14 January 2012

Potty Love: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pee

After exhaustive research, I’ve come to a remarkable conclusion: kids are not made in a factory, assembled with interchangeable parts. I know. I am baffled. But all evidence points to the truthfulness of this statement. In fact, one might go so far as to say that every child is unique, and therefore what works with one child might not work with another.

That caveat firmly in place, I will now relate Successful Strategies to Toilet-Train Eamon Wolfe. They might work for your kid. They might not. As I stated in the previous entry, I’m not an expert in toilet-training; I’m just an expert in Eamon…and even then there are some things about him that remain a mystery to me. Mothers looking to potty train in the future: do what you will with this information. It worked for our specific child at this specific point in time.

Strategy #1: Wait Until He’s Ready.
Eamon is very bright, very socially advanced, and very emotionally immature. He’s tall and looks older, but he’s physically immature in controlling his own body. Toilet training at age 2 was never realistically considered. He would use the toilet at school but other toilets scared him. He wasn’t ready.

And Eamon, like his father, puts a lot of pressure on himself. I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that failure probably would have scarred him a little emotionally, and we would have had to wait even longer to toilet-train to get over his fears. So even though it meant cringing slightly at all those Facebook posts from mothers with younger children who successfully toilet-trained, I’m glad that we waited. It was right for Eamon.

Strategy #2: No Pressure.
Eamon is a perfectionist. He always has been. His father is the same way, and I have seen first-hand the defense mechanism that can go along with caring too deeply when you are secretly afraid of failing: the desperation to convince everyone that you don’t care at all, that you never cared, and that you think it’s all a waste of time, anyway.

I didn’t want this to happen with Eamon. Other than the first day in which I allowed him to change underwear if he peed, there were no rewards or punishments for using or not using the potty. I was pretty firm about this, despite the advice of almost everyone. I know my husband, and I know my kid. I also taught a few students like this, and the only strategy that ever worked was to logically lay out their options, explain the pros and cons of choosing each, and leave them to make their own decision. They’re smart enough to realize when they are being manipulated, and it only makes them rebel.

Therefore, when we introduced the potty to Eamon, we explained the benefits: no more sitting around in wet or poop-filled diapers. You will get praise at school. You can wear superhero underwear. There are no superhero pull-ups. Everyone will think you’re a big boy. But we can’t make you. It’s up to you.

There were no M&Ms, no sticker charts, no toys or cars. Ironically, I had been saving up kids’ meal toys since Eamon was born for a toy chest JUST FOR THIS PURPOSE, until I realized this would be the worst possible thing for Eamon. I knew Eamon would do use the potty if he wanted to. If he didn’t, no inducement in the world would make him; in fact, it would offend him to the point where he would dig in his heels even further.

It worked. He cared more than anyone about doing a good job. Without any added pressure from us, he gets upset if even a drop of pee gets on his clothes, and we find ourselves reassuring him that it’s OKAY, that he’ll GET IT, and he just needs to keep practicing. I can only imagine how much more upset he would have gotten knowing that in addition to not being perfect, he also lost a chance at a coveted toy. It would have been too much.

In the end, he used the potty because he wanted to.

Strategy #3: Prepare for the Worst
At first, I was so worried about Eamon being successful that I asked too often if he needed to use the potty. In trying to ensure success, I put more pressure on him. There were a couple of very tightly-wound, unpleasant days in the middle until I learned to just stop asking.

This meant being prepared for accidents. Instead of asking him 50 times if he needed to pee before we left for work/school in the morning, I just got up about 10 minutes earlier so there would be time to clean up/change clothes after an accident. Instead of insisting he use the potty before we got into the car, I just put a towel down in his carseat and packed a change of clothes. Conversations that had been filled with yelling and tears now went something like this:

ME: E, do you want to use the potty before we get into the car?
EAMON: No, no, no!
ME: Okay. The movement of the car often makes people have to pee, but I’ve put down a towel in case you wet yourself, and I have a spare change of underwear and pants here. Come on, let’s go.
EAMON: (thinking) Mommy, I want to use the potty.

Not surprisingly, as soon as I relaxed, Eamon relaxed. He peed on himself a couple of times, then learned how to tell when he had to pee and hold it until we made it to the potty. I just accepted that I would be doing more laundry, and now he’s almost mastered it.

Strategy #4: Don’t Ask for More Than He Can Physically Do.
As I have said, Eamon is not physically mature. Even though we suspected he was ready to train during the day, no one had any expectations of him making it through an entire night. He can be a heavy sleeper, and wakes up pretty soaked every morning. That would have invited failure and tears on everyone’s part.

Therefore, we just casually slip a pull-up on before he goes to sleep. We don’t even talk about it, so it’s not a big deal. We put his precious underwear on over it.

Interestingly, when we wakes up in the morning, one of the first things he often says to me is that he has to pee. Even though he has a pull-up on, even though it’s already wet, he doesn't want to use the pull-up.

We’ve even seen this at nap-time. The first day he protested wearing a pull-up to nap, and I said that if he could wake up dry from naps for awhile, he could forgo the pull-up. And gosh darn it, he has woken up dry for about 4 days in a row. We will see. Wearing an unused pull-up doesn’t hurt anything.

Strategy #5: Lots of Extra Love and Attention
If Eamon successfully used the potty, we gave him lots of hugs and kisses and told him he should be proud of himself. When he successfully pooped on the potty, there were even more hugs and kisses and phone calls to grandparents to let him know what a milestone this was.

