Potty Training Tip – Beware the Fancy Diapers!

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Beware the fancy diapers!

I thought we were doing my daughter a favor by getting her the really soft disposable diapers. Sure they were more expensive, but she was our firstborn, our baby! I gathered up all my diaper samples from the various baby expos I’d attended and did a complete, almost scientific, brand test. Some of the diapers leaked on us, some were so papery they crinkled every time she moved and I worried the rustling would be loud enough to disturb her sleep (yes, I was paranoid), and some just seemed really scratchy. Didn’t we love our daughter enough to spend a few extra dollars to prevent an itchy and uncomfortable feeling that we wouldn’t put up with ourselves? Well, when you put it that way…

I later discovered our fancy disposable diaper brand also had a loyalty rewards program with some pretty cool “free” stuff we could earn (with points from our purchases) and I’m a huge sucker for that kind of stuff. So that, plus the fact we had no complaints (no rashes, etc), kept us from switching brands as she got older. We did eventually get a big plastic Little Tikes grocery cart for “free” which I still find totally awesome (please do not reply with logic about how with all the extra money we could have saved by buying cheaper diapers we could have bought 10 grocery carts – I don’t want to hear it. It was free I tell you, free!!).

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It was free I tell you, free!! (doll not included)

Then came potty training. Or it should have. We passed her second birthday and her third and still my daughter had no problems being wet or poopy. Like no problems whatsoever. She would have stayed in one diaper for the rest of eternity if left to herself. As I scoured potty training guides and parent manuals, many said the first step was for your child to show readiness, meaning discomfort being wet or soiled, or at least notifying you in some way before or after. Of course this is all usually supposed to happen a lot sooner too. We got nothing. I might have tried the “run naked and free until you feel pee dribbling down your leg” method but we have carpet throughout our house so I stuck that in the last resort file. I also read that rushing potty training can seriously backfire (constipation, taking longer to train overall, etc.) so I just kept telling myself, it’d be fine, no one goes to prom in diapers.

minnie potty chair

Our 3rd potty – the self “flusher” that says “hip hip horray” made this one the winner

We decided to move our daughter into Pull-Ups even before she was “ready” to potty train because 1. she was too big for the changing table, 2. we wanted to associate the changing table with babies, like her brother, not big girls like her and 3. we wanted her to get in the habit of pulling her diaper on and off by herself. But we stuck with our expensive brand out of habit. I tried giving O lots of liquids and asking her to try to use the potty every 10 or 15 minutes but she would go in her diaper directly before or after sitting on her potty. I tried demonstrating for her. I even tried a different potty that mounted onto the big toilet. Still no success. I think she knew exactly what I was asking for, but her body wasn’t cooperating; it just hadn’t clicked yet.

CVS brand pull up diapers

CVS brand pull up diapers. AKA not fancy.

Then we went to a CVS I’d never been to before due to a mix-up with a prescription at the pharmacy. I have a secret love for drugstores like Walgreens or Rite Aid; stores where there’s a little bit of everything and you never know what you’ll find, and where there’s always a holiday section filled with cheesy adorable themed knickknacks you don’t need (I always end up buying 1 or 2). While living in Boston, I discovered that very CVS is different, so I’d always wander the aisles whenever I was in a new store or just had time to kill (this is all related, I swear). While wandering this time for new and interesting products I didn’t know I needed, I noticed a super sale on the CVS brand pull-ups and I swear a light bulb clicked on above my head. What if the super plush, super absorbent, fancy diapers were part of the problem? What if she needs a flimsy, cheap diaper to feel that she’s wet and that wet is not good? What if she needs an uncomfortable diaper to motivate her to switch into comfy cotton undies? I still had fears about leakage but the sale was enough to prompt me to give it a try. Wait… what are my design options? Adorable alien monsters and/or pink butterflies? Ok, Sold.

It was like magic. Once we started wearing the cheapy diapers, O started telling us when she wet her diaper. So we started regularly asking her if she had to go, or to just sit and give it a try, and finally she successfully used the potty. I went the bribe route by offering m&ms for every attempt which worked sometimes but O was still going in her diaper frequently. The turning point was when she had 2 total leak-through accidents within 2 days (something that would never have happened in her expensive pull-ups) and suddenly the switch in her brain flipped. She’s been using the potty like a pro ever since. She has actually requested to wear her undies at night too and has stayed dry (5 nights and counting!!).

So there’s my cautionary tale. Should have saved this post for Halloween, haha. Beware!!

