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!”

Screw You, American Academy of Pediatrics! 5 Reasons TV is our BFF

If there’s one thing I heard absolutely everywhere when my kids were born, it’s that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a very strict policy when it comes to TV:

No TV under age 2, ever.

Well, now that my kids are 2 1/2 years old, I’ve come up with a reasoned and measured counterpoint:

GO SCREW YOURSELF, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS!

I spent two years feeling guilty and ashamed that I caved into the alluring glow of the magic box in the living room, but I’m here to tell you from the other side: my kids are FINE.  They’re not drooly, brain-dead hyperpunks – well, not most of the time, at least.  They are 2, after all.

I’m clearly not the first person to express this kind of sentiment, because just last year, the AAP softened its recommended policy on TV usage.  The new mandate:

No TV under age 2, please.

In that spirit, I’d like to soften my counterpoint:

Go screw yourself, American Academy of Pediatrics, please!

Really?  Is that the best advice you can offer parents?  An abstinence-only policy?  How about we try to be realistic instead?  TV shouldn’t be a substitute for parenting, but there’s no reason it can’t be a small part of a healthy parenting regimen.  Let’s focus on responsible TV usage.

Sure, there are miserable parents out there who leave their TV on 24 hours a day, but those people aren’t listening to the AAP, and they certainly aren’t reading parenting blogs.

This advice is for the rest of you.  Here, in my opinion, are 5 perfectly acceptable uses for TV before your kid turns 2.

1. TV as distraction – I can hear the TV haters now.  “A-ha!  That’s all TV is!  A distraction!”  Well, yeah!  And if you’re a stay-home parent, you need distractions.  Maybe you have to call the pediatrician for 5 minutes, or you want to cook some mac and cheese without the kids knocking the pot of boiling water off the stove.  Oh, let’s just be honest: this is about what to do when you need to poop.  Everyone poops, right?  You know that because you read to your kids as well, like all good parents do.  So if you have to step out of the room for a minute, there’s no better way to distract your young’uns than with TV.  If it’s only for a small chunk of time, it’s not going to hurt them, at least not nearly as much as pulling that pot of water off the stove would.

2. TV as triage – Pop quiz, hot shot: your baby wakes up in the middle of the night screaming her head off.  She won’t eat, won’t burp, won’t go back to sleep.  None of your go-to methods for calming her are any help.  Is it time to rush her to the ER or page the on-call doctor?  Not so fast!  There’s one fool-proof diagnostic you can try first.  His name is Elmo.

We did it all the time with my kids.  Just when we were convinced we were witnessing a baby appendix in mid-burst, we turned on the TV.  If the kid calmed down immediately (as they always did) then clearly this was something they’d be able to ride out.

Face it: New parents are terrible doctors, and babies are terrible patients.  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who’s crying harder when something goes wrong.  If a few minutes of TV can defuse the situation before you wake your pediatrician up in a panic, I think that’s something even the AAP would sign off on.

3. TV as a coffee break – What kind of horrible boss doesn’t let you take a coffee break now and then?  Well, guess what?  As a stay-home parent, you’re the boss.  Don’t be a slave-driver.  When your hard-working employee’s frazzled and needs to decompress, pop in a DVD for 10 or 15 minutes.  It not only gives you a chance to catch your breath, but it can calm your kids down, too, so when it’s time to turn it off, everyone feels refreshed.

Of course, as with any coffee breaks, you have to be careful not to abuse the system.  If you show a 1-year-old the Little Mermaid in its entirety while you let Calgon take you away, then she’s going to get bored and cranky, and you’ve just blown the benefits of your coffee break.  For a long time, our TV limit was 15 minutes a week.  Yes, a week.  It may not seem like much, but you wouldn’t believe how much I looked forward to those 15 minutes and how much I appreciated them when they were done.

4. TV as teacher – Let’s assume you’re not a total loser and you actually read to your kids.  Good for you.  But do you have any Harvard PhDs consulting on your selection of material?  No?  Then why not give the Children’s Television Workshop a crack at your little ones, too?  I’m not saying TV can ever match the value of parental interaction you get from reading, but the right shows can reinforce the things you’re teaching them when you’re going through your favorite books.  And let’s face it, Mom and Dad, you don’t exactly have the production values of The Fresh Beat Band.

I drummed the ABCs into my kids for weeks, with mixed results at best.  But after just a few viewings of a DVD called “The Letter Factory“*,  my kids knew all their letters and the sounds they made.

I’m not suggesting that SpongeBob Squarepants is on par with Jaime Escalante, and I’d never say that TV is the best way for your kids to learn.  But just because you do turn it on occasionally, it doesn’t mean you’re making your kids into couch potatoes.  Encourage them to sing the songs, to repeat Dora’s Spanish back to the screen, and at the very least, to get up and dance when music is playing.

TV is only a passive experience if you let it be.  Anyone who still calls it the “idiot box” hasn’t been paying attention.

* I never accept any endorsements on this blog and I have nothing to do with this company.  But as a parent, I wholeheartedly recommend this DVD.  It really did wonders for my kids.

5. TV as incentive/threat – You nurture your kids, you feed them, you tell them all the time how much you love them.  And in the end, they still like Elmo better than you.  Them’s the breaks.  But you can use that to your advantage.  Nothing snapped my kids in line faster than telling them, “Well, we were going to watch TV after dinner, but now maybe we won’t.”  Yes, it’s petty and it’s probably terrible parenting for a thousand different reasons.  But it works.  And sometimes, you just need what works.

How does Lex Luthor get the best of Superman?  By exploiting his weaknesses.  (He cares about regular mortals.  He wants to hide his identity., etc.) Well, your kids have their own forms of kryptonite – puppetry, repetitive jingles and the warm, welcoming glow of an LCD screen.

If you deny your kids TV, you’re denying them a major weakness and thus a major opportunity for you to get what you need out of them.  You won’t get a rat through a maze if he’s never tasted cheese.  I’m not saying you let him gorge himself.  Just a nibble now and then is more than enough.

There it is.  My case for responsible TV usage.  Or maybe it’s my defense of my own TV usage when my kids were little.  I did it.  I defied the AAP.  I stand by my actions and still consider myself a good parent.

I know the AAP is an organization of highly trained professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to helping children grow and thrive, whereas I’m just a guy with limited parenting experience and a WordPress account.  Decide for yourself who you’d prefer to listen to.  My mission is not to tell you what to do with your kids.  But I want you to know that if you do let them watch TV before they’re 2, you’re not alone – and you’re not a bad parent.

Necessarily.