Category Archives: Isaac

From the Diary of Potty Training Nightmares – Part Three

After one and a half months potty training was a bust for me. Everything I was doing was yielding little results. I would have one success only to be followed by more and more failures. All parties involved where frustrated. It was time to research again. I needed more graphs. I needed more data. I needed more ideas. I needed Google.

Google and I are great friends. I knew her when she was a newborn. Tyler introduced me to her fancy search engine and although he referred to her as a “thing” I knew immediately she was a female, because who else can keep all that information straight and organized?

Google provided me with the fresh restart I needed. If anything it was nice to see what other parents were doing and that I was not the only one. I did get a bit angry at some naive parents’ suggestions. It seems when some people have an easy time with it they feel that everyone else with problems must be doing it wrong. They also have a tendency to rub in their accomplishments. One parent insisted that all she did was tell her daughter to “now pee on the potty” and the next day she was out of diapers. She was chastising another parent that was having trouble telling her, “You’re making this all too complicated. Potty training is so easy!” I wanted to invite her to my home and prove it to me. I also wanted to crush her spirit.

I have never wished harm on another human, so I knew I was stressed on the subject when I had these thoughts. I also knew I was getting delirious when I was willing to spend unimaginable amounts of money to help me get the potty job done. I am extremely frugal and when I was looking up flights to the other side of the United States for a potty training boot camp I knew I was hitting my breaking point.

I did stumble on some interesting information during all my research and decided to completely change my attitude about the whole thing. I decided to make the process more fun and inviting. It needed to fit both my personality and Isaac’s.

First of all I needed to teach Isaac a few skills to help him feel successful. He needed to know what wet and dry meant. He needed to be more of a pro at pulling his own pants down. He also needed to be clearer on what was expected of him. He also needed more motivation than just pleasing his parents.

For the next few weeks I worked on these skills with him. I would point out wet items and dry items in the house. He wore mostly cotton underwear at home so I could continue to show him wet and dry and say, “hey you are going pee pee.” When I would notice he was going, I would say “now you are wet. We like to stay dry.” I would try to make this as non-threatening and casual as possible. I then would comment, “someday you will put your pee in the potty. That will be awesome!”

I had him watching every potty video I could find that I felt was of high quality. The fact that Elmo used the potty too was a huge eye opener for him. We talked a lot about the potty and how we all use the potty. I got a ton of children’s potty books and read them to him often. We would talk about the characters and point to the pictures. We would take field trips to our own potty and talk about the things we read about. Our toys used the potty often and we would wipe their bottoms. He had a set of bath cars that would fill with water in a small hole out the bottom and we would hold them over the toilet and they would “pee” into the toilet. Isaac would dutifully wipe them clean and flush. He was very encouraging to them and would exclaim “Good job, red car! Good job Lighting McQueen!”

I also tried using this same technique for poop. When he would poop in a diaper we would hold the diaper over the toilet and let it fall in and then explain, “Poop’s home is in the potty. Poop belongs in the potty. When we poop we will try to poop into the potty like mommy and daddy.” For a teaching session I got one of his toys and it would grunt and strain over his potty chair and poop out a Hersey’s chocolate square. It was all I had in my cupboard. The first time I tried this Isaac’s eyes were huge and he squealed in delight. He then dove straight in after the candy and quickly plunked it in his mouth. Thankfully the potty hadn’t been used yet. He then yanked the toy from my hand and shook and squeezed the thing all the while excitedly questioning, “Where is the chocolate? Where did it go? More poo poo chocolate, please!” I learned my lesson not to use anything as easily recognizable as Hersey’s chocolate again.

Isaac was also still weary to sit on the potty. So I had to make that more inviting. I ditched the potty chair for a while, since I felt too many negative feelings were attached to its use. I went and got a potty chair that fit over our toilet seat and a stool. I then decorated up the toilet with paper and put waxed paper over the tank area. I put play dough and some toy cars up there as well. I faced him backwards on the toilet and let him color pages I ripped out of a coloring book and taped to the back of the seat. I chose car characters since he was really into that at the time. I would give him water and after an hour I would take him in there to play.

