In case you haven’t noticed from the stores decking their halls since October, the holiday season is upon us. Whether that means Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Three Kings Day, St. Nicholas Day, New Years, or more, I am sure I am not versed in; it is the time of year people give gifts.
I do a lot of reading and writing for my job, and this time of year, I repeatedly see titles or requests for expert opinion on the “Best Gifts for Girls” or “Top Boy Gifts in 2020”.
It makes me cringe. Here’s Why.
I thought we were moving past all this “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”? If you don’t know my full background with gender theory, I invite you to go back and read my post, “Boys Can Like Pink Too!”
Long story short, I studied and wrote my master thesis on the topic. Erasing gender stereotypes has been a quest for my early childhood career.
Just to clarify, I am not saying give your son a barbie doll if he doesn’t want one or your daughter a toolset if she has no interest. But, I AM saying don’t judge a gift by the gender of the child receiving it and don’t make assumptions a child will like a gift based on their gender.
Children today are much more likely to play with something previously deemed gender-specific for the opposite sex.
My oldest son loves all things reptile and Batman, and he makes bracelets out of those tiny (annoying) rubber bands. My youngest is an engineer at heart, loves science kits, and he owns a sparkly pink jacket because he loves to dance and thinks it makes him look like Michael Jackson.
Kids don’t fit into a one size fits all gift guide.
One of the best ways to gauge what a child likes is to ask them. I am also a big fan of the old school method of providing them with a catalog and having them put their initials next to items they wanted.
I was surprised this year by my six-year-old picking out a set of pajamas!
If you ask their input, there is no guessing. To help your relatives out (especially grandmas and such), create an online wishlist that you can pass out. Or send out a generic theme such as Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, Legos, or American Girl Dolls.
When you give a child gifts, include the gift receipt and make sure the parents know where to find it; if it ends up being a duplicate gift, no foul, they can just exchange it for something else.
Want something even better than a gift? Gift a child an experience or membership. Over the years, my children’s grandparents have purchased them memberships to museums, the zoo, put money towards summer camps, and paid for our Disney+ annual subscription.
You can give them a coupon for a weekend at your home and visiting a favorite place of their choosing. You can put money towards programs they want to participate in, like coding classes, magic school, or musical instrument lessons.
Gifts don’t have to be things; they can be experiences.
The long and short is, buy gifts based on who the child is and not what gender-specific marketed toy companies make you believe is appropriate.
If you are genuinely at a loss, buy a gift card to a popular store or site. I understand that some people find that to be impersonal, but I can tell you as the mother of two children under 10 – They LOVE it!
A gift card gives them the power to make their own decisions, which is an important skill when it comes to learning how to manage money.
Most importantly, though, a gift that comes from the heart will never be wrong. If you are taking time to choose the perfect gift for someone young or old, when your heart is in it, that is truly all that matters.
Teachers have been a topic of interest of late. Many are preparing their classrooms both virtual and face-to-face and some have already begun teaching for the year. I spent 14 years teaching and I remember the joys, frustrations and excitement of preparing a classroom for a new group of learners. All teachers are facing a new set of rules this year as they embark on the 20/21 school year and first and foremost, I want to applaud them and thank them for all that they do each and every day for our children.
Second, I want to say, I know the struggle of keeping the fire alive day after day when faced with a difficult student, a challenging set of parents, a lack of funding for curriculum, lack of support from administration. Sometimes the, “Why do I do this?”, creeps in. This school year I know many teachers are facing a new set of worries, frustrations, complications and fears; yet they return because they love the children and they love to teach.
I decided to share some books that have inspired me most or helped me most as a teacher. Some are fiction, some are “How To” and some are reflections on education and society. Each one has helped me or motivated me in one way or another as a teacher and if you are an educator reading this I hope they can do the same for you!
The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other
I believe this book should be required reading for ALL educators, and it wouldn’t hurt parents to read it either. The title subtitle says it all, what parents and teachers can learn from each other, because it should be a collaboration. We have become increasingly parent against teacher in this nation instead of working together to provide the framework our children need to succeed. I see the degeneration of the parent-teacher relationship now more than ever as countless people sit behind their computers and complain that teachers “need to get back into classrooms and work.” The community has lost connection with teachers, what they do, the hours “off the clock” they are still working and and instead respect for teachers has been replaced with contempt by many.
