potty training

No. 2

I’m at my wit’s end.

Owen is completely trained—day and night.

James James James! No. 1, great. No. 2, refuses. He hides and then comes to us, hands covering his eyes and whispers what he’s done.

We have tried e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. For months. Many, many months.

We’ve tried charts—three different charts—each with different goals and rewards.

We’ve set the timer for every 15 minutes for days at a time.

We’ve sat with him, reading book after book.

We’ve let him sit in the living room, watching TV.

We’ve tried a small treat for each attempt.

We’ve let him go naked at home, all day long.

We’ve tried padded underwear, smaller underwear, bigger underwear, an array of different character underwear.

We’ve tried peer pressure. “Sophie does it! Owen does it! Everyone at preschool does it!”

We’ve purchased the toy he wants most and placed it, still in its package, on a shelf above the toilet. For weeks he broke my heart, holding it while trying to go.

We’ve tried having long talks with him after an incident.

We’ve become frustrated with him, showing him our frustration.

We’ve made cheerleaders out of Owen and Sophie—they sit with him or they dance in the bathroom while he sits or they sing silly potty songs to make him laugh.

We’ve tried the potty training DVDs (Elmo, Daniel Tiger, etc.).

We’ve tried the potty training books (all of them).

We’ve tried putting him in charge—letting him pick out the underwear, the treat, the reward. Letting him make his own chart and help set his own goals. Letting him ask us what he needs from us or, at the least, letting him tell us what’s working and what’s not (it’s forever, “I don’t know”).

And now I don’t know. I don’t know what else to do.

He’s 3. Very much 3. He’ll be 4 in May.

We’ve had some small triumphs. He earned the toy, in the package, just last week—and then promptly lost it.

And then there was tonight. I saw him get up and hide in a corner. So I jumped up, picked him up and carried him to the bathroom. He was furious with me. I took a deep breath, and remained calm. I talked in a soft, low voice. I asked him questions, like I always do.

Me: “What are you feeling right now?”

James: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Are you afraid?”

James: “No.”

Me: “Is it easier standing up?”

James: “No!”

The questions got more graphic from there—I will spare you.

After about 40 minutes of the two of us sitting in our small half bath, with Owen and Sophie bopping in every once in awhile with cheers of support, he went. He was so pleased with himself. Knowing he was close, I had told him we’d go straight from the half bath to Target, where he could pick out a new train. I knew he was close, and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. I thought he was over the old toy he had earned and lost. And this was something I never do—the very thought of it was a treat.

It was 7:45pm. Bedtime is 8pm. Andy wasn’t home, which meant me piling all three kids into the van in 21° weather, navigating our icy driveway, getting everyone into Target and negotiating a reasonably priced toy.

I let Sophie and Owen pick out something small, too, which again, is something I never do. But they have been so supportive of James, and they have been so good playing with each other while I spend a ridiculous amount of time with James in our little half bath, as they did tonight. They deserved a treat, too.

The trip went so well, with little complaining—even over the cart seating arrangement. James, clutching his new train, promised, over and over, to not have any more accidents.

I felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders.

We got home, well past bedtime. I wrangled everyone into pjs. We brushed teeth. Turned down beds. The whole bit.

And then James covered his eyes with his hands and whispered, “change me.”

I inwardly screamed. I stared at him, mouth set, making no noise. Inside, I was losing it. Inside, I was a tired, frustrated, defeated mama who would just like to go one day—one day!—without cleaning up someone else’s poop.

He lost his new toy, which I felt terribly bad about but he didn’t fight me at all—he knew he couldn’t keep it.

I told him he could earn it back.

But we’ve done this already, with the other toy that sat on the shelf above the toilet for weeks.

So now what? He’s working to earn two toys back? When does it end?

People say to give it time. But we’ve been doing this for more than a year now.

A year.

That’s not normal, is it? I mean, what’s normal in parenting, right? But seriously, that’s not normal.

Help. Please help. Not with stories of how you potty trained in a weekend (those stories aren’t real, right?) but with tricks, tips, ideas.

(And thank you.)

