Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Potty Training: beta version

PROLOGUE: Lemme start with a few words about the more lengthy discussion that follows after these deliberately center-adjusted sentences in lilac. And by discussion, I mean the excessive and disjointed ramblings with myself that 51% of me wants to share and 48.5% of me wants to keep in the cellar of internal Mommy-shame. The other 0.5% just wants to watch Love Actually, each Trader Joe's organic olive oil popcorn, and wash it down with some bubbly Prosecco...or take an uninterrupted nap. 

I haven't talked about Miles and potty training for some time now.
My expectation hope is that this will be the last time I talk about it. 
And not because he's trained.
Don't expect a success story here.
I've got no tips or genitourinary-controlled rabbit to pull out of a hat.
And honestly, I am not in a space to receive any from you (if it's a tip, I've probably already tried it, and if it's a success story, my response will be no response. I'm still working on unfurling the jealous shroud in which I am wrapped.)
This is my attempt at finding closure with our current potty struggles, and share with you all a glowing example of:

A) how a parent can turn potty training into months of agony for everyone involved,
B) why my obsessing about it on the blog may be doing more harm than good, and
C) why therapy exists.

Given that I would like this to be the last time I allow the words "Miles" and "potty" in the same sentence (unless I'm referring to him cussing), it's gonna be a doozy. Find that sweet spot in your recliner, folks...it's Ali at her finest (or worst...depends on your perspective. Or how much you loathe Ali writing in the third person. Just wait until I start using the royal "we.")


Starting around last August, we started what I will call the alpha version of potty training with Miles. Everyone warned me--"don't start too early; he's not ready; it's going to be so much harder and longer if you push it now."

I remember thinking, "but he just turned 3 and my best friend's barely 2 year old essentially just trained herself for both day and night! And I'm pretty certain she has opened the first ever toddler-run potty training camp and from this year's net profits, already fully-funded her college savings account." (Would you believe that's the first time I've ever compared my child to another child? Yeah, didn't think so...) And it was summer, which just screams for nakedness, peeing on trees, and not having to deal with the tandem home and school potty training.

August turned into September, and with limited potty success, we went back to school with the perpetual tinkle stain on Miles's crotch and one agitated little boy. (Bee-tee-dubs, I hate the word tinkle. I also don't like pee pee or piddle. I'm a full on pee or urinate girl.) Slowly, one by one, all of the younger kids at Miles's childcare started getting the potty thing down. 21 months old, 18 months old...the potty charts in the bathroom are noticeably missing anyone from Team Heintz.

Wah wah. Boys are different.
Wah wah. Miles is stubborn, loves control, and is a very fearful kid.
Wah wah. You are going to scar your child if you obsess about it.

Moi? Obsess?

Hi. My name is Ali. I obsess, and folks, I think I've scarred my child.

Along with too many ellipses, run-on sentences, grammatical "whoopsie daisies," and parenthetical comments, there are too many colostomy jokes on my blog. Too many times in this space I've resented the societal norm/imperative of continence and made jabs about my son's lack of potty prowess. And these days, I wouldn't put it past him to telepathically absorb all the blog posts I think about in the shower or on my commute; I think he has some clairvoyance, courtesy of Grandma Sheri's genes. In fairness, I never scold him for accidents...but I do talk about the "potty" a lot when he's around. And a whole heck of a lot when he's not around. Probably too much. I'm someone who can't help but think that his inability to potty train is a very obvious flaw in my parenting ability, or unrealistically believe something is inherently wrong with Miles.

I never claimed to be reasonable on this blog.

Nor have I claimed to be anything but honest. (Hear that? That's the sound of an angel losing its wings...and another blog follower unsubscribing.)

But this is the truth--my truth:

The real issue is ME. Red font color in the largest possible size blogger allows is my way of screaming.

How much you wanna bet Freud just clamoured a resounding "WORD!" from the grave?

I have an undulating sense of shame that for so long I scoffed at those who bought pull-ups (Humph! Just glorified underwear!), and now I have kept Nature Babycare in business this past year with their size 4T training pants. I feel a sense of panic that next year he'll go to school and the bullying will start because he'll have accidents...or he might get kicked out because he's not willing to use their potty. I have contemplated researching homeschooling, or  tossed around the idea of starting the first school in Atlanta that doesn't require potty training until 10. I'm sure enrollment will have an "n" of 2: Miles and then probably Felix. This, in clinical terms, is called catastrophizing and playing the victim. I'm a freakin' world champ at it.

I remember asking Eric last summer, "I mean, do you think he'll have this down by Christmas?"

