilet Training in 3 Days.”  If that sounds like magic to you, read on.

This morning around 10:30, Zach walked up to his potty, said, “Mommy, pee pee,” pulled down his pants, sat, peed, got up, emptied the pot into the toilet, flushed it, and put his training toilet back together.  I’d call that success.  It was proof that he now understands not only the urge to go, but what to do with that urge before urine starts trickling down his legs.  He has kept his pants dry for about 24 hours (except when sleeping).  But about an hour later, he came and got me because he had pooped himself.  You see, in all the training time so far, he has only pooped twice, and both times it’s been during his nap (in a diaper because he’s still in a crib).  Now he has to connect the fact that yes, even for poop, he needs to get to the toilet as well.  We are far closer than we were on Saturday morning when we began, but we are still working at it.

The point is that I wanted to give up.  It seemed inexorable at times, and Zach just seemed to be struggling so much.  But now he’s proud of himself and his new skill.  I would still recommend this book to anyone looking to potty train his child.  It’s just intense.  It also has some flaws, so even if Greg and I are partly to blame for our kids not “getting it” by the end of a morning, the book should shoulder some responsibility.  The most frustrating thing about this book is that it makes it sound so easy, so if you have issues, it does not give you troubleshooting help.  For example, it gives a specific process you are to go through with them when they wet themselves, yet we almost never made it through that process without our kids peeing during it, which completely derails what you know you’re supposed to do.  It also doesn’t account for children who cry throughout the process because they are upset about wetting themselves, or sitting on the potty, or peeing out the front of the toilet seat.

Regardless of the details of this method, or any method anyone uses, it takes a lot of effort to get your children to connect their brains to their bladders so they pee in a potty before they pee on you or your furniture.  Accepting the responsibility of toilet training is accepting that you’re going to have a lot of crap to clean up, accepting it’s going to be gross and uncomfortable at times, and accepting that your wishes are basically on-hold while you go through it.  In retrospect, it’s a Cliff’s Notes version of the whole parenting experience.

It’s not magic.  There’s no Mary Poppins, spoonful of sugar, snap your fingers and it’s done process.  No matter how you do it, it’s hard work for everyone.  But in the end, you get to look back and realize what you’ve accomplished, and be thankful you’re not changing poop diapers any more.  And I’m hopeful I won’t be cleaning it off of Zach’s legs or washing it out of his pants very soon, too.

Parenting lesson #14: The embarrassing moments are often teaching moments


Eliza pooped in a public pool on Friday.  Every now and again she is way too interested in what she’s doing to take the two-minute break to do her business.  Unfortunately for me, she is also exploring whether she has the freedom to lie.  Unfortunately for all of us (some of her friends and some poor strangers), her fibbing to get out of taking a potty break resulted in the entire pool being evacuated.

She went to the bathroom before we got in the pool and she said she did not need to poop.  Once in the pool, I asked her a few times if she needed to go when she seemed to be doing her turtle head dance.  Fast forward and, well, you know what happened.  So instead of further embarrassing her and me, I will share what I have learned in the hopes I can save you from the same fate:

1.  I will no longer refer to pooping as “dropping the kids off at the pool.”  A college suite mate used to say this and it stuck.  I’m pretty sure I’ve used the expression in front of Eliza.  Never will I confuse her again about where poop is supposed to go.

2.  If I see anything remotely like her poopy dance while she’s doing something fun, I will get her and take her to the bathroom.  This is going to be a pain in the rear end for me, especially because her poopy dance resembles a lot of other things she does, like plain old dancing.  But I will not ask her if she needs to go anymore, as I already know she will tell me “no” regardless of her inclination.

3.  I will make a point to have her use the bathroom before fun things.  Yes, I did this and the incident happened anyway, but it has prevented accidents on other occasions.

As we are preparing to potty train Zach, I’m sure this is just the beginning of what will be many fond poop memories (no ifs, ands or butts about it).

