The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Friday, October 29, 2004

Why won't anyone in this house use a potty?

I took the cat to the vet this afternoon to try to confirm that she has been peeing and pooping on my carpets out of spite rather than because she is suffering from some terrible illness. Sure enough, the diagnosis was a big fat case of belligerence. The vet suggested additional litter boxes (MORE opportunities to clean up shit around here? Is he kidding?) and I mentioned that it's kind of a challenge to find places to put litter boxes where small children can not help themselves to the contents. He recommended we use some kind of gate that would keep kids out but provide a small opening for the cat to get through. Sounded like a fabulous idea, so I asked when we could find one of those. Turns out they don't really exist, but he thought maybe we could make one (get this) out of CARDBOARD. I'm usually a little better behaved among the clueless non-parents of the world, but I couldn't help it -- I looked at him incredulously and asked "do you have children?" He confessed he did not. "Didn't think so," I replied. "Cardboard does not contain toddlers."

I realize the man's job is to care for pets, not people, but I really left there with the distinct impression that he felt that our decision to procreate was incredibly irresponsible and unfair to our household pet. I feel for the animal, really I do. There are full weeks when I scarcely have time to make sure she's still breathing these days, and that's really not nice of me since I used to dote on her when she was my only baby. But here's the thing. There are no "farms" for little girls who will not go pee pee in the potty. But there sure as heck is one for cats. And at some point, if someone around here does not start using their potty, I'm liable to snap.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

In praise of Veggie Puffs

There have apparently been some changes to the "first foods" category since Julia mastered solids a few years ago. The product which my playgroup has been raving about the most is a new snack called Veggie Puffs, which are easy to pick up and melt in the mouth quickly. I couldn't wait for Evan to be ready for finger foods based on my friends' glowing endorsement, but when I actually got them home about a month ago, I was horrified to discover that the only things standing between Veggie Puffs and sweetened styrofoam are some creative packaging and an unnaturally bright orange color I can't imagine finding in nature. These things are downright nasty.

I'm sure I would never have let a product of such dubious nutritional value pass Julia's lips, but in another of life's great inequities, I've been letting Evan have them. He's in a strange in-between food stage right now, where he only wants finger foods but doesn't yet have the repertoire or ability to feed himself a full nutritious meal. This is further complicated by the fact that he seems to have some funky texture issues going on and refuses to pick up a single fruit or vegetable. Give him a diet existing exclusively of Cheerios, pancakes, wheat toast and the tasteless Veggie Puffs and he'd be a very happy man. But Julia's subsiding exclusively on grilled cheese, drinkable yogurt and preschool snacks these days, and I feel the need to provide at least one of my children with nutritious meals. Evan's still easier to manipulate, so he's my target. His sister can have her all-dairy diet for the time being -- I give up. But I'll be damned if my 8 month old is going to live on nothing but grains and breastmilk. So I've perfected the technique of putting a bunch of his favorite finger foods on his tray, waiting for him to open his mouth to put them in and then beating him to the punch with a spoonful of veggie or fruit mush. It's probably not very nice of me, and it's probably not going to work all that much longer (the kid's reflexes are getting FAST as a result of this game), but for now I feel vindicated that someone around here is eating well. Believe me, if I could find a version of this trick that would work on Julia, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

So there we were last night, with Evan shoveling Veggie Puffs in his mouth as fast as he could and me shoveling organic garden carrots and brown rice in his mouth as fast as *I* could and I started reading the label on those Veggie Puffs. Would you believe that it actually takes 80 of those things to make up a serving? And that said serving is only 25 calories? Faced with a low cal snack like that, I pretty much had to give them another try. I have to say, by the 7th or 8th Veggie Puff, my mouth was significantly enough numbed to flavor that I actually started to enjoy them. Meanwhile, Julia had gotten her hands on the container and poured herself out a bunch of Puffs. She wasn't eating them, of course (no such luck), but she *had* created a fun game. She was counting out piles of Veggie Puffs and using them to create and solve simple math equations (2+5, 4-1, etc.). I don't imagine this would be most 2 1/2 year olds' idea of a good time, but Julia was enthralled and kept herself happily entertained until Evan and I had finished our race to his mouth and both his tray and his baby food jar were empty.