And my asking was not really an innocent question as much as it was a plea for validation and fishing for what I deemed the only acceptable answer:

"Of course, honey! He'll be just about 3 1/5. That's SOOO long from now, and by Felix's 2nd birthday, he'll be pooping and peeing like a pro. Relax. Enjoy these moments...they are fleeting!"

I think Eric's response was more like, "Maybe?"


These bowel moments have not been fleeting. In case you didn't catch that, I wrote a ha-ha by playing on the phrase "bowel movements."  I have to keep what little audience I have left entertained.

What is it now, March? My child's 4th birthday is a few months away...I cannot use the preemie excuse anymore and say he's really not 4 until July. He's 4 in May people, and my child will probably still not have pooped on the potty more than 10 times in his life. 9 of those times before he turned 3, which we call "luck" and "happy accidents" round these parts.

There are, thankfully, more moments of peace and serenity now because all of his peers are past this stage; the potty is passe. It's SO last year, along with leggings, chevron prints, and Lady Gaga. I don't get the same influx of panicked e-mails from friends, or water cooler conversations at work about the perils of the potty. I still have a few friends with kids younger than Miles who are just entering the journey, but their trip through potty land is proving to be more like waiting in rush hour traffic on I-285--annoying, but temporary. Not like what I have coined my personal potty purgatory--a never ending world of in-between full-on diapers and being potty-trained. So the peer inferiority doesn't come up as often anymore...
...until my child starts to have an accident at the zoo in the presence of his very well trained friend.Thank the universe for fast drying pants and that Eric got him to hold the rest of it until he ACTUALLY PEED in the nasty zoo bathrooms. We *may* have stopped for Dairy Queen on the way home. In full disclosure, and as more indication that the problem is really with me and not Miles, I felt a little sting and some jealousy course through my veins when the reaction of our friend at the zoo was "We really didn't have that issue and don't deal with that at all anymore. Our struggle right now is getting her to wipe better." I readily admit I am weak and that instead of being sympathetic for any struggle with anything potty, no matter how minuscule--which I should have been--I felt an urge to respond with, "What the WHAT? Are you honestly complaining about the quality of your child's wipe when my much older child just peed in his pants?" Truth is, we all have our crosses to bear. And even though I didn't say that out loud, I regret the thought.

Remember, I never claimed to be reasonable.

This whole potty debacle has everything to do with yours truly...and maybe the overwhelming volume of schizophrenic techniques we've tried over the past few months (note: royal "we" employed for the most part):

We've done sticker charts.
We've bribed with candy, The Frosty Caboose, parties, fruit ropes, DISNEY WORLD.
We've tried capitalizing off of the idea of becoming a big boy.
We've told him that it's just what you do when you are 3.
We've bought potty chairs and seats of different sizes and colors.
We've done naked weekends.
We've done show and tell.
We've bought potty DVDs to watch.
We've let him watch, while on the pot, YouTube videos of that creepy Corduroy video from the 80s and Ricky Gervais singing a celebrity lullaby with Elmo. (I highly recommend that one!)
We've read story after story to him on the potty.
We've read story after story about the potty--both on the potty and in his room.
We've changed scenery and put the potty chair in different locations.
We've let him watch us go to the bathroom, carte blanche.
We've tried competitive pottying with Felix.
We've tried character underwear.
We've tried underwear you can draw pictures on that disappear when wet.
We've tried the scarcity principle ("uh oh. No more pull-ups for nap...what are we going to do?")
We've tried saying that we are going to have to use baby diapers again.
We've tried putting him in too small pull-ups for the discomfort factor. (Linked to a hilarious post on make it and love it that gave me hope for a good 3 months.)
We've (read: me) entered every online contest to win potty training paraphernalia, because much like children's shoes, potty trinkets are way overpriced and way under perform. If I'm doing this for over 12 months, I need some freebies. I'm desperate. And broke.

We've I've essentially screwed this kid up, admittedly so, during such formative years. He's scared...and scarred. I'm taking donations for family therapy.

I'm sure we've confused him with all of the strategies. It's like when you have NO idea what the answer to a school test essay is, so you write down every blessed piece of information you know related to the topic, hoping the "right one" will be in there somewhere. I should have learned that never works; the teacher always responds with a flurry of "??????" and "the answer is in there, Alison, but I am deducting five points for superfluous information." And THAT is how I missed becoming high school Valedictorian and had to settle for Salutatorian. Psych! Truth is, I just wasn't as smart as numero uno. But no matter what, second place still feels like "first loser."

