World War Pee

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago for a clean, dry place to sit at my house, I probably would’ve recommended one of my kids’ potty chairs.  Those were pretty much the only places that hadn’t been peed and pooped on.

Mercifully, since I last wrote about my struggle to domesticate my 3-year-olds, Drew and I have made a bit of progress.  And yes, the credit goes to us, the grownups, because we’re the only ones here who seem the least bit disturbed that, thanks to what we generously term “accidents”, our entire house has basically become one giant toilet.  My current plan is, when this is all over, we blow the place up and start over — you know, kind of like in that Little House on the Prairie TV movie, the one where they blow the town up and start over.

We really didn’t have a choice but to end our cease-fire with the kids and kick the training back into high gear.  It turns out their preschool teacher wasn’t joking about wanting her students to be underpant-ready.  We’re not even allowed to send them to school in diapers.  The teacher will clean up accidents and put the kids in clean clothes — as long as they happen in underpants.  If your kid’s in diapers, he’s on his own.

When I heard this, it sounded to me like someone else was offering to train the kids for us.  Awesome.  When Drew heard it, he thought we’d failed as parents.

The first day I picked the kids up, the teacher told me that they hadn’t had any accidents.  They both obediently sat on the tiny toilets when the teacher asked them to.  Bennett even peed.  It was hard not to feel like we were being snookered.  Why wouldn’t they do that for us?

I was almost relieved on Day 2, when Sutton had what the teacher called “a tiny accident”.  I just wanted this professional educator to feel my pain.

Like a lot of people have suggested, seeing the other kids use the bathroom really inspired them.  No one ever talks about the bright side of peer pressure.  When the subject comes up, it’s always about jumping off bridges.  Well, from now on, peer pressure, we cool.

School was helping, sure, but the kids are only there for three hours at a time, three days a week.  The rest of their lives, I’m the one cleaning up after them.  Whatever the teacher and the other kids were doing to my children, it was my job to keep it up when they were with me.

I wasn’t going to settle for a quick-fix solution, and I sure as hell wasn’t going back to that insane 3-day method from the internet.  Instead, I decided to do something even crazier: trust my instincts.

There would be no more running through the house to get a kid in mid-pee to the bathroom.  I was tired of cleaning up messes that stretched down the entire hallway.  Instead, if someone had an accident, I would instruct them to stay totally still, so their mess would collect in one giant, easy-to-clean puddle.

Is it a bit awkward for them to stand still in their own urine while Daddy then runs and gets them a pair of clean underpants?  You know what?  That’s not my problem.

I was also done with that “Don’t pressure them, they’ll go when they’re ready” nonsense.  If you haven’t peed in two hours, I’m sitting your butt on the potty until you’ve got something to flush down the toilet.  If you’re dancing around trying to hold your bladder, I’m not waiting for it to explode while you insist over and over that you don’t have to go.  I know a ticking time bomb when I see one.  Onto the potty with you!

I also decided that I was tired of staying home all the time.  Sure, I’m still nervous my kids will have accidents in public, but why should I be punished when I know perfectly well how to use a bathroom like any higher primate should?  And why should my kid be locked up for an accident that hasn’t yet occurred?  What is this?  Minority Report?

Screw it.  When we want to go out, we go out.  I don’t sit them on potties in restaurants like that nutjob we’ve all read about.  Instead, I try to take them to places where it’s OK to let a few pints of urine drip down your leg, should it come to that.  Public parks, for example, and… um, well, maybe just public parks.

I even bought some portable potties for my minivan — a blue one and a pink one, of course.  We folded down the third row of car seats and basically turned the trunk space into an outhouse.  It was a welcome safety net, although one that encouraged the kids to pee in my car.  Great, another behavior I can look forward to correcting someday.

We’re on week three of World War Pee, and while there hasn’t been an official surrender yet, the opposition forces are definitely weakening.  They rarely complain about going to the bathroom anymore.  Sometimes they’ll refuse to go, but that’s usually because they don’t actually have to go.  When they do have full bladders, they’ll sit down and get it over with, and then I’ll knock the roof off our house with my over-the-top pride squeals.

Winning.

Sadly, though, even a victory in World War Pee will only mean an end to conflict #1.  There’s still #2 to deal with.

That’s right.  Even as they get more comfortable with peeing, they still refuse to do #2 in the potty.  They’ll just hold it in for hours, until they finally explode in their underpants and all over the floor.