Teachers have somehow become the be all end all solution to every problem, every child has. I have had many fortunate collaborations with parents in my career that resulted in positive and on going relationships. I also had those who wanted to blame me for every problem their child was having, you can’t win them all. But if we worked together, kept the lines of communication open and on both sides worked towards what is best for the child, I bet we’d see amazing results!
Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
First I love A. J. Jacob’s writing, it is real, funny sarcastic and you actually learn something to boot! If you haven’t read one of this books, please do, they’re wonderful What I love about this book is that I WAS the kid who’s parents’ owned the complete encyclopedia set and I did sit and read it. I have loved learning and reading as long as I can remember and I haven’t stopped yet! This book is a funny reminder that we simply can’t know it all even when kids think we do.
It is important to be honest with children if you don’t know the answer to something and then take the opportunity to discover the answer together! I have often, both as a teacher and a parent, stopped what I was doing to look something up on the internet, or grab a book off the shelf so that a question could be answered. By admitting we don’t know everything, we show kids that it is OK not to have all the answers but that there are always ways of finding them!
We Need to Talk About Kevin
This book is one of the most powerful fiction books I have ever read. I have rad it twice so far and will probably read it again. I recommend this book to ALL teachers and parents, especially parents of boys. I will not delve too much into the plot, but I will say this piece was an eye opener on mental health in children. The first time I read it was before I had children and in today’s day and age I think this book is even more releavnt.
It is also an important reminder that as an outsider to everyone’s life but your own, you have no idea what another parent or family is facing or dealing with. Judgement hurts us all, it creates barriers, us vs. them. Unless you are living the life, you have no place to make assumptions on why a child behaved a certain why, or what a parent is facing personally. Thorough my experience as a teacher and my education I have been privy to things in children’s homes no one would ever guess. While none of us are perfect, mistakes are made, bad decisions chosen, do your best to reserve judgement on a child or family that doesn’t seem to make sense to you and instead find out in what ways you can help.
If you are a teacher and you haven’t read this book yet, you should. Frank McCourt, was that teacher, the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society teacher, the one that got his students. This book is powerful and shows just how much a teacher can give of themselves to their career and to their students. It is also an insider look into the fact that teachers, believe it or not, are humans like everyone else out there. That teachers have their ups and downs, professional disappointments, vices and personal problems.
You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party
This has been the single most transformative book to my career as a teacher. I read this and spent half a semester of grad school implementing this in the Pre-K room I was assistant teaching in at the time. I read this, and a light bulb went on.
We have all heard little kids say these things:
You can’t come to my birthday party!
You can’t come to my house!
You can’t play with my anymore!
It’s how children try to handle conflict and disagreements, by attempting to wield the little power they have or think they have. This book centers on helping children solve conflicts appropriately by giving them the tools to do so. It places the teacher in the role of mentor not judge or decision maker, but instead empowers children to make decisions regarding disputes together and in their own words. Since I first read this I have employed it every classroom I have worked in and have trained other educators on the principles and methodology as well.
A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, Power
A Call to Action is a reminder that there are many out there without the same access to education as those of us in more affluent countries and communities. It is a reminder than in many parts of the world and within many religions it is considered taboo to educate women and girls. This book was a reminder to me that we need to continue to encourage our girls to break the barriers of male dominated careers and help them know that they have the same rights to be an astronaut, doctor, member of the military, engineer, professional sports player and whatever else their heart might desire.
I temper this by saying, our young boys need to support to, just often in a different arena. We have to stop telling our boys they need to be “tough”, that they “can’t cry” and we have to allow our children both boys and girls, the opportunity to express themselves, follow their interests and be whoever it is they want to be. Cue the next book….
This is how it Always is
This book gave me goosebumps up and down. Not just because as a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if my child were transgender, I know I would love either one of mine just the same, but what internal struggles would I have? It also affected me because of the way the education system failed this child by just not understanding and making their life so much harder.
This is a fictional story, but LGBT children and their families have been facing these struggles for a long time. These children don’t know where they belong, they often feel forced to hide part or all of who they are, and LGBT teens are one of the largest groups of individuals who commit suicide. This book is a reminder that while we can’t always understand what a child is going through, or know how to help, and it may even make us feel uncomfortable, but as the caring adults in their lives we need to find ways to let them know that we are indeed there for them and that we love them and that we wil be there to help them figure it out as best we can
The End of Education
This book is an insightful and critical look at how education has changed over the decades. While published 25 years ago in 1995, it still offers relevant insights into the modern education system, the changes made for the worse for both children and educators and insight into why and how we need to fix and rectify the American education system.
