The Will to Wear Pants

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There are days when I simply lack the will to wear pants. When my old, faded jeans are a mountain that I cannot climb. I’ve come to understand that this is an oddly reliable indicator of how things are going with the boys. During easy stretches at home, my jeans are just jeans but when one or (more typically) both boys are in some flavor of challenging transition even casual wear threatens my equilibrium. How can I so much as glimpse peace when I’m expected to do things like button and zipper my own clothes? This is another (of the many) reasons that my re-entry into the working world is sure to be entertaining.

During these stretches I rely on pants with elastic waistbands and wicking fabric. Clothing that in a previous life I wore to do things like running and yoga. Life is different now. I’ve found that these very same pants are the perfect companions for chasing boundary-pushers around parks and preparing meals with 30 lb, giggling weights attached to each leg. The small measure of comfort they offer is a balm. You take what you can get.

I’ve been off the real pants train for more than a week now. If history is any indication I expect that I’ll be buttoning my own pants fairly soon. These things wax and wane. I’m looking forward to the wane. For now the Monk is committed to keeping me in comfortable clothing. The little dude is stretching his wings and it’s a raucous affair. He is two in a way that is wholly different from the way Yogi was two. So all the things I thought I knew are irrelevant and useless and beside the point. And while it is technically true that he won’t actually be two for another two weeks, I assure you that this is purely a technicality. The Monk is TWO and denim is too much for me.

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The Potty Story

It started with a letter. As the kind of parent whose good intentions never really translate into a careful reading of the school handbook, it was a body blow of a letter. I feel certain the school administrators imagined it to be a friendly reminder to all of us handbook-conversant parents that 3 year olds don’t wear diapers to school and their classrooms do not have diaper changing areas, but the friendly was lost on me. In the space of maybe a minute on a hot July afternoon I had to accept the fact that the gig was up. My son would not be potty training himself. My efforts (such as they were) were required. It seemed unlikely that in the not-quite three months that stood between us and the start of the school year the boy would singlehandedly don a pair of underwear and ascend the throne. Not a chance.

You may be wondering how I could have made it almost all the way to the third birthday of my first born without giving any real consideration to the matter of the potty. All I can tell you is that I had heard lots of parents say something along the lines of, “You know, the best advice we ever got was just to wait until little Johnny was ready. Once he was ready, it was smooth sailing.” The moment I heard that, I was on board. This wait-and-see approach was appealing to me for all sorts of reasons. For one, it made sense. Toddlers are willful creatures and who wants a war zone in their bathroom? And then there’s the matter of my academic training. As every psychologist can tell you, all roads to therapy are paved with potty trauma. This last isn’t exactly true, but I can’t help but cling to a lingering fear that it might be. But perhaps the best part of the whole (ok-non) strategy was that it took me off the hook. No use getting all crazy about potty training until the little guy is ready. We’ll just take our time. Follow his lead. Of course we would.

And then, I got the letter. By the time I made it back to the house I was furious with all those “just wait until he’s ready” people. Who did they think they were anyway? Going through life handing out advice without even defining their terms. They said “ready” as if that word had any objectively identifiable meaning. What is READY and how had I never though to wonder about this before? How (barring ESP) could I ever have known when his potty-ready switch was thrown? Had I thought it would just come up in conversation one day? “Mom I’m thinking it’s potty time. Let’s do this thing!” Hardly. If he wasn’t going to actually tell me (so painfully obvious in retrospect) what exactly had I been waiting for? 

In the days that followed I interrogated every post-potty training friend I had. With a handful of exceptions I got little more than further fuel for my simmering irritation. Somehow none of these people could really remember how they had done it. What? Your child left the land of the diaper only months before and you don’t really know how it happened? Sure there was repeated mention of things like M&M’s and sticker charts, but I had been counting on something a little more specific. Something that seemed like an actual plan. Nothing of the sort was forthcoming.

So that left me with my wife and my son. The three of us were going to have to figure this thing out. Having no better ideas of our own we bought a bag of gummy worms, tossed the diapers and got to work. After what seemed (to me) to be entirely too much time, observable progress was made. There was actual pee in the actual potty. In spite of how much I had been sure it should be happening right.this.second, I don’t think I believed it actually would. The prospect of an underwear clad child had been entirely theoretical. However, with that small win I just knew it was time for all that smooth sailing the “wait till he’s ready” people had been going on about. Ahh, we had arrived.

We began venturing out into the world diaper-less and (mostly) unafraid. For days on end, everything was going well. And then (of course) it wasn’t. There were accidents and days of potty stand-offs and much collective gnashing of the teeth. We would have a good day or maybe a whole string of them and I would tell myself that we had done it. Go us! Mission accomplished. And then there would be the inevitable accident and I was suddenly sure that we should just give up now. Stop while we were behind. This was obviously never going to happen and all we were generating was conflict. Back and forth it went. Success followed by backslide followed by breakthrough and then the crash of yet another accident.