I did all this for about a month and really only got him to pee on the potty a few times. I was happy with the results, because at this point I was just happy he was sitting there without fuss or major melt down. The real miracle came on a day when I least expected it. He had been sitting on the potty coloring and decided he was done after twenty minutes. He climbed off and we both went into the living room. I noticed I had an email, so I started to reply as he was playing with some toys. We hadn’t gotten around to putting his pants back on.

After a few moments he wandered back into the bathroom and I quickly tried to finish up my email in case he tried to get into some trouble in there. Quiet is never good when it comes from a two-year-old boy.

Suddenly he came running back into the living room exclaiming a bunch of incoherent toddler speak of which I could only understand the words “potty” and “fell in.” He also looked extremely worried. I immediately begin to panic over the number of Tyler’s fancy techno gadgetry that could have been dropped in the toilet. I rushed into the room as if I could save the doomed device or catch it lest it be hanging on a precipice. Upon my arrival I peered into the toilet hesitantly expecting to find an iPod only to discover a child-sized turd. I had never been so happy to find a floater in my life. I knew that it was not in there before and only Isaac and I were in the house. I really hoped I didn’t have a toddler-sized intruder using our toilet that was going to spoil my fun. I jumped up and down and screamed happily and Isaac’s expression changed from worry to glee as he realized what was happening. I immediately took a picture with my phone and sent a picture and text to my husband. I then called him to relay the newest achievement. Tyler awkwardly spoke with Isaac and I while trying to avoid using the words ‘pee’ ‘poop’ and ‘potty’ and not alarm his co-workers to the strange client he might be working with that would require him to use such vocabulary.

My pessimistic side was trying to convince me that this was a freak accident and he probably pooped on the floor and shoveled it into the potty. But my optimistic side was winning out and I was assured that all of our hard work for the last two months was finally paying off. After this point I knew it was all a matter of practice and continue doing what I was doing, since it was finally working.

Isaac randomly used the potty for the next few weeks and I was comfortable with the way things were going. He was not a master of the potty domain yet, but I felt he was getting there.

Just before the beginning of the spring season my brother came to live with us until the baby was due. It was a nice arrangement: he did lots of chores around our house and yard and got free rent until school was out. I slightly fretted over this big change in our household and how it would affect our potty training progress. My brother provided little intrusion in the matter as it turned out and Isaac continued to do well with expected set backs here and there. My brother also provided another cheerleader for Isaac and Isaac didn’t seem to notice that my brother was horrified and grossed out by the situation.

Only after a week of living with us and watching Isaac learn to go on the potty my brother summed up everything about potty training it took me months to learn. He said when talking with a toddler about going to the potty it is best not to ask “do you have to use the potty?” because he will tell you “no.” It is better to tell him “it is time to use the potty.” And then trick him into it and wear him down when he says “no.”

Most importantly, he confided to me “no means yes and yes means it’s too late.”

From the Diary of Potty Training Nightmares – Part Two

Three weeks into “potty training” and I thought I was going to have a mental break. One of the worst things about being a psychologist is that you can diagnose your own mental shortcomings on a moment-to-moment basis. And then check the DSM-IV for accuracy in your self-diagnosis.

It was the middle of winter and I had realized three things. One: most people potty train in the summer so they can run their naked toddler around outside and not worry about the mess. Two: it is recommended not to potty train with an end date in mind. My end date was six months from when I started, because I was going to have a baby. And that brings me to my third point: don’t potty train when a stressful event is inevitable (example: moving, changing schools, HAVING A BABY!). But like all good overachievers when I hear the words “you can’t…” I immediately want to prove I can. It seemed none of the books I read agreed on anything except those points. I was 0 for 3.

I had given up on my end date. I would be happy if I could get Isaac to even speak friendly about the potty. I was also clueless on how to even start the process of getting him to actually sit on the potty. At first I went with what I knew. I had raised dogs and when a dog looks like it’s about to go you rush it outside. After a while they get the idea. When Isaac would fidget or squirm I would immediately rush him over to his potty chair. He would scream and freak, because I think the first few times I was a bit too eager and scared him. Since I am a good little behaviorist I know when something doesn’t work you have to change what you are doing. I figured if taking him to the potty didn’t work I would bring the potty to him. A few times of him peeing and me rushing his potty chair to catch the pee was exhausting. I also hardly ever got the timing right. Most of the time I was following him around with the potty chair. He would sneeze or pause in playing and I would fumble excitedly with the chair and slide it under him like a baseball runner trying to get past home plate. He would give me a look of confusion and concern that I am sure I will see again when I am old and senile.

I continued to take data on his fluid intake and urine output with baffling results. I never took physics, but even I know what is outside the realm of possibility. If anyone can explain to me how you can pump over 8oz of fluid into a little body and not have any pee come out the other end for over 3 hours I would love to hear the mathematical and anatomical theories on that.

It was evident that Isaac was overwhelmed as well. One night I decided to test my rusting child counseling skills to see how he felt about all this potty training business. Each of his toys used the potty and we clapped and cheered for them. Isaac’s enthusiasm for each successful toy I could tell was lack luster. I could even detect a bit of envy. I then took his favorite stuffed animal. A yellow duck we named Brahms, because when you pull his tail Brahms’ lullaby tune plays out of his butt. I told Brahms he had to use the potty and Brahms said he didn’t want to and kept exclaiming “No!” I then walked Brahms over the potty chair and had him sit on it. I puppeted Brahms yelling and screaming to be left alone in the same fashion I had witnessed a certain toddler doing the last few weeks. Isaac clapped and squealed in delight, gleefully encouraging his toy’s rebellious outbursts. I then had a long talk with Brahms that it was time to use the potty and that we all use it at some point. After much discussion Brahms decided to give the potty one more try and sat on it with pride as he peed lemonade I had hidden in a syringe behind his back. Isaac’s face crumpled and the look of betrayal would have been almost comical if it hadn’t been so revealing of his true feelings. He marched over to the offending toy and yanked him from the potty. He then screamed a loud “No, Brahms, NO!” and promptly ran over the kitchen cupboards and thrust the toy inside and slammed the door.

My husband’s eyes lit up and with his eyebrows raised higher than I have ever seen them whispered to me in his best psychoanalysis impression, “So, Isaac, tell us how you really feel.”

I then tried to smooth things over only to get pulled into a rousing game of “no.”

“Isaac do you want to take a break?”
“Isaac, do you want a snack?”
“Isaac, let’s go for a bike ride.”

I tried to soak up as much comfort and joy from the game as I could, but I let out a big sigh. I was frustrated too. Neither of us were happy and I rhetorically stated, “You are probably as frustrated with this potty training as I am.”

There was a short pause.

“Uh…yes?” he answered as if trying the word out for the first time. I was hoping the day that word magically appeared in his vocabulary would be cause for celebration after months of hearing its counterpart, but instead I felt empty.

From the Diary of Potty Training Nightmares – Part One

A few months before my second child was to be born I decided it was time to potty train my first. I pretty much fretted and stressed over the day that I would have to confidently begin this process. When he was younger I tried to implement some “pre-potty training” activities with failing results. I still shuddered at the memory of the day his first potty arrived in the mail. He eyed the little chair with a hole in it with concern. He couldn’t really talk at this point, but if he could I am sure he would have asked me how someone could sit on something they might fall through. The potty was very obviously a doorway into hell as far as he was concerned. I promptly took off his pants and tried to get him to sit on it with no success. I then tried to get him to sit on it with his clothes on and still, no go. I put the potty in the bathroom and tried to coax him on each time we would go in there. It took a long time before he felt confident to use this seat. I wondered how I was supposed to potty train him when he would refuse to sit on the potty.

Up to this point my potty training experience only applied to the three Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies I had trained. I figured a child was smarter than a dog so he should catch on at some point. I had visions of my son in High School using the lawn to go the bathroom and me following behind him with a black plastic bag to tie and keep in my pocket until I could find a place to throw it away.

I began my initial training experience armed with knowledge I had gathered off of the Internet. It was confusing and strange trying to gather information I could use. One professional insisted that children should not be trained until they are at least 3, while another provided statistics that waiting too long would only make the process harder and create bladder and bowel problems. Already I had conflicting information from two different schools of thought on the subject. Some moms insisted that boys were harder than girls to train and other moms boasted their children were trained over night or in a week after some light coaxing from them or another family member. I longed for such a miracle to happen with my experience. I took one look at my stubborn son and decided that this was going to be awful.

Like most parents I looked to this day with fear. I wanted to just get it over with. I wanted the miracle child who woke up one day and said “Mummy, I want to use the potty!” I wanted someone to do it for me. And I wanted it done yesterday.

To make matters worse Isaac was just entering that horrible “no” stage. Children are smart about the use of the word at first, so it sort of sneaks up on the parents. At first we were amused at his use of the word. I would hold out a favorite cracker and ask, “Isaac do you want a cracker?” and he would mumble “no” as he grabbed and devoured the offering. Tyler and I would chuckle and muse over the cute interaction. We were also proud. After all, that counted as one of his first words next to “mommy” and “daddy.”

The next trial of “no’s” Isaac began to have more meaning behind the word. He would say no to just about everything. There is a certain kind of comfort and joy knowing what the answer to every question will be. Predictability I came to expect and look forward to hearing. I would tell Isaac, “It is time to wash your hands.” Isaac would put forth his inevitable ‘no’ and look distressed for a moment. To most watchers it may seem he might put up a fight, but once I picked him up and started the task he would calm and do it anyway.

As time went on the ‘no’ was still a staple answer and although I began to tire of hearing it I still felt comforted knowing it was coming. Even if at this point he was beginning to shout it out and adding more venom behind the word. I even started to have a bit of fun.

“Isaac, do you want a BMW?”
“Isaac, do you want a foot rub?”
“Isaac, would you like a personal chef to create a confectionary masterpiece in which Gregorian Monks of the Swiss Alps grow the ingredients?”

Isn’t this a fun little game? See what I mean by the ‘no’ providing predictability bringing comfort and joy? “Soak up the comfort and joy,” I would tell myself.

Just the other day I was in the store and saw a weary mother pushing her toddler in the grocery basket. The toddler was in a feisty mood and was exclaiming ‘no’ to just about anything the mother offered. She finally asked in a huff: “Do you want me to buy you a private island?” The little girl screamed out a “NOOOO!” and the mother gave a little smile to herself and mumbled, “I thought you would say that.” I could practically taste the comfort and joy dripping off her. Other parents were playing the same game. It must have been universal. I wondered if I visited the poorest villages of indigenous countries if the parents there were having as much fun.

The key is to ask for something the child doesn’t quite understand yet. Otherwise it backfires.

So I began potty training. I started out when Isaac was a year and a half, just making him sit on the potty when I would go to the bathroom. Six months later Isaac was still refusing to sit there. He also became more deliriously angry to follow me in there as time went by. I decided that the easing into potty training method was not working for either of us. I started to do some more research. And by research I mean I read just about every book available by a creditable author on potty training. I also took notes and created a behavior plan. Don’t judge me, I have a Master’s in child psychology and after seven years of school they practically bore the natural mother instinct out of me. I have to read to fill in those instinctual gaps. And create behavior plans.

With charts.

And graphs.

(and ok I admit…the occasional statistical data. BUT you have to admit the charts and graphs are meaningless if you don’t have the means and averages to back them up!)
I measured Isaac’s fluid intake and noted the average time it took for him to urinate. I filled in the data on my chart and began to draw predictions on when his next urination session would occur. The graph was color-coded.

I decided a blind study was not conducive to my experiment, so I decided to explain to my test subject the nature of study.

“Isaac,” I started “We are going to begin potty training.”
“No,” he replied dutifully.

I love it when my test subjects are as excited as I am.

“You will use the potty to pee and poop.”

I felt the stirrings of comfort.

