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Potty Training at 35,000 Feet

Levi's 4th Birthday
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

We went on vacation in March, you may recall. (Michigan Vacation 2011) Our son, Levi, is four years old. He started potty training at 2 years old with his first day care experience. Now, at nearly 4 and a half years, I feel confident that we can celebrate Levi being potty trained.

More or less.

Potty training, as you may recall I preach, is a spectrum. We start out in diapers, learn the mechanics, figure out how to listen to our body when we have to go until we can no longer hear our body, and we end up back in diapers — again.

But, there is immense pressure on the child and parent to have a potty trained child. I want a career. I like to work. It is an important way in which I keep my mind active, moving, thinking, evolving. IN order for me to work Levi must be in some sort of daily care. Our choices are home care, day care, or preschool (in varying forms). I prefer center-type institutions, as it appeals to structure that I crave. When we were deciding before I started this job (my goodness nearing on 10 months ago!), the qualifications were:

  1. Will you work with a (then) three year old who isn’t potty trained?
  2. Various motherly and fatherly intuitions to factor in judgments.

Home care is often thrown out, as I am not usually satisfied with the level of attention I see given. However, I know of one mom who has a daycare in her home, and she is absolutely fabulously. Ironically, the choice came down to a home care near our home or a center near my work.

The center, the Goddard School, won out. (With these hive issues, I’m glad, triply, that we chose “close to work” for ease of visits.) The owner, the teachers, and the rest of the staff, are diligent, persistent, consistent, and patient in their training of Levi. During the Fall parent-teacher conferences, they even identified working out his frustrations and potty training as the two top things they wanted to work on throughout the  year. (We have our spring conferences in two weeks where we shall see how he’s done!)

So, the school has been working with him consistently, and mom and dad (my husband and I) have been working with Levi less consistently. We encourage, we prod, we remind, but we are less likely to go into the potty with him since we know that he knows we know he knows the mechanics. Got that?

Enter Michigan Vacation 2011. We buy these pull-ups. We don’t put them on him. Levi has been pooping in his underwear. Frustrations abound. Suddenly, we are on an airplane and going potty is cool! Twice, on the airplane, Levi asked to go potty.

Can you believe it? The desire! The want! It appeared, as if out of the blue!

Levi potty trained himself, up in the air, at around 35,000 ft! As an adult, I don’t find airplane potties cool or comfortable, but I suppose that’s the difference between me and a four year old.

Levi’s teachers also noticed he was holding it until the break rather than stating he had to go. That means the connections he was missing at home he was also missing at daycare. In the last two months, post airplane training, he has finally made the connection that he misses out on more if he has an accident.

The other major change we instituted was one of those potty-seat inserts with handles. I’m not even sure what they are called. Ours is decorated with Lightening McQueen and was purchased at Target for $18.

This was the best $18 we’ve spent as parents. It’s paid for itself in this first month, the first month where we haven’t bought pull-ups or diapers since our child was born.

Listen when they say when the kiddo is ready, he’ll be ready. Patience, reminding, and constantly working at what the real issue is are about the only things you can do.

I guess what I’m really thankful for is that the first daycare taught him how to aim.

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Parental Gray Areas

Levi's 4th Birthday

There is so much in parenting, for me, that is a gray area. Even when it comes to time outs. I live on the fence in many other areas of life, so why not in parenting too? Yes, we have our rules. Yes, we implement boundaries. We are known as the stricter parents in our small circle of friends. Regardless, I find this constant balancing of when to say yes, no, and tomorrow, very interesting and especially challenging.

We just got back from vacation (more to follow on that front). We visited family, friends, and especially cousins. Levi has three. A new baby girl, an almost three year old girl, and a four going on five year old boy. Reyna, Owen and Levi spent at least 6 days interacting, 3 of which were full days. Levi loves his cousins. He got on especially well with Reyna.

Levi got to know his grandparents even more. His Grandma Lasley was like a permanent playmate. She played trains, legos, and toured her yard with him. How much fun is that? Your own personal playmate, dedicated to you, giving you undivided attention? All these people fawning, gushing, hugging, loving you – and then you come home.

