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On Motherhood – an excerpt

11 Feb

Behold!  An excerpt of a larger/longer piece I’m working on concerning motherhood that I hope will be advice and jokes and most of all telling the truth:

The hard thing that I just couldn’t bring myself to say in the moment, because you were crying, is that the answer is “no one.”  No one will take care of you anymore.  Or maybe more accurate is to say that being taken care of will never be the same – will never be quite right.  You will always be the end of the line.  There is support, there is help, there is partnership, but there is never the same sense that it could ultimately fall to someone else.  It will always be yours and you will always be alone in this way.

This is devastating until one day you wake up and realize that you’ve become so strong, so capable, with a sky-high threshold so that you are able to sustain yourself from your own stores.  You have become smarter, more flexible, to be able to find whatever rest you need in the 4 minutes you’ve got without even a glancing thought to the 4 days you probably need.  Need?  No.  Could use.  If those 4 days, or 4 hours come, you will be shocked at what you can do.  Anything.  You can rebuild a career, shop for all of the necessary supplies, rest the deepest parts of you.  You will be beautifully pragmatic.  You will be fresh air.

In your work you will find fresh intolerance for bullshit.  The tyranny of the blank page?  Are you fucking kidding?  You will come to find that most of the problems your colleagues imagine are unspeakable luxuries which they just cannot shut their festering face holes about.  It’s not their fault – it wasn’t yours either.  But you are on the other side of knowing now, so allow yourself a wry smile at their charming idiocy and get down to tearing your projects a new one in half the time.  With one arm.  With someone sucking on whatever part of you (and not in a fun college kind of way).  By saying over and over again “just a minute.”  You’ll be vicious.  You’ll be smart.  You’ll be steely sure in your choices.  You will come to discover the great gift that having no option is.  Your work will thrive.  Don’t give up.  Do everything you want to do with everything you’ve got.  You can’t afford bullshit anymore and your audience, whoever they are, will thank you for that.

You won’t be “stressed” anymore.  You won’t be tired.  You’ll find that what other people lazily use these words for are stagnant, binary states.  You’ll come to discover the gradation and pinpoint your range of and in these feelings.  As your threshold expands, you’ll notice that you can function beautifully, even thrive in heightened states of these feelings.  It’s not sad, it’s amazing.  You can adapt.  You’re already doing it.  Give yourself every credit and notice your incredible impossible transformation.  You’re doing it.  You’re it.  You are an artist and your state of being is your work – magnificent.  Nobody sees quite right, but you’re beyond even that – transcendent.

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GET OUT! ALL CAPS MEANS BUSINESS!

15 Jan

My best friend in the world is having a baby any day now.  Needless to say, I am over the moon.  But I’m here, on her behalf, just incase that stubborn little fetus has some kind of smart phone up in thrr to say before all-y’all on the interwebs (and possibly said stubborn fetus) that IT’S TIME – GET OUT!  YOU’RE GETTING DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO LOSING YOUR DEPOSIT!  Ladies who’ve gestated can attest to the fact that at the very end you become FUCKING DONE.  Not “done.”  “Done” is a state you semi-peacefully enter a week before FUCKING DONE.  “Done” is uncomfortable.  FUCKING DONE is sharpening knives and making visual aids to assist you in your plan to peel your own skin off.  “Done” is hopeful if a little exasperated.  FUCKING DONE is a wellspring of despairing tears generated by the realization that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with a douchebag of a baby lazing the days away on your bladder.  “Done” is a state of curiosity:  “I wonder when tiny love will be born?  Gosh, I sure hope it’s soonish.”  FUCKING DONE is inserting a twix like a tampon, crazy eyes ablaze, in the hope that your bundle of jerk will clamp his awful jaws down and that you’ll be able to just kind-of pull him out.