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Potty Training on the Road

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This is as close to the water as O would go

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Adorable baby in a wetsuit. And super pale mommy in the SPF 50 protected beach tent

There always comes a time in every parent’s journey where something unplanned happens. As a super worrier, hyper planner and research lover, it doesn’t happen to me often. But, of course, it happened this weekend.

We decided (thunderstorm forecasts be damned!) to go to the beach and since we got there at about 9 am, we had plenty of time to play before the weather and waves turned nasty. O has been potty training at home but we’ve never done anything out of the house where a bathroom wasn’t very easily accessible (the mall or a restaurant, for example). Being the prepared mom I am though, I found these awesome portable, disposable lifesavers called Potty Flip. I think I actually bought a big set of them on sale when O was around 12 months old knowing I’d need them eventually. So, after having our beach fun, we got the car packed up and asked O if she needed to go. She used the Potty Flip for “number 2” (awesome!!) and it worked out great. I gave her a handful of trail mix that included 2 m&ms as a treat because I forgot to bring stickers and yes, we’re using the classic bribery method of training. I do a little I’m-an-awesome-and-totally-prepared-mom dance as I get in the car.

Well, everything is great until about 15 minutes later when O asks for “some more treat.” I tell her that we were done with treats for now but offer a cheese stick if she was feeling hungry. She passes on the nutritious food option. Guess what happens next. Never underestimate a preschooler’s brain. O puts 2 and 2 together and says, “I have to go potty!”

Clearly she’s asking to get another treat. But maybe she really has to go also. Obviously giving in and tossing her some candy in the hope that satisfies her for a while is not going to work (unfortunately). There is nothing around us but traffic. My husband and I look at one another. Neither one of us says a thing but I can tell his brain is churning out every scenario on the planet just like mine is. Do we stop on the shoulder and have her squat in nature? (ew). Do we just keep driving and pray for no mess? (at least we have towels).

O cannot hear our brains and repeats herself. Mimi (Grandma) senses it may take longer for us to compose words than a 3 year old’s patience (or she sees the terrified look in our eyes) and says, “Ok, I hear you have to go potty. Let’s try and hold it for a few minutes and Mommy and Daddy will find a place to stop for you.” Oh thank god! … Wait, oh no…  we might as well have just told our daughter to go surf an eggplant because “holding it” is a totally foreign concept. As I’m cursing myself for not having thought about explaining this ahead of time and trying to find a way to phrase it in an understandable way now, we see a sight I never thought I’d be so grateful for: golden arches.

In case you’re wondering, yes she was able to hold it. Yes, she really did have to go (a little). And yes she got another little treat.

I was not endorsed, sponsored or compensated in any way for the product mention in this blog.

Boring Babies

first easter

I was looking at my adorable little lump of baby flesh the other day, wondering when he will start being a little more person-like. My mom laughs at me for this. I love babies, but if I’m totally honest, I think they’re a little boring. Of course it’s not my baby’s job to entertain me, but I just love watching their personalities develop and I’m obsessed about milestones – I look forward to each new milestone like it’s Christmas. I try to enjoy these fleeting baby moments that disappear faster than you can imagine, but I can’t get rid of the “I can’t wait! I can’t wait!” feeling bubbling around inside me.

There’s nothing better than the moment your child really starts talking: being surprised at the words they copy in their babyish tongue and later the actual, independent thoughts that come out of their little mouths (!), listening to them chatter to themselves while playing, and the silly things that make them collapse in giggles (my preschooler still thinks that covering my face with my hair and watching me pffft it away from my face is about the funniest thing on the planet). Almost every day I write down something new or funny my daughter has said.

In second place for the best baby moments of all time, I’ll put the moment they start being mobile. A lot of parents shared sympathetic looks with me when they saw O starting to pulling herself up on chairs and said, “Oh, here comes the hard part – when they start moving around on their own!” Usually I murmur something agreeably, but in my head I’m shouting, “Are you kidding me?! I am SO excited! This is the part I’ve been waiting for!”

I get the sympathetic looks even earlier now. When we’re out and my preschooler is walking next to the stroller, it’s like everyone feels they must warn me of the hell that is assuredly coming now that I have 2 children. If I tried to explain how I really felt, I’d probably come off like an evil scientist rubbing her hands together with a manic smile – “It’s going to be amazing!”  Of course there are also times when I want to rip out my hair in frustration (the tantrums, oh god the tantrums). But they don’t last long, I forget about them just as quickly as my daughter does (squirrel? squirrel? sorry, Pixar joke) and even the worst episodes I’ll look back on one day with a sigh about the “good times.”

So, anyway, I was looking around for information personalities characteristics manifesting in babies. I remember O was just always such a happy baby – she honestly didn’t cry unless she was hungry or tired (even being wet didn’t really bother her, something that has actually backfired now that we’re at potty training time…) – she took a regular 1-2 hour nap twice a day would entertain herself happily for blissful amounts of time. I guess because it was always just so easy to say she was a happy baby, it was easier to feel like I knew her. Now that I don’t have a simple, one word explanation for my second baby’s personality, I’ve been asking myself what Number 2 is really like? Do I know him? What kind of preschooler will he be? The quiet, shy child who hides behind my legs? The kid that runs circles around his parents and never seems to stop moving? Is it too early to know this stuff?

Parenting.com had this article about the 9 traits researchers believe babies inherit and which reveal themselves from birth and over their first few months of life. But no mater what type of personality your child has, the article states, knowing this “you can help him realize his full potential by providing him with the opportunity to experience and discover what best suits him.” The traits are:

  1. Activity level
  2. Regularity
  3. Sociability
  4. Adaptability
  5. Intensity
  6. Disposition
  7. Distractibility
  8. Persistence
  9. Sensitivity

Going through these with Number 2:

  1. high activity level definitely – he’s bouncing at every available moment and wants to be entertained 24/7. We’re lucky to get 5 minutes of self entertaining
  2. pretty regular in his eating and sleeping habits
  3. he’s not around a lot of other people since we’ve been winter shut-ins but he definitely has moments when he wants his mommy and no one else (like the minute I take him from Daddy or Mimi, he stops crying)
  4. he seems to tolerate changes pretty well: falling asleep in places other than his crib, accepting new foods, etc
  5. very intense. He goes from laughing to omg-I’m-going-to-die-of-hunger screaming in 1 second flat
  6. it’s fairly easy to get him to smile but he also seems to be an observer. Especially if his sister is in eyesight, he’s always watching her and mirroring her emotions.
  7. I would have said very distractible earlier, but lately he’s been having clear favorites/interests and voicing his displeasure when things are taken from him.
  8. I’d say not very persistent. He seems to get easily frustrated when he can’t reach a toy but this might change once he can move around better.
  9. He is fussy but I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s sensitive to his environment

I’m still not sure how to collect all that information into a single word or even a basic idea about what it means for Number 2’s personality, but it did give me lots to think about. The article on Parenting.com concludes, “In the end, it’s your perceptions and reactions to his traits and behavior that will go a long way toward shaping your baby into a happy, well-adjusted child…”  Absolutely.

Narrated Playtime – Whoa, I Totally Do That!

or, A Review of Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

I just finished reading Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. I almost didn’t bother, but when I read reviews that it is more autobiography than parenting manual (which I generally try to stay away from), I changed my mind and I’m glad I did. The book logs her efforts to first define the Parisian/French parenting style (which turns out to be more work that it sounds) and then to understand why it is so different from the current NYC/American style. You can tell from the reviews which people actually read the book and which just assumed it was just another American parent bashing tirade.

I appreciated that Druckerman clearly states her upper-middle-class and central Paris/elite Manhattan biases in the beginning and reminds us of them throughout the book so you know that not everything she describes necessarily applies to all of France or all of the US. But don’t let this dissuade you from reading; wherever you are, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen or done many of the parenting acts she describes in this book and will be able to relate.

The book was clearly well researched with tons of footnotes documenting the studies, articles and people she pulled from (I hate when people just write, “experts believe…” and leave it at that). And Druckerman was careful to interview and compare experiences between persons both native to each country with those who immigrated to the US or France, and between experts and regular moms  – all things I also appreciated and expected coming from a former journalist. But the book also felt very honest (she shares quite a few embarrassing parenting experiences) and was pretty amusing in many parts too. This book is an opinion piece, it is not straight investigative journalism, but even so, it seemed balanced and reasonable (not at all pushy). So whether you agree with Druckerman by the end of the book or not, you won’t regret reading it and it may give you some things to think about too.

But here is the excerpt in question that totally caught me by surprise:

American-style parenting and its accoutrements – the baby flash cards and competitive preschools – are by now cliches. There’s been both a backlash and a backlash to the backlash. So I’m stunned by what I see at a playground in New York City. It’s a special toddler area with a low-rise slide and some bouncy animals, separated from the rest of the park by a high metal gate. The playground is designed for toddlers to safely climb around and fall. A few nannies are sitting French-style on benches around the perimeter, chatting and watching their charges play.

