I don’t have much of a potty mouth, and I never have. Well, I suppose that statement might not be entirely true if you define “potty mouth” as having the maturity of an 8-year-old and finding words like “poot” and “beanie” funny. Guilty as charged. But I rarely swear. I don’t even like to say the word “sucks.” I’d much rather say, “Oh, fiddlesticks!” and endure the eye-roll of my oldest. She insists a lot of kids use the word “sucks.” I told her she will be around people her entire life who make the wrong choice and that in our family “sucks” is blacklisted and if she says it, she owes me a dollar. End of discussion.
But lately a big thought bubble full of all sorts of naughty expletives has been ballooning up above my head, and the reason for this is simple: I have a 3-year-old boy. I am potty training that 3-year-old boy. Actually, that’s all wrong. The only one getting trained is moi – in the art of self-restraint in keeping those lovely expletives that make “sucks” look like part of the vernacular of Downton Abbey floating silently off in the horizon.
This is no easy task, especially when #@!* keeps happening – not in the potty but in the pants. And gone are the days of cute, breastfeeding, mustardy baby poop. People think my 3-year-old is closer to five. He’s a big boy with a big appetite. He eats a cornucopia of deliciousness. Everybody poops but generally the bigger the pooper, the bigger the poop. I’m dealing with some serious excrements and after all that green St. Patrick’s Day food, I’ve been faced with green poop. My 5-year-old eyed Thomas’s most recent gift. “It looks like the panda’s poop!” A recent visit to the zoo left the kids in awe of the gloriously green poop a panda squeezed out in front of us. Do you know how much bamboo a panda bear eats each day? Forty to 50 pounds of the green stalks. Give Thomas a little green smoothie, green bread, and green eggs, and he starts pooping like a panda.
Whereas my girls found the idea of pooping in their pants gross, Thomas doesn’t really see the problem with it. This is the same child who was nicknamed Poopcasso as a baby after I found him finger-painting with his doo-doo during quiet time. Poop in the pants ain’t no big thing, but don’t you dare say something like, “This is gross,” while cleaning him up because that’s when Mr. Sensitive comes out. Tears form in those big, brown eyes. “Don’t say it’s gross, Mommy,” he says.
Oh, but it is.
What’s been odd to me about potty training this boy is the very first time he used the big boy potty, he, in fact, pooped in it. Everyone had told me how hard boys were to potty train, and I was feeling all high and mighty. MY boy isn’t going to be hard at all. Look at him pooping like a big boy without me even putting him on the potty! When will I learn to never, ever self-congratulate myself in the parenting trenches? It always, always backfires and leaves me eating a hefty slice of humble pie or in this case, cleaning what looks like chocolate silk pie but smells like toxic waste from a bare bottom.
Yet, for several days he did his business on the potty, and my mommy hubris swelled. I never had to bribe the girls, but I was popping jelly beans into his mouth let and right. Lots of positive reinforcement going on. Then one day when the rain finally stopped and the sun was dancing in the sky, warm and bright, Thomas headed outside to play – and to poop. Ever since then he’s wanted to take care of nature’s duty in, well, nature.
Now to be fair, he does pee on the potty quite a bit, but he also frequently relieves himself on the floor and sometimes on big sister’s dolls. He doesn’t like the way diapers feel on his bigger-than-a-toddler-body and routinely complains of wedgies, but he also isn’t too fond of underwear. Or clothes. Going naked and commando is how he likes it and also how he seems to have the least amount of accidents. But I can’t bring him to the soccer fields, grocery store, and playground naked. Can I?