Did I ruin fishing for you?  At the very least I think I probably put us all off twix bars for a while.  Rest assured, my pal hasn’t attempted any of these things (and won’t because, you know, she’s not sick in the head like certain best friends of hers…).  But the fact remains, the tail end of the homestretch of pregnancy is a bitch.  Now, as you may recall, I absolutely loved giving birth.  Loved it.  It remains my absolute favorite day(s) of my life.  And let me be clear, my favorite part was NOT the baby-in-my-arms-at-the-end part – that part was pretty good too – but it was the labor itself.  I loved labor and really hope I have the opportunity to do it again.  I say this so that you’ll know that I’m not one of those “everything sucks about having children/your life is over/awful thing about hotdog-hallway” types.  But let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?  It’s no fun waiting for a totally unknown experience after months and months of waiting for a totally unknown experience.  The fact that our culture presents labor as something overwhelmingly negative doesn’t help, but funnily enough, the part that no one is talking about that actually does suck your gross uncle’s balls is the waiting at the very end.

Do you enjoy a quick transition?  Good.  Me too.  So here’s this thing I wrote for my BFF’s blessingway (click on that to confirm that yes, it’s exactly as mystical/naked-in-the-woods/drinking (menstrual) blood as it sounds).  I hope you think it’s pretty.  More than anything, I hope that little (sure-to-be-adorable) asshole has the good sense to get hisself born-d.  Because it’s no fun to be FUCKING DONE.

I Think You Might Be The Lion

What is there to say other than what we said the other day?  That it’s an absolute mystery until you are waist deep in it – always with the water.  In tides.  Ebbing and flowing.

That the only difference is the input.

And you and I know all about that.

All of a sudden I remember you.  I am standing by that piece-of-shit stereo.  It’s playing some track – that Sufjan album, or Regina Spektor or Animal Collective.  I’m watching.  Not facing you, but looking at the mirror.

You stepped up onto Rachel’s back, impossible, but onto the back of her neck and I knew for sure that you were going to be okay.  Because even though it was dangerous and didn’t make sense – it shouldn’t have worked – it was so so beautiful and charged with the third thing.  The essential real movement.  And Jamie was an asshole like always.  He reached for your hand, but you were already gone.  Up.  Up.  Up.

That should have been such a mess.  I saw you, perfect – strong without trying – in being.  Balanced.

And so I know that you are smart enough.  Not in the way of knowing how to, or working, or any of that – you’re those things too – but this is to say smart in the deep way of falling with a welcome spirit for the ground – a deep trust that you already have what you need.

In freedom.  In radical subversive tenacity.  Not with gritted teeth, but screaming out an open window in March.  Still snow on the ground,but on the first warmish day.  Flying down Broomfield, Meridian, Isabella.

In not even stepping up onto her neck, but finding yourself there and making – deep inside –  the shift to say yes.  “Yes, and.”  Responding to whatever part pulled you up there in the first place.  Knowing that it’s Rachel underneath you.

And of course, this is the leap – that birth is the best improvisation.  You will never have to reach for the third thing because it will be the current you’re in.  Instead of snatches – seconds long miracles of presence – your attention will be perfectly wrapped – knit into the intensity that becomes a total reprieve from everything else.   Physical, immediate, intuitive.  You have prepared so long.  Before you knew your body like now.  Getting ready even back when your hair blew like a lion’s mane in the parking lot – sweaty and cold.  The new magic is brave from the outside but impossibly clear and free from choices inside – so that after this long I am anxious and glad for you to know perfect work in birth, because I know that it will mean so much to you.

And that small fierce punch of color that wells up inside of you, and defies anyone to ask if you could love something that’s so hard and withholding, will gush out again – carrying you up, up, up, just like I remember.

Rehearsal Today

5 Jan

This morning, Ida accompanied me to rehearsal.  I am working on a piece that I presented for the first time a few months ago called Best Wishes.  It will be presented in a couple of weeks as part of Rhino Fest in the Food and Performance Cabaret.  I get to do it on 4 consecutive Mondays in January and February.  As I planned my rehearsal schedule for this show, I decided that it would be loads easier if I just took Ida with me.  I like to work early in the mornings, often, and for short periods of time, so coordinating childcare is nightmarish.  I also decided that Ida would probably enjoy these outings, and would probably be a very nicely behaved companion.  I congratulated myself on making a well-reasoned decision, and for not putting off the planning until the last possible minute.  Being organized feels so satisfying.