We flew in last night. We were more or less settled at home by 9pm. Levi fell into a deep sleep in the 20 minute ride from the airport to home. He was so dead to the world, when Peter got him out of the car – he didn’t move or fuss or cry – or anything. This is an unusual feat. When I went to wake him up this morning, he sternly spoke, “Close the door!” Close the door? What? Usually this bug wants the door open. It was then I made my decision. We are staying home.

I did not tell him of my decision for a little bit. First, I consulted with the husband. Second, I continued to ready myself. I approached the small fry again, only to find similar disdain.

He’s four. He’s not thirteen. “Buck up and go on with life” is a lesson we will layer on. Now, is not the time. He’s been with his cousins twice in his entire life. I can still count on one hand the number of set visits he’s had with each grandparent. He’s four. When I was four, my grandparents were a staple in my life. We spent so much time with my cousins they were like extended siblings who simply lived in another house.

Yes, it was our choice to live across the country. But, my dear four year old doesn’t have to completely pay for our choices. So, enter Parental Gray Area. I chose to play in the gray line. I forgot to tell one person I wasn’t coming into work today, too, while in this gray area wondering if I was making the right choice. Family comes first, though. No matter what.

I find this gray area ironic since in many ways I like to or wish I could see things more black and white. So many things are clear. You cannot hit another person to express your frustration. That will get you a time out. There are ways we behave in the store and there are ways we do not. You will be removed from the store (when parental choice, that is the both of us are in the store) if you do not behave correctly. There is a way to behave at the dinner table, with friends, at school. If Levi chooses to deter from this path we’ve laid out, there will be consequences.

I do not believe this is corporal punishment. I believe this is an education into how the world works and a protection of my sanity. I cannot be the parent who coddles and manages and is gentle all the time. I try. I do. My husband asks me often if I am okay likely because I have the same guarded game face on all day long. Keeping opinions in check. Keeping thoughts in check. Giving the benefit of the doubt. Putting myself in the others shoes.

But so many things are not clear. Life is a negotiation. He needs to learn not to hit, to use his words, to be polite, etc – but all in one sitting? Learning is like peeling the layers of an onion or studying art history. You see the big picture first, then you spiral down until the details blur and clear up before your eyes. Putting myself in another’s shoes. Putting myself in my son’s shoes. Four. Missing all the glory of the last two weeks. Not understanding vacation times, job obligations for his parents, and why his visits were so short.

In these shoes, it was not fair for Levi to go to school today. Shocked, sad, frustrated that he could not visit longer with his cousins for circumstances beyond his control and perhaps his understanding. The gray area won out.

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Potty Training

Little Levi Sunshine
Peter reading a "Little Miss" book to Levi. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I blamed the frequent night-time urination for the reason we stopped using cloth diapers. But, in retrospect, I think it might have been the poop.

I hate poop.

Let me repeat myself.


Hate it. Really really hate it.

If it’s dried out in a bag labeled “steer manure”, I can dig it. A bag of bull shit is good for the tomatoes.

But poop, that you have to clean off with your hands, or a brush which in turn you need to clean off the brush with your hands. And, where do you put it all? It all doesn’t float all nicely in the toilet. Oh no. You have to scrub it. A lot. You have to treat it. You have to soak it.

Yes, in retrospect, I think it’s the poop. The poop is why I changed to disposable. I wanted the sanitized throw aways where my hands didn’t need to get near the poop. Sure, I soaked the cloth diapers – but after we were in Michigan for 4 weeks, something changed. My patience lessened, and I just couldn’t deal with it. Either way, we were looking at a cost for a bigger investment in cloth or a more expensive, easier to budget cost of disposables. We chose disposables, and this retrospect thinking encourages I pushed it for avoiding poop.

Now, enter potty training. Today, Levi is four years and six weeks old. He began potty training in 2009. He was 26 months old when he started. Right away, he picked up on the mechanics. Unfortunately, the daily ritual daycare provided only lasted two months. Exponentially, from when he left daycare, his interest in going potty declined. Peter and I, perhaps, expect too much of our young person, and we wanted him to feel the urges to go and go, right away. He knew the mechanics, so what’s the big deal? Oh, how short our memories are.