Obviously, I misjudged Veggie Puffs the first time around. Not only do they serve as a valuable tool for enticing finicky eaters to open up their mouths, they're a terrific low cal snack for harried Moms and a fabulous educational toy for preschoolers. I, too, will be singing the praises of Veggie Puffs at playgroup from now on. I wonder if I could also use them in place of packing peanuts this holiday season...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


There is an episode of Elmo's World which I have seen too many mind numbing times to contemplate in which Elmo plays catch with a baby. He "throws" the ball to the baby by putting the ball in his mouth and then spitting it out with a "puh" sound. Julia loves this episode and is particularly captivated by this scene. Soon after she first saw it, she started echoing Elmo's "puh" every time she spit her pacifier out of her mouth. Pretty soon, "puh" became a verb around here -- "Julia, puh your paci so we can go downstairs" or "I'm coming, Mom... just let me puh."

Julia loves her paci with a passion. Her devotion to that small piece of plastic and latex has never wavered over the past nearly 3 years, and the look on her face when she pops it into her mouth is kind of like the look on a smoker's face when he lights the first cigarette of the day. The use of her paci has been limited to her bed for naps and nighttime since she was about a year old, and she follows that rule dutifully and without complaint. It is nonetheless her greatest joy, and most likely the key to her terrific sleep habits -- she'll interrupt any activity to go take a nap or go to bed for the night with nary a whimper of protest if you remind her that her paci is waiting for her in bed. We've always known that eventually we'd have to take it away and kind of had her third birthday in the back of our minds as the time to do it, but we frankly haven't been in any rush and would probably have come up with reasons to delay the decision indefinitely.

Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Julia volunteered to give it up. To be fair, she didn't so much volunteer as stubbornly refuse to take the bait when her father threatened to take it away. We had been sitting at the kitchen table staring at her dinner for 5 hours at that point and she had still not eaten a single bite. I had made her one of her favorite meals, and when she said she didn't want any, I had said that she didn't have to eat, but she did have to take one bite to try it. I thought that was a pretty reasonable request that would be easily complied with or I truthfully would never have suggested it -- I know better than to get into power plays with my 2 1/2 year old daughter. But for some random reason, she dug her heels in and refused and I was left with no choice but to dig my own heels in. In a scene frighteningly similar to my own childhood memory of 4 hours spent in a stare down with my father over 3 peas on my plate, I simply kept repeating "you don't have to eat it if you don't want. But you do need to try it." I lost the pea battle with my father 25 years ago because I saw him as an authority figure and eventually did as he said. Apparently, I hold no such authority over my own children, because as this night went on, it soon became clear that I was going to lose the chicken soup battle with Julia as well.

Finally, desperate to end the deadlock so we could all go get some sleep, my husband asked her if not taking a bite was important enough to her to give her paci up over. He really thought he was playing the ultimate trump card when he made the suggestion or again, he probably wouldn't have suggested it. But Julia saw his hand. She quickly agreed to the plan -- I think because she saw it as a way out without backing down -- and went right up to bed without complaint and without her paci. We were left vowing never, ever to get into another power play with our stubborn, strong willed daughter and at the same time wondering whether it had just been that easy to get rid of the paci.

Her stoicism that first night was amazing. Her jaw was set in the fixed way that always makes me flash forward 15 years and shudder to contemplate parenting her as a teen as she slid quietly under the covers and closed her eyes. We held our breaths and waited. She woke early the next day and was unable to put herself back to sleep without her paci, but seemed in fine spirits. That next afternoon, she played quietly in bed at nap time but never actually slept -- unusual for our 3-hour-a-day napper, but not completely unheard of. And the next night, despite some additional whining and tears, she once again fell off to sleep paci free without saying anything about what was missing. The stress was clearly starting to get to her -- the lack of sleep and inability to soothe herself with her favorite comfort item were beginning to take their toll and of course we all knew why. But she refused to say a word about it.

