I had no idea how heavily poop would feature in my life as a mother. I’m sure all my parent friends (and the grandparents) are LOLing and such right now. But it blows my mind. I’m someone who grew up taking care of a menagerie of animals – dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, birds, fish, a guinea pig, and a horse – and owned two cats for most of my adult life. Picking up, cleaning, and generally handling various amounts, colors, smells, and textures of poos has been a staple in my existence. Children are a whole other universe.
First, the baby boy. He’s currently teething. At least, we think he is. I forgot all the signs, symptoms, and shit (no pun intended) we went through with Beaner. Holy cow, Batman. For the past four days, he’s had nonstop diarrhea: the yellow, acidic kind that squoodges out the sides and back of his nappy and burns his skin the nanosecond it makes contact. His little boy bum is covered in diaper rash, complete with scabs and spots. This weekend has been a tornado of laundry, baths, dirty onesies, and the gag reflex. Every time we use a wet wipe near his angry skin, he howls. (We’ve since switched to salt water and cotton balls.) He has woken in the wee hours in pain. Even a dose of Calpol sometimes doesn’t soothe him, though a good clean and a bottle of warm milk helps. If it carries on much longer, I’ll bring him into the surgery to see if there’s anything else we can do.
But he is getting better. I set my alarm last night for 0300 to preemptively change him, though he beat me to the punch with a banshee wail at 0200. I came prepared: I walked into his room wearing noise-cancelling headphones, carrying a small tub of salt water and a bottle of formula in my hands. A clean onesie and sleep sack were draped over my shoulder. He cried, I wiped. He cried, I slathered him in butt cream. He cried, I dressed. I then gave him his bottle. The purrs that emanated from him afterward almost made up for everything else I endured. Almost.
His flesh hardened today, in a good way. He had lots of airing out, adorned in socks and a shirt for most of the weekend. He had five baths in 48 hours. He woke up smiling and happy this morning, despite the nighttime interlude. He ate for England. He drank water from a beaker. He kicked and squeaked and giggled at his sister when she gave him blocks to play with. He even had some baby bouncer time. He is on the mend. But man, the poo.
Meanwhile, Beaner. Yes, we’re still potty training. Yes, it’s been since March 2020. No, I never envisioned potty training taking this long. Ever. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief and have been floundering in Acceptance for some time now. Resignation might be a better term. If I thought sifting through baby poo was annoying, try toddler poo. Dear lord. She got the concept of putting her pee in the toilet shortly after we hit it hard at 19 months. I was pleased. I knew she was ready and could do it. And she did. But it never bothered the child to sit in poopy pants. I don’t get it. She just didn’t care. Surely evolution taught humans to escape from such shitty situations, but no. Not this one.
So, the poo challenge began. It lasted through nursery and into preschool. It lasted through a move. It lasted through the birth of a sibling, two international flights, and a pandemic (ongoing). The pace of awareness was glacial. She could tell you where her poop should go, she would gleefully help pick up dog poo, and begged to hold the bag while I scooped the the cat litterboxes, but didn’t seem to connect any of this to her own body. It was infuriating. The utility sink became our place of permanent poo laundry, soaking while we accumulated enough for a load. I bought dozens of spare knickers. We read books about poo (Everybody Poos, Is That Your Poo?, and The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business). We watched Poo Goes To Pooland. We kept the bathroom door open when we did our business. We talked about poo and where it goes and how we get it there. We encouraged her preschool key worker to pay special attention and help her when she needed it. I wondered why there wasn’t a toilet trainer lady you could send your child to for two weeks like you do when having a dog specially trained.
I broke down and bought Oh, Crap! Potty Training and read the bit about going back to square one: no underwear or pants at all. I decided that was what we needed to do. Bean couldn’t poop her pants if she wasn’t wearing any. And before you ask about cleaning the carpet, I kept her downstairs with floorboards and tile. It worked. That long, first, back to basics day, she held it until she ran off to the bathroom and plonked her naked bottom on the toilet and did a poo. We were ecstatic. We praised her and gave her a biscuit (cookie) and let her watch a little bit of Despicable Me (because Steve Carell motivates toddlers).
Nakey-bum worked while we could keep her naked, but school beckoned and we were once again putting pants in the utility room. We seemed to have hit a plateau. And then she wasn’t even consistent at home. We broke down and bargained with her, bribing her with whatever we thought might work: stickers, a biscuit, watching a bit of “Minyums.” We guilt-tripped her ever-so-subtly by saying her friends put their poo in the toilet and she should, too. We asked if she had to poo more than we thought we had to. We sifted poo out of the bath more than once. We were at our wits’ end.
And then… something. Not that something clicked, not that sudden. But something changed. I still don’t know what it is or was, but something happened. She pooed on the toilet at home. Praise, cookie, Minyums. She didn’t poo at preschool, at all. She saved it for bedtime. Praise, cookie, Minyums. She wasn’t consistent, and I would know it when she told me she didn’t want Minyums. That was her way of saying she had pooped her pants. But still, her reward seemed enticing enough to keep her mostly headed in the right direction. She started sitting on the potty at preschool. At first, nothing, even though she happily peed in the toilet there. Then one day last week, she pooped in the potty at preschool. I could hardly believe it. Instead of waiting to be handed a bag containing soiled underwear, again, there was nothing. Glorious nothing. She was still clean and dry. High-fives all around. And then she did it again. And this was only last week.
I am cautiously optimistic. My heart has been broken this way before. I now understand I do not have the toddler that one day decides she doesn’t want to poop her pants. I have the toddler who doesn’t give a shit (ha!). I have a toddler who does things her own way, at her own pace, and in her own style. She is so independent in so many other ways, so good in so many other areas, that I just have to let this take as long as it’s going to take. Even though I wanted it to be over in a week. Even though I was convinced she was ready. Even though I felt I had all the right tools. I am hopeful this is the beginning of toileting freedom, at least during the day. She is almost there.
The question now remains, when will we start potty training the boy?