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Potty training? Don’t panic!

Potty training? Don't panic!Good news! My child will not be going to college in a diaper.

It’s amazing how one milestone can be so stressful and then be so gratifying. Now that Ev can “go potty like a big boy,” my feelings of being a good parent are finally validated. Because for awhile there, it felt questionable.

Personally, I never really doubted my son’s capability of using the potty. He is a fairly intelligent child, pretty good gross motor development and getting better at undressing and dressing himself. I knew it really came down to interest. My husband and I decided pretty early on that when tackling these transitional milestones, we’d follow Ev’s lead. As I’ve talked about before, that system worked well for us. Transitioning from being rocked to sleep to him falling asleep on his own was a breeze, moving from breast milk to whole milk (and cup use) was simple. Even taking the pacifier away was not nearly as hard on Ev as stories I’ve heard. And I really think it’s all because we waited for signs from Ev that he was ready. So why was I questioning that system when it came to teaching Ev how to use a potty?

First of all, you can’t help but compare your child to everyone else’s even though you swear you never ever will. Truly, Ev was one of the oldest children I know to learn to use the potty. I feel like most children can do so by the time they are three and Ev was showing zero interest. I kept telling myself (and my husband) that he just wasn’t ready, but I began doubting myself as he kept joining smaller and smaller populations of children who didn’t know how to use the potty at that age. Also, other parents and early childhood experts loved to give their advice on what worked for them, and most often that involved reward systems, and we just weren’t ready for that at the beginning.

What I mean by reward system is a sticker chart, or giving prizes for using the potty or trying to use the potty. Mostly we were reluctant because we wanted Ev to use the potty because he wanted to, whether that motivation came from feeling proud that he could do it or happy because he no longer had an uncomfortable diaper on.

We also heard about this idea of “potty boot camp,” where a parent or caregiver just takes the diaper off one day and spends the next 3 – 7 days (I totally made that number up), sitting the child on the potty every half hour and then viola – child can use potty. This actually made a little sense to me and if I’d been able to be home and Ev was showing an interest, I may have tried it. But, both my husband and I work full-time and I felt it unrealistic to ask his child care provider to do that when she was managing a class full of preschoolers.

When Ev did show a slight bit of interest in going to the potty, we jumped on the opportunity to begin supporting this transition. It began when Ev went from the 2-year-old room to the 3-year-old room. All of his buddies were using the potty and were no longer wearing diapers, which I think helped. I had heard about putting underwear on underneath the diaper. The thought behind this is that the child can start to feel that he’s gone in his diaper, but the diaper still “catches” the mess. We did this for about two weeks and then thankfully, Ev’s new teacher offered to be a partner in moving forward. She told us that if we were comfortable bringing in lots of extra clothes, she was comfortable cleaning up accidents since we all felt Ev was ready to take the diaper off.

He actually did great. It took about 2 weeks and while Ev did have a few accidents, it went pretty smoothly. He is still wearing a diaper/pull-up at bedtime but mostly because we want Ev to continue feeling successful and don’t want to risk any set-backs with having an accident at night. We also did end up using a sticker chart that resulted in the purchase of a toy he wanted, because he was having trouble pooping on the potty. In an effort to get over that hump, I offered a reward after going five days without an accident. And we needed something tangible for him to track the days, so we used stickers. It worked.

Looking back it seems silly that I was so stressed and concerned that Ev wasn’t using the potty at the typical age. I think to myself, “What was I worried about?!” The pressure we put on ourselves as parents never ceases to amaze me and yet I always do it, even after telling others they shouldn’t stress. It’s just a normal part of being a parent.

The good news is, we keep getting over the hurdles and meeting the milestones with very little stress on Ev. And that’s why I feel like a successful parent.

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Driving cross country with a baby?

How do you plan for a 2,500 mile cross-country road trip with an infant? Very carefully!We’ve just returned home from a 2,500 mile drive across 9 states with a teething infant, and I think it’s safe to say, we survived. But, not without a few challenges, surprises and lessons learned along the way!

When a baby needs to eat, a baby needs to eat. We learned this one pretty quickly. The first time came about 2:00 in the morning and sounded something like a screech owl coming from the back seat of the minivan. This lead to the first of many middle of the night nursing sessions in a gas station parking lot. Although it was not the most ideal location and occasionally led to a baby experimenting with a car horn, it worked for us and allowed us to get back on the road as quickly as possible! It helped that a few choice locations, like the Houston Zoo, offer private areas for nursing mothers.