“The story of a mother’s life: Trapped between a scream and a hug.” —Cathy Guisewite

New Year’s Resolutions

I make wishy-washy New Year’s resolutions. To write them down would simply be overwhelming. There’s so much I want do do but mostly, I just want to do better.

But if I were to write them down, “do better with my blog” would top the list. Gosh I was terrible last year. I love to make excuses so here’s one: I get behind, and I don’t know how to catch up. Example: I haven’t posted about Halloween, so how can I post about New Year’s?

As my mom has told me several times, it doesn’t matter.

So here’s my New Year’s post. Halloween will likely be a month from now.


I restarted (for the fourth time) my Loseit.com goal. I am a cliché. And starving.

Around 10am I convinced Sophie to climb into bed with me while Owen and James ran around the house shooting these Plane toy things at breakable things. It was snowy and windy and cold and we curled up together under my down comforter and my new raw wool blanket (a perfect Christmas present) and Sophie chatted on and on and on about “Garfield and Friends” (yes, the TV show from the late 1980s, she’s obsessed) and I listened and nodded and laughed and slightly dozed and as much as I love Christmas and all its decadence the decadence of just sitting in bed mid-morning doing nothing was, well, decadent.

I made a lunch that no one ate and one that Owen cried most of the way through because it wasn’t cinnamon-sugar toast, which is what he wanted.

We spent 40 minutes getting dressed to spend 20 minutes out in the snow.

It was gorgeous outside.

We built the world’s worst snowman. We were out of carrots (the reindeer ate them). I tried celery for a nose but it was much too big. So I used found vegetation. “It’s a bit lumpy,” Sophie said regarding the snowman’s smile.

We played.

Once inside I made hot chocolate. We were out of milk, so it wasn’t the cocoa-sugar-milk-vanilla-stovetop kind my mom always made us, but the instant powdery kind made with a kettle of hot water, which Sophie told me several times “wasn’t nearly as good.” But I threw in a ton of marshmallows, which helped.

Then I sat outside the half bath for more than an hour with hot tea, waiting. (Details aren’t necessary except to say we’re still potty training.)

I made dinner with hands that smelled like clementines. Dusk fell and the snowflakes fell slower but bigger—they were beautiful. I wished for George Winston in the background but Team Umizoomi won.

Andy was late (traffic) and cold. I fled upstairs to do freelance work for three hours while he played board games and insisted on bedtimes.

I ended the evening by finishing “Les émotifs anonymes,” (a lovely film), eating popcorn and drinking tea.

And now I’m back in bed, under my down comforter and raw wool blanket, listening to icy snow hit our drafty, old windows that rattle in the wind but are so fitting to the house we never want to change.

And even though it’s just a moment, a day, a month, I’m happy for new beginnings—for a chance to restart goals, improve upon one’s self—to try again.

“I made no resolutions for the new year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” —Anaïs Nin

Where I’ve Been

I haven’t blogged about Easter. One of my best friends is Greek, so I thought I could hold out until Greek Easter and, even though we aren’t Greek, somehow make that work via a nice transition about Easter, friendship and spring but Greek Easter was May 5 and it’s May 30 so, well, whatever.

Some excuses:

• I’m doing a lot of freelance work. So much so, that I’ve even allowed myself to hire a babysitter so that I can work some during the day. This is so.hard. for me to do. Because, if I do all my work at night, I make more money (by not spending some of it on a sitter). But lately Andy’s had to force me out of bed in the morning due to me working late most nights. I miss my evenings.

• We lost our camera. It might be in the van. Or my friend’s house. Or under a pile of clothes in my bedroom. But because of this, Andy hasn’t been able to upload any photos for me. So Owen and James, if you’re reading this years from now and wondering why I haven’t written about your birthday yet, this is why.

• I didn’t watch “Arrested Development” when it first aired. Therefore, Andy has convinced me that I need to watch all 60+ episodes so we can watch the new episodes together. So far I’ve watched four. (It’s really funny.) I have a long ways to go.

• Potty training.

I hate potty training.

I’m good at looking at the bright side. Today, for example, I mowed the grass. I bribed the kids (popsicles) to stay on the porch while I mowed and much of the mowing was done with me looking over at them seeing them screaming at me (likely because God forbid popsicle juice was dripping onto their fingers) while I mouthed “I can’t hear you!” and frantically tried to finish before they completely melted down. But. I got exercise. I worked on my tan (lines). Our yard looks (sort of) better. See? Bright side.

There’s no bright side to potty training.

The end result, you say? That’s potty trained. There’s no bright side to potty training.

Some highlights of today:

• I used the carpet cleaner four times.

• I cleaned the hardwood floor three times.

• James peed on my cell phone.

• The boys spent a considerable portion of the day outside, in their underwear and T-shirts.

• Owen, after I chased him down, picked him up and put him on the potty said, “I WANT TO GO TO A NEW HOUSE! I DON’T LIKE THIS HOUSE ANYMORE!”

• James earned one—ONE—sticker on his chart.

• Owen earned none.

Also, they hide.

Whenever the timer rings and it’s time for them to sit on the potty, they run and hide.

So there you go. My May.

I’ve been so eager to turn the calendar page to June.

“It’s been said that adults spend the first two years of their children’s lives trying to make them walk and talk, and the next sixteen years trying to get them to sit down and shut up. It’s the same way with potty training: Most adults spend the first few years of a child’s life cheerfully discussing pee and poopies, and how important it is to learn to put your pee-pee and poo-poo in the potty like big people do. But once children have mastered the art of toilet training, they are immediately forbidden to ever talk about poop, pee, toilets and other bathroom-related subjects again. Such things are now considered rude and vulgar, and are no longer rewarded with praise and cookies and juice boxes. One day you’re a superstar because you pooped in the toilet like a big boy, and the next day you’re sitting in the principal’s office because you said the word “poopy” in American History class (which, if you ask me, is the perfect place to say that word).” —Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People

A Win?

I don’t often write about the details of potty training because, no one, honestly, wants to read about the details of potty training. But I do want to share this short story today.

James followed Sophie into the bathroom this afternoon, as he often does. While Sophie did her thing on the adult toilet he took off his pants and diaper and sat on the training potty chair. Usually, nothing happens. (We haven’t really started the training process yet.) So I was surprised when Sophie started screaming “James went in the potty! James went in the potty!”

I looked.

He did.

So I joined in with Sophie, clapping my hands, giving James kisses on the cheeks, telling him what a good job he did. Owen joined in, too. James was beyond excited. I wrangled him just long enough to get a new diaper and pants on and then all four of us were being silly, running around the first floor of the house, clapping, yelling and cheering for James. He was loving it.

So much so that he threw up.

All over himself and the entry floor rug.

Apparently we all got a little too excited about this milestone.

A bath, change of clothes and carpet cleaning followed.

I know messes are to be anticipated when potty training. I just didn’t expect that kind of mess.

“I know how sobering and exhausting parenthood is. But the reality is that our children’s future depends on us as parents. Because we know that the first years truly last forever.” —Rob Reiner


My HipstaPrint 0 (1)

The boys didn’t nap today, which doesn’t make any sense because they didn’t sleep well last night. The weather, however, was thankfully, unusually warm so right about the time we were all ready to kill each other we put on our shoes and coats and walked to the small park down the street.

We were having a lovely time at the park … until I looked at Sophie climbing up a ladder and noticed that the back of her pants were soaking wet. She didn’t even tell me she had had an accident.

So I told her we had to go home. I reminded her that she was almost 4. “No, we cannot come back to the park after we change your pants,” I said. “I’m not very happy with you right now,” I added.

Halfway home she ran over to some grass and picked a dandelion (in January). She spotted another. “No,” I said. “We’re not stopping every 10 seconds to pick dandelions and pinecones. You’re soaking wet. We have to go home.” I reminded her that I wasn’t happy.

We walked for a little while as she clung to her little dandelion.

“Mama?” she said.

“Yes?” I said.

“Do you know who I picked this dandelion for?” she said.

“Who?” I said.

“You,” she said.

I thanked her. We kept walking.

A few moments later she said, “Does that make you just a little bit happier?”

It is so difficult to be mad at her sometimes.

“It gives one a sudden start in going down a barren, stony street, to see upon a narrow strip of grass, just within the iron fence, the radiant dandelion, shining in the grass, like a spark dropped from the sun.” —Henry Ward Beecher