For now, we let them put on a diaper just on those occasions.  It’s better than cleaning up that kind of mess or letting my kids’ colons swell up like overstuffed sausages.

We’re going to wait until the peeing thing is under control before tackling the next phase.  Then, an even bigger battle looms:

World War Poo.

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Oh, and those adorable cartoons are from Leslie Patricelli’s book Potty, which is the Infinite Jest of toilet training books.  Five stars.

mommydearest

A Gay Dad Wonders… Do My Kids Deserve a Mom?

I almost wrote this post a few months ago when Bristol Palin said something annoying about gay parents.  Now, it’s Rupert Everett who said something annoying about gay parents.  Forgive me, but I’m having a harder time lately getting annoyed.

It’s the same argument every time: hey, moms are great.  Kids should have one.  (Ditto for dads, but I’m covered there — my kids have two!  Whew!)

OK, you win.  Moms are great.  I agree.  I have a mom.  My mom has a mom.  Abraham Lincoln had a mom.  (Turns out she died when he was 9.  Think how much more awesome he would’ve been if she’d lived a little longer.)

So sure, if you have a mom or two, count yourself lucky.  But don’t look down on my family just because we’re different.  You think my kids are better off with some smack-talking piece of trash like Bristol Palin than with me and my partner?  Or do you want to take her kid away, too, because she’s a single mom and a worthless idiot?  Either way, you’re wrong.  (See that, Bristol?  I’ve got your back.)

A model family

It’s almost too easy to make the counter-arguments to the people who insist that all kids should have exactly one mom and one dad.  Yes, there are those studies that say that kids raised with gay parents aren’t any more likely to knock over a liquor store someday than any other kids.  But all that science overlooks an even bigger argument — namely, what if your mom’s an asshole?

Ever heard of alcoholics?  Child abusers?  Dina Lohan?  Ever seen a little film called Mommy Dearest?  Trust me, plenty of gays have seen it, so it’s no wonder we think we can do the job better.

Come to think of it, I should take it easier on Bristol.  Her mom kind of sucks, too.

Lots of mothers are just plain horrible, and if you’re stuck with one of those train wrecks, you have my sympathies — and an open invitation to come hang out at our place sometime.  You’ll love it.  We don’t have any female role models, but we do have all three major video game consoles and a trampoline.  Sweet, huh?

Again, I’m not trying to badmouth moms, most of whom are loving, nurturing, patient, incredibly generous people.  I just think the anti-gay parents brigade are missing the point.  Since when do we expect every single family to fit some ideal of How Children Must Be Raised, and why is that ideal so often limited to gender roles?

Couldn’t you say kids are better off in smaller families, where they can get more attention from their one mom and one dad?  That they’re better off in affluence than in poverty?  With access to health care than without?  With a good education than in an underfunded public school?  With jetpacks and laser guns and a computer chip implanted in their head that helps them do long division?

You can’t just hold up some hypothetical ideal and tell everyone who can’t provide it that they shouldn’t be having kids at all.  Who would be left?  And what if someone in one of those ideal families dies or gets laid off or moves to Cancun with their secretary?  Families face all kinds of circumstances, positive and negative, and they persevere because they don’t have a choice.  That’s why we need families in the first place — to get through all the garbage life flings at us.

Besides, just having one mom and one dad is no guarantee that all the gender-related territory is covered.  Even with straight couples, some dads are girly and some moms are manly.  Just because a kid has a mom and a dad, it doesn’t mean he’s baking cookies with her and driving monster trucks with him.  It could be the reverse, or neither.  Tell me, Prince Charming from Shrek, how much micromanaging of familial gender roles is necessary to protect children?

Deep down, those of us in the trenches know the truth: families aren’t made by a mold.  They’re made by people who love each other, and they come in all different forms, some of which seem weird to outsiders.  Ours has no mom.  Maybe yours lives in a Winnebago or has a reality show on E!  Nobody’s perfect.  But even though we can’t all give our kids everything we’d like them to have, we do our best.

Before we had kids, my partner and I thought a lot about what they would be missing out on with no mommy.  I was satisfied we could still provide them a good home, but I realized I could never satisfy the people who don’t think two dads should be raising a family.  You think my kids deserve a mom?  Fine, maybe you’re right, but they’re not getting one.  I’m just not capable of loving a woman the way I love my partner, so if we’re going to do this, it’s him and me.

And like it or not, we’re doing it.  We have twin 3-year-olds who rely on their two dads to feed them, tickle them, wipe their butts and protect them from monsters — plus a few million other things we do because we love them to an unfathomable, sometimes ridiculous degree.

I know a hypothetical mom might add certain wonderful things to their lives.  I think about that constantly, because like all good parents, I want my kids to have it all.  I worry what’s going to happen when my daughter hits puberty and my partner and I have to Google menstruation to talk her though it.  It breaks my heart when I pick them up from school and overhear the teacher telling the class, “OK, let’s see if your mommies are here to get you!”  At three years old, they already know our family is different.  Someday, they’re bound to hear the hurtful things that Bristol Palin and Rupert Everett and so many other people say about us, and that bums me out big time.

But that’s the world my partner and I chose to bring kids into, and ours is the family we knew they would have.  And you know what?  I still think we made the right choice.  Our family may be a bit different than most, but our kids know that they’re loved and that their two daddies will always be there for them, possibly with a female friend along if we’re buying a training bra or something.

The good news is that, other than the rantings of a few homophobic celebrities (including at least one self-loathing gay man), gay families are getting some pretty good PR these days.  We have sitcoms like The New Normal and Modern Family that make us look (mostly) good, celebrity ambassadors like Ricky Martin, Elton John and Neil Patrick Harris, even the support of the President.  It’s not always going to be such smooth sailing, though.

Someday, maybe even soon, there’ll be a major news story about some horrible gay parents who kept their kids locked in a subterranean torture prison or made them work at an iPad factory or something horrific like that.  You know it’ll happen, because every sexual orientation, not to mention every gender, race, religion, ethnicity, disability status, blood type, Edward-or-Jacob affiliation and grouping of any kind has its share of douchebags.  And when the media circus springs up around Doug and Bob and the half dozen foster kids they used as drug mules, the Bristol Palins and Rupert Everetts will point at them and say, “See?  See???”  Kind of like what global warming deniers might say on a cool day in August.

You know what?  Doug and Bob are jerks.  But if you think that says anything about me and my partner, then so are you.

So I don’t have time to be outraged every time someone in the public eye says something negative about gay families.  It’s going to happen again… and again, and again.  Ultimately, though, it’s not what a few people say but what the rest of us do just by living our lives that speaks the loudest.

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The First Day of School: Two Differing Accounts

According to Sutton:

  • There were 2 kids in their class.  No… 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20.  20 kids.  No, 2 kids.
  • They sang “You Are the Music in Me” from High School Musical 2.
  • They read a book about a hedgehog, but “the bee didn’t like him.  The bee thought the hedgehog story was too silly, so he left the room talking about wonderful things.”
  • The teacher told her to sit down.  She got in big, big trouble.
  • She played with the kitchen.  She made some chips, and she gave them to everyone.
  • They went on the playground and she climbed up a tree, but a little boy said, “No, you can’t climb up a tree, because it’s too dangerous!”  That was not nice.
  • They had a dinner of pretzels and apple juice.  It was yummy.
  • There were kids named Charlotte, Sienna and Quensin.  “You mean Quentin?”  “No.  Quensin.”

According to Bennett:

  • There were 5 kids in their class.
  • They did not sing “You Are the Music in Me” from High School Musical 2.
  • They read a book about a raccoon who kissed a mother on the mouth.  It was called The Wubby Book.  The little kids didn’t like that book.  They cried.  [The part with the bee happened the way Sutton described it.]
  • He played with “the food kitchen”.  He played with some chips.
  • They went on the playground and played on the slide.  Only one slide.
  • They had a snack of pretzels and drinks.
  • There were kids named Peepee and Poopoo.

(Psst! Thanks, Google!)

I Know Nothing About… Potty Training

Sure, but not always where you want them to.

Nothing shocked me more about parenthood than how fast I became desensitized to my children’s feces.  Having twins meant dealing with poop about a squijillion times a day.  It wasn’t long before I could wipe their butts as cheerily as I could mix their formula or play peek-a-boo.  We’d be out at a restaurant when I’d smell one of their tiny dumps, and I’d just shrug it off.  I’ll change them when I get home, I figured, and then, while the scent crept in and out of my nostrils, I’d merrily shove another fistful of waffle fries through my yammer.

