You Were a Kid Once Too

Last month I wrote about toilet training my 2 year old.  I have decided to adopt Carol’s attitude and allow myself to follow his lead.  Some days we cruise through the day with barely an accident and other days I am cleaning up poo that has been tracked through the house.  It’s a process.

Recently I took the boys to their favourite store and with money in hand they agonized over their selections.

My eyes were drawn to my four year old.  One leg was crossed over the other.  Then the leg from behind wrapped around the leg in front.

Forget any seasoned parent, an amateur babysitter would be able to tell you that this boy had to pee.  And if experience has taught me anything it’s this:  when kids say that they have to pee now they mean NOW.

The bunch of us hurried over to the nearest sales person and in my sweetest voice asked if we could use the washroom as it was an emergency.

“The washroom is for employees only!” the surly woman snarled at me.

“I completely understand your policy but it’s not for me, it’s my son.  It really is an emergency.”  I pleaded with her, motioning toward to son.  I could tell from the frequency of the legs folding over each other that we had seconds to spare.

“Employees only!” She hissed at me and went back to stocking the shelves.

I wanted to snap back at her, remind her that she was a child once too, tell her that karma is a bitch.

An older man standing behind me gave me a look of sympathy and validated my irritation by saying aloud that this was ridiculous.

Instead, I took a deep breath and walked with my boys out of the store where upon my son just could not hold it a moment longer.

I shrugged my shoulders and through the closed door the older man gave me a thumbs up.


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The Door Is Open

Anyone who knows me knows that I like order and structure.  I tend to be particular about routines and time lines.  I don’t like being late (although my children don’t have a problem with it) and can’t live with disorganization.  A fun time is purging the playroom.

Despite a brief fling in university when I didn’t make my bed (that lasted a week) or my high school grunge phase (I bought one plaid shirt), I have always been this way and it’s taken me a long, long time to come to terms with who I am.

Just like many new moms, from the moment I became pregnant to the time my first son was about six months old*, I was out of whack.  I wanted so desperately to do the right thing that in addition to becoming a raging bitch; I also lost sight of who I was.

Every parenting magazine, website and pamphlet touted the benefits of attachment parenting and many members of my moms group seemed to have been indoctrinated so I tossed my check-lists and schedules aside and began my flirtation with all things Dr. Sears and anything else that seemed au naturel.

Let’s just say the flirtation was over as soon as it started.

A doula?  Can’t do it.  I like to keep all of my pent-up anger focused on one person during delivery and luckily for my husband, he fit the bill.

Cloth diapers?  Seemed like a good idea at the time, but my noble quest to save the earth one Pampers at a time lasted all of about 1 hour.

A child-centric schedule?  Are you kidding me?   It takes the boys 15 minutes to put their shoes on with me yelling, “Put your shoes on!!!”  Attachment parenting could cause me to gnaw off my own tongue.

It almost had me at the communal bed, but after several nights of being kicked in the face, I decided that my sleep trumped any notion that there was positive connecting going on between the hours of 9 pm – 7 am.

I had decided to put attachment parenting to bed (couldn’t resist the pun) and follow what felt au naturel to me.

And to bed it stayed until a recent conversation with Carol.

A few weeks ago when we were having dinner, I casually mentioned that my youngest had taken to refusing his diapers.  He would push them away, shaking his head and say, baby.

I lamented to Carol that these power struggles were adding unnecessary stress to an already hectic morning schedule.

Carol didn’t seem at all sympathetic to my fight to make it out the door in time to drop the boys off at school.  If anything she seem excited.

The door is open!”  She squealed, doing a little jig in her seat.

“What door?” I replied.

“The door!  He’s showing you that he’s ready.”

Ready?  He’s not even two.  There is no way that he’s ready.  The other boys weren’t ready until they were 2 ½.

But Carol’s enthusiasm was infectious.

Really?  You think?  Don’t you think he’s too young?”

“Oh no!  He’s opening the door.  Help him go through it.  It may take him awhile to walk through but he will get to the other side in his own time.”

This is what I admire about Carol, her willingness to just go with it. 

And so I have.  Regardless of schedules and messes, I am just going to go with this.

It’s the last time that I am going to do the potty dance with reckless abandon, have poo tracked through my house and pee on my drapes.

I have come to realize that I can’t keep this door closed for him just to keep one from closing on me.

* I got pregnant with son number 2.  A sure-fire way to stay on the path to crazy.

image credit

Non-Diapering 101: Elimination Communication

When someone asks what kind of diapers to use, the debate is usually between cloth or disposables.  But what if a viable answer to the question were ‘none’?

Have you come across this idea?  It’s called elimination communication, or EC for short, or natural infant hygiene or infant potty training.  Whatever the moniker, the basic idea is that caregivers use timing, cues, and intuition to recognize a baby’s need to eliminate waste and then the caregiver helps the baby relieve itself in an appropriate place.

I first heard of this at a mothers group meeting 5 years ago.  A dozen brand new mothers sat in a circle with our infants and someone circulated an editorial piece that I think was printed in Today’s Parent (I can’t find reference to the article now).  It featured an Indian woman’s skepticism around her mother’s claim that all her children were toilet trained at 11 months, and that this was common in India.  One new mother in our group confirmed that when travelling in rural China, where poverty tended to preclude diapers, she saw diaper-less children who had barely learned to walk squat by the side of the road to relieve themselves.

Personally I was too busy reeling from having my first child to pay much heed to EC, although I believed such things were possible, especially in countries where inter-generational families are the norm and mentors for child-rearing would be prevalent.

I would only witness EC firsthand once, though, and this was at a work lunch for a colleague who was on maternity leave.  Midway through the meal, she discreetly withdrew to a dark corner behind the table with her 6 month old daughter, and emerged a minute later with a little pink potty that she emptied in the restroom.  It was such a casual occurrence, I might have doubted it happened except that I had seen it myself.  Or maybe, less charitably, I might assumed a certain extremism in any mother who would practice EC.  But there she was, my girlfriend, in all her lovely, normal splendour, holding what looked like a very normal IKEA potty.

I made a little more effort to educate myself when baby two arrived.  I called my mother-in-law’s Portuguese seamstress, who had toilet trained her babies by one, but she didn’t return my calls.  Then I perused some websites on EC and basically got discouraged.  Looking at your baby for signs for when to go?  I looked into my second son’s face for cues and saw precisely none, except when he was already relieving himself – that is, too late.  And the holy tone of some EC proponents kind of put me off.  Also, practically speaking, my second son was a prolific pooer, and so I gave up on EC before trying.

And then…  I went and had another baby.  And had zero plans for ECing this baby, just the same as the other two.  But a couple of things happened.  First, I chanced upon a documentary called My Toxic Baby.  In it is a blurb about EC, including a video clip of a a woman taking her baby to the toilet  by sitting on it (in reverse position, facing the toilet lid) with a baby cradled in her arms.  I didn’t think about it at the time, but I think hearing about EC again and seeing a visual of it in action made an impression on me.

The second thing that happened, and it just kept happening, and that was that whenever I took my baby out of his diaper and let him have some air time on the diaper table, he would pee.  Not infallibly, not always immediately, but entirely consistently.  Enough to make me say a couple of months ago to my mother that “someone who knew what she was doing could toilet train this baby”.

Then the Sunday after my mom’s annual Chinese New Year party, my older boys were taking a rare nap to recover from the late night celebrations.  The house was quiet; it was just me and baby.  With no forethought, I found myself taking my baby’s diaper off and wandering upstairs to the bathroom.  I faced the toilet and sat on its edge and cradled my baby like I’d seen in the video.  He played with his toes for a second, and I was going to wonder how long you’re supposed to wait for your baby to pee when I was interrupted by the sound of tinkling.

I kid you not.  My baby peed!  In the toilet!  Just like in the movie!

It’s hard to describe the rush this gave me (see exclamation marks above) but rush it was.  My baby boy is five months old, it was my first try, and I hadn’t read a stitch about EC for years.  But there we were.  Baby was perfectly at ease over the toilet, and seemed to know precisely what we were doing.  I took him to the toilet five times that day, and he peed four of those times.

The next day, I took him to the toilet six times, and he peed six times.  Ben was working, but my mom was over, and she took him two or three more times, with success.  And on the fifth of my six times, my baby pooed.  Poo!  In the toilet!  I was so crazy with excitement that I didn’t flush so my mother could bear witness.  And crazy tree that I didn’t drop far from that she is, she went to see it and was, in my view, suitably aglow afterwards.

And that’s how I became an accidental elimination communicator.

What’s the fine print?  Well, while I often give baby diaper-free time, we still use diapers, and sometimes our diapers are wet.  But far fewer of them are wet, and they’re on my baby for much less time, meaning a much more comfortable baby.  And since I use cloth, it’s very nice to have less laundry to do.  Another thing is that I still can’t really read cues on my baby, so I have to rely on intuition and habit, trying by trial and error to notice what his patterns of elimination are.   I think I’m slowly getting better.  Finally, I haven’t attempted anything at night.

Probably the biggest thing to note is that I check baby’s diaper a lot more often.  He’s sometimes dry for a couple of hours, but I may be taking him to the toilet up to twice an hour after he has nursed.  So EC requires a lot more attention from the caregiver and isn’t feasible in settings like a daycare, and sometimes isn’t very practical in settings where it’s usually feasible.  I went to Cleveland last weekend, but I didn’t make special stops for baby to pee on a toilet.

But as anyone who has done it knows, diapering a child for years and then trying to untrain that habit requires a good hunk of work too.  So it’s not really accurate to dismiss EC on the basis of workload; it’s more a question of whether you’re choosing to front end or back end the work.  Satisfaction ranks in there too:  I never would have thought that helping a tiny baby pee and poo could be so satisfying but, for me, it really is.

I’m pretty sure that some babies are easier to EC with than others, and my newborn kept showing signs of readiness until I couldn’t ignore them anymore.  But my other babies also peed when their diapers were off, and although they were not out of diapers late, and I also remember thinking for both of them that someone who knew how could have helped them learn to use the toilet earlier.  Definitely part of what has made the process so accessible this time around is a simple willingness to try.  The proverbial open mind.  Having heard about EC through enough different channels, it’s like I finally reached my EC tipping point.

One more note:  although I’ve used the word “train” throughout this post, I’m not really interested in how my baby “performs”.   It’s fun to see the surprised looks and share the laughter when people see I’m practicing EC, but that’s not nearly enough to have me make this choice.  And while I think early toileting abilities is a likely and welcome consequence of EC, I’m not banking on it.  I feel less like I’m training my baby than allowing his natural abilities to express themselves through EC.  He was showing some obvious innate body awareness, and it’s a pleasure to encourage and work with that awareness.  I love knowing him just that much better, recognizing just a little bit more the fullness of who he is and what he can do.

Virtually all parents are delighted when their children start using the toilet; I guess I’m just feeling that flush (tee hee) early with my third baby.

How old are you?  Were you alive in the 80s, and do you remember the show The Greatest American Hero?  It’s about a man who gets superpowers when he wears a certain suit, although he doesn’t really know how to use them.  My stumble into EC has the opening lines of its theme song on repeat in my head: Look at what’s happened to me/ I can’t believe it myself / Suddenly I’m up on top of the world / Should it have been someone else?

Rather histrionic, I know.  I don’t care.  We all take our lumps as moms; why not enjoy its surprises and pleasures to the fullest too?

Owning a Bad Evening of Parenting

Maybe it’s because I’m into my 9th month of pregnancy with my third child;

Maybe it’s because I was roasting after the streetcar ride home from work;

Maybe it’s because I am still working even though I feel like with a little concentration I could half push this baby out of my body on command;

Maybe it’s because, when we bought bunk beds in our zeal to establish good sleeping arrangements for our two kids prior to the arrival of the baby, I put my 5 year old on the top bunk (which he loved) only to discover that it was impossible for him to descend the ladder in the middle of the night when he needed to pee.  And as a result, he has now gone back to wetting himself almost every single night regardless of what bed he sleeps in, and we are back to tiring, confusing attempts at toilet training;

Maybe it’s because my husband keeps proposing weekend activities that would separate our family and offer the potential (albeit unlikely) of him and the children missing my labour;

Maybe it’s because I’ve slept for six hours straight about six times in the past six years.

I don’t know what it was.  But today when it was just my three year old son and I having dinner together, and he stepped away from his seat, put himself a semi-squat, and then peed through his shorts and underwear in the middle of the kitchen floor (pictured above), I just got mad.  And when I asked him why he did that, and he answered “because the bathroom is not free”, which it surely was, I just got madder. Why are the miniature taskmasters in my life so insane?

I didn’t focus on the fact that he’s never done such a thing before.  Or that he was toilet trained early and that he’s been way less work than his brother on this front.  I didn’t wonder what triggered this anomalous behaviour, or whether he’s experiencing anxiety over the baby or something else.  I wasn’t moved by the fact that he was unperturbed by his behaviour and was maybe feeling curious.

I didn’t fly off the handle, but I wasn’t nice.  I yelled enough to make him cry (briefly).  After he wiped up the mess, he started getting mad back at me, and I both lacked the energy and had the sense to refuse to engage this further, and went into another room.  He followed me into that room and played for awhile, which I could tolerate in silence, but when he started mimicking my anger back at me again, I left.  Eventually he found me, climbed onto the loveseat where I was lying down, and quietly shared the snack I was eating snuggled by my side.  I didn’t leave.

It wasn’t a good scene, but it doesn’t scrape the barrel bottom either.  I could have done infinitely better but I could have done quite a bit worse too.  I’m going to do the best I know to do and go to bed early.  This offers the best chance of a better tomorrow.

And I’m just going to let this evening go.

Toileting Mysteries

I’ll start this post by saying that without a whole lot of parental intervention (we just let him run naked in the backyard a lot in the summer), my younger son stopped needing diapers day and night when he was about 2 years and 3 months old.  By contrast, our toileting adventures with my older son, who will be 5 in May, are more circuitous.

Here’s the recap.  The month before I went back to work after my second maternity leave, when my older son was three, he’d been having dry nights 90% of the time.  For some (in hindsight not good) reason – I think I was waiting for a 100% score – I didn’t take him out of diapers.  Immediately upon my return to work, literally the same night, my son began to wet himself every single night.

I assumed that when the stress of my return to work lifted, the bedwetting would stop.  Weeks passed, then months, then a year.  He was still wet most nights.

When my younger son stopped needed diapers a few months ago, I decided it was a good time to see if some proactive steps would facilitate my older son getting through the night dry.  Motivated by the fact of very late bedwetting in our family circle and the desire to avoid years of diapering if at all possible, along with my own suspicion that I had inadvertently trained my son to pee into diapers during that window of opportunity before I went back to work, I stored our cloth diapers into a bin in the basement.

Someone had told me, take the diapers off for two weeks, there’ll be accidents galore, but after that, the kids just get it and will be dry.  I tried this.  I did nothing for 10 nights.  For 10 nights my older son’s bed was wet.  I threw in the towel and never made it to night 14.

During that flood of pee, I did discover that my son was wetting himself two to three hours after going to bed.  I decided that I would wake him before the accident happened and help him go to the toilet.

This worked, kind of.  My son was having dry nights with my help.  He was enthusiastic about it, and didn’t fight the process.  I thought, if we can just do this for awhile, then maybe his body will get used to it and he’ll be able to wake himself up and go without my help.  There were hints in this direction, as he would sometimes cry when he wet himself (if I was too late in waking him).

