In case the title doesn’t give it away, this is a post about poop. Consider that your TMI disclaimer. I hope that in sharing this story, that I may be able to offer some encouragement to other families dealing with the same issue.
Last week I had posted on Facebook about some progress being made with the child-who-was-afraid-to-poop. My girl is 4.5 years old, and has been otherwise toilet trained for nearly 2 years. Pooping on the toilet though, has been a monumental obstacle for her. It’s partly a sensory thing and partly an anxiety thing. We have tried everything and tried it again. Nothing has worked. She is not constipated. She goes when she wants to and has no trouble holding it as long as she needs to before she feels comfortable going.
This week I think I can safely say that she is turning a real corner in overcoming her anxiety. I’ve spoken with other moms facing toileting problems in older kids “who should be toilet trained by now” and this is really not as uncommon as I had once thought. It’s quite common in kids with sensory processing disorders or on the autism spectrum, though her sensory issues are mild and she is not on the spectrum.
So what did we do? Honestly? Reverse psychology: I told her to poop her pants. Allow me to explain. When school started in September I changed our goal and approach. Where previously all I wanted was for her to just use the toilet already, suddenly all I wanted was to make sure that regardless of *how* she chose to poop, that she continued to only do it at home. I did not want her to become comfortable at school and start having poop “accidents” there. She generally only goes at home and I wanted to keep it that way.
We changed the conversation and told her that she needs to poop at home and not at school. That pooping is SO good for her body. That it’s healthy. And that if she needs to go in her undies, to try to take off her pants first so that they don’t get dirty too. That she will go in the toilet when she’s ready, and when she’s ready that we will help her.
She would go in her pants and I would tell her “good job, I am so glad that your body is going poop.” She thought I’d gone crazy and would say, “but I pooped in my undies.” And I would tell her again that I just want her to poop, at home, even if it’s in her undies. In her mind I had truly gone off the deep end because I was congratulating her for going poop in her undies. She would hide, someone would notice and tell me, and I would say (loudly so that she could hear me), “that’s okay, she just needs to go poop by herself right now.” Our boys thought I’d gone bonkers too. The stress level associated with pooping had become so high that it was just all bad in her mind. We had to change her thinking to believe that pooping is good. Because it is.
Well last week, which was about a month into school and our new approach, she started to become willing to try to go on the toilet. At first she could not do it, but that was okay. Just trying without becoming upset was progress. I would congratulate her for trying and remind her that pooping is good for her when she would later go in her pants. But then one day she did it. I could see her becoming less afraid when she was trying to use the toilet so I was not surprised when she was able to go. Soon after, she was trying to go again, and she really *wanted* to be able to do it. She was getting upset but not because she was afraid like before – she was upset because she really, really wanted to go and couldn’t.
So in that moment I made a decision. I went into my room and took out a $10 Wonder Woman action figure that I had put away without her knowledge, intending to give it to her when she went on the toilet or for Christmas, whichever came first. Rewards had not previously worked for her, so that was why she didn’t know that I had this doll. But I figured, to hell with it. I showed her Woman Woman (which she had been asking for), promising that she could have it if she went. Well my girl dug deep to overcome her anxiety and go on the toilet to get the toy. Nothing was stopping her in that moment.
She was delighted. And I told her that if she poops on the toilet 5 more times, that she can get the Bat Girl one to go with it. Which was why, the next day or the day after, she came to me, asked for help, and she went *three times* in one day. My mother was worried about her going so much, but because she holds it for so long, that is just her normal. She will go not at all and then a lot in one day, and then not at all again. She did not go again after that day for a couple of days. I knew that she was going to have to go big time soon.
She did. She tried and told me that she could feel it pushing. Which was a huge milestone for her – being able to identify the feeling associated with going without running and hiding and being afraid of it. Still she couldn’t do it even though she tried her best. She did eventually go in her undies because she had to go so much, so very badly that she was scared to use the toilet. She went so much that I had to dispose of it in the trash rather than the toilet, which happens when she holds it for too long. She was so sad. She really wanted to use the toilet. I told her it was okay. I was just really glad she went poop because I didn’t want her holding all of that in. We focused on how much better her tummy feels and how we don’t want to keep that much poop in our bodies. Why? Because pooping is good for us. It has become our mantra around here.
