Sunday, August 30, 2009

Potty training

I started this blog with the idea of posting fiction & poetry but our experience this month potty training the girls inspired an article about it. Actually two: here's the long version, which I'm considering marketing to some parenting magazine or other.

(It will be obvious to you that I changed the girls' names)

Potty training in one day??!!

With 22-month old twins, we go through a lot of diapers: seventy a week from the cloth-diaper service plus about twenty disposable for nighttime and day trips. Soon after they were born, I read in a parenting book that 18 months was the earliest some children are ready to be toilet trained and this stuck in my head as a goal. Of course, when they reached that age, we didn’t seem to be anywhere near it. However, an extended visit from my sister’s family a few months ago—with her 2 ½ year old, potty-trained daughter—inspired an enthusiasm for the potty that I wanted to capitalize on. We would sit them on the potty seat on our big toilet but they rarely did anything. It seemed to me that they were prime candidates for the ‘One-day’ potty training methods: they were interested but needed practice to understand what their bodies were supposed to do. I wanted to try it before they got too resistant toward doing anything we suggest, a behavior that seems to be creeping in more and more each day.

So we checked out a few books from the library: “Toilet training in less than a day” by Nathin Azrin & Richard Foxx for my husband and I and a “Potty Book for Girls” for the girls. We waited until our summer travels were over and a weekend was free. And then we tried it—unsure if we would magically be free from diapers or ruin everything trying too early.

Saturday morning: We clear the toys from the living room, roll up the rug and stock a shelf with treats: cheerios, gold fish, chocolate bunnies, yellow pear tomatoes, boxes of apple juice, cans of orange soda, sippy cups of herbal tea. Two little potties sit against one wall; we bring out our Camelbacks and the doll-that-pees that the neighbor lent to us.

The girls change into their big-girl panties—of course Rosie picks purple. The doll sits on the potty and doesn’t pee… they give her a bottle and then she does pee! We jump around and celebrate and offer her some juice as a reward but since she doesn’t drink it the girls get it. They rarely get juice and even more rarely from a box so they suck it right down. Repeat a few times before the doll has an accident and has to clean up the mess and practice going potty. The girls like the doll and playing with her. They find the Camelbacks and absorb more liquid. Herbal tea? Of course! Salty snacks? Of course! Are their panties dry? Yep—more treats. Now it’s time for Gemma & Rosie to sit on the potty, but nothing happens. We don’t make them stay the recommended ten minutes: three seems like an eternity.

We try to keep them in constant motion—feeding the doll, watching her pee, always checking that their panties are dry and getting treats. I’m not sure why this is part of the method but it seems like it should be hectic with activity.
In an instant, Gemma is standing in a puddle. Uh oh. Wet panties, we don’t like wet panties. Clean up the mess, practice running to the potty, pulling down your panties, sitting down, standing up, pulling up your panties. We’re supposed to do this ten times but on about the third trial, she pees on the potty. Yay!! Potty party!!! We jump around and cheer and abort the practice rounds. Then Rosie pees on her potty. Yay Rosie! Such a big girl!! Let’s call Grandma and Grandpa! Here’s some soda and a potato chip for being such a big girl! A little parade of chubby babies carrying their pots to the toilet to flush away.

And then all the liquid starts coming out. I think they peed every three minutes for the next three hours. Some of it went in the potty. A lot of it went on the floor. Some on the couch and some on Daddy’s leg. Rosie was having such a hard time getting the panties pulled up over her copious bottom that she started refusing to put them back and just ran around naked. Part of the method is that the child is supposed to do everything for themselves which seems impossible the first day of the training. Getting the panties up and down is very difficult and dumping the little potty into the toilet seemed impossibly dangerous. Not that the floor hadn’t already been hit with a lot of urine!

After Gemma got ‘bit’ by the lid of the potty falling down on the peak of her bottom, she had about an hour of crying and refusing to sit on the potty. But at lunch time (a picnic of nachos on the living room floor) she jumped up and said “have to pee!” and made it to the potty. Sometime during the morning, Rosie did it too. Then they both had accidents.

It was a relief to put on diapers for their nap. During the down time, Daddy slept while I went running to burn off the stress and figure out what to do for the rest of the afternoon. Finally free of the frantic, urine-spouting situation, I realized that the girls had both achieved the goal of the method: to decide for themselves to sit on the potty and produce urine on it. But was this “trained?” It certainly didn’t feel like it to me. We decided to lay off the liquids for the afternoon, bring down the pace and let the girls play naked in the kiddie pool, with the potty chair nearby for anyone who wanted to use it.

And Rosie did. She woke up ready to conquer the potty-training world and, despite two more accidents in the afternoon, used the potty a lot. On Sunday she had three episodes of peeing a little bit, stopping it and making it to the potty to let the rest out. By Monday, she was really doing the entire process by herself, including a poop in the morning that I only knew about when she asked me to wipe her. She would often sit on the potty going but her only accident of the day was while riding in the stroller.

Gemma, on the other hand, didn’t pee in the potty all Saturday afternoon nor on Sunday. She had lots of accidents, including pooping in her pants and not even telling us about it, but wouldn’t produce anything in the potty itself. On Monday, with Daddy back to work, I sent Rosie to the playground with Grandpa while Gemma and I re-created the original training. Except this time I slowed down the pace and also made her sit on the potty for three minutes on, three minutes off, in hopes of getting more pee in the potty. And she did pee in the potty- about 8 times by the end of the day. Concentrating on just one child made it easier for me to see when she had to go (she really does cross her legs) and more attentive to making her go often enough to avoid accidents. But she still always answered ‘no’ when I asked if she need to pee so the only reason she wasn’t wetting her pants was that *I* was watching out for her. This is when they say the parent is potty-trained, not the child.

But by Wednesday, she was answer ‘yes’ when I asked if she had to go… and she finally pooped in the potty. Maybe not coincidentally, Rosie had two poop accidents on Thursday. On Friday I offered lollipops for any pooping in the potty and they each earned one. By Saturday, we weren’t wearing plastic pants in the car anymore and on Sunday we went grocery shopping, to a picnic and then out for dinner—the girls both used the big toilets at each location (sometimes multiple times!) and no one had an accident. They aren’t spontaneously telling us that they need to go to the potty but when we ask, we trust them whether they say they need to go or not.

Of course, we expect accidents will continue for months to come. And I’ve still got my fingers crossed that one of them doesn’t get scared off of it somehow. But we’re cancelling the diaper service tomorrow, and I’ve started to tell people they’re potty trained. And I’ve started to recommend the method, with some caveats.
The major thing to be aware of is just how exhausting the method is. Maybe it is only one day of intensive training but it really was six or seven days before I felt a little more relaxed. When my husband went back to work on Monday I felt the same sort of panic that I did when the girls were newborns and I wasn’t sure how we’d survive the day on our own. Definitely clear your schedule for two days (although sympathetic house guests after the initial phase can provide a welcome distraction). Expect to stay close to the house and be prepared to take a potty outside if you go. I’m still carrying the potty seat and a square baking pan for roadside urgency. If you can get extra help for the following week—preferably babysitting other siblings or sitting in the house while you get some exercise or making dinner while you watch for signs of elimination—your sanity might fare better. And I would strongly recommend separating multiples for the initial training- they are learning so much that first day that they need to concentrate on themselves.

One thing that I hadn’t expected was how much I would bond with the girls during the experience. When Gemma finally peed in her potty again on Monday, I was sitting on the floor in front of her and we pressed our noses together and giggled; I thought I was going to cry with joy that she had actually done it. And still, if I catch her eye when I hear the tinkle, she wrinkles her nose up and laughs, saying “I pee Momma!” I’m so proud of them for achieving what is truly their first accomplishment; watching Rosie pull her pants down with ease and carry the pot carefully to dump, it’s just hard to believe she only learned it a week ago. And it’s hard to believe that these little people, still miniatures, are this one huge step closer to growing up.

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