A well rested baby leads to a happy family. Sometimes we just had to make the choice that our entertainment would have to be sacrificed because Bryce needed to sleep. One problem we ran into was that a busy day meant a tired baby, and a tired baby meant he needed his bed. We struggled with getting Bryce to fall asleep while out sight-seeing or riding in his stroller, because he loved looking around and taking in the sights as much as mom, dad and older brother! This lead to us leaving the beach, the Naval Air Museum and even a putt-putt golf game before we were really “ready” to leave. This was upsetting for everyone, but when thinking about the alternative, we had to make the best, yet difficult, choice for everyone involved.

Preparing for the trip proved to be invaluable in many situations. Although we chose not to make any hotel reservations or specify what day we would be where, we were prepared for challenges on the road. The most valuable preparations proved to be the “new” toys we brought with us. 4C for Children in the Miami Valley offers a wonderful Lending Library – you can look into borrowing items yourself by contacting us – offering parents and child care providers the opportunity to check out different items, and I was able to choose toys that I felt Bryce would enjoy. We introduced them to him on the trip when he woke and seemed frustrated with being buckled into his seat. We also checked out many new books from our local library that helped him pass the time.

We might be home now, but there are still remnants of our trip all throughout our home, including a pile of laundry almost taller than me, various toys that I have found wedged in van crevices I didn’t know existed and four new teeth that have emerged in my son’s mouth. The best remnant is the smile and renewed sense of family we all seem to have since returning from our surprisingly enjoyable and relaxing vacation across the United States.

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Bad Dreams

Ev had his first nightmare recently. He woke up and came to his door crying. I went into his room and picked him up, and just held him for a bit and rubbed his back. He pointed to his bed and said it scared him. At first I thought he was pointing to his stuffed animals on his bed, thinking he saw their shadow or something and it scared him. I asked about taking them off his bed and he said it was his bed that scared to him. It dawned on me that he probably had a bad dream, so I asked him about it and he answered that he did.

He had a lot of questions and a lot of concerns. He was worried that if he got back in his bed, the dream would come back. He asked if the dream came from his belly. I told him it came from his brain, in his head. I did the best I could to answer his questions (at 3:30 am). It was quite difficult because I really wanted to validate his feelings (as we all know, emotions caused by a bad dream or nightmare are very real), but at the same time, I didn’t want exaggerate the issue because it was, in fact, just a dream.

Ev began to calm down as we talked about what dreams are and that they aren’t real. He seemed to get it, although the physical reassurance was helping the most. I was careful not to put him back in his bed until he was ready. And luckily, he fell back asleep and slept the rest of the night.

When Ev woke up the next morning, however, the first words out of his mouth were, “The dream didn’t come back!” And he was smiling. He asked how to make sure it never came back, which is a very tricky question to answer since some dreams never show up again and others repeat. He wanted to know about mine and his dad’s dreams, as well as his friends’ dreams. As bed time that evening grew near, he asked about the dream again. He said he didn’t want to go to bed because he didn’t want “the dream to get him.” We talked about it some more and he went to bed.

I started to feel a little guilty wondering if I did something or somehow caused the bad dream to come up. I know bad dreams can be caused by music or TV shows and even stress from the day. I would hate to think I was a reason for the fear. It turns out, Ev’s dream was about another “big kid” yelling at him and it scared him in his dream. Ev has just transitioned into a new classroom for 3-year-olds, so it seems he was just working through those feelings about the new room with children older than him. These situations or stressful events are going to come up and therefore bad dreams may come again. I feel better when I reassure myself: I’m not bad parent if he has them. Until next time, I’ll just be researching bad dream coping skills so my 3:30 a.m. brain is more prepared.


Look Ma, I’m a Real Parent

Becoming a real parent in the most unlikely places.In less than two months we’ll be celebrating my daughter’s second birthday. But just this past weekend, I had an experience that made me feel like a real parent, maybe for the very first time.

My husband and I took Miss E to a festival on a whim. We shared a giant lemonade and exceedingly overpriced gyros, trying in vain to interest her in the Greek dancers so we could watch one of my husband’s coworkers perform. He played one of the games where everyone’s a winner, and despite the fact that he actually won a larger prize (stuffed monstrosities, all), opted for a large rubber ball Miss E had her eye on.

No festival is complete, of course, without a safety-suspect carnival ride. There was only one at Miss E’s speed: a carousel with shiny cars and motorcycles blasting the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.” We paid three dollars for two tickets and buckled her into a teal and pink roadster.

