The Day I Breastfed and Weaned My Four-Year Old |An Extended Breastfeeding Journey

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I’ve written this post a hundred times in my head. I think it’s so hard to write because it matters to me SO much.

But I don’t want to be judged. So. I breastfed my firstborn son until he was four. If that freaks you out, you can go read something else now. Or, maybe, reading this will help you understand why something so crazy and weird and socially unacceptable, might have occurred to me and my son.

See, I didn’t set out to nurse him until he was four.

I just started out breastfeeding him when he was born. About an hour after he was born. Then an hour or so after that. Then some days after that. And some weeks and months after that.

I never knew how, or when, or why, moms would wean their babies.

So I didn’t think about weaning, when I breastfed him that day he was born. I thought about nursing.

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Those first two weeks of breastfeeding were AWFUL. I mean, really awful. I was totally, completely determined to breastfeed my children. Before they were born. But in the middle of those first awful weeks, I COMPLETELY understood why so many moms give up breastfeeding.

It hurts. I mean, it really hurts. Even after two lactation consultation visits, it hurt. It only stopped hurting while they were at my house, helping me. That little hour of pain-free nursing was my light at the end of the tunnel that it was possible.

My newborn didn’t want to nurse every three hours. He wanted to nurse every hour. Every thirty minutes. Every hour and a half. He refused a pacifier (I tried several kinds). Nursing made him so darn happy. Even when it was hurting me like hell.

There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Because it is. Torture. Breastfeeding a newborn, being woken up a bazillion times a night, for days and weeks and months on end. Torture. So painful. So overwhelming. “Exhausted” is so lame at capturing the feeling, that it’s kind of a joke to even use that word. Desperately, unbearably, horribly, dark, deep, fatigued in every cell of my core. Emotionally drained, physically empty, mentally unable to think straight or even in a wavy line.

I can’t blame all that on breastfeeding. But exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) means no one else can feed baby in the middle of the night. I guess they could IF the baby would take a bottle of pumped milk (which mine wouldn’t). But the alternative to waking up to nurse a baby,  is waking up with horribly engorged, rock hard, swollen breasts from having skipped a middle of the night feeding. So it wouldn’t really be worth it.

At some point, the advice of the lactation consultants began to help, and it got easier. And stopped hurting. Hooray.

Until I got mastitis. Having mastitis feels like having the worst flu ever. High fever, aching body like a beating with a baseball bat, horribly horribly sore breasts that make nursing burn and tear. I was grateful for the help of my lactation consultant, kellymom.com, and my naturopath. I got rid of the mastitis in 24 hours. It came back a couple weeks later. And we got rid of it again. I hate mastitis.

Then one day, breastfeeding was the easiest thing in the world. I never noticed it had happened, until suddenly, it was. Easy. Quick. Painless.

Even more suddenly, it became delightful. Amazing, incredible. Bonding, cuddles, intimacy, connection. Smelling the top of my sweet baby’s head while he nursed. Relaxing on the internet, blogs, or Facebook while he nursed to sleep. Long naps for both of us in bed together, interspersed by nursing sessions. Co-sleeping at night, because everyone got more sleep that way.

Breastfeeding is the purest, simplest form of connection I’ve experienced with my children. It is priceless, and a gift I’m blessed with. I can’t imagine my life, or my relationship with my children, without breastfeeding.

I have SO many photos of Jax breastfeeding. We spent hours and hours nursing and sleeping and nursing and awake. He would nurse in any position, in any carrier, anywhere we went. Nursing was his anchor.

Around twelve months, we both got thrush. My son had whitish spots inside his cheeks in his mouth. I had horrible pain in my nipples, the skin got pink and would peel off, and crack and bleed.

With help from my support team of lactation consultant, naturopath, and kellymom.com, I was again able to treat the thrush naturally. It took several weeks to clear up. It popped up again a few months later, and receded again.

Twenty-one months went by. My son was almost two years old! He slept about eight hours straight at night. The rest of the the 16 hours of the day, he nursed every 1-3 hours, on demand. I never scheduled him. I never put him off from nursing. He was speaking in sentences by this point, and could clearly ask for nursing when he wanted it.

Because of the frequency of his nursing, and my physiology, my feminine cycles had not returned. We wanted to get pregnant again. I knew I had to reduce his nursing frequency, to get my cycles back.

Telling him “No” was torture. He cried. I mean not just a little whine or fuss. Bawling, sobbing, huge tears rolling down his face. I eventually discovered it was easier to tell him “The next time you can nurse is _____ (example, at naptime),” compared to “No, not right now.” Getting him down to three nursing sessions in a 24 hour period (bedtime, naptime, and morning wake up time), was SO, SO hard on both of us. So many tears were shed, by both of us.

As a parent, I’m a firm believer that children are real humans. They have real feelings, opinions, needs, and ideas about the world. I treat my kids with respect, even when they are little. I allow them to have a say in what goes on in their world, as reasonably much as I can. I expect them to cooperate with me, but I find that the more I can understand and listen to their ideas and needs, the more easily they cooperate with my plan.

With this philosophy, I absolutely could not “just wean him.” These tears were real tears. They were tears of sadness, disappointment, loss, pain. They were tears begging for comfort and connection. They were tears needing to know Mommy still loves, and the world is safe and secure. Seeing his tears, I could not physically deny him what he asked for and needed. I had milk to give him. My body was capable. I could only stall him enough to achieve what I wanted – pregnancy.

I had two cycles before we conceived on the third cycle.

Lots of people said their child naturally self-weaned once they were pregnant with another baby. Supposedly it changes the taste of the milk, or the quantity. To be honest, I was hoping for that.

If it did, my two year old didn’t notice or care. Once again, I was in breastfeeding pain. Pregnancy makes the breasts and nipples extra sensitive, and also reduces milk supply. Sometimes I could hardly stand to nurse him longer than a few minutes. But any “no” or “that’s all for now” was met with such sadness and so many tears. And it was clear every time we nursed, that he loved it. He felt peaceful and happy and satisfied. What a gift.

We began to talk about the baby. How the baby would need lots of nursing. How the baby would need to nurse first. How there would still be enough milk for my firstborn. My Jax. How there would even be MORE milk for both of them! I was prepared to tandem nurse, but had no idea how that would go.

Tobi arrived when Jax was nearly three.

Tandem nursing totally tapped me out physically (pun intended). It’s extremely difficult to get two small human bodies positioned in a way that actually works to nurse at the same time. Especially when one is a floppy newborn. Especially when the toddler wants to wiggle around while nursing. And having two little mouths sucking on my nipples at the same time was just way too much for me to physically tolerate. I was willing to nurse them both, but not at the same time.

It’s hard for a firstborn to adjust to the arrival of a sibling. Really hard. I think parents underestimate how shocking and terrible this can be for a firstborn child. How painful the loss of attention can be for the first child. The second child never knows any different. But the first, really this is quite a tragedy – the arrival of this new person. Taking Mommy and Daddy’s time. Taking Mommy’s breasts and milk.

I was so grateful that I could still give my firstborn something reliable. Something that assured him of our connection, of my love, of my availability to him.

In the first few weeks, I was so engorged (like the first time), and mastitis threatened several times. I happily let Jax nurse much more than his usual “designated” times of day (bedtime, naptime, wake up time in the morning). I eagerly let him nurse a few times when his younger brother skipped a feeding, and I was getting engorged.

Eventually it wasn’t working for him to have flexible nursing times. He would ask to nurse all day long, just like when he was an infant. But I couldn’t nurse him like an infant, when I had a newborn nursing on demand. I went back to our three-times-a-day schedule. That worked better. He knew what to expect. He would still ask at other times, and it would make him a little sad when I reminded him of his next nursing opportunity, but it was usually without tears. He eventually stabilized with the predictability of his own nursing schedule, and the difference it was from his brother’s nursing schedule. I also made it a point to read books, do puzzles, or give him my attention, while nursing the baby.

When my second son (Tobi) was four months old, we moved. We bought our first house. We had been living with (renting from while sharing a home with) my parents, since before Jax was born. Living with me, my husband, and my parents, was all he had ever known. My parents played with him at intervals during the day and evening, we ate meals together, and he saw them frequently throughout each day.

Moving away from their home, into our own home, meant a huge loss for him. A huge loss of the playtime and connection with his grandparents. A gaping hole of attention. Not only was a new baby stealing attention, but now there were fewer available adults to fill the attention gap.

Within a few days of moving into our home, Jax turned three.  I had been ramping up to wean him on his third birthday.

