Last week I was happily sitting at the Children’s Centre – engaging in my all-time favourite activity – the less-than-subtle-nappy-check, ensuring that the mildly horrific smell in our corner of the room was not, in fact, coming from Joel’s trousers. It wasn’t. Coast clear, I waved him off to play again.
And then. Another parent looked over, raised her eyebrows and uttered the immortal words…”Isn’t he clean yet?” This confused me. Mostly because whilst Joel is many, many wonderful things, clean is very rarely one of them.
Apparently, that’s not what she meant. What she meant was potty-trained. With the implied judgement that, until he is, in fact, trained, he’s dirty. Or rather, dirtier than normal. Or, to be even more precise, dirtier than her son, who had just made it out of nappies himself, despite being a few months younger.
Clean. Dirty. They’re just words. But they’re words that balance precariously on top of the pile of other people who’ve rolled their eyes over how ‘lazy’ I’ve been. Not training him yet. There’ve been quite a few of those. And, much as I hate to admit it, words affect me. More than they probably should.
They roll about in my head. They make me doubt my own judgment. And every time I tell someone that ‘he’s just not interested yet,’ or that ‘we started too early with Elvie and won’t be making the same mistake twice’, my voice gets quieter. A little more apologetic. A little more guilt-ridden.
So much so that last weekend, when Wes suggested that we start potty-training, I didn’t put up much of a fight. Not as much as I wanted to. Not as much as I should have. Partly out of guilt, and partly because he promised to cover the first four days and I had some magical naive hope that it might all be over by then.
And so I’ve spent the last couple of days following him around like a hawk. Joel, not Wes. Asking him to sit on the potty. Begging him to sit on the potty. Threatening him with all manner of toys being removed. Bribing him with all manner of chocolatey treats. And invariably he has refused, only to wee in his trousers half a minute later.
He has had his moments of glorious, shining success. Just this morning he woke up, came out of his bed and shouted for the potty. Which he promptly weed in, leaving a bone-dry pair of pull-ups on the floor. Trying to go nappy-free at night as well. All at the same time. Of course.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Not even slightly. And it’s winding me right up. Fair to say that it’s tipped me a little bit over the edge.
And so, just like every time I’m stressed, I find the self-destruct button and I pound it until it’s turned to dust.
Which, in my case, involves filling my head with voices until it’s ready to explode. As many as I can find. All of them different. All of them adamant. Very few of them actually helpful.
I know what I should do. I’ve had the therapy. I know the tricks. I should calm myself. Quiet myself. Go inside to the deepest parts of my heart and remember the kind of parent that I want to be. Peaceful. Generous. Child-led. But that’s hard. It’s risky. It’s vulnerable.
Voices are louder. They’re easier. They fill the gaps. And so I find myself on parenting forums, reading about how everyone else potty-trained their children. Successfully or otherwise. I read advice pages, and feel like a failure. I spend way too much time on Facebook, and Twitter, comparing my own poo-ridden afternoon with friends on foreign holidays or attachment parenting families buying yurts in far-flung corners of the world.
I even post a Facebook status of my own – employing my standard tactic of reducing my emotional confusion to a comedy anecdote about my lack of parenting skills. Inviting advice from people – which obviously I resent immediately. Mostly because all their children are potty-trained already. How dare they.
In the back of my mind are Those People. The ones whose toddlers were toilet trained by eighteen months. And who are in no way shy about telling the world. I hear my mum’s voice on repeat – how I was potty-trained in a day, using nothing but satsuma segments as incentive. I briefly consider the (obviously horribly smug) faces of those who have never put their children in nappies and have, effectively, saved themselves all this pain. Until I contemplate the reality of a new-born baby without a nappy. I’ll take this any day.
Voices, voices, voices. So many. So loud. Until it’s like a noisy-parent convention in my head and I can’t think straight. Until my brain is so full and so busy that my admittedly-slightly-cranky children drive me to absolute distraction. Until I’m furious and seething and other words that are generally not conducive to a calm, stress-free potty-training scenario. Or family life in general.
I just can’t stop myself. It’s like an obsession. Even while I’m watching tv, I’m still checking Facebook. Or Twitter. Or both. Waiting for more advice to guilt myself with. Determined that my brain won’t stay still long enough to hear what I actually have to say to myself.
Ironically, it was compulsive Facebook-checking that saved me this time. When a friend messaged me a link to an article. A gentle parenting article about letting children potty-train when they’re ready. About not forcing them, or threatening them, or bribing them. Or, as I believe it is sometimes known, common sense.
I read it. And instantly hated her for sending it. I hated myself for reading it. But mostly, I hated the fact that that was exactly how I’d planned to potty train, second time around. Exactly how I had hoped it would work. And now, it seemed, that I had broken everything.
Thankfully I didn’t email her right away. I slept. And, when I woke up this morning, I recognised the hatred from last night for what it really was. Shame. Pricking away at me in every word of that article. Every word of her sweet accompanying message. Shame. At getting it wrong. At losing my temper. At not being strong enough to stand up for how I wanted it to happen.
Apparently there’s only one way to deal with shame. Vulnerability. Admitting that actually, I’ve not done what I wanted. That I’ve not done right by Joel, or myself, or my friends. And slowly, gently, embracing the possiblity that I’ve not actually screwed it up forever. That there might be another chance.
I won’t be putting him back in nappies. Not now. There are signs that he’s starting to understand it all, and besides, he’s so taken with his dinosaur pants that there’s no way he’s going backwards without a fight. I don’t want a fight. Not another one. So, this morning. I’m coming out zen. In the potty training world at least – I still have some way to go with over-tired, grumpy, working-too-hard-at-school Elvie. She’s next on the list.
It’s 10:45am. So far there’s been one wee in the potty and one poo in the pants. And I’ve managed to keep my cool. Despite it being a really big poo.
There are only two voices that matter in this scenario. Joel’s. And mine. And I need to be quiet enough to hear them.
Advice can be great. It can be helpful and wise and kind. But too much of it, loud and interrupting and indiscriminate, when I’m mainlining it like some mind-numbing narcotic substance, will drive me to the edge. Has driven me to the edge.
Today I’m going for peace. For gentle. For low-stress. For all of our sakes.
After all – it’s potty training. What’s the worst that can happen?