I know I said the potty training was done, but …


… it turns out that once kids are trained to use the toilet, sometimes they decide not to.

Eliza has suffered in the past week from wetting herself because she just doesn’t want to pull herself away from her very important activities, like playing in her sandbox or texting her friends.  And I get it, it’s an inconvenience.  But what I don’t get is how once she’s wet herself, she doesn’t seem to mind.  It’s pretty hard to convince someone who doesn’t mind warm, wet urine on her panties, leggings (side note: where can I find child jeggings?) and socks that she should go to the toilet to relieve herself.

So, I’m back to prompting her to use the toilet on several scheduled occasions throughout the day.  By prompting, I mean I say, “Eliza, we’re going to use the potty now.”  (If I ask her if she has to go, 118% of the time she will say, “No.”)  Then, I give her a choice, because choice is a key strategy I must use to get her to do what I want.  I let her decide whether she’d like to use the “big potty or the little potty.”  We still have training potties in our bathrooms so she can go on her own, but I obviously prefer the “big potty.”  So if she chooses the little potty, I try to convince her to use the big one anyway by telling her big girls like Dora use the big potty.  But if she puts up a fight, this is not the round to try to knock her out.  So, I do this process when she wakes up in the morning, mid-morning, before her nap, after her nap, before dinner, and before bed.

When she starts going on her own consistently again, I will wean her from the drills.  But for now, as long as she’s decided to decide not to use the potty on her own accord, I am going to decide for her that I’m not going to wash any more wet or soiled clothes.

The final installment: Fully potty trained and loving it


There were times it seemed it might never happen, but I can say with confidence that Eliza is 99.9% potty trained.

She is successfully getting all her waste in the appropriate places, whether we’re home or away.  She uses training potties, public toilets or other people’s bathrooms.  I still have her on Miralax and will continue to give her the “magic” dose for her – 3/4 teaspoon – until I run out of it.

I think because we stuck with it she has done well.  It was really hard to deal with a month of poopy pants and there were many occasions when I wanted to throw in the towel.  I think she made the decision easy because it wasn’t that she wanted to poop in her diaper, but rather that she didn’t want to poop at all once she figured out she could control it.  However, the Miralax did its job eventually.  I am still weaning her off of expecting chocolate and a Dora sticker every time she has a BM, but I think that is in the near future.

I carry around a foldable Disney princess potty seat and she seems to like using it.  (I wipe it down with an antibacterial wipe after each use.)  She uses a padded Elmo seat on the regular toilets at home.  And sometimes she likes to use her training potties, especially when she just has to pee because she can do the entire process all by herself.

Every once in a while (such as in the car on the way to the beach when she woke from a bad dream) she has an accident.  But they are few and far between.  I spoke to a mom at a birthday party yesterday who said it took a year to potty train her daughter.  So I’m really glad that it didn’t come to that.  That really would feel like forever.

The Miralax is sort of working: another potty training update


We started Eliza on Miralax twelve days ago to fix her “backup” issue that kept her from wanting to poop on the potty.  She did much better for the first two days, but the half a capful (which is about a half tablespoon) was too much and caused her to have the opposite problem.  It has been difficult to find the right dosage, but it seems that half a teaspoon is the right amount.  She still, however, does a poopy dance, is reluctant to get on the toilet, and has little accidents, even though once she goes in the potty she is uber excited.  We are just going to keep working at it and keep giving her chocolate every time she gets it right.  The pediatrician says we should use the Miralax for a good month after she starts doing all her business consistently in the right place.  I guess that makes sense, because we don’t want to mess up the progress we’ve made.  It’s been interesting to say the least, but we are taking baby steps in the right direction.  Our “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” has become “Pee Pee Training in Three Days and Never Ending Poop Training.”  The book is definitely deficient in explaining what to do about #2.

Potty training “backup”


Potty training after the first week seemed to be going along swimmingly.  However, this past week was, shall I say, so challenging that every day Eliza brought me to my wit’s end after exhausting me mentally and physically.