Oh, I know this too shall pass. (This too shall pass…the mantra I fervently chant during any difficult parenting period.) He won’t always be dropping huge loads in his pants or walking around commando. (Will he?) And it’s so easy to sugarcoat the potty training phases of my daughters when, in reality, we had our own challenges. My second, Rachel was a breeze, but Madeline, my firstborn, had some major poop issues. No, she never pooped her in pants. She just didn’t poop. The little control freak was master of her bowels and while my husband and the pediatrician told me I had to make sure she tried to poop every day, I learned quickly that you can’t make a feisty child sleep, eat, or go potty. Not that I didn’t try. I would sit in the bathroom for hours with the child, holding her hand, playing all sorts of games. “Ariel is in the cave and wants to go out swimming with her fishy friends! Can you help her get out?” In case you’re really confused here and gave birth to reasonable children who just felt the urge and went to the bathroom, Ariel was her poop and the cave was her bum. I’d read Everybody Poops aloud to her in the bathroom. And Great Expectations. And All’s Well that Ends Well. But it rarely ended well. Usually, Mom and Anti-Pooper both ended up in tears. And still, she held it in. She. Would. Not. Poop. I plied her with smoothies and dried fruit and lots of food that’s good for your inner plumbing. I’d light candles in the bathroom to calm her. I would gently coax her like the most patient poop doula, but she wasn’t ready to bring her baby into the world. On an adult dosage of Miralax she managed to hold her poop in for 15 days. That’s more than two weeks, people. Hello, enema. That finally did the trick.
Then there was my third child. Oh, she potty trained easily enough and thankfully, pooped on the potty without trouble, but when she got angry at me, what did she do? She pulled a Regan a la The Exorcist on me and stubbornly glared in my direction while she relieved herself on the only rug in our hardwood floor home. I can’t count the times I would tell her no to something and find her peeing on the floor and then feigning it was an “accident.”
Believe you me, there were some big curse word thought bubbles floating above my head back then, too.
But these days none of my girls have accidents or even pretend to have accidents when they’re upset with Mommy. I still have to remind the oldest to listen to her body sometimes because she is such an active, happy kid, she doesn’t like to take time out to do anything as boring as sitting on a potty.
I know Thomas will get there eventually. I recently tried to bribe him with fancy superhero light-up shoes since his friend across the street got a pair when he potty trained. Thomas thought the shoes were pretty cool until duty (or should I say dooty?) called. “I don’t want those shoes,” he told me firmly, and he opened the back door and headed outside like the free-spirited animal he is.
And I sighed and thought, “This suck… errr…this stinks.” Unfortunately, both figuratively and literally.
It has now been over a year since I last nursed a child. I know a few mothers who didn’t enjoy breastfeeding all that much and were glad to be through with it, but I didn’t belong to that camp. I don’t love everything about babies or motherhood – trust me – but I did love nursing. And the specter of a nursing child curled into me visits me from time to time and reminds me of all that I miss.
I not only yearn the feel of a sweet baby in my arms, nestled close to me, or the hundreds of calories my milk-making body burned while I just sat on my bum. And, yes, filling more than an A cup was nice, too.
There was the awareness of my strength, my purpose as a woman and a mother that breastfeeding brought to the surface. Each time I nursed a newborn for the first time – usually immediately after birth and a few times with the umbilical cord still attached – I discovered a new brand of bliss. My baby’s instant acceptance of me, my body’s ability to bring forth new life and then to nurture it – how could I ever doubt my strength again?
Oh, but I have and I do pretty much on a daily basis.
I wish I could bottle up that fleeting sense of my power and worth, but there are many days when I question my mothering, my ability to be enough. Love offered through nursing was more than just sustenance. It was protection. I could keep my baby safe. Love was protection, but now that my children are growing older, it’s just love. And sometimes it seems there’s not enough of it to go around.
Nursing also gifted me with the perfect excuse to be still, to be quiet, and to do nothing while actually doing something very important – nourishing my child.
My Bible study group was talking about the challenges of finding quiet time to pray and to work on our relationship with God. All relationships take work; our union with our Heavenly Father is no different. We can’t expect to strengthen our faith if we fail to ever flex our spiritual muscles or think that just showing up at church on Sunday is all it takes to become a woman of God.
I’ve been struggling with finding time for God. My relationship with Him is in need of some work.
As I watched my friend and wise Bible Study leader nurse her baby, I remembered how nursing became a perfect time for me to pray. Breastfeeding gave me a frequent excuse to withdraw into a cloistered calm with my baby or toddler. (I breastfed all of my children for longer than what is considered “average” or sadly, “normal.”). Sure, sometimes I nursed while reading a book to an older sibling or even while grocery shopping. By the time Baby #3 came around, I became quite adept at feeding my little one in Ergo as I tackled my grocery list. Once an older woman saw a chubby little foot sticking out and asked to see the baby’s face. I had to turn her down because what she would have seen more of was a huge, milk-inflated balloon of a breast.
