Teacher’s Pest

The long weekend is over, and that means time to head back to homeschooling. So much fun.  I don’t mind spending time with my kids but the horror that has become school work in this house is a reoccurring nightmare (or in this case daymare) I get to relive every Monday through Friday.  If I’m being totally truthful, they usually have work to finish on Saturday because the battle to get them to do more than one or two things a day has me pulling out so much hair that I usually give up.  Ok being really, really honest, I typically send them to their dad’s Saturday night with work to complete on Sunday. 

So…. I was grateful that there were no assignments yesterday.  They spent a lot of time playing outside and watching Minecraft videos.  I spent a lot of time doing work outside (I put up a new gate!) and household chores and all around we had a great day.  But now, the clock is looming over me, a big and significant 9:05 AM and I know the terror is soon to begin.  They haven’t come out of their room yet, so I am going to hold my breath and wait, why bother a resting dragon?  I know as soon as I hear that door crack my spirits will temporarily sink and the chaos of creating the balance between their desired fun time and schoolwork will begin. 

What makes it so bad you may ask?  Well to start with my younger one has ADHD.  It’s severe.  I think the only time he is fully stopped in motion is when he’s fast asleep.  However, he’s been having night terrors again, so even in sleep, of late, he can’t fully rest.  Trying to get him to focus on a tiny laptop screen and pay attention to a disembodied voice as it goes over the slide it’s showing is near to impossible.  I’ve tried having him wear earphones, and that works to some degree, as long as he doesn’t forget they are on and walk away.  Which he does.  Often.  In addition to the ADHD he has anxiety, like me and his older brother, and while his manifests in a different way than his brother’s he seems to have this intense fear of getting the answer wrong.  When he’s not sure he just says “I don’t knoooooooow” or makes up a ridiculous answer that he’s knows for sure is incorrect and starts playing with a toy nearby, or doing somersaults (literally, he loves gymnastics), or just rolling like a log across the floor.  The question could be “Name and animal the book said lives in the water.”  And he will reply “I don’t know, a monkey.”  Not cute kid, not cute.  So, I will either replay the segment or read it myself and over annunciate every word.  “Some. Animals. That. Live. In. The. Water. Include. Frogs. Snails. Crayfish. AND. ALLIGATORS.”  He’ll look at me and say “I said a monkey.”  I reach a fevered pitch and say “Just pick one of the animals I just said!”  and I’ll get “Ohhhhhhh that’s easy, frog.”  A question he could have probably answered before even reading the book since his brother is a budding Herpetologist and plans to move to Orlando and work for Dinsey’s Animal Kingdom.  I am not in the slightest joking; it has been his goal since he was 3.  We have a subscription to Reptile magazine that makes me cringe every time I flip through its pages. 

Animal Kingdom, 2016
Photo by Tiago Pereira on Pexels.com

The new phrase for the expression “If I had a dollar every time you said (blank) is “Am I done now?”  It is asked after every single question answered or math problem solved.  I have done my best to break their work up throughout the day.  An assignment here, then a break, then another assignment, then a break.  Problem is, they want to break constantly.  They want to live in a world of perpetual breaks.  And, amazingly as soon as I say it is time to work, everybody is miraculously hungry and needs a snack right now.  This literally just happened as I was editing, so I came back to add the dialogue.  It was currently 11 AM.  My kids got up around 9:30. I offered breakfast to both.  One ate, one did not, although he told me what he wanted.  I prepped his bowl of dry cereal, then he told me he wasn’t hungry.  Ok cool, it’s dry cereal, it’s not going anywhere.  At 11, I call down to the basement, “We are starting schoolwork in 5 minutes” and on cue “I HAVEN’T EVEN EATEN BREAKFAST YET MOM!”  Sigh. Eat, then work.

