potty party

I’m up early. We’re having a warm thunderstorms- not exactly your typical weather for Chicago in February. When I moved here last summer, people couldn’t wait to tell me that we were due for an epic winter- massive snow, subzero temperatures. The people were wrong and we haven’t had real snow since December!

Inside the house, we’re in a weather pattern that is not at all going the way I expected either.

For months now, I’ve asked E if he wanted to sit on the potty. The prevailing mom wisdom was: “Don’t try until he’s ready.” I was in no rush. My kid doesn’t have to do things first. But he always said no, except for a few random times. So, what does “ready” really mean? Maybe, I thought, while he may not be “interested,” he’s actually “ready.”

As the warm-weather long weekend approached, I decided to do potty training weekend boot camp. I didn’t read any books. My friend V googled a few pointers to me over the phone. My idea was: pants-off weekend, roll up the carpets, get some yummy drinks, and post a sticker chart. One sticker per something in the potty, and one lollipop every ten stickers. A  huge pile of enticing handed-down undies with sharks, trucks, airplanes, and dinosaurs in Santa hats. What could go wrong?

The first three days were almost perfect. This is where parenting will take your hand and lead you down a beautiful path and you actually think to yourself things like, “Other parents must be doing this wrong!” E happily  went to the potty with me every 20-30 minutes, peed or pooped almost every time with a proud twinkle in his eye, and celebrated his sticker win, happily pulling up his pants, washing hands, and going back to playing. We played T-ball in the backyard (pants on), I cooked a lot, I set an alarm with Alexa for every 20 minutes, and he did his business. He had a few accidents, which seemed good too, for additional reinforcement. He even wore undies overnight and stayed dry! We facetimed family members to share the good news and solicit more cheering. As I packed a bag of extra clothes and undies for school on Monday night, I basically felt like we were done.

Some friends asked on Facebook how it was going and I gave smug answers that now I need to go back and amend.

He went to school on Tuesday and I chatted with the teachers, who all oohed and aahed over E’s progress and congratulated him on his undies.

When I picked him up at the end of the day, the first thing I noticed was that he was wearing the same clothes I dropped him off in. Could it be that he had no accidents???

Yes! But he also didn’t go ALL DAY until ten minutes before I got there. See? A curveball I didn’t know was possible. They said they took him to the potty many times, but he cried and refused. Only now did I realize that it was a regular big toilet only, which must be a massive transition from the little plastic potty with your mom and the sticker chart at home.

We got home and he spent the evening dancing around not wanting to use the potty at home either. Total 180. He wanted nothing to do with it- it became the typical power struggle we have about everything with toddlers: eating, sleeping, getting dressed, brushing teeth, getting in the car… A lot of “NO!” and the more I pushed it, the more adamant he became. If I offered prizes, he just got so frustrated because he knew in his heart there was no way he would ever sit on the potty again. He went only the tiniest bit out of desperation and also had an accident. In the middle of the night, I was googling the dangers of holding it too long and feeling my anxiety thermometer rise.

On the second day, the teacher texted me that he went pee three times in the morning. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I felt euphoria over this, like I was on drugs. Mom brains are wired for this stuff. But he didn’t go all afternoon. And then he didn’t go all evening. And then all night. In the morning, I was freaking out again.

In the middle of that night, I found a research paper written by a doctor who recommended stopping the suggesting/nudging/urging- this is what creates the power struggle. Just drop it. Don’t bring it up at all. Let the child know it’s his body and he can decide when he needs to go. That rang true to me. So I dropped it.

In the morning, he was so uncomfortable but resolute. I almost had to admire his dedication, even if it was making me crazy. He was still drinking and eating, had no other symptoms of anything wrong, but was struggling both physically and emotionally. You just can’t rationalize with a two-year-old. He may understand what’s happening but rational argument can’t touch it.

I called the nurseline, and the nurse had never heard of a child who could hold their pee for that long, talked about possible obstructions… I also read online that 95% of kids can’t hold their pee. Do I have a kid in the 5%? Should I be proud?

I decided that it was more important to make sure he could relieve himself than to try to be consistent… so I put him in a diaper. And he did #1 and #2. (Again, the euphoria but tempered with wondering if I just started us back at square one.) Then back to undies.

Yesterday at school was the same: peed only in the morning and not all afternoon. In the evening, we had swimming lessons, so I feel like it’s safe to assume he peed a lot, as all kids must do. (Pools for kid swimming lessons must be so saturated in pee but let’s not think about it.) At home, he had an accident. I’m hoping for accidents now. Who could have predicted?

Partway through writing this, I heard, “Mom?” coming from the bedroom. I set my laptop down and went to the bedroom door, opening it into the dark room. I saw this little shadow person standing at the foot of the bed drop to the floor, saying, “noooooo!” My brain cycled through the possibilities- is he wet? And then he said, “I WANTED TO DO IT!” Lately, in the morning, he’s been coming out the other door and then running through hall and dining room to reach me on the couch. I had messed up his morning tradition. This is such a good example of a two-year-old.

I sat back down on the couch, awaiting his dramatic entrance. He came out the other way (the bedroom has two doors) and ran out with a mad expression on his face. He leaped into my arms. He was dry. I asked if he needed the potty and he said no. He requested fire truck videos and I said yes.