I nursed on demand and so frequently that I had to learn to multi-task, but there were many times – especially those early morning and late night feedings – when my child’s noshing session became a mini retreat for me. During these hushed pockets of time in an otherwise noisy day that was usually filled with sibling squabbles, little girls singing, a big-mouth dog barking, and the constant cacophony of a full house, I had time to just think, ponder, pray, and be.
The world around me blurred into a calm palette of simple beauty. I forgot about the drifts of canary yellow post-it notes reminding me of this and that. My to-do list didn’t seem essential when I was feeding a baby. Nursing made me feel accomplished and calm all at the same time. It was as if my baby wasn’t only sucking milk from me, but she was also taking the stress and my OCD tendencies away.
I would find myself watching my baby’s eyelids grow heavy with each suck while long eyelashes fluttered until finally the sleepy eyes vanished behind delicate eyelids. My baby’s breathing slowed, and I would feel her tummy rise and fall against my own. So often my child’s breathing and my own would become synchronized as if we were one lovely unit.
I’m not sure why, but I vividly remember marveling at my children’s ears while they nursed. When do you stop to consider the miracle of an ear – those tiny, perfect forms that wiggle as a baby sucks?
I’d hear my baby’s small gulps, which would start out almost frantic and then slow with my little nursling’s breathing, as my body nourished her. Sometimes even after my baby pulled off, her lips would continue to suck satisfied with just the memory of my breast. A tiny starburst hand would often hold onto the fabric of my shirt or little fingers would tightly grasp my own finger, and my baby’s strength would surprise me. I loved those baby hands, their softness, the tiny dimples where knuckles would one day emerge.
I have lots of knuckles around here these days; my growing kids are going on all Cubist on me and are all angles now. Only my youngest still has that dimply softness to remind me of his baby days, and I know in a year or so he will lose it and become lean and grow up as his sisters have.
I am guilty of painting the past as perfect. When people die, we rightly memorialize them and even glorify them. We mothers are sometimes guilty of this when we enter a new season of motherhood. It’s easy to forget the constant and sometimes crazy-inducing sleep deprivation, the inability to crack the cipher of a baby’s endless crying, the loneliness of mother-infant seclusion.
And while I truly did love the nursing experience, I do remember times when I was exasperated that my baby wanted to feed again.
Everything wasn’t always all sepia-toned, but there was something beautiful about those quiet nursing sessions when I was forced to slow down, when I had the ability to discern the smallest of details like my baby’s ear or the fringe of lashes on her eyelids, when there were very little distractions aside from my ticker tape of a mind and even that seemed to slow down when I fed my babies, when it was just my child and me set apart from everything around us, discovering our own world where we existed only for each other.
I long for more of those kind of moments. My babies all grew up so quickly. I have a 10-year-old who sometimes reads the same books as I do (Wonder, Grayson) and goes on runs with me and makes me laugh. I have a 7-year-old who loves animals and is kind and sensitive and writes me the most beautiful “just because” notes and birthday poetry. I have a soon-to-be 6-year-old who has started to read, loves to draw, and has a pitch-perfect singing voice. I have a little Todzilla who leaves messes in his wake, but also gives me more spontaneous hugs, kisses, and compliments (“Mommy, you look beautiful,” he tells me at least once a day) than I probably deserve. When I ask him to please clean his room, he says, “No ‘sank’ you.” He’s even old enough to exhibit polite defiance.
Several years ago a friend of mine told me she could see me having at least eight kids. Honestly, I could see it then, too. But now as my days of fertility are waning, and life is moving so quickly, I am accepting my family size as it is and I am also realizing I need to carve out quiet time whether I have a nursing baby in my midst or not.
I had someone ask me today if I wanted more children. I paused. I used to emphatically say, “Yes!” anytime someone asked me this, and a part of me will always – no matter how exhausted or overwhelmed I may feel – long for a baby, a new beginning, a new narrative of hope that begins with conception. But I also know that I am blessed to have the four lively children I have and that this new season is pretty, darn fun and that I can’t wallow in wistfulness for the past or long for a future that may or may not include another nursing baby. I don’t want to miss out in the life that’s right in front of me.