It was in the accumulation of brief, defeated spaces that followed each accident that I finally came to understand what all of those not-at-all-helpful advice givers had been getting at. As I scoured the internet for how to effectively launder pillows one morning (thanks for that one buddy) all of my irritation and disappointment finally added up to something true. It was a thing that came to me in a flash. Not a one of those parents could tell me how they potty trained their child because they didn’t know. Because there wasn’t one grand moment in which it happened. Because potty training is not a step-by-step/consistent progress kind of a thing. Maybe there is nothing that actually is that kind of thing. There will be poop and pee in all sorts of inappropriate places at every manner of inappropriate time. Not because you and your child just can’t seem to get the hang of it, but because there’s supposed to be poop and pee. Because that’s how we learn.

I had managed (somehow) to make it 35 years without truly learning that lesson and in low moments I wonder how much it has cost me. Luckily, there’s no answer to that particular question. At least not one that I’m likely to ever know. What I do know is that I’m learning. I know that today I have a been more gentle with myself than I was yesterday. I’m making space in my life for more accidents and I’m hoping that space is wide and safe enough for my boys. I hope they will allow themselves the grace to make all kinds of mistakes and I hope that they (eventually) make their way to the lesson. I also hope that they call me when their letter comes. I hope that when I tell them that I have no idea what they should do but that I’m certain they should stock up on stain remover, they will know just what I mean. Maybe they’ll even laugh.

The Boys Want to Read You a Story

My boys are reading!!!! Well, they’re not actually reading but they’re making their way and it’s a wonderful thing. If you need a little cute today, check these boys out.

The Monk using his very favorite word

Yogi reading in his “story time” chair at Nana and Pop’s house. This is the book that inspired Halloween costumes this year. Yogi is a Farmer and the Monk is his Barnyard Dog. There is lots and lots of twirling going on.

Kindergarten Looms

Last week a friend posted a picture on FaceBook that I can’t stop thinking about. The picture was of a tiny school desk. That desk featured a laminated sticker with a smiling apple and a very familiar name written in tidy teacher hand.

One of Yogi’s friends started kindergarten! Kindergarten! Sure, this is one of Yogi’s older friends, but still. We’re talking school here. Real school. Surely this is all too soon, isn’t it?! I think it is. I keep telling myself that I have a few years before I’m ready for a picture like that, but I’m not sure a few years will be enough. I don’t know how it could be.

Once the initial panic subsided, I went straight to my happy place. My imagination. The place where all scary things can be diffused. Oh how I love it there. No need to think of scary things that are beyond your control when you can just hang out somewhere that you made up your own damn self.

When I wasn’t following the Monk on a tour of all the things that really should be Monkey-proofed in our home, I spent the afternoon enrolling the boys in another kind of school. A hippie, neighborhood commune kind of a school. The kind where a handful of parents with totally complementary skills and personalities get together to figure out the best way to PREPARE OUR CHILDREN FOR LIFE. No big deal, right? I’m thinking small numbers here (bc let’s face it, I can’t handle lots of people), maybe 10 kids. Something like 5-ish families.

This kind of small-group model would eliminate most of my big concerns about homeschooling, at least in the early years. Everyone would get the benefit of learning from different kinds of teachers while remaining in a comfy, cozy social group. The kids could move from house to house throughout the week and of course all of the families would serve healthy, yummy lunches and snacks. Another benefit of our small size would be our ability to get outside the classroom and take trips with relative ease. And then there’s getting outside, as in the out of doors. I’ve heard some frankly harrowing things about the kind of time kids are allowed to “play” in primary school in our area and it worries me. A lot. Of course in our school we’ll be outside as much as possible.

We’ll be playing and learning and eating high quality food and perhaps gardening.

Anybody know of a place? I’ve got 2 (or 3?) years to find it or make it myself.

Parents are No Match for the Potty

Thirteen days ago we got a letter from Yogi’s pre-school. The letter, with references to the American Association of Pediatrics, informed us that the 3’s program is structured around the expectation that most children are potty-trained by the age of three. Wha????? In keeping with this expectation, there are no diaper changing stations in these classrooms and only underwear and Pull-Ups are allowed. Umm….what?! In my admittedly limited investigation into the schools’ potty rules (why continue to ask questions when you get an answer that works?) I had heard that they were happy to work with you and that there were no hard and fast rules about potty training. This letter didn’t make it sound like that.

Enter……. PANIC!!!!!

School starts at the end of August. August! Our pre-letter potty strategy was of the wait and see variety. Around the time Yogi turned two we got little seats for our toilets, checked out Everybody Poops at the library and started talking potty. We cheered on our friends who sit on the potty at school and invited the little dude to flush during our (almost always) communal bathroom visits. He selected his own big boy underwear a few months back and we frequently discuss how cool it will be when he’s ready for them. There is very rare potty sitting when he’s in the mood before tub, but prior to the letter nothing had ever come of any of that. We were waiting for him to be ready. Whatever that even is.

Then we got the letter. My initial response was “Ack!!! We haven’t prepared him and now he’s going to be in a situation that he’s not ready for and he will be damaged!!”. Because that’s a given, right? If a person has traumatic potty training experiences they’re pretty much doomed for serious psychological trauma, no? This is precisely why we were adopting this “give him the information he needs and be ready to step in and support his efforts when he’s ready” strategy. But now, we have a matter of weeks. What if he doesn’t show any more potty interest before school starts? So, we decided to intervene.

There were stickers and tiny Matchbox cars and a frog potty and Pull-Ups and many, many books. We spent a week sitting fruitlessly on the potty every few hours. There was a sticker for each sit and a brand new car!!! (I felt like Oprah) for the handful of times that there was actual peeing and plans for a potty party involving a family trip for ice cream and the selection of whatever truck or car his little heart desired when the big moment arrived. We never got to the party.Why? Well, Yogi declared war on the potty and by extension, the two of us.

He was cool with the whole thing for the first few days. I guess it was something different and the boy loves little more than a good book. So, he tolerated it. That’s the most accurate way to characterize it. He went through the motions right up until the moment when he decided he was D.O.N.E. Trips to the potty became increasingly conflict-addled and the very tone of the day plummeted. By day five, every interaction was a fight. Even our non-potty moments were tense. One morning Yogi ran around the house at top speed shouting, “NO potty! NO cars! NO ice cream! NO stickers! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!”. This shouting went on in a loop until I was finally able to soothe him after I’m pretty sure he just wore himself out.

So, what do you with that? After feeling overwhelmed by frustration and fear and frank anger, we decided to let it go. We told Yogi that we would try the potty again when he was ready and we let it go. This was a battle we were not going to win, at least not without aid of tools like shame and humiliation, so we had only to let it go.  The plan for now is to carry on in the way of our pre-letter selves until it seems like the right time to try again. This may mean that he starts school without much potty proficiency. In that case, we’ll send him in a Pull-Up and pick him up at noon instead of 2 o clock. I’m confident that he could make four hours, but any longer would be a real risk. It’s not an attractive option, but it looks like the best one at the moment and thankfully (gross understatement) we can do it.

Perhaps something magical will happen on August 15th when he turns three. Maybe it will happen even before then. Like everything else with this parenting gig I have absolutely no idea. I’m just going to be ready and (patiently – yeah right!) waiting.

Yogi and the Fork

Although I miss the snuggly sweetness of mealtime when he was entirely milk-fed, Yogi with a fork has his own brand of charm.  And yes, I did say Yogi with a fork.  The times they are a changing.

The high chair with tray is waiting patiently in the basement for Monkey and Yogi now sits in the chair that we should have coughed up the money for in the beginning.  It pushes right up to the table and can easily adjust as he grows.  I initially balked at the price (and by balked I mean harassed my wife for the suggestion that we spend that kind of money on a chair for anyone, much less a baby), but now I think that if you can swing it, you’ll be glad you did.  This is the chair and cushion that we chose.

Once we get him in the chair and push him up to the table, it’s on.  As you all know, there were days when I wondered if he would ever eat food that didn’t come through a bottle, but now he eats with gusto.  After reading lots of Montessori theory, we made the decision to forgo plastic kiddie type plates and utensils and Yogi eats on our plates (the small one for salads) and he does what he can with his fork and spoon.  We bought two sets (meaning we have two spoons and two forks) and we just wash them after each meal.  They look something like this when compared to a regular fork:

Most of what he eats is picked up with  his hands, but he plays/works with the fork at every meal.  He likes to pierce the occasional blueberry (bee-bee), cheese square (che) or black bean (bean) with his fork.  The chatter is fairly constant while he eats.  If he’s not actually chewing and swallowing at.that.second, he’s telling you about what’s on his plate or the fact that a car is driving by (cahhh – sounds kind of like a Boston version of the word) or that Baker is coming down the stairs (dah).  The spoon seems to be less compelling, but he can use it fairly smoothly.  He’s much better with it than the fork, but I think it’s not as fun. 

Mealtime with Yogi can be a headache (Really Yogi?  Hand washing is not a torture technique), but it’s also a lot of fun.