By the third day, Julia was a wreck. She hadn't napped at all and was losing several hours of sleep a night whimpering as she tried to settle herself down or soothe herself back to sleep without her paci. It was heartbreaking to listen to, made even worse by the fact that she still refused to say a word about her loss. I was beginning to envision a lifetime of repression for my poor, unhappy daughter and decided I had to help her find a way to express her unhappiness, so I finally told her a story about a dinosaur named Fred who had given up his paci and was very sad. The minute the words were out of my mouth, she started to cry. "I miss my paci," she wailed. I was relieved that she was finally talking about it, and we had a long conversation about how much she had loved her paci and about new ways that she could find to soothe herself. I suggested she make lists of the things that make her happy and think of them when she was trying to fall asleep, and we made long lists of those things together -- everything from ice cream to tickling her little brother to pigeons (these being what make Bert happy, and thus worth adding to her own list as well).

That night at bedtime, we made our happy list together again, but when I went to leave, Julia became inconsolable. Now that the floodgate was open, she couldn't stop crying. I held her until she fell asleep that night, and when she woke a few hours later sobbing as if her heart would break, my husband said to me "we're simply going to have to give that thing back." I had to agree, but 6 a.m. didn't seem the time. So I held her and told her I loved her until morning while I desperately tried to devise a plan.

At naptime that day, as I tucked Julia into bed, she asked me to help her make her list of happy thoughts. The first item on her list was her paci. At the end of the list, I took a deep breath and said "I have the feeling you're sorry that you said you didn't need your paci anymore, am I right?" She nodded sadly. "Well, then I have a question for you," I said. "I'm wondering why you haven't once said that, and I'm wondering why you haven't once asked to have it back." Her eyes welled up with tears and she shook her head. "It's a hard question, isn't it?" I asked, and she nodded. I waited a minute, and then in a quiet voice, she said "Is it too late to say that now?"
"I don't see any reason why it should be," I answered. "I'm sorry that I gave my paci up," she immediately said. "And I really want it back. Could I have it, please?"

So my daughter has her paci back and will likely still be popping it in at bedtime well into her teens at the rate we're going. I'm sure that some day as we fork over huge sums of cash to her orthodontist, we'll regret caving on this issue. And as much as I'd like to pretend that I taught my daughter an important life lesson about asking for what you need and giving voice to your emotions, in truth I suspect that I really just reinforced the idea that if you cry enough, you can usually get what you want. This experience has reinforced some of the most salient points of parenting for me, though. I'm reminded yet again never to judge any stage I have not yet personally experienced (as I did every time I have looked at a preschooler with a pacifier in her mouth and wondered why that child's mother wasn't doing her job and taking it away). I'm reminded never, ever to lock horns with a stubborn 2 1/2 year old over an issue that is not truly life or death (and let's face it, chicken soup aint life or death). And most of all, I'm reminded that sometimes, backing down can be the best way to win. I hope that some day, I'll be able to teach Julia that one, too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Things I really must remember to get on video

1. Julia singing her favorite songs with new words inserted to describe what she's doing at the moment ("Twinkle, Twinkle, little star... Time to get into the car" or "ABCD eat your peas HIJK don't be messy please").

2. Evan's instantaneous metamorphisis from hysterical tears at the indignity of spoon fed mush to gleeful dancing and delighted incoherent jabber when a box of Cheerios he can feed to himself is produced.

3. Evan's slow but deliberate backwards belly creep -- and the look of confusion on his face as he gets further and further away from the toy he's trying to reach (I always want to make the "beep beep beep" sound of a truck backing up when he does this).

4. Julia breastfeeding her baby dolls --first feeling herself up while muttering "let's see, I did this side at 12..." and then lowering an imaginary nursing bra flap before settling in with a familiar sounding sigh.

5. Evan screaming his lungs out despite any and all attempts to reason with him, soothe him or even muzzle him at 3 a.m. (figure this one will be good birth control some day).

6. The kids giggling at each other -- seemingly for no reason but with a gleefulness that intensifies until you just have to accept the fact that it's their own private joke and you aren't going to get it.

7. Julia "dancing" -- a strange combination of bouncing, arm flapping and heavy breathing that makes Elaine from Seinfeld look like the world's most accomplished dancer (Please, God, let her technique improve before middle school or the poor kid is never going to get a date).

8. The look of bliss on Evan's face as he snuggles into my arms, milk still dripping down his chin, and gently pats my breast as if to say "thank you."

Monday, October 18, 2004

Houston, we have contact

While reading Goodnight Moon to Evan before bed tonight, I asked him where the red balloon was. It was a whim, based on my earlier post about how I still think of him as a baby rather than a person, but I really didn't think I'd get much of a response. Well, damned if the kid didn't point right to that balloon. Guess I'd better start watching what I say around him -- looks like he's been listening!

(Two posts about Evan in the same day. How do you like that?)

I really do have 2 children

Not a single post to this blog to date has been about my son. I think I've mentioned him once or twice in passing, but his sister's really been the star of the show. I cringe to admit how much this carries over into our daily lives as well.

Evan's the quintissential second child. He's absolutely adorable, generally mild mannered and completely charming. If I hear a little old lady oohing and aahing in the supermarket, I know without looking up that my son is flirting madly with her. "He's a second child -- he takes his attention where he can get it," I always tell them. At home, he plays cheerfully with his toys while Julia demands almost all of our attention, and at preschool pickup or the playground, he sits cheerfully in his stroller, watching the world and flashing a heartmelting smile at anyone who so much as glances in his direction.

I love this kid to distraction and am fiercely protective of him, always trying to make sure he gets his fair share. It never seems to happen, though. In the early days, when Julia was having trouble adjusting to his presence in our lives, he would just sit placidly in his bouncy seat while she cried for hours on end. Even now, it seems the attention I give him is always divided -- I'm forever throwing a handful of cheerios on his highchair tray halfway through a meal to hold him over or tossing him in bed with an abbreviated nighttime routine as I rush to attend to Julia's needs. Even when I'm sitting on the floor stacking blocks with Evan, I'm threading beads onto a necklace for Julia or helping to dress a doll at the same time. I realize she's not getting all of me either, but it always seems like she's louder so she gets her needs met first. And I know at this age, she *did* have me all to herself.

By the time Julia was 8 1/2 months, I truly felt as if she was a person, and I knew her inside out. Evan's still just my baby, and when I catch him pressing buttons on the remote control and staring longingly at the TV or putting his stacking cups together I'm more than a little surprised to realize he's growing into a real person without my noticing it. He's probably never going to be the first to do anything around here (except maybe potty training at the rate his sister's going). But that doesn't mean he deserves anything other than our full attention and delight when he does do things. Fortunately for him, he has Julia. "Kiss Evan first," she tells her Daddy when he comes home at the end of the day. "Get something for Evan," she tells me when I offer to buy her a treat. The kid may have parents with divided attentions, but he's got the ultimate champion in his sister.

It's sweet, and I hope it's the beginning of a life-long special sibling relationship for the two of them. But it also means, upon reflection, that even a post about Evan turns into a rave about Julia. I'm beginning to understand why my younger brother called me the day before Evan was induced to say "promise me you'll give this one a little extra attention -- it's hard being the second kid." At the time, I laughed at him and teased him about never getting over his childhood inferiority complex. Now I kind of get it a little more. My brother got past the inequities and grew up to be a happy, well adjusted adult, and I'm sure Evan will, too. I just hope I can pay attention long enough to see it happen.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Once upon a time

I've been taking short cuts during Julia's nightly requests for me to tell her a bedtime story lately. Instead of weaving elaborate tales, I've simply been telling the same generic story over and over. "Once upon a time, there was a (insert animal of the night here) and her name was(instert random name -- usually one of Julia's choosing)." She was a happy animal who loved to go to school, do art projects, sing songs, play with her baby dolls, do puzzles and eat yummy snacks. But her favorite part of the day was always coming home to her Mommy and Daddy, because they loved her very, very much."

Boring, I know. But by the time we get to this point, she's already been through a full bedtime routine, complete with a story read to her by Daddy. I've already nursed Evan and gotten him down and am usually ready to gnaw off a limb, I'm so hungry. I really just want to get my goodninght kiss and get out of that room as fast as I can so that I can get on with the business of making dinner. I sort of figure if I throw together a feel good story and still get out of there in under 30 seconds, it's all good. Truthfully, I'm paying little attention at that point -- I'm a Mommy going off duty after a long day and my eye is on the time clock.

That's why I found it doubly sweet to get drawn back in the other night by Julia's response. "Mom," she said reproachfully, "these stories are really all about me, aren't they?" Surprised that she'd gotten that, I admitted they were. "Then why do you pretend that I'm a horse or a duck?" she asked. "Why don't you just say that once upon a time there was a girl named Julia and you loved me very much?" I was pleased that she'd developed the ability to read between the lines and find deeper meaning in stories. But even more than that, I was pleased that she's secure enough in her world and our love for her to presume that a story about a happy, loved child must be secretly about her. Despite my parenting short cuts, I guess I'm still doing an OK job.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Confessions of a potty training failure

Julia's always been the easy kid who hits milestones early and without trouble. She's a good natured, easy-going kid and while I've always been sympathetic to my friends' parenting road blocks, we frankly haven't had too many up until now. Until the potty came along.

I actually assumed Julia would end up potty training herself (oh, fool, thy name is Mommy). At about 18 months, she started getting upset whenever her diaper was wet because she'd "ruined" whichever Sesame Street character was on her diaper that day. She was so worked up and hysterical every time she urinated that I was sure she must have some sort of a bladder infection. After 3 hours in the doctor's office trying to get a urine sample, it turned out she was physically just fine -- she simply was overthinking the act of peeing. I thought about training her then, but decided that her body wasn't physically ready and she was so upset already that failure would put her over the edge. So we started talking about how everybody pees, and if she got upset about going, we'd instantly start a discussion about who else she knew who pee pees. It eventually turned into a "Rain Man" routine -- I'd know Julia has wet her diaper because she'd suddenly start muttering "Mama pee pees. Yeah. And Dada pee pees. Yeah. And Grandma pee pees..." Really charming stuff, especially in public. But at least she wasn't crying. And I was convinced that with this much awareness of her bodily functions this early, as soon as she was physically ready she'd be letting me know.

Fast forward a year to the beginning of this summer. The little potties had been out in our bathrooms for almost a year and they were serving as great stepstools and places to teach dolls to pee pee, but Julia was showing little interest in participating in the process herself. The summer seemed the best time to work on this, so I cheerfully started down the potty training road. I still kind of figured it would all be a no brainer -- Julia had all of the "readiness signs" on the online checklists and was in a fabulous cooperative phase. "Done within a week or two," I told myself as we began.

In no time at all, it became clear that this was not going to happen in a week and in fact was going to be anything but easy, but not for any of the reasons the "experts" told me to expect. Julia got the concept instantly and her body was more than mature enough. But the kid simply refused to go in the potty. I could put her in panties and she'd keep them dry for hours, but not by replacing a diaper with the potty. She just didn't put her pee pee anywhere, and when she finally couldn't hold it any more, she'd wet her panties and then wail. Sigh.

So we backtracked again. To try to get her comfortable with the potty, I suggested she might want to go "on" instead of "in". She loved the idea, and before I knew it, every time she had to go, Julia went to the bathroom, pulled down her pants, sat on the potty and went. If we were out, she'd tell me she needed to go and patiently wait until I found her a bathroom. She was even staying dry through naps and most nights. It was all idylic. Except for one problem: her pullup stayed up the whole time and after she'd gone "on" the potty ("not in, Mommy!"), I'd have to change her. Now we were running for potties all over town *and* I was changing diapers. Fabulous. :)

Last Friday, I finally decided enough was enough. She'd done the hard part -- she'd mastered physical control over her body. Now I just needed to help her through the emotional part. So I took a deep breath and announced that we'd run out of diapers. Julia cried for 5 minutes, then gamely pulled on a pair of panties. They stayed dry all morning. So did her potty. I let her have a pullup for nap and she drenched it, then cheefully changed back into panties when she woke up. They stayed dry until bedtime. So did her potty. I'm sure as soon as I shut the door to her bedroom that night, her nighttime diaper was soaked.