I love watching my oldest play basketball and be a team leader. I love having my 7-year-old bibliophile tell me all about her latest book. I love how my girly-girl 5-year-old accessorizes her outfits every day and asks to play with my hair. I enjoy my toddler boy’s silliness and curiosity and how his hugs are big, strong, and frequent. These little people are so interesting, so full of personality. It’s wonderful.
So I told my questioner this: “I feel at peace with my family right now, but I’d never say no to another child. We’ll see what happens.”
That’s the truth. I desire to live life in the present tense rather than pining for the future or dreaming of the past.
But whether or not I have a nursing little one around to remind me, I need to be aware of the importance of withdrawing from the world and the busyness life, and this doesn’t include exercising to fast-paced music (this is what my alone time often consists of these days). I may not be able to use a baby as an “excuse” to seek solitude and prayer or to graciously turn down anything that pulls me away from my primary vocation as a wife and mother or zaps me of energy and joy. But I don’t need an excuse to quiet my mind and my heart, to be grateful for the everyday glimpses of beauty that are all around me like those long eyelashes, perfect ears, smiles, sunshine-kissed hair, bright eyes of my children. They may be bigger, but they’re no less amazing
Baby or not, I must slow down long enough to appreciate life, to be still, and to know that He is God.
This past Monday I had my monthly interview spot on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air Show, and we talked about some of the Lenten traditions my family I embrace or have embraced in the past. I had every intention of putting together a post chock full of resources for Lent prior to the interview. When that didn’t happen, I told myself I’d cobble a post together on Fat Tuesday. Then the ice hit Georgia. We lost our Internet connection, and it ended up being a good day to cuddle and play lots of games of Uno.
So here I am on Ash Wednesday throwing some ideas out there. This year we’re not going to make our traditional Lenten mice out of mismatched socks (see picture below of our rodent friends from the past). I may end up doing this again for Thomas down the road, but we are using a jelly bean activity a friend told me about from Catholic Mom to encourage prayer, sacrifices, and alms giving this year because, let’s face it, candy motivates my 10-year-old more than tying knots in the tail of a mouse stuffed animal. For those of you with only littles in your house these mice are so cute and a great way to visually show a child what sacrifices can do. The mouse’s tail gets shorter and shorter with each good deed (from each knot tied), and you can talk about how your child’s soul is changing, too, as it draws closer and closer to Christ.
For those of you with some older children, you can try this jelly bean activity. My friend substitutes M&Ms. Different colors can be ordered on the M&M’s website. She also plans ahead and buys holiday M&Ms when they’re on sale. We’re using jelly beans and using this Catholic Mom article as our guide:
On Ash Wednesday we set out a glass jar for each child with a small copy of the jellybean prayer taped to it. We determined a behavior to go with each jellybean color (corresponding with the prayer). Each day the kids could earn a jellybean of any color they followed through on. They could not eat the jellybeans until Easter. The kids could not earn white jellybeans, these represented the Grace of Christ, which is a gift not earned ourselves. On Easter morning, the kids woke to find their jars filled up where they were still empty (lacking) with white jellybeans (Christ’s grace)
This is how we interpreted each color. You can make your own ideas based on ages and needs of your children.
- Red is for the blood Christ gave (each morning we chose something to sacrifice that day to earn the red jellybean. It had to be something they would have had the opportunity to have or do on that day)
- Green is for the palm’s cool shade (green jellybeans were earned for good deeds. It was a good dead to provide shade for Jesus with the palm)
- Yellow is for God’s light so bright (yellow jellybeans were earned for sharing God’s light through kindness to others)
- Orange is for prayers at twilight (orange jellybeans were earned for attentive behavior during bedtime prayer time and night time bible story)
- Black is for sweet rest at night (these were earned for going to bed good. we used blue though, as our kids are not fans of black jellybeans)
- White is for the Grace of Christ (these we could not earn as mentioned above)
- Purple is for His days of sorrow (we earned these through apologizing to anyone we hurt with our words or deeds that day)
- Pink is for each new tomorrow (pink jellybeans were earned when we forgave those who apologized to us for hurtful behavior)
During the course of 40 days the kids did not tire of this activity and have talked about how fun it was throughout the year.
Of course, the Easter bunny might not want to bring any more jellybeans for the baskets!!