And when he didn’t make it to the potty on time, there were lots of hugs and kisses and assurances that it was fine and that we loved him so much and he was really doing a great job.

It's a stressful time. He needed it. And I'll always take advantage of any excuse to hug and kiss him more.

So, that’s it: our no-frills strategies to toilet-training Eamon Wolfe. For anyone else who is toilet-training out there: good luck, and may your training be as successful and seamless, no matter what strategies you use.

08 January 2012

Amazing Adventures in Underwear

I am suddenly desperately aware of the absence of carpet cleaner in this house. I keep looking anxiously to the spot where the carpet cleaner used to stand, a gaping void of nothingness where there should be something.

And I look at the carpets, which right now are clean and blissfully ignorant of the fate that might soon befall them. The couch, likewise, has no idea of the coming storm.

And then finally, I look at the ticking time bomb: my cherub of a son, happily sipping on milk as he watches The Fantastic Four cartoon, clad only in a pajama shirt and Captain America underwear.

“You can’t pee in this underwear,” I remind him. Again.

“Why?” he asks.

“Because there’s nothing to absorb the pee. It’s not a pull-up. The pee will go everywhere. All over you, all over the carpet, all over the couch…you can’t pee while you wear underwear.”

“Oh," he says, and goes back to watching TV.

I persist. “If you have to pee, you have to tell Mommy, and we’ll go to the potty. And I’ll take you every 20 minutes or so until you go, anyway. But you cannot pee in underwear. You have to use the potty.”

“Oh. I don’t wanna use the potty.”

“But you HAVE to, if you want to be like Captain America and Ironman and Thor. Thor doesn’t wear a pull-up, does he? He uses the potty.”

Eamon shakes his head. “Thor doesn’t use the potty. He flies.”

“Well, yes, he flies, but when he has to pee, he uses the potty.”

Thoughtfully, “Thor doesn’t have to go pee. Ever.”

And I realize with despair: this is true. Never in any superhero cartoon have I seen The Thing or the Black Panther stop mid-battle and announce, “Hold that thought, Dr. Doom, potty-break!” The absence of superhero potty-breaks, just like the absence of carpet cleaner, is tragic.

There are any number of resources about Elmo using the potty. Videos, books, decorative mugs, etc.. But where is the 30 minute special on Spiderman and His Amazing Toilet Adventures? Eamon has gotten to the age where Elmo no longer holds sway, but if only the Human Torch could explain the ins and outs of how little boys use the toilet, Eamon might understand.

I suppose that “experts” would tell me that I shouldn’t be trying to toilet-train a child who emphatically insists that he doesn’t want to use the potty. But just because someone is an “expert” in toilet-training doesn’t make them an expert in Eamon.

Eamon has never felt a sense of urgency about any physical milestone. He has no problem staying at the stage he’s in as long as humanly possible. He rolled over the day before we had a check-up in which the doctor asks if your child can roll over…and if not, you get the “Hmm” and the eyebrow raise. And he didn’t roll over once, but constantly after that.

Then with walking…he liked crawling. Crawling worked for him. He took one step on his birthday, fell flat on his face, and refused to try again. By age 14 months, we were pretty sure he could walk if he wanted, but he didn’t want. My parents finally bribed him with teddy grahams one day, and by the time I came to pick him up, he was running across the room.

I think it might be the same with the toilet. I have a feeling that he’s ready, but he has no interest. And because he’s Eamon, that interest might not come for a long time if he’s not properly motivated. So I’m trying to figure out how to properly motivate him.

First of all, Eamon is not motivated by food. M&Ms don’t do a thing for him. Anything edible is right out.

What he does love is superheroes, so we went out and bought him a ton of superhero underwear. I washed them all last night, and this morning he found them, took them all out of the laundry basket, and surrounded himself lovingly with them. Then he sat on the pile, like a dragon on his precious hoard. I put him in Captain America, but he wanted to wear Ironman. No, Wolverine. No, Thor.

“You can change your underwear…” I said, slyly. “…when you use the potty.”

“Okay,” he said cheerfully. I had brought his Elmo potty downstairs into the den, so he could continue to play and yet not be far from a “toilet.” Eamon yanked off the Captain America underwear, sat on the potty, and immediately peed.

Success! Feeling like a toilet-training genius, I helped him into some Thor underwear, took the potty apart and washed the inner bowl, congratulating myself on my ability to manipulate a three year old.

Two minutes later he announced happily, “Mommy, I gotta pee again. Yup, I do.” He yanked off the Thor underwear, sat down, and peed a small bit more.

We changed him into Wolverine, then I went and washed the potty, wondering if I was losing control of the situation.

Two minutes later, you know what happened. I helped Eamon into some Ironman underwear, and found myself washing the potty yet again. Yes, by this point it was abundantly clear which of us was being manipulated, and it was the person who was washing the potty for the third time in fifteen minutes, not the little person turning in mad circles trying to see the Ironman picture on the back of his own underwear.

And that’s where we are now, an hour and a half into Eamon’s Amazing Potty Adventures. The carpet cleaner has been a non-issue (so far), I still have no idea if this potty-training this is going to work in the long-term, and the only real conclusion anyone can make is that, without a doubt, my three year old has outsmarted me. Again.

Update: Eamon just had his first accident. He came over and announced, "I peed on Ironman, mommy. Yep, I did." But he had only peed a little, so I put him on the potty, where he preceded to pee...and pee, and pee. So even though it was an accident, he realized what he was doing, STOPPED PEEING, and came over and told me so that he could finish on the potty. That's progress, right?