At first she seemed dubious, hands on and off the wheel, looking up at the spinning awning and down again, unsure, as the other children secured rides of their own. When the carousel bucked to life, her little body flattened against the back of the seat, a mixture of shock and alarm plain on her face. Once, twice, three times around she just stared, not looking at us as we called her name. But by the fourth go-round she was radiant, beaming, her joy a light that rivaled the multicolored bulbs blinking on the car’s hood, the humid glare of the late afternoon sun.

When the music stopped and the cars ceased spinning, I circled around, unbuckling her and carrying her out the exit. She turned immediately in my arms, reaching over my shoulder to point, calling, “Car! Car!” Her tears started shortly after. Big, hiccupy, hysterical sobs. Being the worst mama ever, I tried not to laugh as I consoled her. Her daddy, being the best daddy ever, looked me right in the eye and said, “I can get her another ticket.”

The look on his face was almost as profound for me as the one I’d witnessed on hers as she’d motored around. My thrifty, sensible husband swiftly turned and made for the ticket booth, hurrying in hopes of securing an additional two tickets before the ride started up again. She cried the whole time and I patted her back while we waited, marveling at them both, at the uncanny situation I’d suddenly found myself in: parenthood.

This little moment, my husband’s expression, the memory of our daughter’s joy even as her cries sharpened, me holding her against a hip inflated with the weight of another baby, it took this one for me to see. You’d think I would’ve realized by now the things that you do for your child. And maybe I had, but sleepless nights nursing and spraying off soiled cloth diapers had nothing on this. I felt like a real parent. I could, for the first time, picture us as a family from the outside. I’d forgotten the carnivals of my childhood when my parents would give me a few dollars to fish a rubber duck from a baby pool or to slide down a perilous slide on a burlap sack. This is what parents do, when they can, when the cost is slight, when what seems silly at 30 is dead seriousness when you’re under three. Because of that look.

She rode the car again. The ride attendant even showed her how to honk the horn.

It was the best six dollars we’ve spent all year.


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The S Word

For toddlers, "sharing" can be a dirty word.As Miss E becomes firmly entrenched in the toddler years, grabbing and demanding and generally believing most of the things within her sight to be “mine,” sharing has becoming an increasingly charged topic. It came up recently in conversation among a group of mothers I admire and trust, following a recent blog post making the outraged rounds among parents on Facebook.

I won’t speak to the specifics of the scenarios the writer mentioned in her original post, because I don’t think it’s productive. Every parent and every child is different, and our expectations and temperaments are different, too, so talking about what I do or don’t agree with isn’t my aim. But I’m also conflicted, because I’ve made decisions as a parent that leave me sometimes feeling a little jerky in public. And of course that makes me want to write about them.

I don’t make Miss E share. She’s not even 2 yet, and I know that many of those pro-social behaviors are simply beyond her understanding right now. I do believe she’s capable of being compassionate and have seen her do some very tender things for other children in distress. But while I’m always eager to comment on the positive things she does in the hopes of reinforcing those impulses, I want those impulses to be where her sensibilities come from, not directives from me.

I treat sharing, as I do nearly all of the possible sources of conflict in my daughter’s life, as something she needs to work out on her own with her fellow tiny compatriots. Unless someone is about to get smacked or clubbed with a toy, I don’t intervene. Of course the trickiest situation for me to navigate as a parent, at least for now, is when she takes a toy from another child, or when they take a toy from her. I’ve found Janet Lansbury’s usage of sportscasting – stating aloud a simple play-by-play of what’s happening – to be extremely helpful, paired with validating her feelings of frustration when things aren’t going the way she wants them to. (Even just re-reading this I can already see how I could do a better job, and how this skill can evolve for the language-rich years between 2 and 3.)

There have been times where other parents have insisted their children share, and times where they haven’t, and as yet I haven’t felt too terrible about having a child who can occasionally be a possessive brute.

Because the thing is, she’s a toddler. Her behavior is normal. And forcing her to give up a toy or entering the fray, as it were, and taking possession of the object myself to decide whose turn it is just doesn’t seem right for me and the way that I’ve chosen to parent. I’m taking the power in that situation; I’m settling the conflict when it’s really not mine to settle. Of course I desperately long for my child not to be a bully, and fighting my own impulse to keep her from appearing that way is incredibly challenging. I totally get why parents want to be more pro-active about teaching their children to share. The feelings we have as parents about the way our children behave might be at the heart of this debate, and rightfully so. I don’t want to seem like the laissez-faire mom who lets her child do whatever she wants. But I also don’t want her to do things just because I tell her to. I want her to do the right thing just because, but the reality is, sometimes she won’t. So I have to figure out what I’m going to teach her, and what she’s going to learn on her own.

