It challenges my mothering abilities.
It weakens my motherhood confidence.
It shakes all the ideals that I stand for.
It questions my very being.
It fills me with self doubt.
It’s toilet training.
“Ok, today’s the day! You’re going to be toilet trained!” I enthusiastically told my three year old.
“No, not today,” he casually answered. “When I’m six, I’ll get toilet trained. I’m not ready yet.”
Now, in my book, a kid that can answer with such eloquence is a kid who should be long toilet trained.
But apparently, this little boy doesn’t go by my book.
I’ve got all the charts in place and the bribes lined up. I’m ready to go; problem is, he isn’t.
And that brings me back to square one.
What if I don’t succeed at this?
Will my kid figure it out?
Or will my kid be the first one to go to high school in a pamper?
No, it can’t happen. It won’t happen.
I know it won’t happen.
But still, I worry. Still, I doubt myself.
And then I meet my dear friend who nonchalantly laughs at the ease of training her 18 month old. I laugh along, half heartedly. And then she tells me about her mother’s neighbor’s nieces friends who trained their 18 month old.
I refuse to believe her. Not when I’m trying to train my 40 month old.
So no, in my mind her 18 month old is not toilet trained. And neither is her mother’s neighbor’s whatever. And I don’t believe it’s possible either.
But will I fail the motherhood test? Will I get a big F on my motherhood report because my 3 ½ year old is still in a pamper?
Will I get marked for effort, at least?
I think I should get A+ for effort.
The truth is, maybe I should put in more effort.
But I don’t have time for more effort. There’s still the rest of the kids who need some attention too. And I can’t cook meals while hanging out in the bathroom.
But I am trying.
Maybe not hard enough.
Maybe if I tried harder he’d be toilet trained at 18 months.
No, that’s not possible anyway.
Unless you become a slave to the bathroom, and basically move in.
But maybe it is possible.
Maybe I should force him.
Maybe I should have let him cry for hours last week, when we had failed attempt #5.
Maybe I shouldn’t have compromised.
But I don’t believe in forcing.
So maybe I do get an F for effort, too.
But that’s not fair!
I got all my kids dressed today. I made fresh supper. I let the kids use their water paints today.
Toilet training isn’t the most important thing anyway.
But maybe it is. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this.
Maybe my kid will be the first to go to elementary school in pampers.
It’ll be his fault, not mine.
No, it will be mine.
I should have done it at 18 months.
It’s not possible anyway.
I look at my four big kids. All successfully toilet trained. It boosts my confidence, and jolts me back to reality.
Right, I do know how to do this!
So what am I so worried about? Do I really think I can’t do it?
Or is it something else?
Maybe I’m just sick of getting unsolicited toilet training advice.
Yes, that’s it.
That is it! Enough theory sharing when I didn’t ask. Enough tsk-tsk looks when moms notice he’s not potty trained. Enough tips and tricks that don’t work for everyone. Enough comparing. Enough analyzing. Enough unhelpful support.
I am cut out for this. I will not get an F.
And when he’s ready, it’ll work.
I’ve done it before. I am capable. I can do it. I will do it. At the right time.
And he’s happy. That’s really what’s most important of all.
And he’s an eloquent talker.
Some days I wake up feeling ambitious and set big goals. Lots of them! Tackle the kids’ closets. Organize the garage. Clear out the laundry room clutter.
Some days I’m less ambitious and make some small goals. Wash the dishes. Sweep the kitchen floor.
Some days I have many goals, some days I have few goals. Some days I get them all done, some days I get a few done.
And some days I get none of them done.
And some days are adjust-my-goals days. Like yesterday.
By 8:30 AM I realized I would have to adjust. I scrapped all my plans and stuck to one simple goal: do not yell.
It was quite apparent that for the kids, it was a “let’s make mommy yell” day, and I resolved I would not give in. I would not raise my voice.
All the kids had gone to sleep too late the night before and woke up too early in the morning. Everyone was sleep deprived. And they kvetched. And they cried. And they fought. And they spilled. And a lot of other stuff.