I officially don’t know what I’m doing now. But we’ll keep doing it!




This morning, I got up and did a morning meditation by Tara Brach. It was called Sitting Like a Mountain. I had a giant blanket around me, the exact shape of a mountain. A mountain is stable, it’s strong, it’s vast. And many things play out on its surface- wind, weather, light, darkness- yet it maintains its stillness and mountain-ness. The sense of being deeply grounded in the face of so much chaos in the world is what we all crave.

I was in the last few minutes of the meditation when I felt a “click tick tick” around my eyebrow, obviously not possible for anything to move at that moment after 20 minutes of stillness without some agency of its own. So, un-mountain-like, I pawed at my face and caught sight of a large bug that dropped to the blanket- I jumped to my feet and fumbled with the phone to pause Tara’s calming voice, suddenly so at odds with the scene unfolding. I looked at the bug. I’ve never seen a bug like this- sort of a molbugdy pumpkin seed beetle, with long legs. I caught this photo just before she took flight with a loud, low buzz and landed on the arm of the sofa.

I’m not phobic about bugs but, you know, a big one by your eye when you’re extremely unguarded isn’t awesome. Also, how did she sneak up on me like that without any telltale buzz? My house was cleaned yesterday. It’s winter. I’ve never seen any bug in my house. Random giant bugs are not allowed to sneak up at 5:30am.

I ran for a small jar and a pocket Constitution (I have a bunch from the ACLU if anyone needs one). I got the jar over the bug easily and then sat down to finish the meditation, hoping for no bug cousins to appear on my head. Then, while she walked up the jar, I slid the Constitution underneath and walked out into the oddly warm morning air. The sky was just beginning to lighten. I left her out there in the upright jar, leaving her to find her way home.

I came back inside, feeling my mountain-ness return. I had written one paragraph of this post when I heard rustling in the bedroom. Then the door slammed open. Then- the latest thing- E ran out here with a big smile, fully one hour too early. He jumped into my lap and snuggled with me under the blanket and almost but didn’t quite go back to sleep. He enjoyed the bug photo and requested fire truck videos.

I have a long way to go in becoming a mountain, considering how many creatures are slithering and digging and trotting across its surface all day and all night… but considering that I’m human, I thought I actually handled that one pretty well.

Hoping to stay grounded as we embark on potty training this weekend!!





sunrise and fire trucks

This morning, I woke up two minutes before my 5:15 silent Fitbit alarm, surprised to feel better after body aches and a pronounced one-sided sore throat the night before. I laid there for a moment, noticing a remarkable upgrade in mental health since trading in NPR for jazz over the previous 24 hours. Not a total news fast- I know we all need to stay politically aware and active and fight our behinds off. But I realized I wasn’t doing anyone any good if I ended up sitting under my dining room table in a tinfoil hat. So I set some limits.

I was deep in a project on my laptop when I heard my roommate call for me, a good 45 minutes before his usual wakeup. This was not the usual, plaintive cry of “Mom, how could you abandon me all alone in this giant bed,” but a defiant, incredulous, “Mom. MOM! MOM!?!?! What the…??”

So, my me-time cut off, I returned to the bed where he said yes, he was OK, and no, he didn’t want to go back to sleep. “Will you play with me?” I tried to explain that Mommy gets up early do get some things done, so he can get up but he’ll need to play by himself. My explanation was not accepted.

I thought I’d start with letting him help me with the laundry. His eyes lit up, remembering that his favorite fire truck shirt was dirty and might now be clean. If he could wear this shirt every day and every night, he would. I’m OK with a kid in a dirty shirt, but it hits a point where you do start to wonder about the mom.

Of course the fire truck shirt was not in the load I’d already started, so we embarked on a long journey of laundry to get that shirt clean and and dried before school. He had not counted on a multi-step process, so there were some moments of deep disappointment resulting in tears and laying spread-eagle on the floor.

On the way back upstairs, we stopped to look out the window of the back door. I pointed out that the sun was coming up. He paused, deeply taking in the sunrise. I said, “Hi, sun.” He smiled and said, “Hi, sun. Hi, sunny!” Then he waved to it. Then he said, “Do you have fire trucks for me? With ladders? And a crane and a backhoe?”

We ate breakfast while we waited for the wash: fried eggs and toast and a banana (for him) and coffee (for me). We heard the washing machine buzzer and went downstairs to put only the fire truck shirt in the dryer. He was super distressed at this point that the shirt wasn’t ready.

We came back upstairs and played with fire trucks a bit. I noticed that while he has at least ten fire trucks of various sizes, plus other trucks and cars and trains and dinosaurs and tools, he doesn’t have any people, other than his almost life-size Baby Matthew. We’re having to anthropomorphize the fire trucks themselves, as if there are no firefighters. Mental note to ask the moms what’s the best type of mini-humans to order on amazon. I told him to keep playing while I quickly dressed myself. This was not approved.

We ended up in the basement, hanging out by the dryer, waiting for that damn shirt to stop being damp.

He went to school in a fantastic mood, in his (really almost dry and definitely clean) shirt.

So that’s us today: mostly fire trucks and laundry with some highs and lows.

(photo from a different day because I didn’t catch one today. Notice the pile of fire trucks.)