But Miles gets it--logistically. He's a really smart kid. He can spell and write his name (sometimes), he can tell you where pee and poop comes from, where it goes down the pipes and why. Felix just parrots "poop goes in the potty," but Miles knows how and why.

He's scared...
And a little bit of a control freak. I have NO idea where he gets it from.

In a world where he feels so vulnerable, I think this is an area he feels he has control over. [Insert Freudian analysis]. There are a lot of things I'm afraid of--death,cancer, Arrested Development never being translated into a movie...but this potty phobia doesn't resonate with me. And then remember that catastrophizing? It comes and blankets me like pollen in Atlanta during March and April: thick and ugly. I project to middle school gym class and him being that kid who is afraid to leap to the trapeze bar during the Project Adventure unit, or that one boy who dodges any volleyball sailing toward his head, and chooses to sit out with the the handful of girls who are too cool to play "wallyball" while my friends Maura, Shara and I risk the integrity of our facial features in any and every game during gym class.

Focus, Ali...

I know from my public health background that just because you have the knowledge, doesn't mean it translates into behavior.

I'll ask him, "why don't you poop on the potty?" 
Some popular answers:
"I don't know HOW!" This is followed by a very long discussion about anatomy, sanitation, and sometimes includes parental demonstrations of the valsalva maneuver.

"I'm scared of the flushing!" Not true, he flushes it when he pees every time.

"I only poop on Fridays!" The best is when he throws us this excuse on a Friday.

"I'll poop on the potty after spring break! And then I'll get TEN ice creams!" First. I'll buy you a freakin' ice cream stand if you poop on the pot. Second. Spring break 2012 is over...I'm starting to think he's talking about 2017

"My poop is broken!" Just like his legs were broken the other day when he couldn't walk to the door.

[Insert overly utilized ellipsis]

So I am moving on to a new beta potty version: completely drop the entire brouhaha. Like promise my heart, cross my eyes completely dropping. Like God smite me with early onset incontinence if I freak out or cry about this again.

I'll deal with pre-K in a few months.
I'll stop complaining about washing undies and cot sheets repeatedly.
And I'll take a lesson from Eric and just...let...go. 

And the truth is, he really is making progress. He pees at home and at school. He wears underwear all the time unless he's sleeping. He's had very limited pee accidents. He is still terrified of peeing anywhere but home and school, but he has peed at the Zoo, at Emory University, at a friend's house, and...that might be it. Poop is held until nap or nighttime when he wears a pull-up. Well...skid marks do make an appearance.

I try to think back to my potty experience. I don't remember much of anything (meaning, I'm sure it happened before I was 4). But I do remember some very hallmark accident experiences that kind of scarred/scared me.

Miles, since I am sure you can somehow magically read my blogs, I present these to you for consolation:

  1. I was in the bathroom at Southwick Animal Farm during a preschool field trip, and the toilet started overflowing after I flushed it with too much paper. I fuh-reaked out, apparently forgot how to exit the stall like a normal person, and decided the fastest way out was to stop-drop-and crawl out under the locked door. I was petrified that for all eternity, Southwick would have an "Out of Order" sign on that stall because no one could unlock it. Or that the bathroom would overflow with my pee and I would get in trouble. Believe it or not, I can easily recall that feeling of panic when I army crawled to my safety.
  2. One time I pooped on the potty at my home with my mom in the bathroom, but I didn't get a clean wipe. I remember turning around, and without me even realizing it, my poop fell on my mom's brown boat shoes. I was mortified. I thought I had ruined my mom's shoes and that from that point on, I spent what felt like a year, rechecking the floor each time after I pooped to make sure a rogue droppling didn't escape.
  3. In Ms. Jensen's first grade class, I was terrified to ask to use the bathroom. One day I couldn't hold my pee any longer, so I just sat there and peed. Straight through my  grey wool kilt from Scotland. When it was recess time, I just stayed in my seat, and Ms. Jensen came over and quietly had me go to the nurse's office. While I was there, a 4th grader came in (wait, have I told this story before? If so, apologies), and I was star struck. She was the coolest thing since hyper color Care Bear mittens. She asked me why I was in there. I told her I broke my arm. Right on cue, my mom came in with a change of clothes, which I am pretty sure included some hand-me-down tight-ankle sweatpants from my brothers. I changed, and then walked out right past that 4th grader who must have thought I was an idiot. Miles, this is what you call karma, and what happens when you lie. Just kidding! But it just goes to show that even in first grade I struggled. And I think I turned out okay! At least up until we started potty training you...then I kinda lost it.
  4. The first time I ever had a real anxiety attack, I was in high school in a Burger King bathroom, pants gracing my ankles, and feeling like I was going to pass out on the pot. I barely made it out of the bathroom with my fly buttoned. (Remember, the 90's were all about button flies. Easy to undo, but a bear to button back up.) I'm pretty sure I needed to change my underwear when I got home because in the midst of the attack, I forgot to wipe my pee.
Now that I think of it, I kinda have some potty neuroses to this day:
  1. I intentionally choose the first or last stall in public bathrooms because I read somewhere that they tend to be the cleanest.
  2. Up until college, I never let my bottom full-on touch the toilet seat.
  3. I flush with my feet in public bathrooms--and just learned you do that at school!
  4. I will go to great lengths not to poop anywhere but my house (TMI? It's okay, only 3 of you are reading. Sorry Mom, Amy, and Eric!)
This is the first moment of parenthood I feel like I have utterly failed my child. Creating an atmosphere of tension and confusion for a little boy who is just trying to figure out this crazy thing called life. This isn't an attempt for me to play the victim again; this is me taking responsibility in that I did not approach or handle this element of parenting with grace, clarity, or patience.