Then a white, upper-middle-class mother walks in with her toddler. She follows him around the miniature equipment, while keeping up a nonstop monologue. “Do you want to go on the froggy, Caleb? Do you want to go on the swing?”

Caleb ignores these questions. He evidently plans to just bumble around. But his mother tracks him, continuing to narrate his every move. “You’re stepping, Caleb!” she says at one point.

I assume that Caleb just landed a particularly zealous mother. But then the next upper-middle-class woman walks through the gate, pushing a blond toddler in a black T-shirt. She immediately begins narrating all of her child’s actions too. When the boy wanders over to the gate to stare out at the lawn, the mother evidently decides this isn’t stimulating enough. She rushes over and holds him upside down.

“You’re upside down!” she shouts. Moments later, she lifts up her shirt to offer the boy a nip of milk. “We came to the park! We came to the park!” she chirps while he’s drinking.

This scene keeps repeating itself with other moms and their kids. After about an hour I can predict with total accuracy whether a mother is going to do this “narrated play” simply by the price of her handbag. What’s most surprising to me is that these mothers aren’t ashamed of how batty they sound. They’re not whispering their commentaries, they’re broadcasting them.

When I describe this scene to Michel Cohen, the French pediatrician in New York, he knows immediately what I’m talking about. He says these mothers are speaking loudly to flaunt what good parents they are. The practice of narrated play is so common that Cohen included a section in his parenting book called Stimulation, which essentially tells mothers to cut it out. “Periods of playing and laughing should alternate naturally with periods of peace and quiet,” Cohen writes. “You don’t have to talk, sing or entertain constantly.”

Whatever your view on whether this intensive supervision is good for kids, it seems to make child care less pleasant for mothers [footnote to a 2009 study]. Just watching it is exhausting. And it continues off the playground. …”

(I wanted to copy more but I’ll stop there)

Now, I know I’m definitely not narrating just to flaunt what a good parent I am because I do it when we were completely alone at the park and, as Druckerman mentions later, off the playground as well. But reading this and suddenly realizing that she was describing me, had me searching for the real reason why – at least my reason why.

So I think part of it came from reading that hearing language (reading and speaking to your child) is good for them and will help build their vocabularies. And since I suspect my 2 year old is dyslexic (her father is so there’s a 50% chance right away) and since she seems to have trouble saying the small sounds in words – I guess it was très américain of me to think the more the better, right?

And the other part was probably because we were alone. I’m a talkative person so I was  probably just chatting to fill the silence and to keep my daughter company. I’ve realized that this could be heading her down a path where she’d become one of those people that has to be stimulated constantly (like some of my college classmates who couldn’t write a term paper unless they had both headphones on and the TV going). Being able to handle quiet time is a skill that needs practice too.

So I went to the park today with my newly 2 year old and I consciously didn’t narrate. And guess what? My toddler was chattering away half the time and quiet half the time but still content the whole time. I also didn’t go up onto the actual playground tower with her this time (she usually asks for my hand to go up the stairs, etc.) but I didn’t sit on the sidelines since my little daredevil monkey loves the big kid area which is pretty high off the ground. I stood near every opening she approached just in case, but I was happy to be of no use there – we didn’t even have a near close call. And she handled every staircase, obstacle and maneuver with ease.

Things were going great! Then, my daughter then decided she wanted to try climb this terrifying (to me) curvy ladder instead of taking the stairs. Think a repeated S shape with a straight bar down the middle of it. Then bend that entire form from the top of the playground to the bottom and add an undulation to it. Fantastic.

Even though she could barely get her foot from one rung to the next, I let her try it (while holding a hand both in front and back of her lest a foot or hand slip, with visions of bloody lips and broken arms trying to force their way into the forefront of my thoughts – as is the normal state of my brain) and didn’t encourage her constantly along the way (which is much easier when you would really rather they back down, haha).

When she reached for my hand to help, I calmly said “You can do it.” And she immediately, without any kind of fuss, tried it herself – if she’d asked a second time, I would have helped or gotten her down, but she didn’t. She climbed that stupid thing 3 times all by herself. She even got stuck at one point and I watched her figure it out. Despite mommy almost having a heart attack, it was pretty cool. If I had been coaching, cheering and helping the whole time, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to use her brain a bit and it actually might have distracted her.

I found myself pointing things out or mimicking back the words my daughter said (“That’s right, a car”) as we left the park. I was narrating our walk, I guess. But I know the intention of this part of the book is not to say that you should stop talking to your kids, of course not! The point is just to make sure there is balance. And I’m glad this book gave me the opportunity to think it through.

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