One day I found a not insignificant smear of poop on my shirt, hours after the last time I’d changed the kids.  We’d just come back from a long walk.  Oh well.  No biggie.  People probably thought it was chocolate.

I’m not saying I’m proud of any of this.  In fact, Pre-Parenthood Me would be rightly horrified by who I’ve become.  I always figured I’d potty train the kids as soon as they could crawl.  “There’s the bathroom, Buster.  It’s your problem now!”

Turns out, that’s not too realistic.

We bought the kids their first potty when they were 18 months old.  “That’s where you’re going to pee and poo!” we’d say, and we’d all scream our heads off from excitement.  “Hooray!!!”

“Where are you going to pee and poo?” we’d ask.

“The potty!!!” they’d cheer.

“Do you want to go there now?”

“No.”

It was an Elmo potty, and after you used it, you could high-five Elmo and he’d say something like, “Way to go, dude!”  But you didn’t have to sit on the potty to get Elmo to talk.  He’d congratulate you either way.  For months, Elmo told my kids what an awesome job they were doing, when their bare butts had never once touched his pristine rim.

Not that I blame them for not using an Elmo potty.  We were asking them to do some pretty gross things to their hero.  Does Tom Cruise shit on the image of L. Ron Hubbard?  Well, who knows actually.  Scientologists are freaking nuts.

By the time my kids were two and a half, the Elmo potty was just another forgotten toy, something to step over on the way toward unrolling a full spool of toilet paper when Daddy wasn’t looking.  Nobody high-fived him anymore.  Nobody even thought about peeing or pooping on him.  We decided to reboot the entire potty training process.

For Round 2, they each got their own potty — a pink one for Sutton, a blue one for Bennett.  We put their names on them, because they could recognize their names now.  I gave them a bunch of stickers and let them each decorate their potty however they wanted.  It was a fun five-minute activity at a time when the kids needed something new to do every five minutes.

The excitement about the potties was back.

“What are you going to do in the potty?”

“Pee and poo!!!”

“Yay!!!”

“Yay!!!”

“Do you want to pee and poo there now?”

“No.”

We decided to ramp up the incentives a bit.  We got sticker charts with Dora the Explorer on them.  Each chart had rows for five different activities — pulling down your own pants, sitting on the potty, peeing on the potty, flushing the pee down the toilet and washing your hands.  Poop, I guess, earned double stickers.  The point was moot.  The kids would check off the first two categories and be happy enough with those two stickers that they didn’t need the rest.

So we found a Big Prize.  We bought wall decals to put in their room — Dora for Sutton, Thomas the Train for Bennett.  They could have them as soon as they filled up the chart with stickers.

“Can I have the decals now?”

“No, you have to be able to go on the potty first.  Do you want to try now?”

“No.”  They shrugged and walked away.

“But don’t you want the wall decals?  Hello?  Hello?”

We added more incentive.  M&Ms!  (I know, using food as a bribe sends the wrong message, but hey, I was desperate.)

Finally, we had our first triumphs.  Any time I reminded Bennett about the M&Ms and dragged him to the toilet, he would sit there for a minute and squeeze out what he could.  “I’m done!” he’d say proudly.

Drew and I would act like we’d just landed a Mars rover.  “OH MY GOD!  YOU DID IT!  I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!  YOU’RE SUCH A BIG BOY!  WOW WOW WOW!”

“Now can I have my M&Ms?” he’d ask.

Sutton wouldn’t even make an attempt.  If there was an incentive big enough to get her to go on the potty, we never found it.  And we tried.

“They’ll go when they’re ready,” people would assure us, so we didn’t pressure them too much.

“My kid came to me one day and told me she wanted to use the potty,” friends would say.  “Then we never looked back.”

“How old was she?”

“Um… a little over 2.”

By then, my kids had turned 3.  “Don’t worry,” people said.  “No one accepts their high school diploma wearing a diaper.”

I don’t know why my kids have been so resistant.  Maybe it’s harder to train them because they’re twins.  Maybe my kids are exceptionally stubborn.  Maybe I’m just bad at this.  I’m guessing it’s some combination of all three.

They start preschool this week, and they’re supposed to be trained when they get there.  So two weeks ago, I decided to go hard-core.  I’m a professional parent, I decided.  This is my job, and I take pride in it.  There’s no excuse for me not to get this done.