It was getting increasingly difficult to keep up with his three-times-a-day nursing sessions. The worst was bedtime, because that was also a fussy time of day for the baby. I would end up either

1) Nursing the baby first, while Jax fussed and complained that he wanted to nurse. The baby would take such a long time to nurse to sleep, that sometimes Jax wouldn’t get to nurse, or would be begging me for such a long time that I didn’t know what to do (since the baby was still nursing). Tandem was so uncomfortable for me, and truly almost physically impossible especially with small breasts like I have.

Or 2) Nursing Jax first, in a big rush, while Tobi screamed. Not relaxing or enjoyable for anyone.

Naptime wasn’t too far off from bedtime, in difficulty, and similarity of issues.

Because of these troubles, I wanted to wean Jax on his third birthday. He’s smart. Really smart. Also really verbal, and quite opinionated. I knew that in order to wean him, I would need a good reason, or he wouldn’t go along with the idea. The only thing I could come up with was that three years old was too big for nursing. So that’s what I began telling him in the weeks leading up to his third birthday.

I nursed him on the morning of his third birthday, and even posted a photo on Facebook that it was our “last” nursing session. I refused to nurse him that day, for naptime or bedtime. He only fussed a little, and I was hopeful.

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The day after his third birthday, when he woke up that morning and asked to nurse, I tried telling him no. No, three years old is too big for nursing.

Soo many tears. So much sadness and hurt and loss. I relented, and nursed him.

I got to thinking about all the changes going on for this three year old. Totally rocking and shaking his world. A new brother. A move. A new home. A new room. Losing daily companionship with his grandparents. Really, it was a lot of sadness. A lot of loss and confusion. Very little security. A world upside down. Truthfully, not a good time to be weaning a child who was still so needy of nursing and security.

So Jax and I had a talk. We talked together about the baby. About how much the baby needs to nurse. About how hard it is for Mommy when the baby is crying at naptime and bedtime, and I’m trying to nurse two people. About how it would be better if Jax didn’t need to nurse at bedtime or naptime anymore.

He has such a tender heart, and an intelligent mind. We had a truly reasonable, respectful conversation. We agreed that Jax would nurse once a day – when he woke up in the morning. This was the most peaceful nursing session for me, and the one he also seemed the most attached to.

For the next year, he nursed once a day – when he woke up in the morning. He only got one “side” so there would always be milk for the baby. Sometimes he asked for more nursing at other times. I allowed him to do so only rarely, as it seemed to spawn more requests, and more tears at my denial. The reliability of the wake-up time nursing worked for both of us, and wasn’t hard on me. It was a sweet time to connect with him in the morning, before our day got going. Most days, he woke up before the baby, so we had time together alone. Like the old days, before his brother was born.

At some point when he was three, I asked him why he liked nursing. I was expecting all sorts of answers, but not the one I got. My chocolate-loving, candy-desiring, sweet-toothed son, said he liked breastfeeding, “Because it tastes GOOD!”

As we neared his fourth birthday, my husband ventured to me in private, that he was getting uncomfortable with how old our son was, still nursing. Up to this point, he had been okay with the breastfeeding situation. We had talked on several occasions about my reasons for continuing, and were on the same page.

I was feeling ready to wean him as well, but was anxious about how it would go, since it went so badly before.

I began talking to Jax with the same mantra I had chosen the prior year. Four years old is too big for nursing. After you turn four, you will be a big boy, and we won’t nurse anymore. You will be all done nursing after your birthday, because four years old is too big for nursing.

On the morning of his fourth birthday, I nursed him, and reminded him it would be our last nursing time. I again took a photo, but this time didn’t share it on social media. I honestly didn’t know how the next day would go.

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The day after his birthday, when he woke up, he asked for nursing. I gently told him no, four years old was too big for nursing, and we were all done nursing. He cheerfully replied, “Okay, Mommy!” and went on with his morning.

He didn’t ask me again.

A couple days later, I asked him about it. “Are you okay that we are done nursing?” “Yes, Mommy, I’m fine!”

A few days later. “Are you still okay that we aren’t nursing anymore?” “I’m okay, Mommy.”

A week or so later. “Are you feeling okay that we don’t nurse anymore?” “Mommy, it’s okay.”

And that was it. He was weaned.

It’s been over two months now since he nursed. He doesn’t ask me to nurse anymore. Although he is very quick to let me know when his brother is distressed and seems to need nursing!

I was a little more heartbroken than I expected. That was it. I was done nursing my firstborn. We had nursed thousands of times, and this was the end of it. And he was fine with it.

I guess part of me wished he wasn’t fine with it. Wished it had been a battle, so I could have seen how much it mattered to him. But, it was easy. He was ready. It finally mattered little enough, that he was ready for it to be the end.

That is when I weaned my child. When he was ready.

Before I had kids, someone asked me once, how long I planned to breastfeed. I remember thinking, “I’m not even pregnant! How would I know how long I plan to breastfeed?” I hesitated, then answered, “I guess, when they are old enough to help themselves?”

Jax could help himself by five months old. At church one Sunday, while I held him on my hip, he pulled my shirt down and latched on. All by himself.

Since five months old was clearly too early to wean him, that idea of “old enough to help himself” went out the window.

Once he was past the age of being able to “help himself”, I figured one day he wouldn’t want to nurse anymore. I had no idea that day would be his fourth birthday.

I didn’t plan it. I didn’t mean it to be that way. I didn’t expect it.

If I had seen a four year old boy running around and you said I might be nursing a boy like that, I probably would have laughed in your face and felt terribly awkward about the idea.

It happened because my son needed to nurse. Wanted to nurse. Was physically and emotionally benefited by nursing. I nursed him because I’m his Mommy and I wanted to do what was best for him. And at each point I tried to wean him, or reduce his nursing, I was met with such sadness and despair that it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Until he was four.

Then he was ready.

I’m sad. I’m relieved.

I’m grateful for our journey.

Dear Tobi…. I Still Love You

Dear Tobi,

You are a delight. You are you.

And I am now a mama of two. When you grow up, I want you to know that I don’t love you less even though I didn’t take your photo as often or blog about you every week. I’m spending less time taking photos and blogging, and more time soaking you in. We will have to let THAT shape our relationship.

I don’t have the greatest memory. A huge reason I take photos and blog is because I forget. These photos, these stories, they tell me about the special times I cherish. I get to re-live them all over again.

So here’s a blog post for you.

You are eight months old already. Whew.

You have two bottom teeth. You may have more coming in soon, it would not surprise me.

You have been rolling over expertly for some time now, and have recently mastered scooting around the room at a decent pace. You aren’t “up” on all fours to crawl, but you get around on your belly, using both arms and legs to propel yourself around. It helps that our floors are wood laminate, so you slide easily.

You are an extrovert. You love being around people. People are so fun and distracting that you will almost never nurse in public or sleep in public. Most of the time, I have to come home when it’s time for you to eat or sleep.

Any stranger can hold you and you will happily smile and greet them. (Your brother’s first year of life, he would not let ANYONE hold him except about five people whom he knew very well).  You make the rounds at church, and will cuddle with anyone who pays you attention.

At home, as long as you can tell someone is around, you will play happily near by. I don’t have to hold you or wear you as much as Jax. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to be around people. If Jax and I both walk away from you, you stop playing and begin crying to let us know you prefer not to be alone.

You are happy and amiable nearly all the time. What upsets you the most is being tired. You prefer sleep to nursing. If you are overly tired and overly hungry at the same time, you often refuse to eat, and prefer to be bounced to sleep in a baby carrier. Once you’ve had a nap, you will wake and happily eat.

You’re in the stage where everything goes to the mouth. Like many babies, you are very sneaky about locating and chewing on shoes. I don’t understand this universal infant obsession. We have to be more careful where we leave our shoes. You also love chewing on cords and cables.

You cannot sit up fully unassisted yet. You can do it for short periods of time, but get excited about something, squirm, and knock yourself over to a tearful ending.

You love your Daddy, and greet him with smiles and kicks and a sound that closely resembles “Hi!”

Since you were five months old, you’ve been making a sound like “Nih, Nih, Nih…” This sound was one of Jax’s first word sounds as well, and it meant nursing. I’ve tried many a time to nurse you when you make this sound. I finally realized, you are not asking to nurse. You are asking to sleep. You may be happy nursing to sleep, or happy bouncing to sleep in the carrier, but you are ready for sleep. I must not delay when you reach this point, because you have only a little time left before an exhausted meltdown.

You are cheerful with your brother’s antics. You enjoy watching him play. He makes you laugh all the time, sometimes with a roughness to which I almost interject…. then suddenly, despite his shoving you, you laugh and seem to enjoy it. I sigh, and am grateful you are learning to enjoy each other.

You sleep in your crib, and wake frequently at night to nurse. I’m pretty confident it’s because some days I can hardly get you to nurse during the day hours. There’s too much fun to be had during the day, and you would rather save that boring nursing for sleeping hours.

Around six months old, you spent a few weeks making this adorable squinchy-face. It’s the first time you sort of resembled your brother.

But you still look REALLY different from each other.

I’ve been introducing food to you very slowly. At six months old, you seemed interested in putting things in your mouth, at the same time everyone else was putting things in their mouth. But food, even in small squishy pieces. caused you to choke and gag. I would only feed you tiny bits once or twice a week. I’m slowly starting to feed you once a day, as the choking has pretty much stopped.

You want to participate in whatever is going on, and are keenly aware when you are being left out. Whatever toy Jax or I are touching, you want to touch that toy too. We can no longer hand you some other toy, and have you be happy. You see that what we are playing with looks like great fun, and don’t want to be left out of that excitement. Today, I was eating while wearing you in a carrier, you started grabbing at my food and crying SO loud when I would not give it to you. I had to laugh, because you are so darn cute.

Your favorite toy or food is whichever one that someone else has. It starts SO young! But I think it is your drive to be included and to participate, that make you more aware and interested.

You have blond hair with little wispy curls! You have blue eyes! In these peachy photos your eyes look grey. When you are near something blue or aqua, your eyes look a rich teal!

When I was pregnant with you, one of the things I spent time praying about and mulling over, was how you would be different than your brother. Being the oldest of five girls, I know how easy it can be to get stuck comparing yourself to your siblings, rather than delighting in being yourself. I wanted to be free of this when I had two kids, especially if they were two boys. I wanted the freedom as a mom, to water the bloom of YOU. Not to be constantly talking about what you do / don’t do that is different from your big brother. Now, when I make those comparisons, it is out of delight and joy in seeing your uniqueness.

You have been your own self the entire time I’ve known you. Your pregnancy, your personality in-utero, your birth, how you look, your interests, your developmental timeline….. there have been hardly any commonalities between you and Jax, and instead, you are setting your own pace on your own track. I love it. I love you. I am so honored to be your Mommy.

I take delight in the YOU-ness of you, that God created so tenderly. He has a brilliant design for you, and I am enjoying each day that uncovers more of it.

Learning How to Swim: Lessons from Mothering Two Children

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I really did not anticipate how tough it would be to have two small kids… to be woken up 3-10 times every night for months on end (by both children)…. How much it would feel like drowning… like dying… every day… for months… coming up for air in a brief moment of peace (both children napping at the same time?!)… only to be shoved under the waves again (they take turns waking up every thirty minutes right after I fall asleep for nap too).

Today, a friend who is in college asked me to pray for an upcoming final exam. I almost snickered. Oh for the days when a final exam was the most difficult thing on my radar.

As I prayed, I sang… Lord, meet us where we are. Give us strength for the trials that we face today.
It made me think about how tough it was for me in college…. lack of sleep, hard work, hard exams, writing papers…. feeling overwhelmed and like I couldn’t cope at times.
Then thinking how it was when I was working full time, and didn’t have that awesome summer break you get your whole life up until you graduate college…. day in, day out, waking up, going to work, stress of coworkers, tasks, and more, coming home, trying to run our video business at night, going to bed late, waking up and doing it again…. how overwhelming, how hard that was.
Then remembering how I felt after Jax was born… like I was in a dark hole and I didn’t know when I would get out. Any sleep deprived fatigue of my college years or working years became like a sneeze compared to the pain of being woken up by a little person, every hour, every night… sleep deprivation is a legit form of torture for a reason.  How overwhelmed I was, how I didn’t think I could go on one more day.
And now…. two small kids, it’s once again the hardest thing I’ve every done in my life, the most sleep deprived, the most exhausted, the most overwhelmed, I’ve ever been in my life.  Worse than all the other times, but yet, the same, because the other times felt just as terrible in the moment.
And it made me think…. when am I going to learn how to trust God a bit more? How to cope with the torture of sleep deprivation?  How to sustain peace and joy in my heart and home, despite whatever the current hard thing is?
Each time, at some point, things got easier. It was always a combination of the situation itself letting up just a bit, and me learning what things I needed to do in order to cope and function in the situation. A little of each.
And I can’t laugh at the friend who desperately wants prayers for a college exam, who has lost sleep studying for the last several days, because that is their trial right now.
And even more, that is what God is using to stretch, to grow…. how each of those life circumstances, where we feel stretched beyond our capacity, we somehow get through, with His help, and it prepares us for the next stretching. For the next time it seems to hard to bear, and we look back on the last hard time and think, that was easy, in comparison to THIS, to NOW, I laugh at my silly old self back then who thought THAT was SO hard. Now THIS, this is HARD…..
This is what He does. Mold us. Change us. Let our desperation and fatigue drive us to the Cross, to his throne, to His strength when all of ours was used up long ago.
I haven’t learned it all yet. But I want to find a way, in this season, to learn peace and joy, so even when I feel like I’m drowning and half dying between a crying baby and a tantruming toddler, I can know that this too, will calm down at some point, and I will find ways to cope, and the Lord will hold me up so I can make it one more day, one more moment.  So that the next time it’s hard, today will seem easy.
So I can learn, what it means, when I feel like I’m drowning, for Him to teach me how to swim.

 

Dear Noel…. my squirmy beloved one, not too far away

** All photos credit to our lovely photographer Melanie Swan.

Dear Noel,

We had some lovely photos taken recently to document your growing life…. but you are as present with me as it’s possible to be at this stage.  You are squirmy and wiggly and flippy, I’m pretty sure even more than your older brother was.  One difference I note is that you do indeed have distinct active cycles and sleep/rest cycles.  I remember with him, feeling like he never let up on his movement.

You feel smaller so far than he did, so even at thirty four weeks, you have plenty of space to move all around.  You’ve spent many days in a breech position, your head pressing hard up against my ribs and your feet kicking around in my pelvic area.  You also seem to prefer a posterior position thus far, which means my belly is constantly full of your knees, elbows, hands, and feet, all over the place, unpredictable, strong, and wild.  Not always so comfortable for me!  But you finally relocated a week or so ago, to at least a semi-diagonal-head-down position, which is moving in the right direction.  I am praying for you to position yourself in good birthing position (and stay put!) within the next few weeks.

Some things about carrying you that I want to remember….

I’ve craved salty and spicy foods.

My life is busier, as in, less time sitting down and thinking.  It means that sometimes I almost forget that you are within me, until you start bouncing around and I think, “Well hello, Noel!” with a little smile.  Then I remember again, how we are anticipating you.

With having children, there’s things I think I thought it would “fix” in my life, and of course things I knew it would “break” (in a good way).  Being a Mommy for the last two years has made me a different person than I was before.

But I have a similar anticipation to you – being YOU.  Your big brother was an open-ended idea… we didn’t even know his gender, let alone his personality, preferences, opinions, quirks.  Some of the things we hoped for him, that he would be full of life and joy and creativity, have all been true.  Other things were just a clean, white slate, ready for him to write his own story.

So it is the same with you.  You will be different than he.  Your gender, personality, preferences, quirks… and I try to hold in my heart, not the expectation of another Jax, but the expectation of Noel.  A clean, white slate, ready for you to write your own story.

It’s harder to do the second time around, but it’s something always on my mind.  To discover you day by day, the same way I did with him.  Expectation-free.  Heart wide-open.  An open-ended journey of who are you, who are you becoming, and what is my part to play in getting acquainted with you and acquainting you to the world around you.

We are even planning your birth to be in a different room of the house.  Most of the people invited to your birth day will be the same, unless perhaps your Aunt Mercy or Priscilla will be able to come, who were too far away last time to make it.

Your big brother is so enthusiastic about you.  I know that you are still living primarily in his imagination, and the reality of you will be so different for him.  But he needs you too, he just doesn’t know it yet.  You will help him grow up and become less selfish, just like he did for your Daddy and I.   You will eventually play with him and the two of you can enjoy some of the best friendships available on earth – that of connected siblings.

He frequently wants to talk to you.  If I change clothes and he sees my belly, he comes over to talk to you.  Or sometimes he will pull my shirt up, lean his head against my skin, and talk to you.  It usually goes something like this, “Hello baby Noel…” (giggles and smiles)… “This is Jax Reilly. I’m your big brother.”