I wondered if she would go back to going in in her undies after that. She didn’t. She has used the toilet properly twice in the last couple of days and earned her Bat Girl to team up with Wonder Woman, just this afternoon.
So much has changed for her in the last couple of weeks. Being able to tell what the urge to poop feels like, and not be afraid of it. Being able to sit on the toilet and try to go, without freaking out. Those two things both had to happen before we were going to see success of any kind. Had I known that telling her she could poop her pants would be what helps her calm down and use the toilet, I’d have given her permission months ago.
It’s tough seeing an older child struggle with their own body. I’m not sure how long it will be before she is able to go consistently. She was in a cycle of holding it for so long that going was scary due to the volume, and then holding it more because she’s afraid to go. As she’s feeling the urge on her own and telling us so that we can take her to the washroom, she is retraining her own body to be okay with that feeling. It may take time for her to respond to “small” urges that she has been used to holding in. That’s okay. Seeing her be happy and excited just to try to use the toilet is huge progress. She IS getting it, one day at a time. That one big accident is actually the only one she’s had in a week. It wasn’t as much of a setback as it normally would have been. (Honestly if I pooped that much I’d freak out too.) Being able to go since then has boosted her confidence even more.
Her next goal is to go not one time or five times, but ten times on the toilet – and she will earn Super Girl to team up with Bat Girl and Wonder Woman. Where was the DC Super Hero Girls movie all this time anyway? Maybe all a girl needs is a hero to help her out! There won’t be rewards forever, and I’m honestly not sure why rewards are working now when they never have before, but after 2 years of struggle, it’s a small price to pay. She wants to be brave like the Super Hero Girls and I am so down with a kid who wants to be courageous in overcoming something that has been unbelievably difficult and discouraging.
I don’t know if sharing this story will help one struggling parent or many, but this is such a tough struggle to walk through with an older child that there was no way I could keep the things that have helped us, to myself. I’m praying that she doesn’t regress and that we continue to move forward on this.
I also pray for breakthrough and success for other kids and families trying to overcome toileting issues in older kids as well. I can honestly say that this is one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced with any of my kids and that is saying an awful lot. Hang in there. I’m hanging in there too.
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
Last September the third of my four children marched off to grade 1, which is the beginning of full day school here. That’s when people started with the question. “So what are you going to do this year with just Rosalie home all day?” It’s a fair question and one I’ve asked other at-home moms myself. At first I thought I was going to work part time from home for my church, but it quickly became apparent that doing so was going to involve trading a significant portion of my sanity, and by October I had to let it go. I considered putting Rosalie in preschool, thinking she’d be bored and need the socialization. That didn’t feel quite right either. Should we join a play group? Put her in a lesson or class of some kind? Join a Bible study or moms group at a church? Hmmm. I didn’t think so.
The problem was, that last September I had been a full time stay at home mom for 10 years, and I was tired. The kind of tired that you feel in every cell of your body. Exhaustion, fatigue, weariness – all of it, all at once. I had nothing left to give to anyone or anything. What energy I did have was going to Rosalie during the day when the boys were at school, and all four kids when they weren’t at school. When people asked me what I was going to do all day with just Rosalie, I couldn’t think of a single answer that involved doing anything at all. Caregiver burnout of a kind I did not know existed had fully set in and I was quite happy to not have to do anything. The concept of Sabbath for mothers is insanity. When mothers rest, the house burns down. Rest comes in seasons and I felt that this was a season I had come to, quite unexpectedly and not entirely of my own free will.
So I made the unintentional decision to just say no to almost everything. I did (almost) nothing all year from September to June. Rosalie and I spent a good majority of our mornings in bed. She’d wake up while the boys were getting ready for school with Glenn, and crawl into bed with me. While they packed lunches she’d watch Netflix or play Starfall on the iPad. I’d doze off or play on my phone. Some mornings she’d just snuggle in and go right back to sleep. The boys would come give us hugs and Glenn would bring them to school. We’d saunter on downstairs for breakfast whenever we felt like it. Or sometimes Glenn would bring her a cup of milk and granola bar in my bedroom before he left, because we were just not in a hurry to move or do anything or be anywhere.
