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

What’s To Come

The other night, after dinner, I escaped to the Y (which is, thankfully, right down the street) for a quick 30-minute workout while Andy had his own 30-minute workout playing tickle monster with the kids. This arrangement has worked out perfectly for us. I’m able to exercise regularly and I’m also able to get out of the house, alone. Andy enjoys being able to spend time with the kids. The kids get a break from me. I’m happier. Andy’s happier (mostly, because I’m happier). The kids are happier. It’s win-win-win.

After this particular workout, however, I just wasn’t ready to go back home. I needed just a little more time—I craved just a little more time. So I called Andy claiming we absolutely needed some things from Target. And we did. But we didn’t absolutely.

He understood.

I chose a cart instead of a basket. In it, I put paper towels. Dye for my hair. Shaving cream. Shin guards and elbow pads for Sophie. Face wash. A new collar for Tucker. Etc.

I wandered. And lingered. Ran into friends and talked to them. Put things in my cart and then took them back out. Debated over thank-you card designs. Checked the children’s clearance racks. Walked slowly.

Eventually, I went back to our car, having spent more than I intended—both in money and time. It was 8:30pm. The kids go to bed at 8pm.

I drove home with that mish-mash feeling of guilt and calmness, which I imagine most moms feel at some time, when they choose to do something unnecessary or unproductive away from home, just to be away from home, while also feeling and wanting to be at home. It’s a difficult thing to describe.

And then, I drove past Woodfill Elementary, where Sophie will eventually go. I passed its new electronic sign and read, in bright, bright blue, “Father-Daughter Dance Feb 11.”

I pulled into the driveway not remembering the road I had just traveled. Instead, my thoughts were with future Sophie and future Andy. She in pink, I suspected, with lots of tulle making her skirt puffy. He in a tie she, no doubt, insisted on picking out. Her small Mary Janes on top of his dress shoes. Twirling. Lots of twirling. Balloons, perhaps? Streamers? She would like that. And hopefully, lots of pictures (I would insist). I thought about how we were just dancing with her infant self to “Build Me Up Buttercup” in our old living room and now here we are, me able to vividly imagine this dance that will be hers—and his—in only a few short years.

I felt a bit foolish for my Target wandering, even if it did calm me. At the same time I know there will be many more bedtime routines to come—some days it will feel like too many, other days, not enough. But more than anything, that brightly lit sign just made me so excited for what’s to come. It was yet another thing from my childhood that I had forgotten about, yet loved. And it’s coming. For her. For him. For all of us.


“And in today already walks tomorrow.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge