Choices in 2020 (and I am not talking the election)

Children & Choices

Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?

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You’re Doing it Wrong

I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.

Realistic Choices

The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.

Limit Options

Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.

Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.

Pick Your Battles

Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?

By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.

To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:

  1. Make Choices Realistic
  2. Be Prepared to Follow Through
  3. Limit Options to 2 or 3
  4. Pick Your Battles
  5. Tantrums Happen, Don’t feed the monster

Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Daughter to Disability; my one of a kind Dad

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My dad was always my number one fan and believed I could accomplish anything and everything. The best piece of advice he gave me was to try. I did not have to be the world’s best ballet dancer or the kid who scored the most goals on the soccer team, but if I was interested in something, I should try. If I hated it or failed, no big deal, I could stop, but only once the initial commitment came to a natural end. I didn’t have to be the best, i just had to try my best.

By encouraging me to carry on and follow through on a commitment, I learned the value of perseverance and honor. Staying true to your word is a valuable trait I hold onto to this day. It also means saying no when you know you can’t follow through. Saying yes to everything because you don’t want to let people down is a slippery slope to go down.

Germany, Summer 1996

I have many fond memories of my dad as a child, playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, being thrown in the air in the pool, and him allowing me and my sisters to style his hair with barrettes until he looked fabulous according to under ten selves. My dad was a loving but firm dad. He gave support, guidance, love, but we also knew when we crossed the line and would be subjected to a good old fashioned “dad talk.”

My dad was an FBI agent, which made him one of the coolest dads to have among my friends. I remember the sense of pride I felt when he would be a chaperone on a field trip come in for career day. I looked up to my dad in a way, and I imagine most young girls do. I was never a popular kid, geeky, awkward, and little chunky, but when my dad was around, I felt like the most popular kid in school.

Two of my favorite memories of my dad are related to those “serious” topics of drugs and dating. I remember he was sitting at our giant desktop computer in the living area, and I was in the kitchen microwaving something, and on the T.V., a commercial about talking to your kids about drugs came on. My dad looked up from the computer and said, “Do you do drugs?” I was roughly thirteen or fourteen at the time, I said, “No.” and he replied “Ok, good.” and that was that. The second was that he used to tell my older sister that he used his FBI skills to track any guy she dated. I was pretty sure this was false at the time, but I remember thinking, “Yikes!”

My dad had an excellent sense of humor and loved to pull our legs, as the expression goes. In the summer of ’92, we took a family vacation to Washington, D.C., and among the famous sites, he arranged a private tour of FBI headquarters for us. Little did I know that 15 years later, I would be living in D.C. and working two blocks from these same headquarters. During the tour, we were taken down to a basement level and told that this is where the Xfiles were kept!! It wasn’t until several years later that I realized there were indeed no Xfiles…. at least that we know of 😉

2008

My dad loved Indiana Jones, MacGyver, Crime dramas, Andrew Llyod Webber musicals, playing his guitar, and supporting his three girls in all our adventures, whether sports, musical theater, or learning a new instrument. He built us a treehouse and a lemonade stand. We went to Phillies games and out on daddy-daughter dates.

Circa 1983

In my early teens, my dad was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a condition being made more mainstream recognizable by the new T.V. show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. PSP is a condition that slowly creates the loss of your motor skills. It affects one’s ability to eat and swallow food, speak, walk, and perform essential functions for yourself. Over the next two decades, my dad held on much longer than any medical expert predicted. He carried on through bouts of pneumonia, a broken hip and pelvis, seizures, and depression. He received the diagnosis in his 40’s, much younger than people are typically affected. But even through this massive change in his and my family’s life, he continued to take joy in life and to be his children’s number one fan.

2012

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to go through this process, to experience the loss of the use of your body, nor would I try. But despite the adversity, my family and my dad had to overcome; I can say I was lucky to have the dad I did.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible men out there that make a difference in a child’s life, your presence matters.

To learn more about PSP please click here.

These are a Few of my Favorite Things… for Kids

As both a mom and a Pre-K teacher I have purchased and interacted with A LOT of toys. Some have been fantastic and surpassed my wildest dreams while others have left me out to dry. I’ve complied a list of some my top toys. If you’re not familiar with these already then I hope I just introduced you and your child to their next favorite thing. Click on the name of any of these items to learn more!

Zingo! This a fan favorite in my four and five year old classroom. The set in my classroom used to be my personal game before my two outgrew it. It’s Bingo but requires letter and word recognition. It also promotes memory and hand eye coordination skills.

Lego Marble ~ Few things keep young children busier than Legos. Combine that with a marble run and there are endless opportunities. This is the perfect toy to boost STEM skills, problem solving and creativity.

Lazada Pig Pillow ~ My six year old has this and it goes everywhere with him. It’s so incredibility soft I want one of my own. It comes in a variety of sizes and options and is bound to be your child’s new best friend.

Chalk. Colored chalk is one of the most popular toys I have ever utilized. It is open ended and provides so much opportunity for creative expression. Plus it’s a great way to get everyone outside and enjoying the sunshine!

Dan&Darci Flower Growing Kit ~ Spring is the perfect time to take your kids outside and teach them about gardening. This kit is a great starter garden for your budding botanist and bonus it comes with paints to decorate the flower box!

Flybar My First Foam Pogo Stick ~ These are fantastic! Both my boys received these this year for their birthday and they are loving them! They hold up to 250 pounds, so you better believe I tried it out too. This toy is great for building balance and gross motor skills. Hey, if your kids don’t want one get it for yourself!

Kanoodle ~ This is a fantastic logic game that has even stumped me at times! Admittedly, when it comes to logic puzzles, I am not the best. I had to order a second one of these for the house because my kids were fighting over who got to play with it. Logic and problem solving are the key skills honed by this marvelous, inexpensive toy.

Piano Music Mat ~ We had one of these for years in our home and it was always a favorite of my two. Your kids can jump and dance around and make sounds with the instrument options and it has a record setting so your little Mozart can play back the music they made. I used it to reenact my own Tom Hanks “Big” Moment.

I could list so many more, and I will probably will down the line! When purchasing toys for kids I like to think about what possibilities the toy presents and what senses it engages. For me, the less electronics the better. Guide your children while playing by asking them open ended questions as this will engage and enhance their language and literacy skills.

If your quarantine brain is starting to fuzz on what to do to keep your kids engaged then I hope this list can give you some ideas or at least set you down the right path!

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.

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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.

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

An Embarrassment on Two Wheels

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.