We woke, I gave Ida breakfast and got her ready, and then I rushed around trying to get myself ready (abandoning breakfast and a semi-urgent shower in the fray) and gathering our supplies.  I was feeling harried and irritated that I hadn’t just arranged for someone to look after her.  I felt the injustice of living with a two-year-old’s sense of time and urgency.

  • Use toilet:  5 minutes
  • Put on shoes, coat, gloves, hat:  2 minutes
  • Negotiate and broker willing participation in the above activities:  45 + minutes

We got out the back door, me having just eaten a fist-full of cold spaghetti for fortification, and briskly hustled down the alley and to the train.  I swiped my transit card, ushered Ida through the turnstile, yanked on the stroller-handle to fold it up, and dragged us and our baggage up the two flights of stairs to the platform.  We just made it onto the train that pulled in as we rushed up the last few steps and instantly knew who in that train car has done this before (look of solidarity) and who has/will not (irritation upon getting banged in the shin with stroller – not that I really blame them, but what exactly do they suggest I do?).  We sat.  We exhaled.  We watched as neighborhoods came and went.  Ida and I both love riding the train.

We arrived and walked to the rehearsal space.  More stairs.  More schlep.  I tried to focus my attention on being grateful that my strong body could move and haul with relative ease.  It helped.

Ida was nervous to enter the rehearsal space.  She’d been there before to see me perform, but something about it made her scared this morning.  She took my hand and was, like always, very brave.  We set up our stuff.  I explained again what we were doing here.  “Mama is going to do some dance work now.  We can share this space for the next hour – you can play with your toys, eat your snacks, or you can do some dance work if you want to.  Please don’t touch the stereo or my laptop.  And please don’t yell.  There are going to be sometimes this morning when I won’t answer you if you ask me a question or need help – I’ll be able to do it in a few minutes, but sometimes I am going to be busy even though I’m right here.”

I started warming up.  Ida watched for a few minutes and then joined me – walking around the room, rolling her head, moving her arms.  It was beautiful and so much fun.  For the rest of the rehearsal, she would alternate between snacking/playing in a spot in the folding chairs set up in the back, and dancing with/near me.  It was peaceful, and easy, and even better than I imagined it.  It worked.  More than that, I loved it.  I really like being alone, but sometimes being alone in rehearsal feels endless in the bad way – empty and cold.  Ida provided warmth and accountability.  She would know if I just sat there staring off into space rather than dancing like I said I would.

Later in the hour, it was time for me to do a run-through of the piece I’m working on.  I explained this to Ida and asked if she might like to draw.  She said yes.  I started and had a (predictably) rough and frustrating go of it – this piece has been sitting unattended for a long time and I knew it would be tough to get back in, having had this same experience the last time I worked on it.  “This is why I’m rehearsing” I reminded myself.  Although, that makes having to perform shitty run-throughs only marginally more palatable.  Improvisation is no joke – the idea of “making it up as you go” seems so care-free and easy, and it can be, but, in my experience, it only becomes easy and fun after you’ve worked really hard at it – turning the possibilities inside and out, tearing out seams, adjusting, calibrating feelings/presence – basically just being tenaciously bad at it until you start being good.  Showing up.  Laying your self out for it.

Anyway, I’m thinking about all of these things, and slogging through this run-through that just will not end, and doesn’t seem to ever be going well, and suddenly Ida is standing in front of me.  She’s holding up a granola bar and she says “Please open this Mama.”  I know what I said, and I’m a big believer in consistency, but it was exactly what I needed, so I did it selfishly.  My own recorded voice was reading this overly emotional thing about baking bread and then my daughter was right there and I was already so far tangled in the weeds, so I reached out and opened the granola bar.  I did it improvisationally.  I did it with my full attention.  Ida took a bite and then offered me some.  I took it and the moment deepened and became even more perfect.  And I finished the run-through – breezed through it – coming to the end feeling grateful to have been in it rather than grateful that it was over.  More than anything, I finished feeling grateful for Ida.

