Friday, January 26, 2007

Parental Woes

My heart goes out to Dooce today. For someone who talks about boobs and poop on the internet, who seems so incredibly secure that she can openly discuss her mistakes and fears and failings OUT IN PUBLIC, in front of GOD and the (even more judgmental) INTERNETS, she sure has a tender heart.

I am talking about her post today, about how she got an unsettling email from someone who criticized her for not potty-training her 3 year old. And Dooce, in her amazing and awesome way, explained exactly EXACTLY why they aren't potty-training the 3 year old. And it is heart-breaking.

I had a somewhat willful child--Pony, when she was a toddler, had definite ideas about how the world was supposed to work, and it was her job to make sure it did. I remember days when, on her way to daycare, she objected to the way I opened the car door. I was supposed to turn my palm upwards and open the latch using my four fingers, NOT with my palm down using my thumb. And because I'd done it WRONG, we had to go back inside the house and start over again and do it RIGHT.

And I did. Because when your child is determined about something, and only limitedly verbal, you can't reason with her. You can't explain that "it doesn't matter," because it DOES matter. It matters deeply to her--it matters enough that she needs to go back in time and make it happen the right way.

So, you go back inside the house, and you are grateful that she didn't need to go all the way back to getting out of bed and starting the entire day over again, and you slowly (oh so slowly, day by day taking tiny tiny baby steps) work up to the point where you only have to close the car door and re-open it the RIGHT way for her to be comforted. And once you have (after weeks and weeks) reached that point, maybe--you hope--you can get to the point where you simply apologize and promise to do it the right way next time. And one day you do. And one day, she gets engaged in something else and the hand position for the car door doesn't matter to her anymore.

Dooce is dealing with a child who is lightyears more determined than my Pony ever was. Leta refuses to poop. Ever. At all. And following a horrible urinary tract infection, with a terrible experience of catheterizing her for a sample, now she is afraid to pee as well. Forget potty training--this is a child who is exercising so much iron control over her own body, she is making herself ill. And this is a battle a parent cannot win. Because you know what? You can't MAKE her pee or poop.

(And under the circumstances, don't you wish the doctor had been a bit more practical--and given the antibiotic FIRST, and THEN--if that didn't work--screen for diabetes? Because when the anti-biotic works--which it did--you don't have a doubly traumatized child and two parents who have had to physically hold her down for that horrible experience? Would a couple of hours delay in seeing if the antibiotic worked have been life-threatening if it HAD been diabetes? OF COURSE NOT!)

My Pony grew up, and our consistent educational goal with her teachers throughout her elementary school years was "to help her lighten up and have fun." Because she adored school, and was so intent on learning everything she could that all her teachers thought she hated school because she never laughed, or smiled, or joked. Which she did all the time at home, but not at school because it was So Important To Her. And now, in 7th grade, she is having the time of her life. She's still very responsible, and an excellent student, but she tempers her academic with enjoying herself.

Plus, she's incredibly confident of herself. While some girls (I know! I've heard from their moms) are crying at the clothes stores because they don't want to be mocked for what they wear, Pony simply ignores the girls who do that. "Oh, yeah. She's not very nice this year, which is too bad, so we don't spend any time with her." Or, "Yeah, she was pretty mean last year, but now she's a lot nicer, so I sit with her sometimes."

Potty training? What is so great about having a kid who is potty trained? Sure, it's a life skill, and it's a pretty consuming topic while you're in the middle of it, but really--how many adults do you know who aren't potty trained? Having a girl-child who is potty trained means you get to stand in line with her in public bathrooms, waiting for a stall to open. Having a boy-child potty trained means--I don't know, I don't have a boy--sending him to the bathroom by himself?

We started potty training the Bunny a few months after she turned 2--it seemed like she was ready, the daycare provider was ready, we weren't planning on any changes to our schedule so we were ready, so we started. And then Mr. Sweetie's brother got married in Hawaii with about 4 weeks notice. And one of the rules of successful potty training is that when the kid says she has to go, you take her seriously. And boy, did this kid have to go. Not just because she HAD to, but because bathrooms are fascinating things. Especially in airplanes on a 12 hour flight, because they are so tiny they are EXACTLY the right size for a 2 year old. And flight attendants are not happy to see 2 year olds in the bathrooms when there is a risk of turbulence and they are supposed to be in their seats and buckled in.

What do I remember about Hawaii? A few wonderful things, and EVERY SINGLE BATHROOM ON THE ISLAND. Bunny LOVED the pretty bathrooms in Kona. They even had (much more rare then than now) automatic faucets that turned on when your hands were in front of them. "Come down water, come down water" she would chant. And then she'd go tell the rest of the family about the "magic water." I never sat through an entire meal without having to take her to the bathroom.

And yet. Despite this love for bathrooms, she would never poop. Even after she got quite reliable, she wore a diaper at night because she couldn't stay dry at night and that was the only time she relaxed enough to poop. And this went on for a very long time. And you know what? It also passed. WHEN SHE WAS READY.

I have a friend whose daughter is the same age as Pony. This girl decided at about 18 months that she didn't like diapers and she was not going to wear them. So she didn't. Ever again. The girl was a camel! Never wet the bed, never had an accident, never needed diapers or pull-ups or anything because her will was like iron as well. Luckily for my friend, that iron will was directed at getting rid of diapers--but had the Camel decided instead just to not potty at all, she wouldn't have, and there was nothing you could do to make her.

So, Dooce, parenting is a long hard road, one you travel without a map or sherpa guide who has been there before. Because each kid is their own adventure, and no one has been where you are. We fight our way through the battles, using whatever tools we have--with our weaknesses and strengths always tested. It's scary, and sometimes we are all so afraid we have messed it up that we take perverse comfort in criticizing others. "Because, at least I did better than THAT with my kid."

Maybe you did do better. Maybe you were just lucky. There is no way to know. There is no one right answer. We just need to do our best and get the help of our friends.

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