When he and I lay down in bed together to cuddle, or read books, or nurse, he is often close enough to feel you bumping and kicking around.  Sometimes he exclaims in surprise, “Baby Noel is kicking me!” followed by his sweet laugh.

One day when I was cleaning the house and couldn’t play with him, he told me he wanted you to be here NOW so he could play with you.

When other tiny babies come to visit us, he wants to look deeply into their eyes, often holding their shoulders or cheeks in both his hands, to establish connection with them.  Recently he showed one of his favorite hot wheels trucks to a tiny baby – tried putting it in the baby’s hand, and when the baby couldn’t grab it, he set it gently on the baby’s chest for the baby to see.  I know he will be the same way with you.

I’m looking forward to cuddling you, nursing you, wearing you, smelling your sweet-scented hair, and discovering you.

Your brother has brought us more joy, laughter, and life, than we could have imagined, and I know you will magnify that experience in our home.

Besides praying for your health, safety, growth, and smooth delivery, I’m also praying for your heart and character and soul.  That you would be filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit from a young age.  That you would be passionate for His cause.  That those who know you would be drawn to you, and thus to Jesus.

I had an experience early in my pregnancy with you, where I was in a group of people listening to a recorded sermon.  In the message, the man was talking about how the power of God can be invited and poured out when we shout to Him.  It’s in the Bible, many, many times, but not something we practice too often these days.  On the CD, he was prepping his audience, a crowd of hundreds, to shout all together, to God, on his cue.  I was debating in my mind…. here I am with five other people, all passionate people who are crazy for God, but still, here we are sitting in a quiet room, listening to a pre-recorded sermon.  What will happen?  What will we do?  Will we listen or will we participate?  Will the moment of shouting pass by with us sitting quietly, or will someone jump up and yell out to God praise and adoration and celebration of His name?

I decided I wasn’t going to wait to find out.  Breaking out of my hesitant, indecisive self, when the preacher finished his countdown, I yelled, loudly, “Praise You God! We worship You!  You are mighty!  Thank you Jesus!”  I lifted my hands toward heaven as I shouted, and felt almost what seemed like electricity shoot through my fingertips, down my arms and body, and directly into my womb.  I continued shouting, and the others in the room quickly joined in, but I almost sat there stunned.  I knew in that moment, you would live, you would exist, and you had already been filled with the power of God, for a life that has impact in the world.

I’m looking forward to getting to know you.  Looking forward to seeing you discover God’s beautiful world, even in its brokenness, and fighting for His cause of bringing it peace and healing and love.  Be full of His power and passion little one; the world needs it.

 

Boy Plus Lizard – Lessons in Protection and Freedom

We’ve actually had a bit of rain here lately, in this summer drought.  A couple days ago, it started to sprinkle and Jax asked me to play outside with him.  We’ve been playing inside the last couple months, because 85 degrees plus is just too much, for any length of time, being pregnant.  The rain had cooled it down to about 76 outside, and the sprinkles felt refreshing.  Within five minutes however, it was pouring.  I grabbed rain jackets for both of us, so we would be wet but not soaked to the bone.  The we played while the rain poured down over us.
When I spotted this little lizard, I figured he would run off at lightening speed like they usually do. But at some point I realized he was moving slowly and wondered if it was all the rain slowing him down.  I tried to pick him up, and he barely resisted.
And that is how Jax got to play with his first lizard.  He was so good at being gentle and not squishing, and the lizard was extremely docile and cooperative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then…. he took the lizard for a ride.

 

 

We put him in a jar with a couple ants, some grass, and mud.  We left him there overnight, outside in the jar, while I tried to figure out what we would do with him. I wouldn’t mind a lizard pet, but was unsure about feeding and maintaining it properly.

A few times I suggested we release him into the grass, and Jax said, “But I want to pway wif him! I want him to be my fwend!”  So we kept lizard friend overnight, and the next morning, went outside and let him go.

I told Jax the lizard missed his Mommy and Daddy, and we needed to put him back in the grass so he could run away to go find them.  He decided this was acceptable, held the lizard a bit longer, then tossed him into the grass to find his freedom.  The lizard, now dry, and nervous after being stuck in a glass cage all night, scampered away as quick as anything, and Jax said goodbye…..

These adventures are some of the ones that bring me a breath of life as a Mommy.  I love the outdoors, discovering, exploring, as much as Jax does.  I love these little adventures that I think all kids should get to enjoy, if they choose to.

Although I want my kids to be safe, I also don’t want to over-protect them right out of enjoying God’s creation.  I have always been pretty relaxed when Jax plays outside. He’s eaten dirt, leaves, and licked plenty of rocks.  The only thing that’s made him truly sick is other sick children, so I’m just not that worried about bugs and dirt.

Sometimes when we are at the park or other places, I feel like some parents tell their kids “no” at every possible junction…. don’t touch that stick.  Don’t jump off that rock.  Don’t climb that bench.

I want my children to learn to respect nature, to learn to respect other people, and items that are not meant for childlike-destruction.  We definitely parent with those boundaries.

But if we are at the tire shop waiting for new tires to be put on the car, and he wants to run up and down outside, in an area safe from cars, I’m going to let him run.  If we are at a swimming pool, he doesn’t get to run around the pool area.

If he wants to climb on rocks and jump off, and I think he’s too little to do it safely, I will hold his hand or help him.  If I think he might fall but is unlikely to break any bones, there’s a good chance I will let him try.

If he wants to grab a stick, I will make sure he isn’t swinging it at humans. But he is allowed to bang it on the ground. He is allowed to break it.  He is allowed to poke at a bug with it.

I’m willing to risk him getting mildly hurt, in the interest of allowing him to discover the world.  Certainly when his life is in danger, or broken bones seem imminent, these activities are off limit.  And if the activity is questionable, I try to do it with him or helping him, so he can still discover it, while remaining a bit safer.

My mom told me when I was a little girl, that someone once told her some parenting advice….. If you can say “yes”, say it.

Obviously there are people that are permissive to the point of neglect, and that’s not what we’re talking about here.

For me, this means when my twelve month-old wants to climb on the merry go round, I keep him safe by making sure there aren’t any big kids spinning it frantically, but I say yes by letting him crawl across it. Even if he could possibly crawl off one edge.  There’s a good chance he won’t.  And if he gets too close, I’m fast enough to run and catch him, and I’m doing my best to keep close in the event he does.  But I don’t keep him off the merry go round altogether….

I was more worried with this lizard, that Jax would squish it and kill it, which would just be sad.  I think I told him to be gentle about a thousand times.  Each time he reminded me that he WAS being gentle, and he was doing a good job too.  I took the risk of the mess of cleaning up a squished lizard, so Jax could enjoy the creature and learn a lesson in gentle touch.

I was also worried he would get attached to it, and by crying when it was time to let it go.  I debated how long we would keep it, and in what manner we would keep it (indoor / outdoor), how and when I was going to explain it was time for the lizard to go home… when Jax would need to say goodbye to the creature he decided to call, “Friend.”

But he was fine with that too.  We kept him overnight by mistake really, and the next morning, Jax was ready to release him, without any tears.

This is one of the ways in which parenting is a journey of discovery for the parent, just as much as the child….. How do we keep them safe?  And how do we set them free?  How do we protect them from serious pain, because we love them so much?  Yet how do we also love them enough, to allow them “safe failures” so they can learn their own limits and discover how to manage the world on their own, little by little, in age-appropriate ways and times.

When and how do we hold them close… When and how do we let go….

And we try to balance protection with freedom, holding tight with letting go, along the journey of two years old and ten years old and sixteen years old, so they hopefully learn how to make wise choices when they aren’t under our thumb or in our presence.

I don’t have this thing all figured out!  But these are some of the values and thoughts I wrestle with… try to discover…. and slowly learn how to implement in the very delightful lesson of the lizard.

Rainy Day

What to do with an antsy toddler on a rainy day?  In the summer time, you take them outside to play in the rain of course.

Tee-shirt only is a common sight around here, courtesy of potty training.  I might have even let him pee in the muddle puddle because I didn’t want to drag him inside, all wet and muddy and grassy and cold….

He is also totally engrossed in little matchbox cars these days.  And a motorcycle that his cousin gave him.  He has played with that motorcycle for at least an hour or more every day for several weeks now.  The cars had been packed up for months, and upon their re-emergence, have also become the new favorite.  I have a decent size stash of them picked up from a yard sale, plus some others that have been given.  Some days the race car is the favorite, other days the jeep, other days the garbage truck….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These Two

They bring me SO much joy and laughter every day.  I just can’t get over it.

I love cooking dinner while hearing peals of laughter in the other room.  These boys are my favorite.

We have needed to establish that Daddy is for climbing on, but Mommy is not.  They like to play the climbing/jumping/tickling/game so often.  Benjamin loves it when Jax lays across his back like the first two images here.

Potty Training Week Two

I’ve got a few take-aways from the last two weeks of potty training my first born son.

1. He was ready, and eager, and he is making this extremely easy.

2. Bare bottom is by far the best way through this thing. All tile/concrete floors in the house helps too, although we have had very few accidents.

In fact, when he is bare bottom, he gets to the potty in time, of his own accord, nearly 100% of the time. In fact, I can’t think of a bare bottom accident he’s had yet.

When he is wearing something on his bottom, whether undies or shorts, or diaper, or whatever, he’s only getting to the potty about 50% of the time, or perhaps slightly less. So we’re still sticking with bare bottom when we’re at home, most of the time.

The exception to this, is when we are out running errands.  He has been out of the house now for multiple three hour stretches of time, and will consent to “trying” to go (sitting on a public toilet), but hasn’t gone in one yet, and hasn’t had an accident while we’re out yet either. He goes right before we leave, and as soon as we get back. I’ve heard this is common, since kids may find big potties in foreign restrooms to be intimidating and noisy.

He’s getting pee in the potty almost every time, and poopy in the potty about half the time.  He has this hysterical stricken look on his face when he realizes he is pooping in his undies and it is too late.  “Mommy! I’m going poopy! Coming out!”  It makes me want to laugh, but so far I have managed not to.

We went swimming a few days ago at the neighbor’s pool, and Jax peed at least three times out on the deck of the pool (which I hosed off).  I explained to him that it was okay to pee outside sometimes.

I should have been slightly more specific, because the next day, we were about to go on a bike ride, and were outside all ready to go, pumping air in the bike tires, and he suddenly informed me he was peeing. I could see it soaking his undies and shorts, and running down his legs onto his shoes.  I reminded him that he needed to pee in the potty, and now he was wet and I would need to go clean him.  He replied cheerfully, “Mommy, it’s okay to pee outside!”

Um. I should clarify. “Well, it’s okay to pee when we are swimming.  It’s not okay to pee outside when we are wearing undies and clothes.”

I was also a bit nervous the first week, about the irregularity of his pooping.  For at least a year now, he has pooped two to four times per day, in his diaper.  Always in the morning before about nine a.m., usually again in the morning, and in the afternoon sometime.  Occasionally twice in the afternoon, but not always.

When we were potty training, he didn’t poop at all the first day.  Then he pooped once in his diaper at bedtime.  The second day he pooped a tiny bit outside, accident.  Nothing else.  The third day, he finally pooped in his potty in the afternoon some time.  On the fourth day, I think one poopy accident and one poopy in the potty.  On the fifth day, he pooped twice in the potty, and one accident, and one of the potty times, Benjamin was in charge and said it just kept coming out, and he couldn’t believe that much poop could be in such a tiny body.  My guess is, it was all the back up from the prior days, that he had been holding back.

This week, he’s been a bit closer to his normal schedule, and has been making it to the potty about half the time for poopy.  I’ll take what I can get, (haha), and am particularly grateful to see him returning to his regular pattern.  That seems to mean he isn’t holding it in anymore, and has figured out how it feels and how to manage it, when he remembers.

He is consenting to wear diapers for nap time (cloth) and night time (disposable).  I have zero worry about that issue, and won’t worry about it at all for at least a year from now.  If he starts turning up dry, great.

Here’s the products I’ve tried in this process, and my thoughts on them:

Summer Infant Potty Chair

We got the plain white so it would match the adult bathroom toilet.  I like having a potty chair because:

1. I can use the adult toilet at the same time as Jax. This seems to encourage him. Plus since I’m pregnant, I have to use the toilet nearly as much as a toddler, so the timing works out nicely.

2. It’s at his height and his level. It’s extremely easy for him to get on / off all by himself. The first week, he practically entertained himself all week, spending massive amounts of time, of his own accord, sitting on the potty reading books. He still will often go potty, then not want to get off just yet. He will sit for ten minutes or more reading his books, very comfortable on the potty, before he’s ready to get up.

Because we cloth diapered, we still have a diaper sprayer attached to our toilet.  Once he goes in the potty, I lift out the insert, dump it into the big toilet, and give it a quick spray with the diaper sprayer.

We have this Bum Genius diaper sprayer (love it) and this generic one (it’s okay – relies on white sticky foam stuff to hang the sprayer on the toilet, and it always falls down, not cool).

Small Potty Seat

I was not a fan of this item. Perhaps some other ones are better, but I didn’t like this one.

1. Even with a stool, it was really hard for Jax to get up and down from the big potty.

2. When he would sit down, his penis would get stuck on TOP of the little blue cup that is supposed to prevent overspray.

3. We also have what I think are currently standard size home toilets, which have a deep oval bowl shape.  This appears that it might better fit the toilet size we had growing up, which was smaller and rounder.  So it slides back and forth (front to back) across the toilet seat oval, leaving several inches of toilet exposed on either side as it slides.  This makes it feel insecure to a small child.  It couldn’t actually fall in, but it does slide around as they are trying to get on and off.

4. With this particular one, the plastic on the inside of the blue cup is textured with little plastic slats / lines. It’s hard to clean inside there.  No bueno.

5. As an adult who uses the toilet frequently, and shares the same bathroom as my toddler, I just don’t want to be putting this thing on and off the toilet all day long. On for me; off for him, all day.

Jax seemed willing to use it, but it was honestly just too hard for him to climb up by himself and get situated properly in it himself with it sliding all over.  Being able to “do it myself” is pretty key for the toddler age, so to me, that’s a big obstacle.

City Threads Underwear

3-Pack Boy's Brief - Fun Boy - Size 2T

LOVE these. They are super, super soft. Like I want some in my size soft.  There is no separate waistband or leg band, so it’s just one lovely soft fabric all the way around.  The fit is really nice.  Not too snug on little boy parts, but fitted around the waist and legs to keep any lumps from falling out of their own accord.  They also have a nice shape to them, that looks more like a “boy short” style panties I own, than what normal men’s or boy’s briefs.  His little tush looks ridiculously adorable in them.  I’d show you a photo, but it’s the internet.

According to reviews, the fabric and elastic also stay strong and true to color (minimal fading), after many washes.  I wish you could buy the prints separately, as I think Jax would love the music print and the vehicle print, but that’s a small gripe. I went with solid colors so when he’s ready to move up to the next size, I can get the stripes or something to help tell the difference when they are packed up for future kids (since the price of these makes them a bit of an investment).

I started out with a single three-pack to see if we liked them, then ordered nine more, so we have a total of twelve.  If he wears undies all day, rather than bare bottom, he is going through 3-4 pairs per day, so I can get through 2-3 days before washing them.  With the single pack, I was washing them every evening.  He doesn’t have that many accidents if he is bare bottom, but if he wears undies all day, he has more accidents, so we go through more undies.

I’ve been storing the dirty undies in the same wet bag we use for our cloth diapers, and washing the nap time cloth diapers along with the undies, every 2-3 days (separate from normal laundry).

The little sewed scoop along the side does feel like a little slit, but upon inspection, the flap of fabric underneath is sewn shut.  Jax is wearing size 2T and it fits him perfectly.

I also tried three different kinds of cloth pull-ups.  EcoPosh, Blueberry, and Super Undies.  (versus / comparison).  I bought one of each kind from a cloth diaper store local to me, because they accept returns for gently used items, so I can return the ones that don’t work out for us.

The EcoPosh was the softest inside and out, and claims to have a waterproof PUL layer in the middle from recycled water bottles. Cool.  The medium fit Jax fine, and I liked the feel of them. He hasn’t had an accident in them, so I can’t tell how waterproof they are.  That’s kind of the key factor, because if they won’t hold a single pee accident, they aren’t any better than just wearing undies (since the undies hold poop accidents just fine).

The Blueberry were also soft inside and out, and were Jax’s favorite because of the cute prints.  The medium also fit him fine.  He has had one pee accident while wearing these, and the trainer pant and his shorts were soaked through.  Either that or he sat down in water.  I’d be willing to test them once more to be sure, because he seemed to think he had sat in water, not that he had peed (though they smelled like pee).  If they don’t hold a pee accident, they’re not worth using in my opinion.

The Super Undies were my least favorite. The fabric was all polyester, and seemed more scratchy.  They have little snaps that would allow you to open them up like a diaper, instead of only sliding them up/down the legs. This would be a bonus in the case of a messy poop accident, you wouldn’t drag the poop down their legs while taking off the trainer pants – you could unsnap it just like a cloth diaper.  They have a little pocket on the inside, like many cloth diapers do, so if you’re familiar with pocket diapers and have inserts for them, you make like these trainers.  You can slip some of the pocket inserts you already own, into the trainer pant, for extra absorption.  I didn’t like the pocket however, because the fabric, without anything in it, tended to hang down, getting caught on or under his penis as we tried to put the undies up.

In the end, I may not keep any of them.  He’s doing so well in underwear, and if the trainers leak with a heavy pee accident, they’re not doing me any favors.  I might as well tote spare undies and shorts around instead.  If they WOULD hold something, it would be worth owning two or three of them, for errands or car rides, where I worry about pee soaking his car seat.

I’m just not a fan of disposables in general, other than for overnight sleeping and vacations, so I doubt I will even buy a single package of disposable pull ups.

We also have these Apple Cheeks swim diapers in the bright blue color.

We are using cloth swim diapers this summer, to help with any poopy accidents in the water.  They are a tad bit small for him, because I bought them the first summer he was alive, but they still fit well enough to keep me from buying anything else this year.  In past summers, I discovered I preferred disposable swim diapers, because one poopy mess in the cloth swim diaper, and there you are without diapers (since I only own two of the cloth swim diapers).  But with a potty trained kiddo, I now prefer the cloth swim diaper. It gives him an extra soft layer between his body and swim trunks, and helps me feel safe that no floaters are going to slip out.

We are also still using our cloth wipes to clean him after a poopy.  It cleans so much gentler and easier than toilet paper.  He can’t wipe himself yet anyway, so if I’m cleaning him, I’d rather it be with a flannel, wet cloth wipe.

Books
– For the toddler.  I already reviewed potty training books for the adult in my prior post.

The first week, Jax wanted the potty books read to him over and over.  Part of it was because they were new stories, which he likes.  Part of it was because it was indeed teaching, or illustrating for him, this new journey he was on.

Here’s the potty books we’ve read, either that we own at home, or that we’ve borrowed from the library.

Pirate Potty.
No likey.  A decent storyline book if you have a toddler who likes pirate stuff, or are bored with the obvious process books and want to read a story instead.  I just wasn’t a fan of the story or the anime-style illustrations, and didn’t like the bazillion skull and crossbones decorating every single page.  It has a little cut out sticker chart and stickers, that you can remove from the book, if you want a pre-made sticker chart option for potty rewards.

The Prince and the Potty
This is a storyline book, and we like it a lot.  A little prince doesn’t want to use the potty (I change the words so instead of him refusing, he is just unsure because he doesn’t know how yet).  A wise man (with a crystal globe / ball, meh), suggests to the parents they get the prince a puppy.  They travel the kingdom and find one. At the castle, the puppy makes “puddles” all over.  The queen wants the puppy to do his business on little scraps of cloth, which he tears up.  He eventually gets it, and they all shout “Hooray for the puppy!”, and the puppy and the prince get little food treats.  The prince then realizes he needs to go, and he uses his own potty (he stands, whereas all the other books I mention show boys sitting, which is the best posture for toddlers until they figure it out later).  He uses it, and they cheer “Hooray for the prince” and throw a huge party with food and fiddlers.

I find it odd they would teach the puppy to pee on fabric scraps all over the castle, instead of outside, where every dog I know of, goes potty.  But it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story, and the nice change of having a potty book with a story line rather than a functional process.

Prince of the Potty
This is an obvious process or “how to” potty book of sorts. It also shows the boy noticing that Daddy uses the potty, or wears underwear, and Grandpa, and his friend do so as well.  We change the words to “my cousin, Griffin” instead of “my friend, Max”, because Jax’s cousin just potty trained a couple months ago and Jax has been very intrigued.  This book also emphasizes hand washing.

It’s pleasant to read and Jax likes it.  It comes in a boy version or girl version. I imagine the difference is it compares the child’s thoughts about Mommy using the potty, and Grandma using the potty, etc.

Potty
This is another obvious process book.  It’s a board book, and cute illustrations that show a naked baby posed in ways you can’t tell the gender, so it’s good for boy or girl.  It also shows the cat using a litter box, and the dog peeing on a tree outside in the grass.

It also manages to tell the story without using any words like “pee” or “poop”.  Some of the other books don’t have great reviews because people want to use different words, or don’t like the direct reference or something.  My opinion is 1. If you’re going to potty train a kid, you’re going to have to figure out words you want to use for body parts and for bodily functions.  2. If you don’t like the words of a book, change them as you read the story, to words you are comfortable with.  We do this all the time, with lots of books.

Speaking of Words

There’s tons of debate out there about teaching actual words for children’s body parts, such as penis, or vulva; versus using nick name words that are more cutesy.  My mom taught me and my sisters “front bottom” and “back bottom.”  I used those words with Jax when he was littler, but once he was potty training, I started using the generic “bottom” and the clear “penis.”  Because you have to teach them to point that thing DOWN and you need some kind of word for it.  I think with little girls I would stick with “front bottom” and “back bottom.”  I’m not anti-feminist and against the proper word vulva, but it’s hard to say, and it’s just not used much in our culture, so I think it would be weird to hear a little girl talking about that, whereas penis seems to be talked about more frequently.  I’m just trying to use common sense and practicality here, and not get into funky debates about stuff.

We use “pee” and “poopy”, and we also “toot” instead of “fart,” just because I hate the word “fart”, it sounds so ugly.  His little seat is a “potty” but “potty” can also refer to him going “potty” in his “potty.”

Prior to potty training, when he would see my underwear (if I was changing clothes), I would call them “panties.”  But then I realized I didn’t want him calling his own underwear “panties.”  The kid books we are reading to him all use “underwear,” but one of them uses “undies.”  We have ended up using that word, as it’s short and easy to say, and universally applies to girls or boys.

Treats

I started with two of the homemade butter button candies for pee, and two of those plus one piece of chocolate for poopy.  The second week, I reduced the reward to one butter button for pee, and one button plus one piece of chocolate for poopy.  I am also not giving him the reward unless he remembers to ask me for it.  He always remembers for the chocolate, because he loves it so much, but he often forgets for pee.  I don’t offer it unless he asks.  If he keeps remembering, once I feel like he’s regularly being successful, I may try transitioning to non-food reward such as stickers that earn points or something (which was suggested to me by a friend).

I also like these candies by the Lovely company, for on-the-go rewards.  When we were at church on Sunday, he peed in the church potty twice, and was disapponted we didn’t have candy for him.  The Lovely company makes gluten free candies (some, such as the one linked, are also dairy free) that also don’t have food coloring or corn syrup, and are sugar sweetened much less than normal candy.  These fruity ones remind me of a less-sweet but still fruity and chewy Starburst.  I found them at my local Target.

Okay, that was long enough for now!

I’m so grateful for a toddler who has made this first-time-Mommy’s job so easy.  I’m also super grateful that I won’t still be changing his poopy diapers by the time I’m changing Noel’s poopy diapers!  I’m sure Jax will still have some messes by then, but it will be way better than two kiddos with constant diapering (and diaper washing) needs!

Potty Training Day One

I guess he’s ready. That’s what today told me.
I had prepared by:
1. Cleaning out his little potty in our bathroom that seems to accumulate dust and hair.
2. Making “candy” I could feel happy about giving him as reward (info later in post).
3. Putting a bin of books next to the potty.
4. Moving the bathroom rug to a spot cozy enough for his feet to rest, and my body to sit on for the better part of the day reading books and waiting.
5. Placing a timer in the bathroom to be set every thirty minutes to “try.”
6. Rolling up the living room area rug so the house would be concrete floors only, for easy accident clean up.
7. Reading three different potty training books over the weekend. All very different perspectives; I gleaned bits and pieces from each one.
8. Making sure my schedule was completely clear this week, so we could stay home all week and focus on this task.
What I did NOT do:
1. Buy pull ups or underwear.  I decided to just wait to see how the first few days went.  I’ve heard from several friends that the best potty training method is to spend a dedicated week working on it, and to have the toddler naked from the waist down.  This makes frequent potty visits easy, and makes them very, very aware of any accidents they have.
We have cloth diapered Jax since he was born, so he is used to the feeling of soft, cotton fabric against his skin (we use prefolds, not the moisture wicking fancy diapers).  It means he is also used to the feeling of wet, smushy cotton against his skin.  I felt that underwear would just feel the exact same to him as his cotton diapers, and wouldn’t “tell” his brain that something was different and he needed to pay attention.
Plus I’m not planning to take him out of the house this week.  If things go well, I will figure out if I want to use disposable or cloth pull ups, or underwear, or whatnot.  That part is still a bit overwhelming.
When we woke up this morning, I let him know I was going to help him learn how to use the potty today. He seemed nonchalant.  I reiterated this idea several times over the morning while we ate breakfast and tidied up the house.
Prior to today, we’ve been reading potty books for a couple months now.. We have spent time talking about how he will grow up and learn to use the potty, and practicing sitting on his little plastic potty in our bathroom (usually when I’m going using the toilet he will sit on his potty with his clothes on).  
However, he also knows that when he grows up, he will learn to drive a car and use sharp knives, and as a firstborn without older siblings to model for him, he seemed prepared to wait until we let him know the time was right for either one.  I felt that without some prompting, he might not realize that the time for peeing in the toilet was coming along much sooner than driving a car.
After breakfast I took off his diaper and put him in just a tee-shirt.  I let him know he wouldn’t wear a diaper or shorts today, so he could learn to use the potty. At my suggestion, he willingly went over to try.  Shortly after he sat down, he started crying that he didn’t want to. I thought perhaps it was the newness and suddenness, since he is a person who likes clear expectations and accomplish-able tasks.
So I busted out the reward concept. I told him if he put his pee or poopy in the toilet, I would give him candy.
That was an instant motivator, and for the next hour he pretty much refused to get off the potty because he was determined to get candy! (A rare treat around here).
I tried suggesting he take little breaks and try again later, but the minute he got up, he would go back in to try again to get candy. He seemed a bit discouraged.  Then my mother in law texted me to give him lots of water. Eureka.
I filled up a sippy cup with juice (Odwalla carrot and blueberry apple which is squeezed fruit and pulp), and another sippy with herbal tea that Jax loves. After downing a good amount of each, about thirty minutes later he went! I was using the toilet at the same time, and reading him books. He announced that he went pee, and he had!  Two bits of homemade candy and he was a happy camper.
“More?”
“You can have more when you put more pee or poopy in your potty!”
The second time he was successful, he was sitting at the table to eat, then told me he needed to pee. He got down from the table, ran to the bathroom, and peed in the potty again.
He spent all morning visiting the potty of his own accord, saying he needed to pee. I would guess he sat on the potty perhaps every 10-15 minutes without any prompting (though I was prepared to do so).  I had set the timer a few times, but each time he had already visited the potty several more times than the timer indicated, so I stopped using it.
Before nap time, he had peed in the potty six times and had zero accidents. The last four pees were without any help from me at all. He just kept trying, and when he was successful, he came running to tell me and get his candy.
All that focusing must have worn him out because he took a three hour nap, and of course his diaper was wet after naps. (I have zero expectations in the sleeping dry area until he masters awake dry first).
After that long nap, Daddy came home. Daddy is way too much fun these days, so Jax had one pee accident on an upholstered chair, and a second pee accident in the bath (no surprise there).  Then he went to bed, so Daddy didn’t get to see him go in the potty, and we didn’t have any successes following nap time.  Considering how well the morning went, I at least feel certain that he’s ready, and we’re on the right track.
He didn’t poop all day, in any location.  He’s in bed now, and I’m curious to see if he will poop during the night (which he otherwise hasn’t done for over a year), or first thing in the morning, or what will happen.  This is a kid who usually poops 2-4 times per day, and is never constipated.  I feel certain he didn’t poop today because he hasn’t figured out how to do it in the potty, not because he didn’t need to go.  In fact, I bet several of the times he would say he needed to pee, and would try, but not go, was his body wanting to poop.
Update: He woke at 10:30 pm tonight with a poopy diaper. It took him a long time to fall asleep tonight, likely because of his lengthy nap, so I imagine he pooped while he was trying to fall alseep.  He’s clean, and back to sleep again now. Hopefully no more poopy tonight!
I feel pretty upbeat about how today went. I had prepared myself for accidents all day long, and perhaps one successful pee in the potty.  Having made as much quick progress as he did, tells me he is physically and developmentally ready.  Now the two of us just have to figure this out together!
The candy I made him is from the lovely book “From Scratch” by Shaye Elliott.  It’s a cookbook for “whole foods”, which I would describe as a way of cooking that is truly from “scratch.”  She doesn’t have a recipe asking for salsa on top of something, and she even has recipes for things like homemade mayonnaise.  I get frustrated by just how much “food” sold in the grocery store seems to have more artificial ingredients than it does actual food.  I also know that Jax already eats a lot of fruit and dried fruit, so rewarding him with raisins wasn’t going to be an adequate motivation.  In the recipe book, Shaye says a friend of hers developed this recipe when potty training her toddler, and it seemed like a great idea to me.
The recipe is simple and located online here:
– Butter (organic, free range if possible) – saturated animal fats from healthy animal sources have actually been shown in recent years to be necessary for physical and dental health, especially in children
– Cinnamon (I get my spices from Mountain Rose Herbs online, as they are organic, fair trade, and about 25% of grocery store prices).
– Honey (I use local, raw, unfiltered honey)
The recipe has you blend it up, put it in a pastry or ziploc bag, cut the corner, squeeze into little “buttons” on parchment paper, then freeze.  Once frozen, it was easy to scrape them into a glass jar and store it in the freezer (bonus, Jax can’t reach it there).  I gave him two candies each time he peed in the potty, and plan to give him three or four for poopy in the potty.
I haven’t tried to think about having to stop with the candy once he’s got the hang of it. I will just take one parenting challenge at a time, thank you!  Potty training is big enough right now.
The books I read are the following:
1. Let’s Get This Potty Started  review (written by a child psychologist, my favorite)
2. That’s How I Roll review (very brief, perhaps a fifteen minute read, my least favorite)
3. The No-Cry Potty Training Solution review (by the same lady who wrote the No-Cry Sleep Solution, which I found very helpful when Jax was tiny)
1. This book was my favorite, because the parenting advice I’ve found most helpful so far, is essentially developmental insight or psychological explanations for a child’s stage or behavior.  Every child is different, which we hear all the time.  But this means that you could read one hundred pieces of specific “do this, this way” advice, and perhaps one or two might “work” for your child.  I’ve found that if I can understand what his basic development need is, or what is “behind” his behavior, I am able to discover with a unique solution to address that need, rather than addressing the behavior.  God in my life helps so much too, because I truly believe that of my best parenting solutions have been something I heard God whisper to me to try.
The book talks about basic toddler personality types, and how to help channel those in regard to potty training. It does not suggest any particular method or “how to”, and also emphasizes that kids are physically/emotionally/mentally “ready” at different times, and if they aren’t ready, you just aren’t going to have much success, so better to try again in a few months.  She talks about how this takes time, and the “do it in one day” methods tend to fail.
The book doesn’t have the greatest reviews on Amazon, my guess being that people wanted something more “how to.”  For me, it was perfect.
2. This was my least favorite.  She has a very clear cut “how to” and reiterates that parents who attempt her method and fail, have left out one of her steps. She says you can’t leave any of them out, or you will fail. She also tries to be funny, but I didn’t find her funny.
Here’s her method in a nutshell:
– Take toddler to store and let them pick out super cool undies, any kind they like. Also get plain white boring undies.
– Tell toddler today is the day, and don’t change your mind about it, or go back, ever, this is the no going back day from this day forward, no matter what happens.
– That same day, take away toddler’s sippy cup and move them to a normal cup, even if they still spill their cup all the time, because if they just “sip” on their sippy cup all day, they won’t quickly fill their bladder up like they would with a normal cup, which will prevent their bladder from getting full and making them need to go potty.
– Buy the seat that goes on the normal potty, not a potty chair, because you don’t want to have to clean the potty chair.
– Buy M&Ms or candy of your choice. Give them one candy for “trying” (sitting on the potty), two candies for pee, and three candies for poop.  Also have a “big” toy item ready to give them after a few days of good success.
– Put their cool undies on. Take them to the potty every 30-60 minutes. Encourage them to drink water. When they have an accident, throw away the cool undies that got dirty, and put the plain white undies on. Explain the cool undies can’t be cleaned and they have to learn to keep them clean or they will be thrown out.  It is okay if this makes the toddler cry because you want them to have motivation to keep the cool undies clean.
– Stick with it. First day expect 10-12 accidents, and maybe one success. Second day expect 4-6 accidents and several successes. By day three, toddler should be having 1-2 accidents per day and everything else success.
– Your kid will be potty trained with a week or two at the most.
There were just too many things that grated on me (besides the forced humor).  Some kids might be intimidated by the big potty, and want a little potty, and that’s okay.  I also felt that sitting on the big potty while Jax sat on his little potty was helpful to him.
No matter what I do, Jax always spills a normal cup within three minutes of getting it, no matter how exciting the contents of the cup are.  He also only drinks water or fluid when he is really thirsty, then he drinks a LOT all at once.  So I don’t see a reason to take away his sippy cup (which is really a stainless water bottle with a straw, not a true sippy).  I also don’t see a reason to make too many big changes to a toddler all at once.  If they are at all attached to their sippy, as many toddlers are, I wouldn’t want to make that huge change at the same time I was making another huge change (potty training).
I can’t lie to my kids. I don’t like using “stuff” or throwing away their stuff, as a method of “training.” It seems more like threats or punishment, which isn’t generally advised for potty training.  I also think that peeing in undies would be a big physical awakening to a kid who’s used disposable diapers, but no change at all for a kid who’s been in cloth.
Finally, some kids just aren’t going to be ready when the parents think they are, or want them to be.  So the instruction to stick with it and never go back just isn’t reasonable.  If the kid is really struggling and you are having all sorts of resistance, it’s better for everyone to just stop and wait a few months to try again.  There are developmental issues affecting the capability of the child to toilet train, just like their capability to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, and anything else a parent might want (or not want!) their child to accomplish.
3. Pantley’s book is broken down in a “quick” section and a longer section.  You can read the quick section and not read anything else, unless you have a particular area of struggle you want a bit more detailed advice about.  Reading both sections feels incredibly redundant, as there are identical sentences and paragraphs, some of them just fleshed out a bit more with an anecdote, joke, or tiny bit more detail.
She seems to take a middle ground approach. She gives some ideas of different ways to try things, emphasizes pausing if the child doesn’t respond well, and emphasizing it can take time not to try to rush or pressure the child.  She has a combination of how-to’s, but not as specific as book #2; and some developmental insight, though not as thorough or helpful as book #1.  She also says it might be helpful to clear your schedule for a week or several days in a row, to focus on it, and that works for some kids who are developmentally ready.
Surprisingly, none of them even mention the idea of partial nudity (waist down) as being a method that works for many toddlers and parents.
They all agree not to punish accidents or other unwanted potty behavior.  They all agree that nighttime and nap-time dryness is a physical and physiological development that cannot be rushed or altered.  They all take the tack that you just have to wait and one day the kid will do it, and it should happen before age six, but commonly does not happen until age four or five, years after the child is day trained.
My sister, and other friends I’ve known, have spent a bit of time with a three or four year old, to help them night train (especially boys who sleep heavily).  When the parents go to bed (maybe 10 or 11 or 12 at night), they wake the boy and take him potty. They also set an alarm for somewhere around 2/3/4 am to take the child potty again.  My sisters have both been able to night-train their four year olds using this method.  So while it’s not necessary to expect a two-year old to be dry through the night, it may also not be necessary to just “wait and see” until a child is six, for them to figure it out on their own.
I’m proud of Jax, and I’m also at peace knowing that I’m not pushing him for something he’s not ready for. He showed me today that he is ready, so now we just get to walk this journey together, however long it takes him.  In the mean time, I’ll keep making butter buttons.

Chores for Toddlers

In an online parenting group I’m part of, a conversation began about chores for kids. At what age were they old enough to help, and what sort of things could they help with?

I don’t have it all figured out, but I do know that toddlers LOVE to do anything the adults are doing that appears to be a grown-up activity. This makes it pretty easy to get them involved in helping. Here’s some things we’ve done so far. I haven’t “planned” these chores for Jax, they have just naturally flowed from our daily activities.

Jax is almost two years old, and has been “helping” with chore-type items since he was about 18 mths. Here’s a few things he helps with.

– Pick up trash he finds laying somewhere and throw it out (thankfully he is a good judge of what is trash and what is not). He does this of his own accord; he notices little things out of place and wants to make it right. Any small bit of thing he finds is either called a seed or a “piece a pastor” (piece of plastic).

– Empty a small trash can into a larger trash can. This can get messy so I don’t have him do this chore regularly yet, not so much because cleaning the mess bothers me as because having made a mess upsets Jax.
– Help empty the lower rack of the dishwasher (non fragile items). He knows where the cutting boards go and can reach them. I’m ready to teach him to put away the utensils but have hesitated since we have so many variations of the same thing. There isn’t one tray for spoons, there are six trays for six different sizes and styles of spoons.
– Help me cook (this happens almost every day). This is a great way to get him to sample foods he might not eat if I served them on his plate.
– Put his pajamas into the laundry hamper in the morning after I get him dressed for the day.
– Clean up up toys with me. We clean toy messes before we leave the house or go outside to play or change toy activities (such as putting away the trucks before getting out the markers and coloring books). We clean toys before nap and before bed.
– “Sort” laundry, carry laundry to the laundry room / put soap in the dispenser of washing machine / transfer laundry from washer to dryer / dryer to basket, etc. I can’t let him help fold it yet because he just wants to put things in and out of baskets regardless of whether or not I have just folded them.
– Put non-fragile food items into or out from the refrigerator.
– Partially “set” the table by putting utensils and place mats out for everyone. I hand him one set of utensils at a time for one place setting at a time, with specific instructions: “Take this spoon and fork to Daddy’s placemat.”
– If he spills something on the floor I have him help clean it with a towel. He calls this “clean a towel.”
– He would love to sweep and mop too, but I rarely do those.  The vacuum is still too tall for him to push, or he would like to do that too.

I have taught him to help by:

1) Doing helping tasks together with him, so it’s something fun we are doing together.  It becomes a desirable adult activity he gets to participate in.

2) Lots and lots of positive praise initially to learn a behavior, and continued praise to reinforce the behavior. Over time, the quantity of praise diminishes slightly for learned tasks, continuing more so for newer tasks.

At 23 months, I am not going to discipline him for failing to pick up toys when I ask. Instead, I am going to invite him to help me, and act like it’s fun in the hopes he will join me.  If he doesn’t, I clean it up myself and cheer for myself, “Yay Mommy! You are a good helper Mommy! Good job Mommy!”, to make him want in on the action. This is how I initially taught him to pick up toys (cheering for myself then encouraging him to copy my activity such as putting blocks in a bucket when he was still at the age when all he did was dump them out). Now, I rarely need to cheer for myself anymore; just for him.

Anytime he is helpful, I praise him, for example, “Good job! Thank you for being SO HELPFUL to Mommy! You are such a good helper to Mommy!”  He is a bottomless pit for affection as well, so I will often give him a hug along with the praise, which he eats up.

If he doesn’t seem to want to help, I try to remind him why we’re doing it.  For example, if you want to go outside (which he loves), we need to clean up these toys first.

I don’t have a list of chores for him at this age, but we do have certain things he helps with every day, like I have mentioned, and the routine of it becomes familiar before there is a list to follow.

At his age, any task for him still involves my help or at least my observation and praise.

I am blessed that he is a very observant person, and likes things to be in order. If he walks by the pantry door left open, or the toilet seat left up, he closes the door / lid all of his own accord. He even tries to close the toilet seat while I am sitting on it because he wants to help.

When we cook together, he tastes pretty much everything, even things he would never eat if I served them to him.  If I measure with measuring cups or measuring spoons, I can let him help hold it while we dump it into the bowl.  He likes to stir things around in a bowl (which also gives him control of the utensil so he can taste-test).  He likes to press buttons on the blender or mixer.  I once tried letting him cut with a butter knife, but his dexterity isn’t quite ready yet and he just got frustrated (he was also trying to chop raw carrots because that’s what I was chopping even though I had given him something softer – cheese – to chop instead, and chopping raw carrots with a butter knife would be frustrating even for an adult!).

He has actually helped me two or three times recently where I actually needed another set of hands (holding a door open to carry something through that I needed two hands to hold, etc.).  It felt so wonderful to have him there, not just learning to help me and making a mess along the way, but actually helping me in a meaningful way that I needed at that moment.  The difference may not be clear to him yet, but it was for me.

He loves to participate in anything I’m doing, which makes it easy to “teach” him “chores.”  Helping is so much fun for him still.

I will take that as long as it lasts, and figure out the next thing as it comes!