The joy of potty training

The week I first tried to potty train Anna is up there with my all-time worst parenting experiences. She was coming up to 2.5, and I’d already had a few months of subtle (and not so subtle) hints from her grandmothers that it was about time she was out of nappies. I decided that the best approach was to stay at home for a week, and go cold turkey – putting her straight into knickers. I prepped with bribes of stickers and Smarties, had reward charts set up, talked her through what was going to happen, and got her to help me choose her new ‘big girl’ knickers. And then launched into a week trapped in wee-smelling house, with an increasingly bored and feral toddler, the washing machine on nonstop, drying clothes draped over every surface, and a bottle of Dettol spray never out of my hand. I was prepared for accidents, but I wasn’t prepared for not one single excretion to be passed on the potty, even by luck. She could sit on the potty for half an hour while I read endless Peppa Pig stories, nothing at all, and then get off and pee on the sofa thirty seconds later.

Towards the end of that week I went out for dinner with a very close and, at the time, child-free friend. She made the mistake of asking me how I was. After a twenty minute rant on the frustration, restriction, irritation and utter mundanity of potty-training in particular and child-rearing in general, I asked her how she was. Pregnant, turned out to be the answer. I spent the rest of the evening desperately backtracking and muttering words like ‘fulfilling’ and ‘adorable’ in a fairly unconvincing and futile fashion.

At the end of the week I admitted defeat. My daughter’s will was stronger than mine. She wasn’t ready – physically or psychologically, and neither was I. The grandparents who had been so encouraging of my attempt were strangely reluctant to accept my open invitation to have Anna to stay for a week and send her back potty trained. She went back in nappies for another six months.

A couple of weeks before her third birthday, with the added pressure of a forthcoming nursery place dependent on being fully toilet trained, we made another attempt. The difference was incredible, We had a couple of accidents the first morning, and then she just got it. Sorted. Done. Three or four months later she announced she didn’t want to wear nappies at night either, and then didn’t. There was a run of nighttime accidents for a few months, but she was determined not to go back to nappies, and so we persisted. Her willpower this time was working in my favour.

After this experience I thought it would all be a doddle with Sophia. Just relax, don’t push it, wait until they’re around three, and then get it done and dusted overnight. Simples.

Except that she had other ideas. From a very early age she hated having a dirty nappy, and would rarely poo outside the house, so I knew she had some degree of control. She also had an adored elder sister who she likes to emulate in every way possible, and so she first started showing an interest in using the toilet or potty at about 18 months. It would obviously have been perverse not to encourage her, and so I did.

We inherited a gargantuan pile of unused knickers from a friend who had bought them in preparation for potty-training her 2 year old, but whose child had also had other ideas, and had outgrown them by the time she eventually got there at 3. I rooted out the potty and the booster seat for the toilet and the step-stools, and prepared to sit back smugly as Sophia potty-trained herself.  Ha ha.

She was stop-start for months – firstly demanding to wear knickers, and then regressing totally and utterly refusing anything other than a ‘lup (Sophia-speak for a pull-up nappy). Then back in the summer I made a terrible strategic error. She had been fairly confidently using the potty 80% of the time for several weeks. Then we travelled to Anglesey. Reader, I was cowardly. I simply could not face a long solo train journey, with two children, a pile of luggage, and buggy, when one of those children might either demand to use the potty or wet herself at any moment. She wore a ‘lup.

And when we arrived at our holiday home, to be greeted by pages of instructions on how we must avoid so much as a grain of sand soiling the plush purity of the light-coloured carpets, I quailed. Sophia had taken against the potty we took with us, and with a vision of spending my holiday on hands and knees scrubbing carpets, or being presented with a mammoth bill on leaving, I gave in to the lure of a week in ‘lups. Only, of course, it wasn’t a week. By the time we got home, Sophia had decided life was much easier when playtime wasn’t interrupted by mummy nagging you to use a potty and that ‘lups were definitely the thinking baby’s solution.

We were away a lot in the summer, then she was a bit unsettled by her preschool’s move to a new building, then she wasn’t very well, then I wasn’t very well…suddenly a week had become weeks had become months.