Trying to get a moment of peace, I opted to serve hot cocoa. My 3 year old insisted on the pink cup. The pink cup was already in use. And I stuck to my rule of Cups Don’t Have a Taste So We Don’t Choose Colors. And he cried. And he bawled. And everyone else finished their hot cocoa. And he still wanted the pink cup. And then kind little 6 year old brought him his finished pink cup. And he poured the cocoa in, spilling half on the table. New reason to cry. And on it went.
And I stuck to my goal; I did not yell.
I served some pasta. 4 year old wanted ketchup. But not where I put it. There was nothing to rationalize about. He wanted it THERE, not THERE! My head was spinning, all the THERES looked the same to me.
I took a deep breath. And I stuck to my goal; I did not yell.
And on the day went. Lots of deep breaths. When my husband came home, I disappeared for a little while to refuel.
And more spills, and more fights.
But I did not yell.
When they were all tucked in and finally asleep, I felt like it was one of my most accomplishing days yet. Sure, my head was spinning and I was absolutely exhausted. But I had not raised my voice even once.
I had nothing to show for it; no items crossed off my list. Not by the looks of the floors or the kitchen sink. Or the garage or the laundry room.
I realized that not all accomplishments can be hung out on a banner. Not all accomplishments can be bragged about on Facebook. Or posted on Pinterest. Some are just that satisfied feeling that only a mom knows at the end of a long day.
I collapsed on the couch and allowed my brain a few seconds to mentally rethink my day. And to find something positive about it.
I took it all as a reminder that nothing just “happens.” There needs to be a goal.There needs to be work.
Nothing happens on its own. Sure, it’s true for everything in life, but a million times more relevant when it comes to raising kids. And as calm as I like to be, I don’t think I would have made it through the day without losing it had it not been my top priority.
All that I want for my children, and the house they’re growing up in, won’t happen by itself. Sometimes it’ll be at the cost of the laundry, clean house, a good nights sleep and a lot of other stuff. But that’s the only way to reach my goal, especially when it comes to raising my kids.
Once upon a time I used to like going to hotels. I liked walking into a freshly done up room that wasn’t prepared by me.
I loved seeing the linens that were fresh and crisp, and not because I did the laundry. I loved the freshly folded towels, not folded by me. I loved the little adorable essentials that I didn’t shop for.
I felt like a queen.
And then I went to a hotel with all my kids. And we stayed in one room. And then we did it again. And again.
And no longer did a hotel have the same appeal.
It started innocently enough. We got to the lobby to check in. We asked for two connecting rooms. Oh, they don’t have connecting rooms.
Can I put kids ages 6 and under in their own room? No, not going to work.
So how bad can it be to be in one room?
We piled in. Us and all our 45 pieces of luggage of every shape, color and size. And suddenly the hotel room looked different than it had for so many years.
The drawers opened and closed so easily, waiting for little fingers to close it on themselves. Twenty lamps to flick off and on. Alarm clocks to set and beep every couple of minutes. A phone to call room service as many times as you please. A blow dryer in the bathroom, accessible to all. And the beds; those mattresses were way more fun to jump on than the house ones.
The abundance of pillows! Not just any pillows; but pillows that are so fluffy and puffy they make great Frisbees, balls, airplanes and anything else that can sail across a room. And a swivel chair. All a mom’s nightmares in one room.
That very first time we did it, we needed 10 extra blankets and 6 more pillows.
I opened the door just a crack when room service arrived; no point letting them see just how many kids can fit into one cramped hotel room.
And then bedtime began. I wheeled the baby up and down the hall, praying for him to sleep and trying to be intrigued by the non intricate detail of the carpets, while my husband tried to get the rest of the gang to bed. When baby was finally sleeping, I quietly went back to the hotel room and switched him in for the rowdy toddler who kept climbing out of the pac ‘n play; up and down the hall I went…but it didn’t work.
I brought him back to the room and took the energetic four year old out, hoping my husband could do his magic and get the toddler to sleep.
By 11:43 pm, all the kids were asleep. It was pitch black. My husband and I didn’t dare turn on a light, whisper, or breathe for that matter, out of fear of waking up one of the kids.
I quietly tiptoed into bed, not without tripping over a little shoe and stubbing my toe into those useless hotel desks.
At 1:03, the baby was crying; I didn’t give him a chance to see if he’d fall back asleep, I grabbed him and nursed him, out of fear that someone else would wake up.