I am using blue jellybeans instead of black, and I’m hoping for a heaping pile of blue jelly beans because I just know we will have nothing but calm, easy, and peaceful bedtimes for the next 40 days because the Wicker kids love nothing more than hanging out in the horizontal position. Yeah right.
I also decided that while we can’t earn God’s grace – and thankfully we don’t have to! – we open ourselves to God’s grace in the sacraments, so the kids get white jelly beans for going to Mass and for going to Confession (thanks, Betsy, for this idea!).
Also, each morning we will pick a family sacrifice in addition to our own personal sacrifices and if we fulfill it, each child gets an extra red jelly bean. This might mean a day with no electronics or we pray the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross as a family.
I’m excited about this Lenten activity, and I can already see the kids are, too, because their jars are filling up quickly. Now I just have to keep them, especially 3-year-old food thief Thomas, from stealth jelly bean eating.
In year’s past, I have done things like 40 Bags in 40 Days while encouraging the children to help me fill the bags with toys that they didn’t really need (this doesn’t mean broken toys they never liked; giving those away wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice, after all). I personally have loved writing letters for each of the 40 days of Lent for the past two years. My oldest daughter has decided to adopt this activity to make her Lent more meaningful.
My big Lenten resolution this year is to not buy anything for myself that is just for me. When my husband was still in residency, this was how life always was. I really had to watch our budget and penny pinch, but I’ve noticed that in recent months – now that we are finally arriving at a secure place financially – I’ll be at Target or somewhere and I’ll toss things into the cart that aren’t on my list because – hey, it’s only $10 for that scarf that’s marked down. Or I’ll see an item on Zulily that’s a great deal, and I’ll think to myself that I have to snag it cheap while I can. Or I’ll be buying The Gruffalo off Amazon for a birthday party gift for a little friend and will add a book to the cart that I’ve been wanting for our collection instead of just checking it out at our wonderful local library that is within walking distance of my house. But those $5 to $10 purchases add up, and so do those shoe splurges. And truth is, we still have monstrous educational loans from my husband’s many years of schooling to pay off, and I really want to revert back to my thrifty self so we can save more and give more. So my plan for the next 40 days is to not buy anything for myself – that includes things really only I consume like makeup or seltzer water, which only I drink except when certain children ask for a sip. When I shared my plan with my oldest, she asked, “But what if you run out of something you usually use?”
“I still probably don’t need it,” I told her.
Then I plan on looking at the past three month’s budgets prior to Lent (my husband keeps very detailed spending pie graphs) and determine the average of what I spent on myself during that time and give that amount to a charity like the Catholic Relief Service’s Lenten Rice Bowl or Food for the Poor since I hopefully did not spend that moula on me, myself, and I during Lent. I have some other personal plans and sacrifices I plan to do as well, but that’s the biggie.
Mary Elizabeth will be coloring this wonderful printable Lenten calendar that’s available for free over at Catholic Icing (along with lots of other Lent activities for kids and families). The countdown to Easter is particularly exciting for her because her birthday is on the same day this year. “So I’ll get cake AND Easter candy?” she asked happily this morning. Yup! Sugar binge, here we come in 40 days!
That’s our 2015 Lenten Plan, but here’s a list of some resources, ideas, books, etc. we’ve used in the past, plan to use, or dream of using when my life isn’t such a beautiful, chaotic mess.
I know I’ve missed some great stuff out there, so please feel free to share your own links and/or resources in the combox.
(Oh, and please forgive the funky formatting below. I’ve tried to fix it multiple times with no luck.)
Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle
Welcome Risen Jesus: Lenten and Easter Reflections for Families by Sarah Reinhard
Magnificat Lenten Companion (it looks like the hard copy is sold out, but it’s available as an app)
Around the Web
Christ’s Journey to the Cross: Lenten Insipiration for Mothers (an old reflective essay of mine)
Lent for Little Ones (an old post of mine, but we still put to practice many of the ideas I write about, especially the Stations of the Cross for children and the box of objects to represent each station)
Recipes (including lots of meatless dishes perfect for Lenten Fridays)
Homemade Pretzels (we make these every Lent and have a simple dinner of pretzels, cheese, fruit, and milk)
Tofu Parmesan (don’t judge it until you try it!)