In a minute after I finished, and before I needed to start hustling Ida into her winter gear and out the door so that the next artist could get into the space on time, I wrote this about our morning:

1/4

Ida with me at rehearsal.  She walks in circles, rolling her head – just like i walk in circles, rolling my head.  We’re warming up.  This is a huge success.  She is engaged, interested, and free – sometimes participating as a mover with me, sometimes as a watcher.  She claps.  I realize, at one point, that I’m sick of working on this, and she offers me a peeled clementine – the first time she’s done this without help.  I start the run-through – the thing we – I – came here to do.  She watches for a while, and then I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye.  She’s entered the dance space, left her folding chair surrounded with notebook, pencils, charlie brown and her dustpan and broom.  She is bringing me a granola bar as I hear my own voice recite a slick/sweet thing about baking bread.  And all of a sudden, a shift -we share the granola bar, performing, eating, blurring even more the lines between us, our work, our roles.  Wednesday morning.  We are learning.

Baby’s First Bathroom Humor

28 Aug

The other day, while Ida was on the toilet, she told me a hilarious joke:

Ida:  Poop comes out of Ida’s butt.

(pensive beat – affirmative and somewhat aloof nods from mother)

Ida:  Macaroni comes out of Ida’s butt.

(maniacal laughter)

I’m not even going to pretend that I didn’t (and do not still periodically) crack up.

A Mother’s Day?

18 May

Sometimes I feel invisible.  Most of the time I think it’s fantastic.  I feel like a superhero with my awesome power.  Ida provides a nearly foolproof deterrent to semi-strangers asking me about my accomplishments or current undertakings (let’s just set aside for a moment the fact that this shield is equal parts Ida and rampant sexism that assumes that since I’m a mother of course my kid is my only concern and that money just somehow magically appears in my bank account).

Sometimes though, it feels like junk.  Sometimes I want someone(s) to see how hard I’m working.  Sometimes I want someone who can talk and wipe their own butt to witness my work, the way that they used to when I was running a business or going to school.  Since many of my current endeavors have to do with mothering and homemaking/homesteading, I’m often the only one who knows just what exactly is the work that I’m doing all day.  Since the other things are modern dance………. that joke pretty much makes itself, no?

Anyway, maybe this is a result of too much internet-half-life-site time and my constant impulse to frame my experiences in terms of status updates (just a sec, I barfed in my mouth), but I thought I’d share what my actual days are like, given that it’s mother’s day (or at least it was when I started writing this little ditty).  So here we go: allow me to present a glimpse into this mother’s day.

I have two types of days:  Days when I am teaching and days when I am not teaching.

They all start the same:

I wake up at 6AM without an alarm clock.  I will forever be unable to sleep-in due to my college years working as a barista and always working the opening shift.  I turn on the coffee pot which Nathan or I prepped the night before.  While the coffee is brewing, I check my email (read: diddle around on aforementioned time-waste-vortex).  Once the coffee is ready, I pour myself a cup and settle back into bed with a book which I read until 6:50.  I read everyday – a variety of fiction and non-fiction, reputable and disreputable.  This is one of my favorite parts of the day.  I semi-ferberized Ida in order to get this time.  I don’t feel even sort-of guilty about it.  At 6:50 I take a 5 minute shower followed by 5 more minutes of beautification efforts.  They are half-assed at best and usually come to a conclusion with some kind of encouraging words to myself  like “not great.”