She still loves to go pee in the potty and every time she gets super excited, squealing in joy, pointing at the pot and saying, “Mommy WOOK, Yaya pee peed in da poppy!  YAY!  (Clap clap clap).”  The problem arises when she has to poop.

You might recall she was hesitant to poop on the potty in the first place.  She held it in for hours the first few times.  The problem is this created a vicious cycle of being afraid it will hurt to poop, holding it in, and pushing it out after impacting it.  This – of course – hurts, and so her fears about pooping have been confirmed.  Thus, each time she feels the urge, she believes (and knows) it will be a painful experience.  She doesn’t want to poop at all now.  Not in a diaper and not in the potty.  Picture a two-year-old who cannot stop her tantrums for hours on end, as every few minutes she says in a whiny, scared voice, “Mommy, pee!  PEE!” while holding her tush and squeezing her legs together.  It culminates in crying combined with an expression of terror as it starts to come out against her wishes and will.  In a way, I feel bad for her, but in another way, I wish so badly I could reason with her.  (And those of you who are reading this and have older children who are not yet trained are probably feeling pretty justified right about now.  Go ahead, it’s okay.)  Nothing we say helps.  We try to relax her.  We try to assure her.  We tell her how happy all her favorite people will be if she will go.  We bribe her with chocolate.  None of it is working.

I called the pediatrician and have started her on Miralax this morning, which will make it much softer and get rid of the pain, and in so doing (we hope) erase the fear of the act.  I will keep you updated.

In the meantime, I will count my lucky stars that she does still enjoy using the potty and has only had one pee accident in 12 days.  I’m going to try to focus on that when I am at my wit’s end again (which should be within the next few hours as she has been doing the poopy dance all morning already).

With kids, you fix a drip and bust a leak


I wouldn’t have believed it if you had told me last weekend that the potty training was really going to work.  It seemed like all we had done was torturous, tear eliciting exercises.  Eliza didn’t want to sit on the potty.  She seemed to be clueless about when her bladder was empty.  The book didn’t address how to deal with the road bumps we hit.  And yet, I sit here writing to say that our big girl has not wet her pants, not even with a drop, since Tuesday.  Despite an awful virus causing a 104 degree fever, vomiting, coughing and a nasal drip on Wednesday, I managed to resist the very strong temptation to put her back in diapers.  And the girl, after not peeing all day, peed into a cup on the potty at the pediatrician’s office for me.  I wanted to cry I was so proud.  And though she’s still adapting to going #2 on the toilet, she’s accident-free in that area as well.  (Hey, it might take 45 minutes to get it out, but at least it’s ending up in the pot and not on the floor.)  I guess the one part of the process she does seem to still have difficulty with is putting her pants back on after going (as she seems to enjoy being half naked).

The thing I’m learning about parenting is that no training ever seems “finished.”  It’s exhausting for someone who loves the feeling of completing projects!  You just seem to go from one challenging phase to the next. With Zach, I’m so glad he’s nursing so much less frequently now.  But the introduction of solids presents a new set of feeding responsibilities and another checklist of items I have to remember to bring when I want to get out the door.  With Eliza, now that she knows how to pee on the potty, I don’t have to pack diapers in my bag for her, but I have to remember spare panties and pants.  And speaking of pants, I have to invest in ones that are completely elastic around the waist without buttons, snaps or zippers so she can easily pull them up and down until she gets really good at dressing herself.  I have to make sure I have contraptions on-hand such as toilet seat covers and a “car potty” so when nature calls, I can be prepared.  And praise God that I don’t have to clean up poop diapers anymore, but I still have to wipe her butt.

This leads me to my final poop thought, and then I promise to switch gears away from potty talk the next time I write.  The book we read for training (which I will now say I recommend) says that unless your child is confined to bed with diarrhea, you should not put diapers back on him.  So for all the mothers out there who have been through it – am I in for my own torturous, tear-eliciting exercise when she gets the runs?  (I just want to prepare myself mentally.)