Confession. I still wet the bed until I was in 4th grade. I am not sure of my husband’s potty practices, except that I do know we both go when we have to go as adults. The whole definition of being “potty trained” I find interesting. Especially wrapped in with when I stopped wetting the bed. What does fully potty trained mean? Going to the bathroom on your own 90% of the time, even if 80% of the whole is under the guise of peer pressure and constant reminders to go? Does “fully” mean when we’re in adulthood and 99% of the time we are without accident? What does it mean when we age and we’re back in diapers? Does “potty train” simply mean an adult isn’t burdened with wiping our butts? How far does this spectrum go – because it is a spectrum!

Well, Levi would fall into the he knows the mechanics, but needs to be reminded constantly to listen to his body. We’ve been reassured countless times by peers and his pediatrician that he will go when he is ready. After year 3, bribes (stickers, candy, chocolates, other rewards) are moot. We are heeding part of this advice. After one of these poopy-in-the-underwear incidents, I asked Levi why he won’t go in the toilet. I had to reword this query three times. He answered my suspicions: he likes being changed. I don’t know what about it he likes. If the poop is on his bum longer than a minute, he breaks out in these awful hivy, localized bumps. The only cure is diaper cream and a baking soda bath. So, I proposed a bribe. If it’s quality time he wants, there are a million ways in which we can have better, more interesting, more fun, and less gross quality times. The standard should be one book a night before bed. So, every time he goes potty at home (at school he’s dry all day and often comes home in underwear), he will get an additional book added to the nighttime ritual. If he poops in the potty: two. So, if he pooped once and peed three times in the potty, he’d get an additional 5 books for six books total.

It’s been working. Now, mommy and daddy need to be consistent in the enforcing of this bribe. Right away, the reasons bribes don’t work was showcased as he tried to exploit the rule. He peed in his potty and turned around barely having his pants pulled up to pee again, AND, then said, okay that’s two books! No… one full incident. What a concept to explain!

We are still with accidents, but again, this whole thing is a spectrum. If we can just help encourage the listening to your body so he can poop in the toilet instead of his underwear…. well, that’d make my day.

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What do you mean he can’t listen?

Levi, Christmas, and Cars
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Some aspects of parenting feature “Duh” moments. Sometimes regularly. I can’t believe what a learning curve this is, and how amazing it is to watch, every day. Sorry, terrible twos don’t exist, but terrible threes, and frustrating fours (so I’ve been told), now that’s another story. No one can tell you. But, experienced parents can giggle and chcuckle when you (I) have these realizaitons.

Levi was 18 months old. I was trying to teach him to pick up his toys. Why won’t he pick up the green block, I wondered. Oh, right, he doesn’t know his colors! So very obvious to some, but not something I thought of until then.

What I knew:

  • He should start walking around a year to a year and a half
  • Potty training happens after two years old, but don’t push them because they’ll resist
  • Breast is best
  • Kids in cloth diapers tend to potty train sooner
  • A water birth, in theory, is more “natural”
  • He’ll start talking eventually, and he’ll probably say something embarrassing
  • At some point he’s going to push back
  • He’ll need a schedule, regularity

What I learned while pregnant:

  • He needs tummy time to learn to crawl, get stronger, and eventually learn to walk
  • Breast feed the kiddo until at least 6 months
  • There are these things called milestones!
  • There are an awful lot of recommended shots
  • He has a heart beat at 13 weeks, and boys tend to have faster heart beats in utero

What I started to learn that first year or four

  • Things are going to break and get messy
  • You’ll never imagine how many shirts you’ll change because you’ve been thrown up on
  • Life doesn’t go as planned
  • Kiddos have their own schedule, and we work to accommodate and ensure some regularity
  • Walking at 16 months is not late, it’s normal
  • He will get potty-trained when he’s ready, not necessarily when I am
  • Boys’ hearing develops slower than girls’ hearing

I want Levi to grow up to be compassionate, judicious, fair, have the ability to express emotions, be generous, handy (cook his own food and fix his own cars), independent, trustworthy, honest. He’s smart. We know that. We know he’s smarter than we are. So, I want him to put his brains to good use – fair use, responsible use.

It’s an interesting, humbling ride. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even if I look at parts of my historic single-life with some longing. There’s something heart-wrenching that fills a biological need when he calls, “Mommy!”

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