This would be my older one, and he is a whole different ball game. I think he might even be another sport. If there were a prize for whining and complaining, he would destroy all the competitors. I didn’t even know it was possible for a child to whine as much as he does about schoolwork. His usual proclamations are “This is sooooo hard”, “This is going to take forever!”, “I don’t understand this, it makes NO sense”, and my ultimate favorite “Can you do it for me?” No child, I will not do it for you. I went through second grade once, and that was enough for me. What I can do is sit with you, help explain things and I don’t even mind typing if it is a lengthy answer, since at 9 it is not his strong suit. But I will not simply do your work for you. I do my best to encourage him to at least read the directions and make an attempt before I jump in. His teacher and I have had many conversations about his sloppy mistakes because he rushes through to be finished. This is a boy fast tracked for the gifted program next year, but his anxiety and laziness jump in and everything becomes jumbled. Most of the time, when I attempt to help him, he doesn’t like my answer, or the way I am explaining it and then the fireworks start. He is very much like me in temperament. We both want to be perfect, we both embarrass easily, we crave our private time but at the same time want the people we most rely on close and at our disposal and we both cry at the drop of a hat. When I have tried to teach him anything over the years it usually ends badly, this is no exception. He gets mad says I’m so mean and don’t help him with anything and I snark back that I am not going to help someone who is being ungrateful and won’t listen. Lovely, I know, these are not my proudest moments as a parent. This will usually happen two or three times throughout the course one assignment. Then once the dust settles, we get to move onto the next one. Wash. Rinse Repeat.

I think it has been this crazy stress of homeschooling that has depleted my energy these last few weeks. I am a teacher, I tell myself should have been able to handle this, yet I haven’t; at least not the way I wanted to. But me being a teacher doesn’t separate the fact that I am still a mom, like all the other moms and dads out there, struggling to figure this out.

I made a promise to myself yesterday after we had so much fun putting a tent up in the backyard.  I am going to turn my engagement back on.  I will struggle through the muddy waters of schoolwork as required, but also make sure I am participating in fun things with my kids too.  I have let the stress of work take over the fun we used to have.  Summer is almost upon us, and with that the end of homeschooling, but it is still unknown what life will be like moving forward.  Will my son’s summer camps (that are all pre-paid!) go forward or will he be here with me?  Three of those weeks are camp learning about animals and reptiles and snakes (his favorite!).  He has already lost his baseball season, is he also going to lose his first time at sleep away camp?  What about the week of magic camp or baseball camp?  Will schools even open in the fall and if so, in what capacity?  We are heading, as Elsa so eloquently put it, Into the Unknown.  I can’t control the schoolwork that needs to be done right now, or the cancelled vacations and camps that may arise, but I can control how we handle our time here.  So, for today at least, I am going to create some fun, hopefully lessen everyone’s stress and then try again tomorrow.  As another one of favorite heroines said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

A Walk Through My Wonderland

Today I did one of my favorite things and it was very restorative. My boyfriend and I walked around and through the streets of downtown Historic Annapolis. If you don’t know where or what Annapolis is, then you are missing out on one of America’s gems. Annapolis is the State Capitol of Maryland. It is a small, historically preserved city that is set on the water. It is nicknamed “The Sailing Capital of the US”. The city is ripe with early American history. It is the place George Washington resigned his military commission in 1783. I have stood in the very room. It’s a blend of old world historical charm and modern restaurants and shops. I used to live in Annapolis but last year my boyfriend and I purchased a house 15 minutes away. It has become our place. We both has history there as performers and it is where we had our first date. At least once a month we can be found there milling about, enjoying the delicious food or just sitting by the harbor drinking Starbucks. Today we enjoyed the city as tourists and really slowed down to enjoy some of the sites. Enjoy my photographic journey today!

This mini lending library is outside St. John’s College and I adore it! I even found two books today to take home with me so next time I got downtown I will replace those with two old ones of mine!

I love this wall. I have loved this wall since I first saw it. It actually stretches along the entire side of the house but I wanted to capture the plaque. You will see plaques like this on many of the homes that have been designated as part of the Historic District. This one is located on Fleet Street and it is one of my favorite side streets to walk down.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church boasts a beautiful garden behind the church. Winding paths and plenty of benches can make this a quiet respite on a busy day.

The Annapolis Harbor is always a delight to view. It’s particularly lovely on a beautiful, sunny summer day when boats can be seen sailing all over the water.

A replica of the original Liberty Bell is placed on the grounds of St. John’s College. In 1991 Alumni dedicated the memorial to fellow alumni who had died in service to their country. On the other side of the pathway is the monument pictured below which was erected in 1920. Students placed it for their fellow alumni who died in First World War. A beautiful place to pay remembrance this holiday weekend.

I wish each and everyone of you a Happy and Safe Memorial Day.

In Flanders Fields

BY JOHN MCCRAE
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

Just Me and My Baby….. and Grad School

I embarked on the terrifying journey of applying to grad school 5 years after I left undergrad.  My constant thought was, “Can I do this?” Not only was the idea of applying to grad school daunting, but I had completely switched career paths. 

I grew up watching old musicals with my mother and my grandfather. My grandfather used to play Judy Garland on our drives to his house in Florida, and it was love at first sound. He used to say that he went to high school with her, which I passionately believed until later in life when, I found out he never went past the eighth grade. I bragged about this to my fellow second and third grade friends who had no idea who she was. I was the only ten-year-old I knew who could sing “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart!” from memory, or really who sang it at all.

Image Source Barbra Streisand in the film Funny Girl, 1968

With my mom, it was Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, and Oklahoma! At 13, I was pretending to be Fanny Brice in my bedroom. Barbra Streisand was my idol, and I knew I was born to perform. And not just perform, but to perform on Broadway. I was going to be a star. I wanted to sing “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” from Oklahoma in my 6th grade talent show. They told my mother I needed to choose a different song because it was inappropriate. Seriously? It’s Rodgers and Hammerstein. For my 14th birthday, my mother took me to NYC to see Glen Close in Sunset Boulevard. It was Game Over. The final nail in the destiny coffin. Broadway star I would be. Norma Desmond is still one of my dream roles. Twenty-five years later, I’m finally almost old enough to play her… almost.

Ueno Zoo, Japan 2007

Life had different plans.  I got married at the ripe old age of 26 (already way late in the acting game) and moved to Japan for a year to save up and teach English.  Towards the end of that year, the CEO of the English school I worked for stole all the company’s money.  While I got a heartfelt apology from the company, I did not get paid for my last two months of work.  Since the company was supposed to be paying for my apartment, I was now being evicted because they also, hadn’t paid my rent for two months.  I was forced to purchase last-minute airfare to the states.  Between not being paid, having to dip into savings to pay my bills back in America, purchasing a costly flight ticket, and needing a place to rent, which required a down payment, almost $10,000 in savings were gone. So, instead of landing in New York ready to begin my struggling actor attempt, I arrived in D.C. as a reading instructor in D.C. public schools.  From there, I transitioned to an assistant preschool teacher. 

During my first two years in that position, I decided to commit to education as a career.  I’d always enjoyed being around children and had worked with them in a multitude of settings, church, girl scouts, babysitting, to name a few.  I seemed to be good at it, and I enjoyed it.  The kids made me laugh and smile, it was a good feeling.  The more I learned about child development, the more I became hooked.  Who knew so much learning and development occurred between birth and age 5?  Well, I mean the experts knew, but I didn’t, and I found it fascinating.  The question I posed to myself was, “So, now what?”  I hadn’t given up my dream of acting yet, D.C. has a vibrant theater community, and I was still performing.  Since I needed to maintain a full-time job due to having lost all my savings, I didn’t have the time to pursue acting on a professional level right now.  I had to make one of the most difficult choices I have ever made, and that was not to no longer pursue acting as a career. After a few months of indecision, I applied to grad school. 

When you’ve grown up knowing you were only going to do one thing and life throws a curve-ball straight to your head and makes you see stars, you have to come to and make a decision.  Once I made the choice and became accepted to school, the idea was no longer scary or painful.  Two months into school, I became pregnant.  It wasn’t wholly unplanned; since I was no longer going to auditions why not peruse my other dream, becoming a mom. I just didn’t think it would happen that fast.  As my due date approached, I worked ahead and informed my professors.  The day my son was born, about a week and a half before the semester ended, I submitted my final project hooked up to IV’s and in the delivery room.  I am nothing, if not dedicated, to my work.  I had a few weeks of new mom bliss (Ha! Mesh maternity underwear, ice packs for my vagina, and nipples so cracked and sore from nursing I had to get $80 prescription-strength cream) and then it was time to go back to school.  Fortunately, I was earning my degree online from a brick and mortar university; that’s campus, to this day, I have never stepped foot on.  I fit assignments in between nursing and naps and diaper changes.  When it came time to begin work on my thesis, I would leave the house.  I was back at work by this point and could often be found on my lunch break at the Starbucks on N.W. D Street and Indiana Ave in D.C. doing research.  In the evenings and on the weekends, if my husband of the time was home (he was taking pre-med classes), I would head to our local Starbucks, sometimes for hours at a time.  On my walk over there, my anxiety would kick in, wondering if someone would be at one of two favorite tables.  If someone was at my table, yes, my table, I couldn’t concentrate or get any real work done.

I would sit where I could see the coveted spot and watch like a furtive hawk so I could sweep and claim the table once vacated.  These days that anxiety is channeled towards my weekly trip out of the house to the grocery store.  I go early every Friday morning, re-stock day, and panic prior to my arrival.  What if they don’t have toilet paper again?  What if there are out of the flavor of Hot Pockets my son obsesses over?  Can there please be my favorite brand of seltzer water??  And don’t even get me started over the lack of frozen French toast sticks…. It’s not fun.

I pushed on through anxiety, countless hours of research and writing, and re-writing, and finally, two years after I started, I graduated with a 4.0.  Going back to school was one of the greatest things I have done for myself.  I still perform regularly, although corona-virus has put that temporarily on hold, but now, I do it solely for me.  I may not have made it to Broadway, and honestly, I still hold out hope, but I have become a pretty big deal in my own way, and for that, I couldn’t be prouder of myself. 

From top to bottom: Your’e a Good Man Charlie Brown 2019, Damn Yankees 2018, How the Grinch Stole Christmas 2017.

The Power of Music

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As a singer and performer music has a phenomenal power over me. It takes me to places deep inside and gives me a strength like no other. Singing is how I express my soul to others. It provides me a way to communicate when nothing else gets through. Face to face I can be extremely shy and quiet. I may come off as goofy or awkward but when I sing I can reach you. Here are some songs that get me through when it is dark.

Rescue by Lauren Daigle

This is Me The Greatest Showman Soundtrack

Defying Gravity Wicked

Almost Sweet Hoozier

America’s Sweetheart Elle King

Gold Once: A New Musical

Waving Through a Window Dear Evan Hansen

Piece by Piece (Idol Version) by Kelly Clarkson

Uninvited Alanis Morisette

First Burn Hamilton Remix Single

Below are some of my recordings. I am not looking for praise or approval. I know they are not perfect and I make mistakes but I wanted to share my musical soul with you.

Shallow from A Star is Born sung with my guy

The Wizard an I from Wicked

When We Were Young Adele

Too Early for Wine

It’s a rainy Friday and everybody is stuck inside at the end of another long quarantine week. I mean I did get to go to the grocery store this morning and had the opportunity to make multiple trips from my car to my house in the pouring rain. Yay for outside time! There are loud but not concerning noises coming from the basement and no amount of coffee seems to be doing the trick as I go about my tasks for the day. It reminded me of this photo from December when I thought the two weeks of winter break were draining, wasn’t that a cute thought. It’s only noon and there is school work I will have to wrestle with them to complete, I’d like to find the energy to finally finish my book, and did I mention the mountains of laundry waiting to be folded and washed? I think today I just need to get by, ignore that crash I just heard, it may have been the Lego bucket, and power through the day. The coffee may not be working but eventually the socially acceptable time for wine will be here and that always helps.

Things I’ve Learned During Quarantine

Today marks the 6th week since my personal quarantine started and I have learned quite a bit about myself in that time, I imagine you have too. I am lucky because I have not been completely alone. I own a house with my partner so I have adult contact daily, which is important when I happened to be quarantined most days alone with my two boys ages 9 and 6. Additionally his two youngest children (12 and 14) are here part time so more human interaction there. Overall, I have to admit I’ve managed this well. I started thinking about where this journey to no where has taken me and this is what I learned.

1. I CAN live without Target. It’s true. I haven’t shriveled up and died due to lack of Target. I went in the day I was furloughed to pick up some items to entertain my children and I have been inside Target exactly once to purchase my favorite brand of razors, David’s, and a few other household and bath items my grocery store doesn’t carry. Huh. Who knew I could go so long?

2. I am perfectly happy not interacting with society on a daily basis. I have always been a loner and introvert, more comfortable with children than adults, but even I thought I’d crack after 6 weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my close friends and my students. I miss my twice monthly karaoke outings and I am bummed I haven’t seen my sister’s new puppy in person yet. I talk to the people close to me on a regular basis but otherwise, I think I could be a hermit if required.

Yeah! I made that!

3. I like cooking. Not only have I learned to like cooking, turns out I’m pretty dam good at it. It was never something I enjoyed and usually found it to be a mind numbing task trying to keep track of all the ingredients, measurements when I was supposed to add this or add that. Something would usually burn, an ingredient was almost always forgotten or left out and that 30 minute weeknight recipe? Ha! We’ll eat in about an hour and a half. During quarantine I have had time to cook and little by little I mostly stopped using recipes. I may look up ideas for inspiration or guidance but I can actually create on my own and, if I may brag, 9/10 times is tastes great!

4. I am not as patient or creative with my kids as I thought I would be. The first few weeks I was super teacher-mom. I had daily activities in art, science, cognitive skills…. then homeschooling started and since I have to practically drag my children to the computer to do work it seems my Mary Poppins desire blew away on the wind. My bag is still filled with everything imaginable so hopefully one day soon the magic will come back to me, spoon full of sugar and all!

5. Daily mediation and Yoga have become essential to me. Again, these are things I have always enjoyed but never seemed to have the time for before. Yoga and meditation help me wake up in the morning and a few simple stretches can diffuse so much stress. One of my favorite techniques is to sit with my eyes closed and listen to what’s going on around. Presuming it’s not the screams of my children having a fight in the basement, it is a very peaceful exercise.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

This has been a stressful time for all of us, no doubt, but I hope you have been able to find your own little silver lining and time for self reflection too. Things are still uncertain, but hang on, we’ve got this.

Boys Can Like Pink Too!

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I know this post may upset or offend some people, so I will state from the start that it is not my intention.  My goal is to break gender discrepancies that society adheres to and to discuss unintentional things we do to drive those stereotypes home to our children.

 First, allow me to give you a little background on myself and this subject. I spent a year of grad school researching and writing a thesis paper on the development of the gender schema in children.   It’s long and wordy and highly researched and runs about 60 pages, so I won’t subject you to all that, the point is I know this subject intimately. It is near and dear to me. 

Did you know that before the 1940’s it was often suggested by clothing retailers and newsprint that boys wear pink and girls were blue?  These two colors showed up well in print ads.   We could be having a totally different conversation today if people stuck with that.  Before that in the 1920s most babies wore neutral colors, girls AND boys often wore dresses up until about 7 and had long hair (gasp).  Only 80 years ago is when all this nonsense about a girl color and a boy color really took off, and the American society latched on to it and went running.  I always say to my students, and my two boys, “Colors are for everyone.”  Then I go on to blow their minds and say pink is actually NOT one of my favorite colors (unless it is neon pink, I mean I am a product of the ’80s).  If you want to read more about the evolution of clothing colors, please click on the link posted at the bottom.

Now let us delve into pants and dresses.  Most of us do not bat an eye when we see a woman wearing pants.  Yet again, only 100 years ago, it was taboo.  Women who wore trousers were scandalous or considered perverted.  They were also required to wear corsets and a lot of other bullshit gear, but I won’t rant on that, at least not today.  Currently, I am wearing leggings, an oversize t-shirt, and using an exercise ball as a chair. Not precisely super feminine, but again what defines feminine has changed and much for the better.  Besides, my Disney Belle leggings are really cozy.

My younger son was so proud of his Elsa Shirt, March 2017

 However, a boy in a dress that is still a BIG no-no to most people in western culture.  Allow me to state I am not suggesting you run out and buy dresses for your son; unless he wants to wear them, and then I totally support you being the awesome parent that encourages him to be who he is.  Here’s the thing, most preschool boys (and having been a preschool teacher well over a decade I can tell you they will) put on a dress while playing at some point.  I’ve had little boys who would walk into the classroom, and the first thing they would do is head to the dress-up bin and put on their favorite dress for the day. Children like to mimic what they see.  Maybe mom wears a lot of dresses, when teaching, I can often be seen wearing a long maxi dress.  Or perhaps they just think it’s fun and pretty like the girls do.  I am raising two boys during the rise of Frozen, dresses happen.  Dolls happen too by the way; embrace it, studies show that boys that play with dolls grow up to be more attentive fathers.  No proof or research points to a boy being gay or transgender because he wore a dress or played with dolls when young.  If your child is LGBT, you can’t change that, so love the shit out of them and support them through life; even with loving parents, it is still a hard path.  Would you tell your daughter to stop wearing pants and pretending to be an engineer?  Nope, probably not.  Extend the same to our boys.

Our culture tells boys to “Man up” “Don’t be so sensitive” “Don’t cry” or my personal favorite “Stop acting like a girl,” implicitly implying to our boys and girls, that girls are bad and weak.   Our language has so much power, even if we do not mean to be derogatory, we can do a lot of damage with words.  The old “Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is frankly, bullshit.  Take it from someone who was in an emotionally abusive relationship at one point in college, words can destroy you.  When boys are to hold in their emotions because it is weak to do otherwise, we are sending them a message that their feelings don’t matter and that real men are tough and don’t feel things.  Some of the manliest men I know I have seen cry.  We are doing our boys a disservice by shutting down their emotions.  Emotions are human, not gender-specific.  Hey, there’s a new phrase! “Feelings don’t have gender.”

For our girls, we need to stop telling them they are pretty all the time or how cute their outfit is.  Sure, a lot girls like to hear that, but when you hear to it too often, especially when you are young, you start to believe your looks define you.  Studies have shown that the majority of greetings young girls receive by their teachers as they enter the classroom are related to their looks. At the same time, boys, are much  more likely to be greeted along the lines of “Hey, how are you today?”  The problem is we think we are just giving a compliment.  Compliments are lovely and necessary exchanges; they make us feel good to both give and receive, so give them. However, I challenge you next time you see your niece, stepdaughter, neighbor, or student pay attention to what you say. Is the first thing out of your mouth about their appearance?  One of the most unintentionally damaging things I ever heard was done by a father to his daughter.  A dad came in to pick up his 3-year-old daughter from my classroom.  She pulled out a picture she had drawn and said, “I made a picture of Mommy!” You could see how proud she was.  He looked at the picture, and incredulously said, “That’s Mommy?” and laughed, he continued to say, “That must be Mommy without her makeup on.”  The message that was sent to this young girl was: 1) Your picture is so bad I can’t even tell what it is 2) Because it’s so bad and you say it’s Mommy that means women are only attractive with makeup on.  I know for a fact he did not intend to send that message, but he did.  Words have power.

My younger one at 3, 2017

          We do not need to force children into cross-gender roles or out of gender-typical roles.  We simply need to let them be who they are.   Gender Roles Need Not Apply Here is the message we want to send.  You are a boy who loves to cook and garden, awesome those are great skills to have.  You are a girl who wants to become an astronaut, you will be great at the because astronauts must work hard.  You are a boy who wants to be a dancer, that’s amazing you have to be really strong to become a dancer.  You are a girl who wants to run her own business, that means you must be really good at math!  See where I am going? 

Studies show that gender roles are becoming more neutral in the household.  Our world is changing, and that’s good!  I know in my house it is pretty much 50/50.  He cooks, he cleans, and he does his own laundry.  I enjoy doing the yard work and can often be found with a tool in my hand attempting some minor household project.  Credit is due however, for the brand-new toilet he installed in our downstairs bathroom, way beyond my pay-grade.  The point is there is no right or wrong way to be a male or female.  My guy can be one of the manliest guys, by standard definition, you have ever met.  I mean, he wore a Punisher shirt to work today, and yet I met him while performing in a musical theater production together (he’s really talented too!).

His first Broadway show, 2018!

  It is hard to navigate the waters of parenting. We have friends, co-workers, relatives (and bloggers) telling us how to do everything.  Find your own path.  Here is my final anecdote.  When my older son was in the EXCEEDINGLY early stages of potty training (yes, the kids from that previous post), he wanted Disney Princess underwear.  I can tell you that 6 years ago, they did not make that for boys, I still do not think they do.  Instead, I bought iron-on decals from Etsy, a pack of white briefs, and I made them.  He was delighted (not that it helped!)  The moral is, listen to your kid, love what they love, support them, and be their number one fan.  I mean, I am a nerdy, book-loving, Harry Potter and musical theater geek that can often be heard to say “Yay! Sportsball!” and I let my son play baseball.  But guess what, he loves Broadway too. 

Aladdin 2019

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/ ~ When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink.

The portrait at the top of the post is titled “Portrait of a Baby Boy” and can be found at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

https://www.si.edu/unit/american-art-museum

Solid Gold Poop or how my son’s potty training cost me $14,000

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Have you ever cried because someone wouldn’t poop in a toilet?  I am guessing that the answer for the average person is no.  If your answer happens to be yes, then I honestly hope your experience was nothing like mine.  I hope you have never lost all hope and sat on the floor of your bathroom and cried hysterically over someone not pooping.

My oldest son is a brilliant, funny, silly, athletic boy who loves all things reptile.  People who have met him in the last few years never believe me when I tell stories of what he was like from ages 3-6.  They think I am exaggerating and dramatic, and I know there have been a few people who just thought I outright made this shit up, no pun intended.  But I can guarantee you it was real.  I lived three years of potty-training hell and not to be glib about it, those were some of the darkest and most stressful years of my life. 

        Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the story, let’s talk about potty-training one of the hottest parenting topics.  EVERYBODY has an opinion on potty-training these days, and there are a lot of views to be had on the subject. One doesn’t even need to be a parent or early childhood teacher to tout their opinion.  I know people with no potty-training experience whatsoever who loved to make comments when I was going through this ordeal.  But here is the thing, every child is different.  Like other developmental skills, potty-training is not going to happen at the same time for everyone, there is no one size fits all approach.  Now, this is the part that really gets under my skin, parent shaming.  No one has the right to shame a parent because their child is not potty trained.  No one gets to judge those parents or that child.  Also, the parent whose kid happens to potty train so cooperatively before 3 is not a genius or a super parent who gets to lord it over other kids and their parents. Their kid is not smarter or better than the kid who doesn’t make it there until later. 

        You should, by all means, be proud of your potty-trained child.  PLEASE be proud.  BE happy, be excited, enjoy life.  I give you license (not that you need my permission) to jump up and down, pop a bottle of champagne, and celebrate. It’s a significant accomplishment.  Just don’t use that accomplishment as a means to think that you or your child is better than anyone else.  I will step down off my soapbox now.

        The average age for a typically developed child is around 27-40 months.  First off, that is a big range.  Also read that first part again, go ahead, I’ll wait.  Typically Developed are the keywords.  Turns out, mine wasn’t ready nor typically developed.  Question is how do you know if your child is ready?  You look for the signs of readiness.  The Mayo Clinic sites these (and I agree with them which is why I posted them)

 Is your child ready? Ask yourself:

Can your child walk to and sit on a toilet?

Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?

Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?

Can your child understand and follow basic directions?

Can your child communicate when he or she needs to go?

Does your child seem interested in using the toilet or wearing “big-kid” underwear?

If you answered mostly yes, your child might be ready. If you answered mostly no, you might want to wait — especially if your child is about to face a major change, such as a move or the arrival of a new sibling. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/potty-training/art-20045230

  *During this process, we threw both those things in his direction.

        I presented all this background knowledge so that my story makes more sense.  So, after much ado, here we go.  As mentioned in a previous post, my second son was born exactly two weeks after my oldest turned 3.  MAJOR CHANGE in his life.  Huge, wrecking ball, gorillas in the camp style change.  We didn’t know at the time that he would be diagnosed with anxiety a little bit down the line.  We knew he had Sensory Processing Disorder. He had been seeing an occupational therapist and a speech therapist for about a year.  The anxiety was a curveball we weren’t expecting. 

  Until the age of three, his therapy was free through the Infant and Toddler program in the state of Illinois.  After three, we became private pay for the OT, and we could not afford it at the time, so we decided to drop it and do as much as we could at home.  Our income consisted of my meager salary as a pre-K teacher in a suburb outside the city and a living stipend received by my husband at the time who was in school. 

  The concept of potty training had been introduced but wasn’t going anywhere fast and then BAM! Regression took hold.  He refused anything and everything with the potty.  Ok, it’s cool, he’s barely three and has a newborn in the house.  We’ll pause for now.  Only the pause became almost 3 years of terror.  This is where it gets rough, so hold on…

        When the regression wouldn’t budge, and he was approaching four, we decided he needed help outside what we could do.  The pediatrician had no helpful advice, so we took him to a multi-discipline therapy office.  Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to pull out the calculator and start adding up the dollars.  For the next year, he visited this office, during which he received the diagnosis of anxiety coupled with his SPD.  I don’t remember how often he went, but I believe it was twice a month.  These visits were roughly $150 apiece.  No insurance accepted, but they were good, and it was convenient to my work.   So after about 10 months of bi-weekly visits, our price tag is at $3,000.  The good news was that this $3,000 achieved peeing in the potty and little to no more accidents in that realm.  The poop…. Well, we are about to reach a new level.

        I am going to pause for a moment so you can try to understand what was going on inside this little four-year-old body and mind.  Life was confusing, new brother, and less mommy time.  He feared the toilet, common among young children, especially those loud flushes. Lastly, because of the SPD, he could not make sense of the urge to go.  His brain was literally unable to process the message from his body that he needed to pee.  On top of that, he is dealing with anxiety.  I have anxiety, and I can barely handle it at times, and I am almost 40.  That’s a lot to have to deal with at 4. 

  Now that we have fully trained in pee, we were told no more pull-ups during the day.  This would be fine except he would not poop in a toilet, nor did he wait until the evening when his sleep pull-up was on to go.  He would simply poop in his pants.  Usually, several times a day.  That meant several changes of clothing each day.  Because his bladder would also often release, he would be in urine-soaked pants as well. Most of the underwear couldn’t be saved.  I estimate I spent roughly $500 on underwear during this phase.  New total $3,500

        The anxiety created two outcomes; he would be playing and wouldn’t tell me he had gone resulting in poop being caked all over his legs and bottom, or if we were out in public, he would hide from me.  Now my anxiety took over.  I would turn around in Target or the park, and he would be gone.  My heart jumped into my throat every time.  To make it worse, I couldn’t just run all overlooking for him, I had a baby with me.  If you do not know what it is like to be afraid and feel fear every time you take your small child out in public, then I genuinely hope you never do. 

        The multiple accidents meant that in addition to carrying the standard supplies I needed for a baby while out, I had to carry at least 2 pairs of pants and underwear for him plus extra wipes.  I changed my son’s poop-filled undies and pants pretty much anywhere you can imagine, and none of them were pleasant.  At 4, he was way too big for a changing table, and even if he could fit up there, how humiliating for him.  I’d find the most private place I could, always grateful when a public restroom was nearby, and I would kneel on the floor as he stood so I could clean him.  Each time I would gently talk to him about using the potty to poop just like he did to pee.  But no change happened. 

  The frustration for me was mounting.  I loved this child so much, but how much more was I expected to take?  I often cried when I was in private.  I spent hours furiously searching the internet for other moms like me. Those searches usually found those individuals who thought they were the gods of potty training, making me believe I was a terrible failure, and something was incredibly wrong with my son.  I seemed to be alone in this battle.  I could not find another mom who really got what I was going through.  Looking back, I know this isn’t true; but at the time, my heart was bleeding.

  Just after he turned 5, and was still not pooping in the potty, we left Chicago and came to Maryland.  He was supposed to start Kindergarten in the fall, but he wasn’t fully potty-trained, and the move regressed him again.  The accidents became more frequent.  There was no way in good conscious I could put this struggling boy in the public-school system yet.  I had secured a job at a childcare center as an Assistant Director, and in the fall, he would begin there and do another year of Pre-K.  So now we add $7,500 to the total bringing us to $11,000.

        I want to thank the amazing, loving, caring Pre-K teachers he had at both schools who never made him feel ashamed, helped protect his privacy, and loved him through those two years.  Each and every one of you is amazing.

        Once in Maryland, I immediately sought out a therapist, and he still sees this amazing woman.  Originally it was not covered under the insurance we had, so now we tack on another $600 until insurance kicked in.  So, $11,600.  His new therapist got him, she still gets him, and she has been the single most influential person in this ordeal.  Because of his ridiculously high IQ, normal prizes and incentives didn’t work for him.  You couldn’t use reverse psychology (which is mostly how his brother was trained, him never one to lose a challenge), my older son needed more.  Finally, he started to go on the potty once in a while.  Dare my heart to believe this was happening?  Now his therapist suggested a big prize, what was the thing he most loved in the world.   His answer to her was Disney World.  So even though it had been less than a year since we took a trip there, that became the incentive.  I did not care at this point.  I did not care that we had just had a vacation there less than a year ago.  I made a huge colorful chart with Disney stickers on it, and 100 spaces clearly labeled and hung it on his door.  If he pooped in the potty 100 times, we would go.  And he did.  So we did. Total now $14,000. 

        Thinking about all of this now and writing it down, for the first time, is cathartic.  I’ve tried to talk to people about it, but I find most people don’t get how truly horrible this was for me.  My heart still beats a little bit faster. I still feel the anguish of that poor mom dreading a trip to Target, the mom who struggled to find swim diapers that fit so he could play in the water and the one crying her heart out sitting on a bathroom floor.  My son caught me one time, I thought he had gone back to his room to play, but he must have heard me and came back.  He asked, very quietly, “Why are you crying, Mommy?” I looked at him, and as calmly as I could, I said, “Because you won’t poop in the potty.”  He gave me a hug and went back to playing.  From time to time, he will say, “Hey Mom, remember that time you cried because I wouldn’t poop in the potty?”  I typically smile and say something like, “I do, I was very frustrated, but now it’s no big deal!” but inside, I am thinking, “Yes sweetheart, I do, I cried so many times.  I thought I was worthless and failing you, and I stressed beyond belief on a daily basis, but I loved you so much, which is why I did what I did and went through all of it”. 

        He is the most amazing child, who now, like a proper nine-year-old, drives me nuts for ordinary things.  I hate that his journey and mine had to be what it was, but he is happy and healthy. I have finally been able to tell someone, you, about what I went through, maybe one day I’ll even be able to laugh about it… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

100th Poop Trip March 2017