Ida is up by 7AM and I go into her room.  She is usually naked as the day she was born and jumping up and down in her crib singing or screaming depending on her mood.  I get her ready for the day and ask her if she’d like to use the toilet.  Then we go visit our dog Maude who has gone back to sleep in our bed.  I often worry that Maude hates this ritual as it usually involves lots of mauling on Ida’s part.  Ida and I retreat to the kitchen and I fix her some breakfast while she sits in her high chair.  We listen to the radio and discuss our plans for the day.  I usually load and start the dishwasher and sort-of clean the kitchen (excluding the microwave, which is the site of a very important research project entitled “what will happen?”) while she eats breakfast.

Sometimes after this we do some errands (usually groceries or Target).  Other times we just hang out in the living room  – I eat breakfast and Ida plays or creates unsanctioned murals on the entryway wall that is obscured from my post on the couch.  Sometimes we go for a walk or bike ride to the coffee shop and get coffee and a treat.  Sometimes we go to the park, or out to the yard to garden.  On Wednesdays we sometimes go to children’s story time at Women and Children First (you know, the feminist bookstore just up the street.  I heart my neighborhood).

Ida usually takes a nap around 9AM and sleeps until 11 or 12.  Sometimes if I have to teach a morning class, she (a champion of flexibility) skips this nap and goes to one of the wonderful friends that comprise our ramshackle childcare network.  If she is napping I usually clean, cook, do laundry or occasionally do some writing or dancemaking work.  I was in the habit of doing self-led yoga during her nap, but I’ve fallen off that wagon of late.  I’m now doing a self-led cookie eating thing that I find equally fulfilling.

My favorite household work is cooking.  I like to make a giant batch of something and put meal-sized portions in the freezer, or I like to prep all of the stuff for dinner that night.  I also sometimes put together a meal for one of the lovely folks who take care of Ida while I’m at work, or bake bread or make other staples like stock or yogurt.  I’d say on average, I spend at least 3 hours of every day doing some aspect of food work (shopping, gardening, preparing, cooking, cleaning up).  My other favorite is laundry.  I don’t actually like doing the laundry, but I eat candy and watch television on the internet while I fold it, creating an irresistible bribe for myself.  It’s gotten to the point where I feel a modicum of excitement when the dryer buzzer goes off.  Yikes.   Have you recovered from the sadness of that?  Do you need a moment?  Take a moment.

Every monday I clean the whole apartment (I say “whole” because this undertaking is impressive to me.  I used to triage cleaning, employing a “disaster management” philosophy, but of late, I’ve been more proactive.  I feel that this deserves special recognition).  It takes 3-4 hours and I mostly dislike it.  I try to make it as pleasant as possible and to find pleasure in the aspects I can, but for the most part, I just face my drudgery and try to get it over with.  I should say here that Nathan is more than willing to do this – he would gladly be in charge of the cleaning, but his filth tolerance is much higher than mine (see note below re: living in a van) and I find his work to be unsatisfactory in this department.  Since I can’t seem to make a dollar to save my life, this 1950s style arrangement seems (in our circumstance) to be an equitable trade.  I know how it looks, and if you’d have told me this is how it would all shake out I’d have smacked you in the jowls, but here we are.  Truth be told I usually feel like I got the good end of the deal.  I like my life.  I’m not trapped, unfulfilled or lonely or any of those other things Betty Friedan talked about.  I have a number of theories about this, which I will save for another time.  The only thing I will say here is this: if one more badass feminist pal questions the fact that Nathan doesn’t do much by way of cooking or cleaning and assumes that this means something about me or him and our respective views on women, I’m going to blow a gasket.  You’re telling me I’m a woman and I’m doing it wrong?  That’s suspiciously familiar…