And then on Saturday she suddenly announced again that she wanted to wear knickers. I know I need to be consistent this time, but I desperately need an infusion of saintly patience. On Monday she decided she needed the potty just as we were leaving to take her sister to school. Luckily husband was still at home, so I screeched at him to take Anna while I looked after Sophia. I’ve tried to learn from this, and encouraged her to try on the potty earlier in the morning routine. Which is fine, except that this morning she sat there for 20 minutes, claiming she needed a poo. Until we reached the moment where we had to leave or be late. Husband this time was over 100 miles away in Nottingham. I had to physically remove Sophia from the potty, screaming and kicking. Anna was crying because she was worried she’d be late (and, probably, because I had totally lost it and was shouting at both of them). It was an even more than usually stressful start to the morning, and I’m still battling the guilt.

I should probably issue a dual apology for this blog post. Firstly to my readers – I do realise that this is probably 1,000 words more than you wanted to read about my children’s toilet habits. It has been very therapeutic to write though, so if you have borne with me this long, thank you. And I promise I’ll write about something else next time. Secondly, to my children. I am very sorry indeed that there is content forever immortalised somewhere in Internet Land about your bowel movements before you were old enough to know better. One day you might have children of your own, and then maybe you’ll understand.

 

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Fear of summer holidays – FOSH

saltwatersI first heard the term FOMO (fear of missing out) a couple of years ago. Referring as it does to social butterflies who have so many exciting invitations that they get stressed over which ones to accept or turn down, it doesn’t really speak to my current life stage.

No, four letter acronym I am suffering from is FOSH (fear of summer holidays). And if no-one else has coined it yet, then they bloody ought to have done, because it’s a real thing, people.

It’s fair to say that I usually approach the long summer holidays with mixed feelings. Part relief and excitement at the freedom from school runs, homework and forgotten PE kits, and actually spending time with my daughter without having to scream instructions at her every thirty seconds (Eat your breakfast! Clean your teeth! Wash your face! Don’t forget your book bag!), and part trepidation at what I’m actually going to do with her for six weeks. My husband points out that my response to this has generally been to manically overschedule, with a plethora of breaks away, day trips, playdates and planned activities at home, meaning that come the end of August I look back wistfully and wish I’d left more time for us to just hang out.

This year, however, FOSH has reached new levels, because not only is my 8 year old on holiday from school, but my 2.5 year old is on holiday from preschool! At the moment she goes to preschool on a Monday, Tuesday and Friday morning, and my MIL looks after her on a Thursday morning. This gives me a chance to do some writing, some household chores and a much needed break from the 24/7 demands of a toddler. I value these breaks like you wouldn’t believe, and generally feel I am a more patient, more creative, and more relaxed mother because of them.

Yesterday was Wednesday, our full day together. The day kicked off with a little light regurgitated-mouse-innard removal from the dining room floor before breakfast. To be fair, that was the cat’s fault rather than the toddler’s, but it set the tone for the day. Half an hour later I was picking up pieces of squidged orange and banana from under the high chair, with toddler still in high chair (schoolgirl error, when will I learn?), when she decided to grab a large chunk of my hair and pull. Hard. I couldn’t physically stop her, as my hands were covered in half-chewed fruit. I tried the voice of sweet reason, to absolutely no avail. I tried my best stern and forceful tone. Nuh-uh. In the end I had to just pull away, leaving a chunk of my hair clasped in her chubby little fist.

We went to a drop-in session at a local nursery, which was fun (lots of interesting toys, outdoor space and other children), and then back home to recommence the combination of coaxing, cajoling, bribery, threats and straightforward physical force to get her to do things like eat lunch, stop the kamikaze furniture surfing, wash her hands after using the potty, let me wipe her bottom after using the potty, have suncream applied, go down for a nap etc etc.

By the time she fell asleep at about 1pm, I was also exhausted. I had a quick break to eat my lunch and look at other people’s beautiful and organised lives on Instagram, and then cracked on with prepping some food and clearing the kitchen. When she woke up we played with her Peppa Pig toys and dolls house, and all was going well until she (more or less accidentally) whacked me in the eye with the sharp corner of a wooden doll’s house sink. In any other work place this would be a trip to  the First Aider, an entry in the accident book, and possibly an early finish. In SAHM world you just thank goodness the weather justifies sunglasses on the school run to hide the tear stains and the swelling!