I found a website that promised to potty train kids in 3 days.  I was hoping it was a camp I could send them away to, but unfortunately, it was just an ebook written by some woman who claimed to be an expert on the subject.  I paypalled her $25 and downloaded her PDF.

I’m going to save you $25, because here’s her method in a nutshell:

  • Throw out your diapers, and put your kid immediately in underpants.
  • Stay home.
  • Pump the kids full of juice.
  • Remind the kids every five seconds that they should go to the potty when they have to pee or poop.
  • Catch them just as they’re having their accidents and run them into the bathroom.
  • Give lots of encouragement and praise.
  • Repeat until the kid starts going to the bathroom on his or her own.

By the end of the third day, she promised, all kids “get it”.

I followed her instructions.  I’d see my kids dancing around, trying to hold their bladders, and I’d remind them to go to the potty when they needed to.

“I don’t have to,” they’d assure me.

Two minutes later, they’d burst.  “Uh-oh,” they’d say.  “Daddy, I peed.”

“IT’S GO TIME!!!” I’d shout.  “LET’S HURRY!  WE CAN MAKE IT TO THE POTTY!  THIS IS AWESOME!”

I’d pick the kid up and now, instead of being concentrated in one puddle, their pee would leave a trail all the way through our house.

“That’s OK,” I’d say when we finally reached the bathroom and it was all done.  “Next time we just need to get there sooner.”  Then, I’d get down on my knees with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex and spend 10 minutes cleaning while they went back to playing with their toys.  Inevitably, around minute 5, the other kid would have an accident, and now, I’d have to run them through the house, splashing through all the pee puddles from the last kid while making a second trail that I’d soon have to clean up.

This was not fun for any of us.

The kids would scream and cry whenever I picked them up.  They would refuse to sit on the potty, even if they were still peeing when we got to the bathroom.  They never “got it”.

Sutton actually liked getting wet, not because she enjoyed the feeling, but because it meant she got to change into another one of her outfits.  If she had enough accidents, she could go through her entire wardrobe in one day.  Potty training made my little girl into Cher.

Still, the process was taking its toll.  The first night of potty training, Sutton woke up screaming and saying there were monsters in her room.  She’d never seen monsters before, never even had a nightmare.

We spent three days stuck inside, the kids constantly panicking that their bladders would fill up and spawn another sprint to the potty, me going through roll after roll of extra-strength Bounty.

I tried to remember another time when my kids were this miserable.  Then, it came to me: physical therapy.

Since they rolled over at three days old, Bennett and Sutton have been late on every physical milestone — sitting up, holding their own utensils, you name it.  When they weren’t crawling at almost a year old, our doctor sent us to physical therapy.

For an hour every week, I watched my happy little kids scream and wail at the positions the therapist would force them into.  They were miserable, and I swear they were pleading with me with their eyes, as if to say, “Why are you letting her do this, Daddy?”

The therapist taught me the exercises, so I could repeat them at home, every day.  I never did.  I didn’t care if they weren’t crawling.  They certainly didn’t care.  It was actually cuter to watch them roll around everywhere they wanted to go.  To change course, they’d roll up to a wall, use their feet to pivot them in a different direction, then push off where they wanted to go.  It was kind of genius, and they giggled merrily the whole time they did it.

It came down to a simple decision for me… what’s more important: do I want my kids to crawl, or do I want them to be happy?

We stopped going to physical therapy.

Eventually, they crawled without some scary lady posing them like Gumbys every week.  They even started walking… around 6 months later than other kids.  But they were happy, ridiculously so.  And so was I.

So on day 4 of our 3-day potty training course, I put diapers back on my kids and took them to an indoor playground.  They jumped on the trampoline, rode the mini cars, hung from the zip line, built giant block towers and laughed their silly little heads off.

It was fantastic.

Tomorrow, they’ll start preschool… in diapers.  I know I’ll probably get in trouble for not having them trained, but if the teacher gets snippy about it, I’m ready to defend myself.

And if they turn out to be the first kids ever who are still in diapers when they graduate high school, so be it.  They’re getting old enough that soon, they’ll be able to change themselves.  At that point, my job will be done.

“There’s where we keep the Pampers, Buster,” I’ll say.  “It’s your problem now!”