And it’s not easy, and there’s no one way, no right way, to do it.


Brotherly Love

Sibling love can blossom no matter the circumstances!Ethan, my 10-year-old stepson, lives with us 50 percent of the time. When he found out he was no longer going to be an only child at our house, he broke down into tears, saying things like, “I’m just so surprised,” and “I didn’t know, I just don’t know what to think!” As the pregnancy wore on the thought of having a younger sibling at our house seemed to grow on him. As he warmed up to the idea, he even began talking to and reading stories to his soon-to-be brother while he was still in my belly.

When the baby came, Ethan was the first to hold the baby after my husband, Geoff, and I. It must have been an instant connection. On our second night at the hospital, Ethan decided he wanted to spend the night there with us. When we woke up in the morning, Geoff had to go to work and had planned on dropping Ethan off at child care. They were in the middle of their summer program at his child care center, and it was Magic Castle Day. Ethan has always loved Magic Castle and this particular field trip is always one of his favorites!  However, that morning when he woke up, he said, “I think it would be best if stayed here and spent time with my new little brother.” With that, Geoff headed to work for a few hours and I was able to witness Ethan and Bryce’s bond beginning to develop. Every chance he got he was singing, talking, smiling, holding and just enjoying the moments with his new little brother.

Now, as Bryce gets older and is beginning to express his feelings more clearly, it is obvious that he adores his older brother. The smile that spreads across their faces when they see each other melts my heart. Ethan spends time everyday playing with and talking with his little brother, no matter how busy his schedule is. In the morning, he loves being the first one in Bryce’s room to get him up and greet him good morning! Honestly, I was worried that their age difference would lead to disconnect and animosity, and them not ever sharing that sibling connection that my own brother (only a year-and-a-half younger than me) and I shared as we were growing up. Ethan and Bryce have proven me wrong, though, and I couldn’t be happier about that! I’m excited to see their relationship blossom through the years.


It Isn’t Easy Being a Big Sister

Can you really prepare a toddler for a new sibling?In preparation for a teaching assignment this summer I was reading an article about Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees. Pretty interesting stuff, but not the sort of thing I expected to find myself crying about.

Goodall reported a great deal on the social lives of chimpanzees, and one of the parts of the article focused on the mother-child bond. Her research showed that young chimpanzees remain dependent on their mother for a lot longer than many other animals, and that the bond is as much an emotional one as it is a physical necessity. Chimpanzees don’t travel apart from their mothers until they are 9-years-old, and even then it’s only for a short periods of time.

Also, according to Goodall’s long-term observations, most chimpanzees have somewhere in the neighborhood of five years between their children, and the older child doesn’t always readily adjust to the presence of their new sibling. Goodall “observed many young chimps traumatized by weaning or the birth of a sibling. They showed their displeasure through tantrums. Some even withdrew into self-imposed isolation for long periods, sitting huddled and depressed.”

Cue the tears. Heap on the guilt.

I know that there’s nothing I can do to prepare Miss E for the world-shattering reality that will be having a little brother or sister. But I’ve been trying. I bought her a baby doll and made sweet little felt diapers she can take on and off in between bouts of wheeling baby up and down the hallway in a candy-pink stroller (the only color they make them in unless you’re willing to fork over more than 10 bucks, which I’m not). We talk about how we are gentle with babies. We read stories in my ever-less-roomy lap about being a big sister. But I know she doesn’t really get it. And the idea that I’ve done something that is going to cause her to feel like I love her even one iota less than I do breaks my heart. That she might cry about something real, versus just being told she can’t have crackers right now, is sometimes too much to bear.

But what I also know is that I can’t imagine my life without my brother. Every memory of my childhood is a memory with him in it, our adventures, our complimentary Halloween costumes, our epic fights. Even before I realized that my mom and dad really had my back I already knew my brother did. He was the one who sat squashed right next to me on the couch, after all, both of us shivering in terror while we watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Doctor Who. He was my sidekick, always. He was my first best friend.

And that’s what I’m giving Miss E. And as hard as it’s going to be for all of us for a little while, I know someday she’ll know that a sibling’s the greatest thing I could ever give her.


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