2:10 my 4 year old whimpered; I held my breath; no one wake up!!
Phew, they were all still sleeping.
3:25 I was nursing again.
4:15 I had a stiff neck from those over fluffy hotel pillows.
4:45 I started thinking about bedbugs.
5:05 I was nursing again.
6:01 the guy next door was starting his day early and the slam of his hotel room door was deafening.
Everyone was still sleeping.
6:15 I heard a whisper.
6:16 I heard two whispers.
6:18 and they were all up. And I was still trying to fall into a peaceful sleep.
Why oh why didn’t we just stay home?? Whose idea was this anyway? I’m never doing this again! Ever! Even if it means doing my own laundry and folding my own towels!
But of course, we did do it again. Many times.
Last weekend was our most recent hotel adventure; although my memory changes with time, the experience doesn’t. It was a weekend retreat with 25 other families. And for the second year in a row, my kids won the kids-who-wake-up-earliest award, and my husband continued his winning streak of dad-who-gets-up-earliest-with-his-kids award.
And I got to sleep in an extra 2 hours, convincing myself it was a solid sleep, despite the uncomfortable, over-fluffy pillows and dreaming of bed bugs.
And I know we’ll do it again.
And even though we unplug every outlet, put away blow dryers, bring our own pillows and use our suitcase full of tricks we’ve accumulated over our many hotel experiences, I know it’s not going to be a vacation stay.
I just add it to the many things I didn’t notice in the fine print when I signed up for this wonderful and crazy thing called motherhood.
It’s the end of a long day and I decide to come out of my mommy bubble of diapers, laundry and wiping spills to check what’s going on in the rest of the world. You know, just to make sure all is where I left it last.
I log onto Facebook to get a quick glimpse of life around town; in just a few minutes I’ll be brought up to date. I’ll know what friends and strangers made for dinner, see pictures of all the cool places that everyone else visits, and know which stores are having the greatest deals.
It’s time to unwind and check up on the outside world.
And suddenly I feel things starting to slowly go downhill.
What moments before had been a great, fun day with me being an involved, active mommy is shattering to pieces.
10 foods that are destroying you! the first headline blares.
Gulp, what was this!? The picture looks like it was taken in my refrigerator.
Could it be I’m hoarding destructive food in my own house? What am I doing to my family?
I continue scrolling.
Do you know what you’re feeding your kids? Stay away from big supermarkets!
Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are being sued for mislabeling products. Even their food isn’t good for you. Buy from your local farmers. It’s the only way.
Help! What am I feeding my kids? I push it out of my mind and keep scrolling down.
Don’t let your baby cry it out! You won’t believe what it can do to your child!
Should I click to read more? No, the headlines says enough.
I’m a believer of crying it out; it works and sure makes for a good sleep plan. As a matter of fact, all my good sleeper kids were sleep trained. But still, my mommy conscience starts the guilt thing. Uh oh, what have I done to them?
Against my better judgement, I keep scrolling.
Vaccinations! The reports are out!
By this time I have a pit in my stomach; I don’t even want to hear if the reports are good or bad. I vaccinate. Period. But there’s 18,000 likes and 4,567 comments…should I read it?
What if I’m the only mom left out of the loop on this new vaccination development? And once again, against my better judgement, I scan the article. It’s an anti vaccinations one. Thankfully, it’s nothing new.
So I keep scrolling. The pit in my stomach is growing; now it’s a double knot.
Do you realize what you are putting inside you?
I watch a quick video of coke in a pot being boiled until the water is burnt out; a big glob of black-sugar-blob remains.
Phew, I kicked my coke habit a few years ago, I’m good on this one.
But at tonight’s barbecue I kind of let the kids choose a can…I think they all chose coke…I’m in trouble! I can practically hear the sugar blobs gurgling as the kids sleep…
Know where your vegetables come from! You won’t believe what happens to them in transport!
I think of my bananas sitting on the counter…and I’m pretty sure the little sticker on it that my kids love to collect says Ecuador. How did they ship them here?? I bet it wasn’t in first class…am I feeding my kids the terrible stuff it says here? Here I was feeling so proud that the baby eats a banana every day for breakfast…
Recall! Kirkland Black Pepper! Traces of Salmonella!