We had some play dates, although almost all of them were initiated by other people. We ran errands. We stayed home and read books, drew pictures, cleaned the house, did nothing, went for walks, played at the park. It was the most unproductive year I’ve had in my adult life. Rosalie didn’t seem to mind. When you live in a house with this much testosterone coursing through it, the times when everything is still and quiet are rare and valuable. She’s as independent as I am and enjoyed quite a bit of alone time with her babies and teddy bears and horses and imagination. At various times over the year I thought for sure I needed to get the both of us out more, but I just could not bring myself to do it. I prayed about it even, thinking that surely God must have some kind of direction or intention for this year of my life.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus, Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
That verse has come to me a lot this year. It’s difficult to submit to rest and nothingness when you are a type-A, take charge, kick ass, no mercy kind of personality. I did it though, and it was good for me, much as I am loathe to admit it. I’m not sure when it happened, maybe around the New Year, but as the time wore on in this my year of nothing, as I came to start calling it, I began to come back to life again. I had more energy. I felt less guilt over needing what felt like an excessive amount of time to myself, even for me. I was able to think through and process some of the complicated years of raising and figuring out these boys of mine. When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t think. You just do. You move forward in whatever direction you have to. You go to the assessments, you fill out paperwork and answer so very many questions, you call the ambulance while your boy turns blue, you go to a thousand doctor appointments, you get the diagnosis, you try the inhalers and meds, you go to more doctor appointments, you meet with teachers and sign IPP’s and fill out medication release forms, and you just go, go, go. There is no time to stop and that was okay. Until it wasn’t. Until I wasn’t.
Caregiver burnout is a real thing. I’m not a doctor or psychologist or professional but I am a stay at home mother and after 10 years of caring for all of my people, I burned out. And so I stopped. I stopped everything and just did nothing. I loved the time with my daughter and spent every waking moment with her for this whole year just because I could. She was my only yes all day every day. I read when I felt like reading. I wrote when I felt like writing. I purged old toys and clothes and things out of this house at a rate that almost alarmed my husband. After school we played at the park with the boys or went to the lake or for walks. Sometimes I went to church and sometimes I didn’t. I sat down and colored with my kids at the kitchen table. We went to the zoo. We watched movies. I spent time in prayer, in silence, meditating on Scripture and on the words in the songs we sing in worship to God, copying Scripture, and listening for the still, small voice of God. With His help I got myself un-burned out and didn’t feel bad for one second that the only people who got my time or energy all year were my kids and Glenn.
By spring I was applying to go back to school. Life had not slowed down but I had slowed down in the middle of it and suddenly I could think straight, see straight, and make rational decisions again. Oh this year of nothing, it was necessary and it restored me but it certainly went fast. The funny thing is that when I got my boys back at the end of June, it was them who were burned out from a long, busy, productive school year. They had as profound a need for rest and nothingness as I did last September. Rest is good, as it turns out. I learned a lot about making room for rest, and that a lot happens when you think you’re doing nothing. All of us are rested now and about ready for more.
Now the big question is what I’m going to do when Rosalie goes to kindergarten this fall. I’m taking classes. Not too many. One or two at a time, and all from home. Kindergarten is only half days, less than 3 hours actually. The part of the day when she’s home with me? We aren’t going to be doing nothing this next year. I’m done with that. Now? We’re going to be doing everything. The two of us in the morning, me alone in the afternoons, all four of my rascals the rest of the time, Glenn too when he’s not working. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s time. My Sabbath year of nothing, of rest, of giving myself time and space to breathe and answer to no one but my Maker – it restored me. As He promised.
Moving out of this year of doing (almost) nothing, it has become apparent that while the concept of Sabbath may be insane for mothers, living life without making space for some kind of Sabbath rest will about drive a mother insane. I’m not good at moderation but I’m going to give it a shot. I don’t know who is reading this, but maybe I’m not the only one who needs to intentionally make space for Sabbath rest. Perhaps I won’t get to the point of needing a year of it again, if I can make a disciplined habit of it instead.
(I’ve already tried to imagine what I’m going to do with myself when Rosalie goes to grade 1 and is at school full time like the boys. We’re over a year away from that and I can’t picture it without freaking out. That much peace and quiet is likely to be way too much me time. I’m going to need to take a lot more classes or find some time consuming hobbies or get a part time job. Funny how moderation works in both ways!)
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
We Aren’t In Kindergarten Anymore, Toto
On Parenting A Preteen
by Jenna Pelias
People keep asking me how I feel about Rosalie going to kindergarten. I’m still not even 100% sure we’re sending her, but to be honest I’m fine either way. Kindergarten is 2.75 hours of learning the alphabet, numbers to 10, center time, carpet time, art, music, playing on the playground, and learning how school works. Kindergarten is terrific and she’ll love it whether we send her this year or wait til next.
To be honest, I keep thinking that people who ask me how I feel about Rosalie going to kindergarten are asking me the wrong question. The real question is how I feel about raising a preteen. Our elementary school goes to grade 6, so Mateo has only one year left after this. How about “hey Jenna how do you feel about Mateo going to junior high in a little over a year?” Now that’s a conversation I can get invested in. He just went to kindergarten and now we’re about to start packing it in on his elementary school days. HOLD ME JESUS.
We are just dipping our toes into this hormonal world of ditching playing for hanging out, and deciding whether we need to get a spare cell for when the preteen is out not playing at the park with his friends. This afternoon I heard the words, “we have to get that on video” when Mateo was on the trampoline with his buddies and a go pro camera. This is apparently what preteens do. Haul go pros around and film themselves making questionable life decisions. I decided not to look outside – I don’t know if I want to know. I definitely want to follow through on my recent threats to get rid of the trampoline. For real. I feel like we’re just a ticking time bomb to the next broken bone. Third time doesn’t need to be the charm with hormonal preteen boys running around with go pros, am I right?
There is a lot of unknown happening around here. Mateo recently made the decision to occupy the spare room in the basement – alone. He’s shared with Andreas for going on 8 years and now all of a sudden he wants his own space. So he moved downstairs, Andreas moved in with Olivier, and Rosalie is on her own after sharing with Olivier almost all of her life so far. What is happening to my house? Everything is changing.
Last night I went to say goodnight to Mateo – because you don’t tuck in preteens, you say goodnight to them. Obviously. He asked me to pray for him. I prayed and thanked God that in Mateo we have a kid we can trust and have confidence in. Today he was making plans with the aforementioned go pro friends and we were negotiating terms. Where he was allowed to go. When to call. Etc. We definitely aren’t in Kindergarten anymore, Toto.
This is my life now. Negotiating terms and avoiding the words “we have to get that on video” and praying words that speak life into my kid hoping that he hears us and God louder than all the crap he’s about to hear from this world. Also deodorant. And having their own room. So far that’s all I have in my arsenal.
So ask me again how I feel about Rosalie going to kindergarten. Compared to getting Mateo ready for junior high? Kindergarten feels like a walk in the park. I tried but clicking my heels together three times and saying “there’s no place like kindergarten” won’t bring back 5 year old Mateo. Onward and upward we go, then.
copyright (c) Jenna Pelias 2016 // all rights reserved
Yes indeed. If you’ve read my blog in the past, you may remember this one. I archived it and today I am re-posting another updated version for new friends and new moms and anyone who needs a reminder. A reminder of that which nobody cares about, but mostly what they do care about. What they care a lot about.
The first day of school. Ever. It’s a huge milestone for most families, and we are no exception. We kind of make a big deal out of it every year. The first day of school is always cause for celebration in our house. This school year our boys are in grades 5, 3, and 1. We’ve got three first days of kindergarten behind us, and one last one coming up in September. Maybe it’s a little odd to be talking about the first day of school when the school year is in fact winding down to a close, but hang in here with me a minute. This is an essay about mothering, and I am bringing it up again because Mother’s Day just passed and I think some moms need to let go of the pressure to get everything right with their little ones.
Getting our children ready for their first day of kindergarten has looked a little different for each of my children. Mateo was ready because he was ready – his first day of school couldn’t come soon enough as far as he was concerned. Andreas needed extra support with the transition to school routines and expectations, which is not unexpected of children on the autism spectrum. Even though we didn’t get his diagnosis until half way through kindergarten, his teacher navigated the school transition with him beautifully. Olivier went to kindergarten as the youngest in his class, not turning 5 until halfway through the school year in February (our cutoff is March 1). The decision over whether to send him kept me up at night for months, but ultimately it was the best choice to send him early and we haven’t looked back.
Now we are having this same conversation about whether to send Rosalie, who also has a February birthday. We are talking about readiness, social skills, academic ability, maturity, behavior, and in her case a massive case of toilet anxiety. There are a lot of things, however, that aren’t even in the back of our minds as we try to make this decision because nobody really cares about them anymore.
Nobody cares anymore whether my children were breast fed or bottle fed as infants. They also don’t care how or when we introduced solids. What they do care about is whether they can keep themselves from engaging in food fights in the lunch room. I wish I were speaking hypothetically here, but I’m not. They care about whether my kids are eating enough and eating well, at all stages of development.
Nobody cares anymore whether they were born via c-section, vaginally, VBAC, at home, in the hospital, with a doctor or a midwife, with drugs or without, how long it took to push, or whether they were born in your heart instead of your uterus. What does whether I had an epidural or not have to do with anything? It doesn’t. I love birth stories, don’t get me wrong. But there does come a time in the mommy journey when we start talking about other things. When the birth story is mostly just something we keep in our hearts instead of spewing every detail out of our mouths whether people want to hear it or not. (Guilty!) It might come up among moms now and then, but whether it has anything to do with a kid by the time they are headed to school? Not a conversation that happens.
Nobody cares anymore whether we cloth diapered, used disposables, engaged in elimination communication or let them run wild and naked and free (provided that appropriate clean up followed the mess). It’s just never come up. Not at a birthday party or a class field trip or on the playground. They do care whether my children were kept clean and dry, and were taught how to use the bathroom at developmentally appropriate times. They do care that my kids can make it to the bathroom and back on their own without incident. How we got our little miracles to this point of wiping their own behinds? Nobody cares.
Nobody cares anymore whether my babies slept in a bassinet, play pen, crib, or in my bed with me. This is mommy heresy I’m spewing here but I swear it’s true. They care whether my children have a safe, warm, comfortable place to sleep. Period. They care about making sure my children were and are tended to at night when needed even though I’d rather be sleeping thankyouverymuch. The teachers care a LOT that my kids are getting the right amount of sleep so that they can behave and focus in class.
Nobody cares anymore what particular kind of (non-abusive) discipline we used with our little ones. “Did you use time out or redirection when Olivier threw tantrums at age 27 months?” has never been asked of me while standing outside the school with the other parents waiting for the bell to ring. They care that we discipline in a way that is loving, consistent, and respectful of our children as tiny humans. They care that we care about how our children speak, act, and treat other people.
Nobody cares anymore when they took those first steps. I’m not joking. They don’t. The earlier the steps happened, the less people care. And the less they believe you anyway. Trust me. They do care very much though, if our children walk in kindness with their peers. Not who walked first or runs the fastest. Your child is never going to sit down and write a test that asks him or her at what age they first began to walk. Promise.
Nobody cares anymore when or what the first word was, assuming typical development of course. Your kids’ friends? Yup. They don’t care! Teacher? She probably cares more about whether my child can keep his mouth shut than when it first opened. They care very much if your child has struggled or is struggling and they will do what they can do in order to help a kid catch up or get that tricky “th” sound down. And just between you and me – my early talker, Mr. Precocious, Mateo was and is a great reader and does very well in school. But my Martian-speaking, “I’m not taking till I’m good and ready,” on-the-spectrum, little Andreas is often ahead of where his older brother was at the same age. Quite a bit ahead. So. The talking thing isn’t necessarily an indicator of which kid is going to be the most advanced. Isn’t that great news?
Nobody cares anymore how many colds they had in their first year. Or second year. Or beyond. Kids are germy. They get sick. It builds their immune systems up, again assuming a typical immune system here. They care that we’ve taught them proper hand washing. And how to cough into their sleeves. And that we are with it enough to keep them home when they are contagious. They care that we did the doctor visits when the cold turned into a 2 month bout of bronchitis. They care that we stayed on top of those recurrent ear infections. They care that we take care of our kids when they’re sick.
Nobody cares anymore if we did baby sign language. I kid you not. The only thing people care that my kids are doing with their hands is that they know how to keep them to themselves. Sign language? Baby-mama please. When another boy wrapped his little hands around Mateo’s neck at school one time, the last thing I cared about was whether he did baby sign language as an infant.
Nobody cares anymore if we allowed TV before the age of 2. Or 3. Or whatever. They care that whatever TV watching did happen, didn’t interfere with all of the wonderful play of early childhood. It didn’t. The teachers really care if we read lots and lots of books to our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers in an attempt at instilling a life long love of reading. We did.
Nobody cares if my kids are super geniuses or cognitively delayed. Okay, not totally true. The teachers care because that’s their job, but no parent has ever tried to do an IQ comparison on the playground. I mean, really? The other kids don’t even know what an IQ is. Other children do care very much if my kids are patient, inclusive, generous, kind, and fun. Are my children good friends? Do they share? Do they play well with others? This one is the one that keeps me up at night. Because Andreas actually was IQ tested and he’s an intelligent little boy. But you know, that doesn’t really count for so much when he hides around the corner in a new Sunday school class, because he wants to play but doesn’t know how and the room is new, and the kids are different, and teachers keep trying to be friendly with him. (How dare they!)
This last one is the most important. Hear me.
Nobody cares whether I was a stay at home mom or a career mom or a work at home mom or what. They do care very much whether my children are loved, respected, cared for, and provided for adequately. Mothering is work for all of us. Generally speaking people aren’t keeping score, and those who are tend to isolate themselves in the long run. It’s not healthy. We need to care for each other completely, and not just in the parts that make sense to us or look the same as ours.
I’m not saying that our decisions don’t matter. They matter an awful lot. There is a good reason why our choices keep us up at night and make us fret all day. Our kids matter. How we raise them matters. But unless they are being neglected or abused, the day to day choices and changes just don’t matter to other people as much as we imagine they do. Strangers on the internet with too much time on their hands should not count in the pile of opinions we take into consideration.
Unless people care about how you’re doing in your life as a mom, don’t you worry one bit about what kind of mom they think you are.
My magic eight ball that I don’t actually have tells me that chances are very good that you are a good mom if your children are fed, clothed, clean, warm, safe, provided for, loved, respected, valued, well-disciplined, educated, socialized, and nurtured in their development. You’re a good mom.
Do you hear me?
You. You’re a good mom.
All the grief we give each other and ourselves, both silently and not-so-silently, over who is making the best choices…it’s just so futile. You won’t care in 5 years. I swear you won’t. And maybe you were right about that mom whose parenting is a train wreck. Well so what? There’s a kid on the other end of that parenting who isn’t benefiting from our smugness at being right.
There is a lot to be said for good advice. I’ve received some great parenting advice from moms who knew better than I did. I seek it out when I’m at a loss for how to handle the next major thing I’m going to forget about in another 5 years. The best advice of all the good advice I’ve been given?
Go with your gut. Do your research, be diligent, pray, get advice when you need it. But at the end of the day you just have trust yourself. Or your discernment. Whatever you want to call it, go with that.
Because your kids will care. One day they will care more than anything what kind of mom you are today. And the specifics of what they care about probably aren’t going to involve the breast or bottle debate. Just a hunch. They probably won’t even remember their first day of kindergarten, and they certainly won’t remember all of the things that went into getting them to the point where we could send them to school with reasonable certainty that we have prepared them to go out into a small part of the world without us.
I asked my kids a couple years ago what they think is the most important thing for a mom to do. Mateo said, “take care of them and keep them healthy.” Andreas said, “love their kids.” Olivier said “take care of them” and the boys’ friend Leif said, “love them.” Rosalie ignored me. It really is that simple, and that complex. Love them and take care of them – if we’re doing that, in whatever way is best for us and our kids, that’s enough.
And that’s what we need to care about.
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved