diaper-free diary, phase 3

17 Apr

Phase 3 was off to a great start!  Ida spent the better part of her first diaper-free morning playing as usual and fielding nearly constant inquiries as to whether or not she needed to use the potty (from yours truly).  She would shake her head no, or sometimes, nod her head yes and walk over to the bathroom.  I had taught her how to pull her pants and undies off (through she often told me that she needed help with this because she had/has a hard time remembering that she needs to pull them off of her butt first and just starts yanking tenaciously at the front of her pants, lamenting the fact that no progress is being made).  I had made a special chart a while ago (just in case) for this week-o-potty fun and each time she used her potty and contributed some material, she got to put a sticker along the row for that day.  She’d wash her hands, have her cookie and go about her business.  She knew the drill and was surprisingly adept at moving through the steps.  I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I couldn’t believe how smoothly the whole thing was going.  I thought briefly about Ida’s first 6 weeks of life (where she only slept while being ferociously bounced, shushed into oblivion, or careening back and forth in her swing – specially designed for toddlers because the infant ones were way too gentle.  And when she only slept for 20 minute stretches).  I thought maybe this was my reward for hanging onto my sanity, albeit just barely.

In the early afternoon on day 1, Ida had her first out-of-potty experience.  We took Maude (our dog) outside to do her business (at which point I thought to myself “I really am managing a lot of excrement these days”).  Ida took one look at Maude shitting in the yard and decided that this was an excellent idea.  With accuracy and speed previously unseen (but quite frankly suspected), she dropped her pants and began peeing in the yard.  Upon finishing, she pulled up her (soaking wet) pants and with a huge smile, clapped for herself and suggested that I should do the same.  In thinking about it, this was no accident, but a carefully planned experiment for Ida.  New undies were selected and the day went on.  She had a few accidents later, and was getting pretty frustrated by bedtime.  She was tired and ready to call it a day.  I was really proud of her for her tenacity and success.  We decided that Ida should wear a diaper at night, so it felt like a little relief to put the diaper on at the end of the day.  I was tired of such a toilet-intensive conversation.

We stayed the course and mostly hung out at home for the next couple of days.  Toileting was becoming pretty routine.  Ida would often have an accident or two in the afternoon (including one hilarious incident where she peed on our friend’s day planner), but for the most part, she was getting the hang of it.  But oh, the accidents.  Though they were few and often small, they were devastating.  It’s hard to describe the specific sadness of Ida’s remorse after wetting her pants.  She is profoundly disappointed by it and often requires some cuddling and cheering up after it happens.  I worried for a minute that maybe I was the one pushing her to do this – that she wasn’t ready.  But I knew she really wanted to learn – she expressed this and continued to express it many times and in lots of ways.  I remembered that my job as her parent is to help her deal with the frustration and disappointment that comes from stretching yourself to reach a goal that seems just a little bit too hard.  I felt good (again, childfree readers may be having some thoughts to the effect of “um?  Are we still talking about learning how to not crap yourself?”).  We were doing a great job.  But such remorse from a tiny person!  It was overwhelming.

The poop was the most difficult component of diaper-free living because Ida seemed a little mystified by how and when this strange event happens.   I often had to really encourage her to spend a little time on the toilet and to push with her abdominal muscles to see if there was any poop that wanted to come out (again, an unfortunate phrase that I’ve adopted).  I’d mimic abdominal pushes with her to help her get the idea.  It’s now been three weeks and she’s got the hang of it.  It often takes a few attempts (she’ll tell me she needs to use the bathroom, sit down and decide she’s all done, repeat several times at 3 minute intervals) but she knows what to do.  I also discovered a few days in that if I put my hand to my ear and said “let’s listen and see if we hear any pee going into the potty” that she would basically pee on command.  What a strange and pavlovian experience.  I’ve avoided the term “potty training” for the most part, but there is some element of rote learning at work.  Ida seems okay with it.

After we’d had a few accident-free days (days 3 and 4 of potty-bonanza), I stopped asking her if she needed to use the bathroom and started saying “Ida, make sure you let me know if you need to use the potty.  Remember, you don’t like to pee or poop in your underpants.”  For the most part, this was a big success.  The late afternoons were always the hardest for her and she’ll sometimes have a tiny accident before making it to the potty.  For the most part though, she’s pretty potty-savvy when we’re at home, letting us know with her signs or by just heading into the bathroom on her own.  We still ask her periodically if she needs to use the potty, especially in the afternoons.

Having decided that Ida was getting a little antsy to get back to the world at large (er, I was), we decided to head to church on Sunday of potty week ( the 7th day).  Ida usually spends some time playing with her friends in the play room and some time in the service with me.  I was a little worried about what the (incredibly cool and loving) caregivers in the play room might think of my diaper-free 18 month old with only signs to communicate her potty needs in a new space.  Throwing caution to the wind (a practice often encouraged at Berry UMC), I just took Ida to the play room like usual, explained our situation and headed to the service.  She did a great job and seemed really proud.  However, when I got there she immediately and urgently told me she needed to go potty.  I took her to the bathroom and discovered that the stalls were majorly freaking her out and that there was really no way for her to sit on the giant seat.  She was having none of it and wanted off the toilet immediately.  Then she peed her pants.  Then I put her back on the toilet.  Then she freaked out again.  Then she peed her pants again.  I felt terrible that she was having such a hard time and was obviously really stressed out about it.  This was not a great moment, and I reminded myself that Ida’s potty-ing isn’t a linear process – that this difficulty didn’t mean that we were doomed, or doing it wrong, or that anything had gone awry.  It just meant that we had a tough moment or two.

Things pretty much kept improving.  I got a little seat that fits on top of a regular toilet for when we’re out and that seemed to really help.  Ida now lets me know when she needs to go, we head over to the bathroom and the minute her little butt hits the seat, she gets down to business.  I hear tell of a fold-up contraption, which would seriously improve my quality of life (insofar as right now I have to haul a toilet seat around on my person whenever I want to step out for more than 30 minutes).

I really enjoyed undertaking this project with Ida.  Watching her learn how to do things and watching her take so much pride and pleasure in such a simple competence is refreshing and fun.  I had fun potty training my kid.  There’s something I never thought I’d say.

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4 Responses to “diaper-free diary, phase 3”

  1. Kate April 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    I am just so inspired by this story Liz. Especially your moment of wondering ” Am I pushing her to do this when she is not ready?” The process of learning, growth and discovery is not exactly linear is it? ( i.e what may be suggested by “Potty training”) but seems to be cyclical, a spiral upward, marked by ups and downs but always moving forward, upward ( :
    I think I am mostly touched by your dedication and patience as a parent and guide…and to allow innocent experiments without scolding! ( i.e taking a pee in the lawn.) I feel like so many of us would rather not take the time to truly guide, because it interferes with what we feel we need – more free time or time to do al the other things than bother with taking the time to allow this . I don’t think this story is about potty training at all or about “how great you are you got your child to use the potty so young!” To me, it’s a story about the little gems and jewels that come with taking the time to really listen, to hear, to explain and guide. It makes me wonder what little gems we and our little ones are missing out on when we choose to go the other route just because its ‘easier’ for us as adults to explain things quickly, (and “because i said so,”) rushing rushing because we’re not “getting it all done in the time we want it done, in the way we want it done” etc. It makes me wonder what genuine discovery, expression, enrichment we are robbing the little ones (and ourselves) of when we control in this way? ( :
    thanks for sharing! truly inspiring.

    • lizjoyntsandberg April 22, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      Thanks so much for all of this kindness, Kate! I was kind-of hesitant to even share here about our adventures in potty explorations for fear of it being perceived as some kind of amazing undertaking that I somehow caused. Like you said – it’s not that I did anything great or that it’s particularly amazing that Ida doesn’t like to wander around the house with a load in her pants. I mostly just did what every parent does – hung out with my kid and tried to keep up. I guess I’m finding that I actually have MORE free time when I engage with Ida this way – or at least my life feels more free. Days, or even parts of days when I fall into an adversarial mindset just feel like junk. I guess it stands to reason, but it seems to me that when I give Ida whatever it is she needs, she falls into a contented independent state and we just sort-of orbit around each other throughout the day. Except when she’s screaming. Or demanding snacks that have yet to be invented. Or, you know……..

  2. Mary June 11, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    I find it *fascinating* that she felt guilty about her accidents. Sweet and damn morally advanced for being less than two, if you ask me.

    • lizjoyntsandberg June 11, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

      Right? Ida takes her responsibilities very seriously. She is also in charge of watering a plant in our home. That thing is on the verge of drowning.

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