But then those hints disappeared, and months after we had started this assisted toileting process, my son seemed no closer to being able to do it independently.  Plus, I was waking him in the deepest of sleep to take him to the toilet.  He was so sleepy that he would sway in front of the bowl; I almost had to hold him upright for fear he might topple over.   I was also bothered by the fact that my son could and would rouse himself to use the toilet later in night or in the morning if he needed to, which seemed to reaffirm just how deep his sleep was in those early hours when he would wet himself.  Although he always fell immediately back to sleep after I took him to the toilet, I was uneasy about disturbing this deep sleep cycle.  For a brief transitory period, okay – but on an ongoing basis?  I hadn’t counted on that at all.

I brought up this conundrum during brunch three weeks ago with Marcelle and Nathalie of 4Mothers fame.  We discussed that bedwetting affected many children, that my son was still only 4 years old, and the importance of children getting their sleep.

That night, I went into the basement and retrieved some diapers.  I was still worried that putting him back in diapers would be encouraging him to pee in them, but I was more moved by the reality that what I was currently doing was not working.

My son and I talked about the diapers matter-of-factly.  “We’ll put them on just in case,” I said.  “This way, if there’s an accident, the bed won’t get wet, just the diaper.  If you wake up and the diaper’s wet, just pull it off so your skin can stay dry.  If you wake up and you want to pee, go to the bathroom, pull off the diaper and pee in the toilet – don’t pee in the diaper.  If you need help, call me.”  The diapers attach with velcro, so one yank and they’re off – I knew they wouldn’t be a problem.  My son listened while I gave the instructions, didn’t seem to mind when we put the diaper on, and went to bed.

That’s that, I thought.  And mentally readjusted to having to wash diapers again.

In the morning, though, he was dry.  He hadn’t had a dry night in close to a month.  How bizarre, I thought.

And the next morning, he was dry.  The unused diaper lay near the toilet, where he had flung it in the dark, before peeing in the toilet by himself.  I couldn’t believe it.

The next morning, he was wet.  The diaper lay near the bed where he had taken it off upon discovering the wetness against his skin.  Even this surprised me, because it was not uncommon for him to sleep in a wet bed for hours.

Since then, our nights have been mostly dry.  I’ve come to ask him whether he needs the diaper, and mostly he says no, he thinks he can get up.  And then he does.  As for the two wet exceptions, one night was at my mother’s, where maybe the different surroundings threw him off.  The second wet night was one when he requested the diaper, and then peed into it.

Maybe this isn’t exactly material for Ripley’s Believe It or Not (should I take that out so we can pretend I’m 30 years old?) but it is an(other) episode of parenting that has me  equally dumbfounded and fascinated.  I truly have no idea if my interventionist months of taking my son to the toilet at night helped or hindered the process, or had zilcho effect whatsoever.

I’ve come to think of my son as past the diaper stage, but I notice I haven’t put said diapers back in the basement bin.  And I find myself wondering what exactly is going on in that little body and mind of his right now as it lies quietly in the bed that is almost directly above me as I write this.

(A Different Kind of) Bed Talk

It’s the end of the day, the long day, and I’m getting into bed at last.  My feet slip into the sheets, one of my favourite things ever.

But something’s wrong.  More specifically, something’s wet.

I pull up my legs, and then the bedsheet.  “It’s all wet,” I say.

“What?” asks my husband.

“The sheet,” I say.  “It’s all wet.”

“No it’s not,” says my husband, without seeing or touching the sheet.  Defensively hopeful.

“Yes, it is,” I say.  I hold the big wet area to my nose.  “It’s our older child.  He peed here last night,” I inform.  Then I offer the sheet to husband’s nose.

He whiffs.  “That’s not him,” husband says.  His voice grows a little louder.  “That was the cat,” he adds disgustedly.

I disagree.  “That’s not the cat.  Cat pee is strong and unbearable.  Smell again.”

Husband complies, then says nothing. I smell the sheet again too.  A pause lifts into the air.

It’s me who suggests:  “This is kind of a depressing conversation, isn’t it?”