I use that in practically every dish!! If we are feeling fine until now, does that mean the one I have is safe??
But suddenly I’m nauseous and I have a headache.
Germs. Do you know what germs are lurking on your door knobs? Your cell phone has more germs than…
I’m done. I stop reading.
Now I’m a wreck; what an awful mom I am after all! Destroying my family! Feeding them toxins!
What will be? Should we move to a farm and grow our own stuff? Can we live off the crop we get from our garden?
I glance at the next few headlines; water safety, secondary drowning, heat advisory, kids left in cars by mistake. This stuff can make any mom fall apart!
I turn off the screen and shove my phone across the couch. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
Only ten minutes ago I was a great mom. Now I am doing it all wrong. And my worry list had just quadrupled.
Maybe all these mommy groups and instant news updates aren’t such a good thing after all.
Are they making me a confident mom or a paranoid mom?
Are they making me more diligent in taking care of my kids, or turning me into the world’s worst helicopter mom?
Are they making me happier or more neurotic?
A calmer mom or a nervous wreck mom?
No, this certainly isn’t making me be a better mother. If I keep on reading, I know just the type of mom I’ll become- the overbearing type that really ruins their kids.
I’m ready to go back to the old way.
Away with the mommy groups. Back to using common sense, advice from good friends, wisdom from my mother’s experience and an occasional visit to Google.
It was finally coming true. My mind was racing, my imagination going wild.
No more cooking suppers. No more peeling, cutting and prepping food. My son was going to take over the kitchen.
He’s a natural. He’s one of those.
I would be one of those bragging moms who nonchalantly wave their hands and laugh, “Oh, I stopped cooking ages ago. My son does it. He’s a natural.”
And they casually pause for the response they know is coming, “Really, your son?! Wow, how amazing! How’d you train him??”
And the ambiguous answer of, “You gotta train them when their young…” Smiling smugly. Implying that everyone else’s children weren’t trained.
Well, that bragging mom was going to be me!
“It says butter. Can I use peanut butter instead?”
That certainly interrupted my train of thought.
And reminded me that I was jumping ahead a bit too far; after all, he’s nine.
He had been browsing through a cookbook and had come across a potato chip recipe and wanted to try it. Contrary to my initial inward reaction, I enthusiastically agreed.
And we didn’t have butter, hence the question.
And so he learned his first kitchen tip; peanut butter does not replace butter. But you can use oil instead.
I guess he might not be taking over the kitchen as soon as I was imagining after all.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t brag about his cooking, I thought stubbornly.“My son, he’s just a natural in the kitchen!”
Well, kind of, anyways. I mean, he cooked once…
But you know us moms, we love to exaggerate :)
If I ever feel the need for some extra attention, all I have to do is go to Walmart with some – or all- of my kids.
That wasn’t the reason why I did that today, but it only took about the length of an aisle or two to realize it makes a pretty good game plan.
Today, though, I needed pampers. And wipes. And ASAP.
So in a moment of lots of energy and irrational thinking, off I went with my four little ones that were home with me. And while I was already wandering through the endless aisles at Walmart, I figured why not do my weekly grocery shopping too. In truth, I can think of a lot of reasons why not to; but like I said, it was a moment of a lot of energy and irrational thinking..
I assumed we’d find one of the family size wagons; we didn’t.
Only one kid fit in the regular wagon; the rest of it was heaped high with stuff. That means the other three little guys were my foot soldiers.
And the attention we got! Every little old gray haired man and lady in the store stopped to “ooh” and “ahhh” and “G-d bless you”. And if I felt the need to draw some extra attention to myself and my clan, I casually added, “Oh the rest are at home!” to which I got more “G-d bless yous!” from the little white haired men and ladies.
While my energy and patience were intact, it was almost fun!
Funny how it is, though. Lots of oohs and aahs from the little old folks; and lots of stares and some glares from the random moms around the store. No “G-d bless yous!” from them. But I suppose I can’t blame them; us moms are an interesting bunch, we’re too sleep deprived to be impressed or care about anything other than some shut eye.
And the kids behaved pretty well, too.
Ok, I’ll admit it. The bribes grew accordingly. Ices at the end. We picked it out in the beginning, left it in the freezer, and would go back to get it.