When Ida wakes up from her nap, our day goes one of two routes:  If I’m working, we usually pack up our stuff (my teaching supplies and her diaper bag with lunch, snacks, milk, etc.), get in the car and drive to wherever I’m teaching, dropping Ida off along the way at a kind friend’s house (as a side note, working for a few hours in the middle of each day is anathema to finding professional childcare and basically ensures that you will become a major pain in the ass to your friends and family as you try to get someone to watch your beloved kid).  A few days a week, a friend comes over to my place and watches her while I’m gone.  I’m gone for 2-4 hours on teaching days depending on commute and if I have more than one class.  I am almost always astounded by how challenging it is to get where I need to be on time, teach well, and be a good parent to Ida all at the same time.  I can usually do two of these things at once.  I often don’t eat lunch because adding one more thing to the list just isn’t possible.  Correction, I often eat Wendy’s chicken nuggets for lunch and semi-try to hide what I’m doing from Ida (in the back seat).  Should you feel moved to nominate me for a parenting award, remember that my last name is SAND (like a sand beach) BERG (like iceberg lettuce).

Once I’m done teaching I head home (picking up Ida on the way if she was staying with a friend).  Ida used to take another nap at this point in the day, and I’m mourning this loss.  Now she mostly yells, demands impossible snacks that haven’t been invented, and passionately wants the legos to be both in and out of the basket SIMULTANEOUSLY.

If I’m not teaching, Ida and I usually do something fun in the afternoon.  Sometimes we take a bike ride or walk.  Sometimes we do an art project at home.  Sometimes we go visit a friend or go somewhere cool in the city like a museum or a park.  We like to get out of the house and find that just hanging out at home all day results in double-whammy mother-daughter meltdowns.

Nate usually gets home from work at 4:15.  At this point, if Nate isn’t on deadline for a music project, I sometimes leave for a couple of hours to work/make dances or run errands while he plays with Ida.  Every monday a friend and I go out for coffee and do our self-led Heretics’ Bible Study.  This is exactly like it sounds.  Sometimes Nate, Ida and I do something together.  If Nate is on deadline for a music project, he spends a little time with Ida and then heads back to his studio to crank out the tunes.  I have never met a person as productive as Nathan is when it comes to writing music.  I attribute this largely to his having had to complete his graduate degree in writing film music while working and taking care of a newborn.  His threshold for sleep deprivation and chaos are off-the-charts high.  This coupled with his humongous talent means that he is creating a pretty fat composition roster of late.  Which is great, but at some point, he’s going to need to start recreating for at least a couple of hours a week.  And sleeping for more than 4 hours a night.  I worry about him…

Ida begins eating dinner around 5:30 in her high chair in the kitchen.  We’re working on a plan to regularly have dinner together as a family, but we’re sad at the prospect of losing that time alone together (Nate and me).  Nate often does the dinner and bath evening routine while I cook.  I kind-of hate the dinner-bath rigmarole so this suits me just fine.  I don’t know why.  There isn’t really anything unpleasant about doing these things with Ida.  Maybe it’s just that at the end of the day, it’s nice to have a little break from wiping/picking up/dressing/etc.  She also sometimes tries to bite me when I brush her teeth, so there’s that too.

After her dinner and bath Ida plays a little, we read approximately 90 books and she goes to bed at 7.  I finish making dinner and we usually eat around 7:30.  If I’m rehearsing that evening, I usually leave around this time, leaving something for dinner in the fridge, which Nate heats up right before I’m scheduled to get home.  On nights that I’m rehearsing we usually eat around 9:30 or 10.  Nate has absolutely no time-oriented feelings of hunger, which I attribute/blame on the fact that he lived in a van with 8 guys for a while subsisting mainly on gas station foodstuffs (he was in a band that toured quite a lot).  This is convenient.  And messed up.

I’m not totally sure what happens to the remaining few hours of the day.  Reading?  Television?  Conversation?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Sometimes I craft.  Occasionally I go see dance performances.  The time just seems to elapse.  Maybe I’m relaxing?  Unclear.  I go to sleep around 10 or 11 after reading or watching something Stewart/Colbert/Fey/Poehler on the computer, and usually have blissfully dreamless and uninterrupted sleep.  I’m grateful for this – from what I hear, it’s pretty uncommon for the parents of small children to have a 12-on, 12-off work schedule in parenting.  Ida, if you’re reading this, please don’t mess around with this aspect of our lives.

So there you have it, this mother’s day.  Here’s to you having a great one today!

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.

Ida. Now Available Diaper-Free! Part 1

10 Apr

Disclaimer – this post is long and probably boring to anyone who hasn’t spent a week eating lunch on the bathroom floor and reading the same godforsaken books aloud over and over again (for really any reason I imagine, but I was thinking especially of the particular case of potty-learning with a small child).

Ladies and Gentleman, it is with great pleasure and no small amount of surprise that I announce some strange and excellent news:  Ida is now a diaper-free toilet enthusiast!  Well, she’s really more of a handwashing-sticker-fancy underpants-cookie enthusiast….. but whatever.  The point is, my kid no longer craps her pants.  At least not on purpose.

Since some of you have asked how this all transpired, I have provided a description of this exciting journey in two parts.  Here’s how it all went down:

When Ida was around 4 months old, I got a little potty from the store, thinking that she might like to sit on it sometimes.  I thought it would be kind-of a fun activity (childfree readers might be having some revelatory thoughts after reading that – the “fun activity” part) and I also had in mind that an early introduction might make Ida aware of what the toilet was for, so as to aid her transition from diapers to underpants in some small way.  I read some fascinating stuff about elimination communication, but I quickly opted for a more, how to say….. half-assed approach.  Basically, phase one was just me setting Ida on her little potty whenever I felt like it and reading her a few books.  We had potty time after her naps for a little while, but then I got lazy about that and we took an extended potty hiatus.  I also used to tell her all about the toilet when I was changing her diaper, or when I noticed the telltale half-smile-with-raised-eyebrow that indicated she was in process with a shitastrophie.  I’d say something like “hey you’re pooping!  That’s what it feels like to poop, Ida!  When you’re ready, you can poop on the potty!”  All I can really say in my defense is that when you’re trying to generate a one-sided conversation for days on end with a being whose primary function is, well, primary functions, the topics tend to get a little basic and weird.  Phase one lasted from about 4-14 months.

Phase two!  When Ida was around 15 months, I started to really hype the potty.  Toileting was getting some serious PR at the Joynt Sandberg residence.  Ida had become very curious about the bathroom my own toilet use, so we’d chat about what I was up to and how I was able to wear underpants rather than diapers with the help of the (glorious, fabulous, fun and exciting!) toilet.  Ida would often express an interest in her own little potty, taking it apart, stacking up all of the parts, stuffing it with toilet paper, and dragging it around the apartment to use as a step-stool to reach breakable objects.  She’d also sometimes point to her potty and then make the sign for “diaper” (a sort-of unfortunate tap on the front of the hips, not unlike some of the dance stylings of the late Michael Jackson).  I’d whip her pants and diaper off and help her sit down on her potty and she’d occasionally (and I think often accidentally) make a deposit.  I’d freak out with the joy of a million unicorns.  Rinse (literally) and repeat.

Eventually, Ida started going over and sitting on the potty while she crapped her diaper.  Then she’d take off her pants and diaper on occasion to do her thing in the potty.  I knew she was getting ready for full-on diaper-free living when she’d request to use the toilet when we were out and about.  She’d make the sign for diaper and I’d ask her “would you like a new diaper?”  She’d shake her head “no” and emphatically make the diaper sign.  I’d ask “would you like to use the potty?”  and with a very smug smile (and a glance around to make sure everyone was watching) she’d nod her head yes.  At a restaurant, a friend’s house – wherever.  I suspect that it had become a bit of a parlor trick for her.  She noticed that the joy of a million unicorns was multiplied by a factor of however many people were in her proximity at the time of her toileting.  She’s no dummy, and may (I’m afraid) have a future in the performing arts.  Heaven help us – another hustling artist is just what this family needs.

Toward the end of Phase 2, I hung a piece of paper up on the bathroom wall and stashed a little box of stickers on the shelf above the toilet.  Ida and I had many talks about how pretty soon, she’d get to start wearing underpants, and how with this new great power, came great responsibility.  “You can’t just freestyle in your underpants – you need to use the toilet for pees and poops” I told her.  She solemnly nodded.