After school we’re back to the cacophony of voices chattering away to me simultaneously, neither giving any acknowledgement that the other is speaking, or cutting me any slack if I don’t respond instantly and in full.

This is interspersed with the coax/cajole/bribe/threat/force routine in order to get tea eaten, bath taken, teeth cleaned, etc. And a bit more floor wiping, when, in excitement at having done a poo in her potty, the toddler jumps round the room, oblivious to fact that I haven’t yet cleaned her up, and every leap send another little splatter of excrement across the room.

Finally, it is 7.30pm, and the moment I heard husband’s key in the door I was off out of it, desperate to escape the four walls of the house and the ceaseless demands, and have a little walk by myself. By the time I got home, husband had miraculously got the small one to sleep and the big one showered and to bed. All that was left to do was pour a, frankly well-deserved, glass of wine, and cook our dinner, safe in the knowledge that today is a MIL day, and I would get three blissful hours of sanity saving time alone with my laptop.

But in the summer holidays, every day will be a Wednesday. Except that I will have both children and their competing demands with me all day, all the Under 5 activities are close, and when the toddler naps I will feel duty-bound to give the big girl some undivided attention, rather than flaking out and catching up on jobs. Excuse me while I scream rather loudly, please.

We didn’t plan an almost six year age gap between our children, but by and large, it has worked out pretty well. However, I fear that these holidays are going to test us. There aren’t that many things that an 8 year old and a 2 year old both want to do. And those that there are (playground, swimming, baking) require me to give all my attention to the 2 year old, in order to ensure that she doesn’t destroy herself/anyone else/the house, leaving the 8 year old feeling a bit grumpy and neglected, and me feeling more than a bit guilty. When you throw in the demands of potty training, and the fact that toddler only really naps well in her cot, and if she doesn’t get her nap, certainly if she doesn’t get it for a couple of days on the run, then she becomes unmanageably grumpy and difficult, then we’re more than a bit limited in what we can do.

It’s not all bad. We’re spending a week on holiday with my parents, and another week away with my MIL, plus almost a week of other family visits. That will be a change of scene (don’t think about the 6 hour train journey. Repeat after me, DO NOT think about the six hour train journey), and some extra pairs of hands to share the load. At the moment husband is working 12-14 hour days, but he is hoping that things may calm down a bit in the next few weeks, so he might be around a little more too.

As long as I firmly suppress any thoughts of Pinterest worth craft activities, wholesome outdoor fun as they play contentedly together, any nutritional intake over and above mini Magnums, or actually anything beyond basic survival, then I’m sure it will all be fine.

 

 

 

Choose Your Battles

‘Choose your battles’ is the mantra in our household at the moment. Sophia has a will of iron, and if her ideas on what should happen and my ideas on what should happen don’t coincide then we have a problem. A big problem. A problem who, although under 3 foot with huge melting brown eyes, peachy soft skin, wispy blonde hair and an angelic smile, takes only a split second to turn into a tomato-coloured, screaming, screeching, thrashing, wailing termagant.

To be fair, this is usually caused by some gross stupidity or unreasonableness on my part. Only this week, for example, I asked Sophia if she would like a bubble bath. She enthusiastically agreed, but was then understandably furious that these bubbles went onto her skin when she got into the bath. I obviously should have realised the magnitude of this issue and forewarned her. And how could I possibly have given her pasta for dinner, when she doesn’t like pasta? Granted she had cheerfully, even voraciously, eaten pasta for around 60% of her meals since she was about 8 months old, but I should have realised that she doesn’t like it now.

Obviously I want to avoid these meltdowns as frequently as possible, but there are many times when I can’t. Unreasonable I may be, but she is not going to go to pre-school in her pyjamas, or watch Charlie and Lola for five hours solid or put my iPhone in the bath. Nor am I very keen on her communicating her views on where she wants her sister to sit by dragging her there by the hair, or going out in the pouring rain with no coat on, or swinging on the stair-gate. Her teeth are going to be cleaned twice a day, and she does need to hold my hand when she crosses the road and she must be fastened into her buggy so she doesn’t tip out onto the pavement.

With all these red lines which I have to try and stop her crossing, more and more I find myself murmuring ‘choose your battles’. In a perfect world she wouldn’t drop food onto the floor, or hide the green tops of the strawberries she has eaten down the side of the sofa, or dip her finger into her milk and use it to draw patterns on the table. I don’t know how much our neighbours appreciate her compulsion to walk along every front wall of a suitable height, or climb up and jump off every step to a front path. And wearing wellies to pre-school on a cloudless day when temperatures are reaching 20 degrees celsius isn’t necessarily ideal. I don’t want to turn her into a spoilt brat by pandering to her insistence that her snack is served on the red plate not the blue plate, or letting her have said snack on the sofa (all the better for hiding bits of strawberry bits) rather than the high chair, but equally, in the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? Is it worth a full-scale bells and whistles tantrum which leaves both of us tear-stained, frazzled and exhausted?

I’m trying to restrict my restrictions to things which might harm her or someone else, or which set up really bad habits we might struggle to break later. I have broken many rules which I set for myself when Anna was a baby – such as no television in the mornings, except in case of illness. Now, when it’s a Saturday morning and 6.30am and I’ve already been up for an hour, and Sophia is begging to watch (yes, you’ve guessed it) Charlie and Lola I just can’t be bothered to argue. Choose your battles. Letting her watch some telly then means she’s happy because she got what she wanted, I’m happy because I get to potter round the kitchen making banana muffins for breakfast while she is contentedly engaged, before slumping on the sofa next to her for a quick Instagram, fix, and the whole family are happy because they then get to eat the muffins. And the idea of imposing a ‘one toy away before another comes out’ is a distant memory.

Part of me thinks this is fine, sensible even. Why deliberately make both of us stressed and unhappy over arbitrary rules when there’s no need to? Especially as, because of the need to get Anna to school and various other activities on time, I already spend a lot of time telling Sophia that she has to stop playing to come and get dressed, get ready, get into her buggy and go out, so maybe it’s not a bad idea to cut her some slack the rest of the time. On the other hand, I can also see that it might be a slippery slope to total household anarchy, and that this is how youngest children get a reputation for being spoilt!

And then, of course, there’s the times when she sits on the sofa and ‘reads’ a story to her teddies, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and it’s impossible to believe that she could ever have a tantrum at all.

S on sofa

What do you think? Is my ‘choose your battles’ mantra a sensible and pragmatic approach to coping with a  strong-willed toddler, or a lazy parent’s excuse for failing to put their foot down?

The curse of the bunk bed (and other perils of modern parenting).

A friend posted on Facebook last week to say that if she’d known that changing the sheets on a top bunk would not only demand every atom of patience she possessed, but also risk serious physical injury, she would never have bought them in the first place. There was an instant flurry of responses from those of us who are the unfortunate owners of bunk beds or high cabin beds ourselves, with similar tales of woe from the parenting front line.

The general consensus was one of ‘if only we’d known’. It’s the kind of thing you don’t read in the ‘What to Expect’ books. About five years after having your little bundle of joy placed in your arms, the lure of the high sleeper will start to be cast out.  bunk beds of dreamsYou will think of the space saved, the practicality, the ease of siblings being able to share a room or having someone to stay over, the fun of an under-bed den or room for a bookcase or desk. Images of beautiful rooms in the GLTC catalogue will allure. Before you know what has happened, you are locked into a cycle of sheet changing which will take you to the very limits of your endurance and possibly beyond.

For those of us who have succumbed there is no way back. We have the choice of leaving our children to stew in their fetid sheets for years to come, or risking our health and sanity to ensure their hygiene. Or, as one savvy mum recommended on Facebook, bribing your children to change their own sheets.

In the interests of public service blogging I have also rounded up some of the other unexpected perils I have encountered in eight years of parenting. There were many things I expected to be difficult – sleepless nights, poonami nappies, tantrums – and they have not disappointed. But these are the hidden horrors, the things only discussed in whispers at the school gates or toddler group, but for which forewarned is forearmed.