“You will no longer wear a diaper. You will only wear cotton underwear or nothing at all when we are at home. I haven’t decided what we will do when we need to go out.”

I felt joy.

First Haircut

Update: A version of story has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms. Check it out!

Today I took Isaac in to get a haircut. I love our little local shop and it is just a few short blocks away from our house and provides a perfect outing walk. As I was walking to the shop I remembered Isaac’s first haircut. I think every parent looks on their child’s multitude of firsts with love, pride, and happiness. I wish I could do the same with Isaac’s first haircut.

It started out on a cold morning soon after his first birthday. Tyler and I had decided that it was probably time for Isaac to get his hair cut for the first time. He looked a bit like a roughed up hippy and while we found it cute we had gotten a few polite comments from family members that alerted us to the fact that it looked “shaggy” and “unkempt.” Social pressure led us to believe that by not cutting our son’s hair we were making a statement against the establishment and we didn’t want to seem Un-American. Off we trotted to a salon that specialized in children’s hair. “Make you child’s first haircut memorable” it boasted. That was what we wanted, so we swaggered into the shop and proudly announced that it was our son’s first haircut.

If I was expecting balloons and a parade I would have been greatly disappointed when a girl unexcitedly pointed to a sign that read “please sign in.” I looked around and there was nobody in the shop. My husband and I were baffled, but figured they must have lots of appointments and a busy schedule so we signed our son’s name. The girl was sporting a nice skeleton tattoo on her arm along with her short spiky black hair and extra thick mascara. She was sipping a Snapple while she watched a TV over in the corner above one of the styling stations. The sneer on her face did little to assure me of her ability to work well with children, as I would expect any shop specializing in children would provide.

Tyler and I looked eyed each other while we tried to communicate with our special marital telepathic abilities. “Should we go?” I tried to wiggle with my brows in Morse code. “No, too awkward to leave now” he shrugged and coughed in wordless response. I did notice him eye the door longingly. Isaac began to fidget and wanted to play with the toys in the waiting room. Several of the books were chewed around the corners. Perhaps this was done by some feral child who had been dragged in from the wilderness by a concerned family member to get a haircut, I mused. I knew some people who would do this for animals and then release them back out into the wild.

The girl finished her Snapple and then calmly walked over to the counter. She checked the sign in sheet “uh…Isaac?” she asked as she looked all around the (empty) room. My husband jumped up and presented Isaac to her. “It’s his first hair cut!” I announced proudly. She looked unamused and asked, “Which chair do you want him to sit in? We only have one that is for really young kids.”

I quickly thought about this choice. Was it a trick question? I appreciated her illusion of choice though, first ask me where I wanted him to sit then direct me to the only choice available: brilliant! The chair she directed us to was a seat that resembled a battered circus elephant and was about four feet off the ground. It had a little bench for him to sit on, but no back and the place where he could stick his feet was too shallow. It also lacked a seat belt, but I could see evidence of where one used to be. It was frayed around the edges; the feral child had already been here. And it seems he escaped.

Lacking any sort of safety mechanisms, my husband bravely volunteered to hold our son in place while she cut his hair. After a moment the girl agreed. But she warned: “don’t get in the way ok, my scissors are really sharp.” Yikes, was that a threat? I suddenly began to worry for my husband’s safety. I hoped he wouldn’t try anything shifty, “no sudden movements” I tried to telepath to him, but he was looking away. Darn it, he was on his own.

My husband began to lift Isaac into the seat and as he was doing so I noticed that the seat was covered in hair. There was brown hair, blond hair, and some others mixed in between. Gross! Either the seat had not been cleaned for a few appointments or the calico feral child running around Chico with a well gnawed on copy of ‘Goodnight Moon’ clutched in his jaw had immediately preceded us. I quickly stopped my husband from putting Isaac in the seat. I hoped this didn’t qualify as getting in her way, her scissors did look pretty sharp right about then. “Could you maybe clean off the seat first?” I asked timidly. She looked inside the seat and let out a huff followed by an eye roll. I don’t know if she was annoyed by my request or angry at the hair for not blowing off magically on its own.