Readers who know Ida can attest to her peculiar and adult-like understanding of the things transpiring around her.   It’s not just me – as in, I’m not just saying that because I’m her mom and I think her boogers are tiny amber gemstones.  It’s real – the kid KNOWS what we’re saying and doing.  All the time.  I’ve taken to enlisting her help to find stuff I’ve lost.  I’ll say “Ida.  Can you please find Mama’s black notebook with the rubber band around it?  Can you find mama’s other grey shoe?”  And sure enough, the kid comes toddling over with the object a few minutes later.  She found an earring once when I asked her to.  I still don’t know where she finds half the stuff I ask her to fetch.

Anyway, I had a plan and it was this:  I decided that every time Ida peed or pooped in the potty I’d offer her the box of stickers.  She’d choose one (this was often a lengthy, non-linear process) and stick it on her sheet.  Then I’d give her a little bit of toilet paper because she insisted that she wipe.  God have mercy if you tried to help her with any part of this process.  Then I’d pull out a stool and she’d climb up to the sink and wash her hands with near surgical precision.  She took the handwashing component very seriously.  Then, I’d offer her a frosted animal cracker.  I still think it’s funny that she believes these to be rare and fabulous delicacies.  I’ve given them the unfortunate moniker “potty cookies”, which always makes me think of my father saying “road apples” when we would visit Mackinac Island in our youth (Greer, if you happen to be reading, you’re welcome).

Once we were on a bit of a roll with the practice paper, stickers and other toilet pageantry, I was kind-of just waiting for a sign that it was time to go sans diapers.  Up until this point, Ida was always in a diaper, but would often keep it dry and clean for a considerable stretch, and would semi-frequently request to use the potty.  But like many of you (all of you?  hopefully?), I had no idea how often she was peeing.  Was it a tiny little bit every 10 minutes?  Did she know when she was doing it?  I wasn’t totally sure what I was waiting for, but decided to take Ida on an undies-choosing shopping trip so we’d have underpants on hand when the mystical moment arrived.

After removing all franchised princess’ pneumonic horses, and spunky latina explorers from the mix, I let Ida pick out several packs of undies.  I had a moment of surprise when she chose boys underpants (while exclaiming “pup! pup!” upon seeing a cartoon monster emblazoned on the butt), but almost immediately thought “why in the world would I care about this?”  As someone who used to tell people when they asked if I was having a girl “well, the sex is female, but we’ll probably have to wait until she’s older to find out about her gender” this moment of tiny panic was pretty funny.  Far be it from me to decide that Ida does not require a tiny flap in the front and sturdier waistband.  Maybe she knows something I don’t.  Anyway, we paid for the undies and spent the trip back home discussing underpants and conducting a thorough examination of their properties.  She was very excited about the underpants and suggested (demanded) that they be placed in an accessible spot so that she could inspect them at her leisure.  I put them in a basket by her little potty and she took to sitting on the potty and slinging dozens of pairs of underpants on each leg, examining each one and admiring their beauty.

Two weeks passed.  Ida woke up one monday morning and uncharacteristically lost her mind when I tried to change her diaper.  She was screaming and thrashing around until I took the new diaper away and asked her what was wrong.  “UNDIES!”  She screamed.  I lifted her off the changing table and she took off at a run for her potty.  She peed, pageanted and then chose a pair of underpants out of the basket.  She was so very pleased.  I was kind-of shocked.  I was not planning on a potty-intensive week and had a pretty full work schedule ahead.  I decided we would just work it out together.  We’d just do our best.  I knew the folks who take care of Ida while I’m at work would be supportive and helpful.

There was a little scuffle when I tried to put pants on her that morning.  “UNDIES!”  It became clear that the underpants needed to be visible and that donning pants would seriously impair her ability to admire their beauty.  Socks and a shirt were sometimes permitted.  Welcome to Phase 3, I guess.