For those who are waiting with bated breath (the potty training update)


Today things went even better.  Eliza only had one real accident, and otherwise pottied herself with much less whining and crying than yesterday.  She is getting better at the parts of the process that are more difficult for her, such as physically walking to the potty in the first place and pulling her pants up and down.  She is very proud of her new skills!

The big news, however, is that she got her #2 into the potty for the first time!  She wasn’t happy about it, but after several tries of squatting and whining, she managed to relax and make it happen.  And then she couldn’t stop pointing at it in there and squealing, “Mommy WOOK!  YAZA POOP IN DA POPPY!!!”  (Translation: “Mommy, look!  Eliza pooped in the potty.”)

I must share my two secrets with all of you:

1) She did it when we were outside and she was in her bathing suit.  She could not bring herself to go in the suit, unlike in her training pants where it just fell right through them and down onto the ground.

2) It happened after several tries when I finally got her distracted and relaxed enough by combining blowing bubbles with telling her how proud all of her favorite people would be with her if she pooped in the potty.

As soon as I can get away to do it, I’m taking her for a special trip to the store to pick out some Dora underwear.  I think adding them to the equation will give her a sense of pride and help keep the doo doo where it belongs.

This was day three of “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day.”


Yes, you read that correctly.  Did you catch the irony?  Greg spent all of Saturday and half of Sunday following the guidance of a book with the above title.  It’s the book my mom used to potty train my brothers and me and she says it worked.  It makes it seem like all you have to do is put in 3-4 hours of focused training between breakfast and nap time and, voila, your child potties herself.  However, either we’re missing something, doing something wrong, or Eliza is a poor student.  Or some combination of the above.  Regardless, we have so far failed.

The good news is that she peed twice in her potty today and only wet her pants slightly twice.  Yesterday, she went in the potty probably eight times, but also wet her pants eight times.  You can see the progress.  She is learning bladder control and when it is full and when it absolutely needs to be emptied.  The bad news is she seems terrified of pooping in the potty and thus has chosen to do that act “elsewhere.”  As soon as she gets better at pulling her pants up and down, we’ll add underwear into the equation.  My hope is it won’t be as comfortable to do that into underpants.  Especially if they have, say, Dora on them, who definitely doesn’t like to be pooped on.  (Thanks for that idea, Molly!)

But this is a classic example of my unrealistic expectations.  I am the queen (remember I’m Type A) of setting a goal, putting together a game plan for getting there, following it, and getting the expected results.  (This is probably why I enjoy cooking and baking.)  Children in general don’t work this way.  I expected Eliza to be a super student who followed the book example.  I expected her to be instantly great at all parts of the process – realizing she needs to go, walking herself to the potty, pulling down her pants, pottying, wiping, pulling up her pants (so they cover ALL of her butt, not just some of it), taking her pot to the toilet, dumping out the pee and tissue, flushing, and replacing the pot.

Instead I have a little girl who has mastered about half of the steps.  But I am learning that is okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay.  She’ll get there.  I have to focus on how much she’s learned so quickly.  A random woman said to me the other day that our daughters won’t walk down the aisle without being potty trained.  One of the reasons people postpone and avoid potty training is because it’s a pain in the butt.  It’s one of those parenting moments (whether swift or slow) that everyone talks about and remembers for years to come.  What I want to remember about it is that amid all the training, she and Greg started playing a new game where she runs away from him giggling and then runs back at full speed and pounds into him in the most massive bear hug she can muster.  She blessed me with a round of it today.  And I savored every moment, even though in the back of my mind I was thinking about whether doing that would make her pee herself.  (Hey, eventually I will learn to let go.)

And the book?  Well, I would neither enthusiastically recommend nor fervently steer you clear of it.  If you’re interested, the authors are Nathan H. Azrin, Ph.D. and Richard M. Foxx, Ph.D.