There have, of course, been many other books throughout the years that have impacted me one way or the other, but these are the ones that have been the most influential. Being a teacher is a hard job, being a parent is a hard job, let’s all remember to treat each other with respect. While we may hold different opinions on the current schooling situation we can still maintain that mutual respect needed to do what is best for our children. Stay Well!
Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.
How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?
I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.
What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.
As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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?
*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.
My children don’t know how to ride a bike. If it comes up in conversation with other parents, I just stay quiet and nod like I’m part of bike society. I feel guilty about this; I harbor a secret shame. But… I don’t feel guilty enough to change it. My oldest son was born in Washington, D.C. We lived there until he was 14 months old. Then we moved to Chicago, where my husband at the time had been admitted to medical school. A year and a half later, my second son was born almost three years to the day from big brother. They celebrate their birthdays exactly two weeks apart (Amazon and Target love me and my wallet each spring).
I tell you all this because, for four years, we lived in a 3rd story walk-up. A third story walk-up with insultingly small stairs which twisted and turned like you were trying to reach a princess in a tower. Except there was no princess at the top, just a stressed-out mom whose hair was too short to be of use to anyone attempting to climb up because, in a fit of insanity, she decided a pixie cut would be a great idea, then spent the next several years attempting to grow it out and not look like she had a mullet. To help you get an even better mental picture here’s more. It was a third-floor walk-up that I had to climb up with a toddler, a frequently moody toddler. Then it became a third-floor walk-up while I was pregnant and with a two-year-old and then lastly a third floor walk-up with a threenanger and a newborn to become moody toddler by the time we moved out. To top it off, this was a tiny, but nice two-bedroom condo with no storage. There was nowhere to store a bike if even if I had the motivation to teach them, which I repeat, I did not. We did, however, purchase a middle of the line Lightening McQueen scooter for my older son’s third birthday. Being the perfectionist that he is, he tried it once, it wouldn’t go, so he got off and kicked it. He began to stomp away, arms crossed and all, realized it didn’t fall over, walked back, and kicked it again. To this day, it is one of the most hysterical things I’ve seen him do. Every year when the video pops up on my memory feed, I watch it several times, it truly never gets old. Eventually, he does try it again and makes progress.
But back to bike riding. With absolutely nowhere to store a bike, we never bought one. Did I mention that roughly 6 months out of the year, the sidewalks and streets in Chicago are covered with ice, sleet, snow, or slush? Sometimes it’s all four at once. Once my husband graduated, he secured a job in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. We could no longer afford to live in an even halfway decent D.C. neighborhood, so we settled in Annapolis. We found a townhouse to rent; an entire 3 floors and 4 bedrooms. It felt like the Taj Mahal. Now, finally, we could buy him a bike, and we did, the first Christmas we lived there. He was ecstatic when he saw it under the tree. Yet, again, upon the initial attempt, he wasn’t perfect, and he quickly lost interest. By this point, at age 5, he had been diagnosed with anxiety, and we often chose not to push him on things for fear of triggering a meltdown.
Looking back, there are times I wish we pushed him more and weren’t so scared of upsetting him, but as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. He never asked again to learn to ride, and eventually, the bike rusted up and was thrown away. A few years later, he received a skateboard from his Aunt and Uncle for Christmas. It fills me with joy to report that he has become more than proficient on the skateboard. Since he never learned to ride a bike, little brother never learned, and the years have just kept slipping by. They’re both young, they could learn, but if I’m being honest, I continue to lack the desire to teach them. I often see the neighborhood kids out and riding, and I feel that guilt rush over me.
Have I deprived my children of an essential rite of passage? I have vivid memories of my dad running behind me, wearing his aviator sunglasses, and I decked out in an 80’s glory romper and tassels on my handlebars. Shouldn’t’ my kids have that too? But I’ve given them other experiences. I’ve taken them to dance class, Broadway and community theater productions, nature hikes, trips to the zoo (so many trips to the zoo), museums, roller skating, ice skating (ok this one ended in stitches one time), playgrounds, botanical gardens, Disney World (more times than most people consider acceptable) and the list could go on. Maybe every kid doesn’t need to ride a bike. Maybe not teaching them to ride doesn’t rank me among America’s Worst Moms. Even so, I’m not telling anyone my kids can’t ride a bike, it’ll be our little secret.