Some time during your baby’s first weeks you will hear the phrase Tummy Time. It sounds like a children’s TV programme, and you don’t pay much attention to it at first. Then, suddenly, it is everywhere. Your health visitor asks you about it, it’s the only thing (other than shades of poo) discussed over coffee with your NCT pals, and you are bombarded with marketing emails flogging products to make tummy time easier.

For the uninitiated, ‘tummy time’ is the practice of placing your newborn baby on their tummy for a certain amount of time each day. This apparently encourages the development of all sorts of muscles which are needed for sitting, crawling and walking. If you are negligent in this respect you will end up being the mother of one of those hordes of otherwise entirely healthy children who never manage to sit up or move by themselves…

All babies seem to hate tummy time (except when you want them to go to sleep – advice to avoid cot death is to place babies on their backs to sleep, and so of course they want to be on their tummies). Anna used to scream blue murder when I placed her on her tummy, and I would be alongside her on the floor crying too, panicking because she’d only done five minutes of tummy time instead of the recommended fifteen. Then I had a lightbulb moment, and stopped trying. Just like that. If she ever let me put her down at all (rare) I put her on her back, on her play gym, where she could see me and her toys and look around. She was happy. And despite my dereliction of duty she learnt to hold her head up, roll, sit, crawl and walk just fine. If your baby doesn’t like it, just don’t bother.

A cute toy on the market for babies and toddlers is a bright yellow egg box, filled with six eggs which crack into two separate pieces to reveal a little chicken in the middle. The chickens squeak. Utterly adorable, non? Actually, seriously, NON. eggsOnce this toy enters your home, you will never know another moment’s peace. Curating all twelve pieces of egg in the box simultaneously has been scientifically proven to be as likely as Donald Trump turning down a sunbed session. You will find half eggs everywhere. And even if your attitude to tidying is as relatively laissez-faire as mine, it will niggle more than you care to admit. Every so often your toddler will have a meltdown because they can’t find all their ‘neggs’, and you will spend the next two hours on hands and knees peering under multiple items of household furniture. Eventually you will triumphantly recover the missing four half eggs, only to discover that in the meantime your toddler has lost all interest in Project Egg and has taken advantage of your distraction to draw a beautiful flower for you. On the wall. And has lost the original egg anyway.

If someone gives you a set of these as a gift then this is what you must do. Smile. Thank them. Immediately walk out of the house to the nearest charity shop and donate them. Hesitation or deviation could be fatal. If the present comes from an older family member or friend, or one without children, then they were as deceived as you, and no blame can be attached to them. If, however, the gift is from someone with children under ten, then I am sorry to be the one to break this news to you, but they hate you.

Another purchase you will be seduced into, little knowing the havoc it will wreak on your back, shins and shredded nerves is the mini scooter. How cute will your toddler look scooting along? How lovely will it be to leave the pram behind but not have to tax little legs with too much walking? How bruised and battered will you be when your pre-schooler tires of scooting and you end up awkwardly carrying them on one hip with the vicious scooter in the other arm, relentlessly banging against your knees, shins and ankles? How mortified when your previously angelic little darling suddenly scoots off at the speed of light down a crowded high street, leaving a trail of devastation in his wake? How fast do you think you can move when your child spots something of vital interest at the bottom of the steep hill you are on? The hill which leads down to a main road…

If you insist your child wears a helmet, then it is yet another item to be found and coaxed into before you leave the house, and another item to carry (along with child, scooter, change of clothes, travel potty, snacks, drinks and toys) when the inevitable disenchantment with scooting occurs during your day out. On the other hand, if you let them scoot sans helmet you will be continually plagued by horrific mental images of A&E waiting rooms, x-rays, concussion and broken bones. Your choice.

Never buy glitter. As soon as glitter enters the house, nothing in it will escape unscathed. Shiny flakes will lurk at the bottom of cups of tea, on the cat, between floor boards, in the bath. glitterYou will never be free. Of course, even if you don’t bring it on yourself, there is a very high probability that some lovingly crafted and lavishly beglittered piece of art-work will make its way home from nursery/preschool at some point. My friend is a primary school teacher. When she got married, her class made her an enormous card, liberally bedaubed with multi-coloured glitter. Two years and a house move later, she was still finding glitter in unexpected places.