So when my six year old climbed into a cozy spot on the tissue shelf (that was kind of beckoning to kids) I just reminded him about the ices.
And when my three year old went to hide in the clothes rack (why does every kid do that??) I just reminded him about the ices.
And when my four year old started giving the one year old a free ride in the wagon while I bent down to get something, I just reminded him about the ices.
And when they sneaked 15 boxes of instant pudding into the wagon (look, its kosher!) And when they emptied the cereal shelf. And when they each chose a bottle of sunblock so we could have for the summer. All I had to say was “ices!” and all was back to normal.
Oh, and the apple juice boxes and dried pineapple helped too.
An hour and thirty minutes later, I was done. And I don’t mean just my list.
I mean I was done; done with my energy, done with my patience, and done with getting attention.
Walmart gives me a headache on a regular day. Today was exceeding them all.
And this little old lady at the register wasn’t the same as all the rest of the old folk shoppers; she wasn’t impressed. She was trying to work quickly; so was I.
But I also had to settle the kids with their ices so it could go as smoothly as possible. And without fanfare.
This little old lady hurt her arm and couldn’t move it much. I tried one of my best tactics reserved for when you want to get on someone’s good side or get good service from a cashier; I told her how difficult it must be to work with a sore arm and what a trooper she was.
I think we became best friends.
I bid farewell to Walmart and all its little old gray haired ladies and got my troops back in the van. Loaded the dozens of bags in the trunk and drove off…until next time.
“I can only sleep with the door open, if you close it I’m never going to fall asleep!”
“I can’t fall asleep if the door is open, I’m so tired! I need the door closed!”
“No, it has to be open!”
“I finally got used to it closed!”
“No it needs to be open!”
“No it needs to be closed! The whole way!”
“It’s too dark!”
“It’s too light!”
I took a deep breath. I was done for the day.
Bedtime can do that to you.
They had all brushed their teeth so nicely as I watched so proudly, until my four year old made sure to autograph the mirror with the toothpaste. Something about the push down tab of the Aqua Fresh just begs for it…
Three year old had done his ritual of stepping into four year old’s negel vasser, and I made a mental note to email the French Twins and tell them I don’t appreciate their sense of humor.
“I need the door closed now!!”
I needed to get involved. My two big boys, 6 and 9 years old, were not going to figure this one out. And I needed them to go to sleep now!
I marched upstairs to their room, not quite sure how to resolve it. All I knew was that I was low on patience.
Who cares about the door? Just close your eyes and you won’t see if it’s open or closed! Stop driving each other crazy! You both woke up at 6 today and you need to go to sleep now! The next one to say a word will sleep on the couch tonight!
But I caught myself just before I launched into my mommy rhetoric.
I had a flashback. Me and my two sisters. We shared a room and we loved it. And we fought about the door. One wanted it wide open, one wanted it closed and I wanted it 3/4 closed. Not 1/2 way, it had to be 3/4, and I had a special way to measure. And we argued. And we debated. For many, many nights. And despite all that, we are best friends.
I looked at my boy in amusement, still arguing about the door. How did they know that that’s what you’re supposed to argue about? Did they get the memo, bedtime rule #712: argue about the door until mom comes. Then continue arguing.
This wasn’t about them. This wasn’t about deliberately pushing my patience.
This was about the joys of siblings sharing a room.
It’s part of the growing experience. Part of the excitement of whispering at night to each other when you’re supposed to be sleeping, of waking up early and talking until it’s time to get out of bed. Of staring up at the ceiling and sharing your dreams of the night before.
It’s all part of the joys of siblings. And I didn’t want to steal it away from them.
So I used every last ounce of non existant energy to rationally resolve the issue.
And we came to a compromise. They were both happy. And so was I. Not because I came up with a clever solution, but because I had the presence of mind to see past the door.
I walked back downstairs, knowing full well that tomorrow night they’d have the same disagreement. And the next night. And the next. Just like I had done.
And I repeated to myself over and over again. It’s not them. They are doing nothing wrong.
It’s not the door.
It’s part of the childhood experience. Part of the learning to share and care for each other. Just like me and my sisters.
In that context, I can hold on to my patience a few moments longer when I’m called in to referee.
I could hear them talking and laughing, making plans for the next day.
And I was relieved that I had caught myself in time.