I'm sorry Miles.

And I'm sorry to all of you for having to be on the receiving end of my potty training mania. You ever heard of men who are forced to wear a sandwich board in the middle of Times Square with their transgressions? "I cheated on my wife" (front) "I am a scumbag!" (back). Consider this my virtual sandwich board of "I totally failed my child during potty training." And I give you license to share this post with anyone struggling with potty-training:

To: mommy-struggling-with-potty-training@gmail.com
From: logical-and-well-meaning-friend-who-hasn't-messed-her-kid-up-at-potty-training@gmail.com
Subject: Deep breaths! It could be worse....

Then in the text area, just link to this post and say: "Ali wrote this just to make you feel better. And warn you not to make the same mistakes."

I always say it's better to know what not to do sometimes just as much as it is to know what to do (as I clearly haven't answered the latter in this missive.)
This beta version may go on for a while, but I am going to make a concerted effort to keep it out of the blogosphere; I think it just amplifies my anxiety, which makes me feel even worse, which in turn translates into more catastrophizing, which inevitably reveals itself in my writing with overused ellipses...and we all know how annoying that is. I am contemplating not even mentioning when he is 100% trained because not only am I trying to give my child the courtesy of some privacy (that until he can actually read, won't know how terribly I violated it), but I also believe in the power of jinxing, and am certain we would be in for 7 years of bad potty luck with Felix.

Beta version begin!


  1. Wow! What a lot of torture it has been for you. I know that you are not keen for any suggestions but maybe you could consider food intolerances that are making life a little more challenging. Premature baby guts are inflamed from having food in their system too early and may take a while to recover. www.fedup.com.au is where we based Eva's elimination diet and where we source most of our information. I know that any intolerances, especially to salicylate (fruits and vegetables) show up in wee and poo accidents sometimes up to 3 days after ingesting the food. Sorry to suggest another thing but maybe something you can consider in a few months time after you've passed through the let it go phase. Best of luck.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Torture, yes. Food intolerances is actually something to think about! No apologies about suggesting. I do know he has a tender stomach. Since birth, he has been a soft-serve poop machine. We've never suspected allergies, but I think his digestive track does funky things.

  4. I love you and you are a WONDERFUL Mommy and don't forget that. It will all work out itself out when you least expect it.

  5. I hear that you are struggling and that this has been a difficult time. I echo Trixie3000's sentiments. You are a FANTASTIC mother.

  6. "i broke my arm" had me laughing out loud.

    no advice, tips from me, just a silent nod of understanding of "been there" with my first and "still there" with my second who is the same age as miles.

    misery loves company. ;)

  7. awww shoot, chevron prints are already out of style? i was just about to hop on that bandwagon! :)

    not one ounce of judgment or advice here -- just a virtual hug and a note to tell you that your boys are beautiful in every way, and you're an amazing mama (and a heck of a writer too).

  8. So sorry, but this post had me laughing quite a bit. I do want to thank you for sharing this. It is amazing how many kids have the same issues! My best friend's daughters are each a few weeks shy of turning five, and still aren't trained for overnight. The younger one sounds shockingly similar to Miles. How on earth do Chinese parents get their kids mostly trained by age 1 and completely trained by age 2?! For all the kids I know, trouble with potty training seems to be the norm. Hang in there! No one goes to high school in pull-ups. :-)

    P.S. If it makes you feel any better, I was in Mrs. Jensen's first grade class with you and I never had a clue!