 

There are more of course. I could mention World Book Day, and all the other occasions which require your child to attend school in an imaginative fancy dress costume lovingly created with just 24 hours notice. Or the Class Bear, who arrives unexpectedly one weekend and demands not just 72 hours of top-class entertainment, but also that his exploits (educational, healthy but also fun) be documented for the perusal of your child’s teacher and all the other parents in the class. Or the party bags which surge in, filling your home with more e-numbers and plastic crap than you can shake a piñata stick at. But the thing about these, painful as they are, is that they are unavoidable, inflicted on you by outside forces. Bunkbeds, tummy time, toy egg boxes, micro scooters and glitter are all brought into our homes voluntarily, even enthusiastically, as we are ignorant of the chaos and misery they will leave in their wake. It is too late for me. But if I can save just one other family from their fate then I will not have blogged in vain.

 

Being Kind

Last week was not a good week. It kicked off with Sophia ill with a high temperature and a cough. The cough was worst at night, so we were getting woken up every couple of hours by  distressed little girl. Then I discovered Anna had nits (again), and so we had to add daily assaults with the nitty gritty comb into our daily routine, which was popular with everyone. The weather was cold, grey, foggy and, it turns out, poisonous. Air quality in London hit a record low, and it felt impossible to get properly warm. Then Anna fell off the climbing frame at school and hit her head, and then vomited, and then complained her vision was blurry, so we ended up at the GP and then being sent off to A&E. She only had a mild concussion, and is fine now, but it was fun at the time. Then Sophia fell downstairs, top to bottom – she was totally unharmed, but this was the morning after the night in A&E, so my nerves were pretty shattered. The week was rounded off by Sophia falling off the bouncy castle at a party on Sunday and having one of her seizures. And this is before even thinking about the terrifying and depressing political developments in America.

But yesterday, even though it was Monday, and (still) January and (still) cold things suddenly felt better. I had a text message telling me that some friends of ours had had a baby daughter at the weekend, and baby news always makes me happy. I took Anna out for a hot chocolate and some quality mother and daughter time whilst my MIL looked after Sophia, and was reminded how lucky I am to have this bright, funny, imaginative girl. I went out for dinner with my closest friend from those early, blurry, sleep-deprived first baby days and we had a proper catch-up and marvelled at the passing of time which means we are now parents to nearly-eight-year-olds. And after pre-school, Sophia asked if she could sit on my knee to have lunch instead of going in her high chair. I agreed, and she leant back into me, snuggling her head against my chest, and said contentedly “Love you” for the very first time.

Someone I know from years back posted on Facebook this morning that protests against Trump’s policies or against Brexit, are utterly pointless, and instead we should be directing our efforts to loving our friends and family, volunteering at church, supporting colleagues at work and taking the time to be nice to people who we come across in daily life. I couldn’t agree, or disagree, more.

Being kind to the people around us is what we should be doing anyway, and all the more so when there seems to be such a dearth of kindness in high places. And the only way to get though these dark political times is to take time to appreciate and value the little things – sharing a meal with someone you love, the sleepy weight of a child on your lap, a conversation with a friend. But right now I also think those of us who believe in hope not hate should try to do a little more, go a little further, and make our voices heard just as clearly as those I firmly believe are far fewer in number but shout much louder.

This morning I have followed More United‘s advice as to what we can do to fight the horrendous ban on Muslims from certain countries entering the US – a ban which is going to tear families and friends apart. I donated some money to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the ban. I posted a supportive message on my MP’s Facebook page, as Stella Creasy is being very vocal in encouraging the British Government to speak out, and MPs who are taking this stance need our support, just as those who are not speaking out need to know that this is something their constituents care about. And I co-signed the letter which Hope Not Hate are sending to Theresa May, asking her to unequivocally condemn Trump’s actions.

None of this took very long out of my day, and none of it stops me also continuing to try  (even though I don’t always succeed) to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, neighbour and friend. Love and hope are stronger than hatred and fear, and we can, and must, prove that.

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