When the hair was cleared we continued with our goal: finally our son’s first hair cut! It was already proving to be the memorable experience that they had promised us. I couldn’t wait to see what kinds of memories the actual haircut would provide.

She began with a few snips and then grabbed the buzz cutter. As the buzz cutter hummed away my son started eyeing the thing with desperate concern. His little chest was rising up and down dramatically and already his lip was starting to protrude out in warning that he was about to cry. “Maybe not the buzz cutter today,” I suggest. She barely took her eyes off the television program she was watching as she replied, “Can’t do that, we have to use them.” Huh, I didn’t have any experience with hair cutting, so I was unaware that certain utensils were required. I wondered what they did before the invention of the buzz cutter; perhaps this is why long hair was so fashionable then? I would have to google that when I got home.

Isaac began to cower into my husband as she came closer. When his head was completely buried into my husband’s chest the girl gave out an annoyed sigh. “I can’t get to his hair from there.” My husband tried to move away in hopes to expose some of Isaac’s head for her to work with, but Isaac’s death grip coupled with my husband’s security lock on his body was not providing any entry. I tried to help, but we all had little success and by this time Isaac was wailing and trembling. Isaac’s first haircut doubled as his first traumatic experience. We were doing a great job as parents racking up the first experiences today.

Someone was holding him down, another was prying his head from a safe location and someone else was coming at him with sharp objects that were fashioned after implements of torture. The buzzer squealed and hummed in the background. I tried to dash away all the Sweeney Todd musical numbers and scenes that kept popping inappropriately into my head.

I tried to suggest more forcefully “Can we try to just use the scissors?” The girl was exasperated now. “It will take longer,” she grunted. She didn’t look happy to be the one serving us and continued to go at Isaac with her tools. He screamed and cried and fussed, but she battled on with her task with what would have been gusto, but for the utter lack of enthusiasm. I kept interjecting suggestions here and there and she would assure me that those suggestions would not work for some reason or another.

Finally we were done, and Isaac’s face was red and wet, and he still had a look of horror. I stood shocked with my mouth open at the whole event, while my husband’s face turned various shades of red. I could tell the experience of holding down our screaming son had triggered his fight or flight response. Meanwhile, the girl brought out her most torturous instrument of all and in the most sarcastically excited voice I had yet heard her utter she exclaimed “Smile” and I heard the hollow click and whine of a classic Polaroid. The flash blinded all three of us. If I ever am able to wipe this memory from my temporal cortex, I now have a picture to remind me and place all those horrible memories right back in there.

She gathered up some locks of hair off the floor and haphazardly plucked out the brown hairs that most obviously didn’t belong to my son. When it seemed she was pleased with her selection of blond hairs she taped them on to a yellow photocopied certificate and signed her name. She promptly misspelled Isaac’s name by giving him two s’ instead of two a’s and asked us how to spell “Smith” so she can get it right on the certificate. I didn’t correct her, since I was getting excited thinking about being freed from this place. I thought back to the chewed books and began to understand the stress children go through in this shop and forgave them their transgressions. I mildly wondered if I could chew on a few books while I waited for my husband to finish paying. She pasted on the picture with an Elmer’s glue stick and I realized that the smell of the glue that used to bring me lovely memories of school projects will forever be associated with this trauma.

We loaded up in the car and both my husband and I were speechless. Our son was still whimpering in the back seat. I decided that just this once I would allow him to use the pacifier I stash for naptime emergencies. He took it with a shaky hand that resembled a deprived smoker lighting up. I glanced in the window of the shop and saw the girl already back in her stool and enjoying what was left of her Snapple.

Just then we saw a happy couple walking toward the shop with their smiling little preschool girl. I had the urge to be a good citizen and warn them, but before I could roll down the window my husband was speeding away.

I turned to him instead and said, “Let’s never go back there.” He looked at me with appreciation and replied, “Somehow I knew you would say that.” As the shop faded into the distance the Polaroid began to slowly reveal the picture of the shock and horror that was our son’s first haircut.