I couldn't decide who had won the first day's battle -- me because the panties had stayed dry or Julia because she hadn't surrendered a drop to the dreaded potty. Day two, I decided we needed more liquids. I pushed every kind of juice concotion under the sun. She must have figured out the connection pretty quickly because she started refusing to drink. Over the course of the next two days, we had a few accidents, many, many hours of dry panties and not a single successful use of the potty.

Ever resourceful, I created a new game which I called "potty break." Every time I called out "potty break", Julia had to run to the potty, pull down her panties, sit down and count to whatever number I gave her. I told her she didn't have to *use* the potty if she didn't want, but if she felt the urge to go while she was sitting there, it might be a good time. By the end of the weekend, Julia could count to 100. Not once did she actually go while she was sitting there.

By Sunday, I was getting frantic. We needed to resume our normal lives on Monday and I wasn't sure what to do about classes, preschool, etc. Julia remained a champ about keeping her panties dry. But she had not successfully used the potty even once. I couldn't see sending her out into the world in panties without getting her over that hurdle. So I decided to try to beat her at her own waiting-it-out game. After a dry morning, I put her down for her nap in waterproof training pants and told her that they were special sleep panties that she had to keep dry. Damned if she didn't do it. The kid had consumed 20 or so oz of liquid and had now held it for over 7 hours. I put back on her regular panties and gamely continued our day, but truthfully, I was now beginning to have the feeling my daughter had won. She seemed calm, but I had reached completely crazy mode: crazy that I couldn't find a way to get her past this hurdle, crazy that I didn't know what to do next and downright certifiable that my child could hold her bladder for 7 hours when I'm hard pressed to go 45 minutes without a bathroom break.

Finally, in the late afternoon, in a small quiet voice, Julia said "I think I need to poop." The poor kid hadn't done that at all in 3 days, so I was eager to help her succeed. I offered a compromise: a diaper to wear on the potty just until she'd pooped. She jumped at the chance, but once it was on, decided maybe she could hold her poop a little longer if she could just wear her beloved diaper for a little while. I couldn't take it any more. "You just don't want to potty train, do you?" I asked her. She started to cry.

What's a parent to do? I wanted her out of diapers, but not at the expense of years and years of future therapy to get over the trauma I was inflicting. So I gave her a choice. I told her that either she could wear panties and work it all out herself or she could wear diapers and not talk about it again for a while. If she wore the panties, it was up to her to use the potty -- no more coorcement from me. And if she picked the diapers, I was putting away the potty seats, the pretty panties, the sticker charts, the congratulatory cookies and all of the acoutremont of potty training. She would not be going "on." We would not be discussion her elimination habits AT ALL. Needless to say, she selected Option B.

So we're embracing the diapers. On the up side, Julia's been remarkably good about cooperating with changes -- she knows that her hold on the diapers is tenuous at best and she's determined not to rock the boat. Periodically, she brings up the topic of her panties and which pair she wants to wear when she decides to go in the potty. I tell her I don't want to talk about it. And I must say, after over a year of tripping over little plastic potty seats, my bathrooms are feeling pretty spacious these days.

All of the experts assure me that Julia will not start college, or even kindergarten, in diapers. But since the experts also assured me that she was ready to train and this would be easy, I'm having a bit of trouble taking them too seriously these days. Everything that is difficult about potty training -- identifying the need to go, telling someone, holding it until you get to the potty and undressing, Julia mastered in less than a day. The easy part -- the simply wanting to be a big kid and use the potty, we're still waiting for. I've read everything I can find on the subject and nowhere can I find a suggestion to address our problem. The bottom line is that Julia needs to decide on her own that she's ready to do this. And I can't do that for her. This kid is smart. At 2 1/2, she can sight read dozens of words and sound out dozens more. She can assemble 24 piece puzzles in under 5 minutes. She can (thanks to the potty break game) count to 100 with ease. And she's smart enough to realize that it's easier to go in her diapers than to bother with a potty. What can I say? She's right. Send those Pampers coupons my way... I think I'll be needing them for a while yet.