"Watch your heads, and sit down over there," said Grandma, motioning to a large trunk beneath the musty slants of the attic eaves. And then the storytelling began....

Antiques were folded into dusty boxes around us, their significance left unlabelled but for Grandma's remembering tales. I listened to the stories of my ancestors from the keepers of their treasures in that damp, dark haven where history and the future came together. And during those childhood hours in the attic, I would hear my calling—the.eternal quest for stories told and untold. I answer it still.
Musty smells and mothballs will take me there again, sitting on a box in my memory, enraptured. I hear knockin' on the attic as voices in my head—whispery phrases that need a turn, stories aching to be told, or simply memories wanting another moment of my time. When I hear that knockin', I know there's a voice to be heard and a story to be told. So, be careful on the ladder, watch your head on that beam, and have a seat on that trunk over there. Lean in, for I have some tales to share...

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Kelly's Potty Training Boot Camp (Part 1)

     It was a cold, wet Monday, dreary and miserable as spring days in Canada often are. Just before 7am the cars start pulling into my driveway—a parade of parents dropping off their kids at my home daycare in their rush to conquer morning traffic, tackle their own personal and professional challenges, and fight the battles the crappy weather brings into their lives and livelihoods.
     “Good morning, my lovely Seays.” I say to the first family to arrive. These good people have become some of our best friends. I patted the 9-year-old boy on the head as he zooms by, intent to get in 10 minutes of battle on the Wii before I shuffle him and my daughters off to the school bus. I squeezed the 4-year-old Miss Seay who has wrapped herself around my waist in the day’s first bear hug. My girl. Even if she wasn’t technically mine, she was practically a twin to my youngest daughter, and they both look like mini-versions of my older one. I adore this sweet child who has been with me for three years now. Her mother and I grunt at each other in the mutual understanding that we are not morning people and respect that about one another, neither of us expecting conversation before coffee, tea, and well, noon to hit.
     The next car. The 5-year-old boy runs into the house first, slamming the door behind him so his 3-year-old brother has to struggle to open it himself. The mommy-person gets the shoes and jackets off, organizes the backpack, and reminds the school child to remember his hat. She performs the 3-year-old’s necessary ritual of verbal reassurances before closing the door behind her, doubtlessly thankful for completing one more morning chore. Kids delivered. Check. Now off to work.
     And the final family arrives. The mommy and the adorable toddler girl cross the patio hand-in-hand, matching grins and sparkling eyes, the daddy just a step behind. More of my special peeps. I have grown tremendously fond of this family as well as My Seays. These are The Birnies.
     “Good morning, good people of mine! How is everyone this fine gray morning?” We chat for a few moments about our weekends, the mommy presents the bag of goodies I’ll need for the week, and all the bigger kids come down to fuss and fight over hugging the toddler. She’s not spoiled at all. Being Queen of Kelly’s House at 21 months of age is all part of the charm, rights, and passages of my home daycare. Every child gets a chance to command the minions. This child has a particular talent for it—a mere grin will bring several older children offering a choice of toys, a smile will start a scramble for hugs and cuddles, and a full-out giggle induces infectious hilarity among all the children in the house. This is heady power for a toddler, and it grows into a sense of personal power as the relationships develop over the weeks, months, and years. I always foster that confidence to the best of my ability. Therefore, it was time for this little queen to take on a new personal challenge. I wished her parents a good day and kneeled in front of little Miss Birnie.
     “Please drop your drawers and surrender your diaper at this time. These items will be placed in safekeeping for the remainder of the day. May I offer you a Grande Sippy of our finest tap water? There are free refills, so drink freely, but responsibly. We insist on a buddy system, so if you’ll follow me, I’ll introduce you to your new best friend—this special little chair. Please get acquainted with your chair and how it works. You will be a team for the remainder of this week, and into the foreseeable future. I wish you the very best of luck. Welcome to…KELLY’S POTTY TRAINING BOOT CAMP. Go forth in confidence and determination, and use that inherent stubbornness to your advantage. May your aim be true, my furniture remain dry, and your bum bond quickly with the seat. And remember what Kelly always tells you—you can do anything you set your mind to.”
     Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Boot Camp for Potty Training. If you’re gonna do it, go all in, or not at all, I always say. Whether it’s because I’m a Gemini and patience is the very last item on the list of my virtues, or because I’m simply restless and too easily bored in general, I tend to be more of a jump-in-and-go-for-it-regardless-the-consequence kind of gal, than the take-your-time-with-a-well-documented-method type. That includes the biggest professional challenge of any childcare provider (or parent!)—potty training.
     You parents just shivered, didn’t you? I know it. Been there myself many times. Potty training is the stuff of horror stories around the grocery cart in the diaper—vs .—pull-up aisle, and wide-eyed gasps in bathroom-barren local playgrounds in the snowless months. It’s okay, nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all been that parent or caregiver who packs the picnic lunch, fills the water bottles, sunscreens the kids, throws the blanket in the trunk, buckles the kids into the car seats, and drives joyfully the twenty-odd minutes to the park singing happy songs in rounds with the kids about sunshine and row boats, only to get out of the car, and have a toddler proudly proclaim they have to go potty as they cross their legs tightly and bounce up and down, hands clenched in front of their privates . I shudder myself as I remember that sweeping search across the park full of swings, slides, and fireman poles and come to rest briefly—desperately—on the sandbox before returning to the bouncing toddler whose eyes are now decidedly yellow. Then there’s the quick headcount of the 136 (or four…whatever!) kids you just unbuckled from car seats and released to the wilds of the playground, and the humiliating moment you think it might be okay to leave the 9-year-old in charge as you just run down the road with the toddler to the bathroom at the nearest Tim Horton’s. You’re not going to get any judgment from me, and I promise to look away as you sneak the little boy to the other side of the skinny tree to let him do his business. I’ll even glare in your behalf at the woman who looks on in outrage and disbelief. But the little girls still wringing their hands and trying not to cry while they bravely hold the pee-pee in are not so easy, are they? Yup. We’ve all been there at least once, and most of us more than that. (A little hint…don’t throw your potty to the curb as soon as potty training is complete. Store it in the trunk of the family vehicle until your youngest has a driver’s license and can drive herself to the local Tim’s in a urine-related emergency. I’ve even been known to crouch in the back of the van balancing over that seat in the middle of a breathtakingly close soccer match that my 7-year-old is starring in. Mock me if you will, but I won’t be the one making my child skip the popsickle-eating celebration after the game to rush to the nearest bathroom and relieve my bladder in the comfort of a filthy stall. I’ll be bouncing her on my shoulders and chanting free root beer for all at my house.)
     Now, there are traditional methods of potty training. The very first thing these gurus will tell you is that, “Potty training takes time and patience.” I know people who follow these methods, and have found success on the other side. My fellow daycare providers—God bless them and give them a special place among the angels when their time comes—and some parents I’ve met along the way. These are soldiers of the highest caliber, bravely—resolutely—endlessly trudging through trenches of shit-laden underpants and urine-soaked socks fighting on the front lines of The War on Wet Pants, following the proper chain-of-command creed issued by the Pampers Society of North America: “Diapers to Pull-ups, then Pull-ups to Underwear. We’ll help you grow up, and make more money than you want to share.” But I’m cheap. And impatient, but I think we’ve covered that.
     Hence, Potty Training Boot Camp. It sounds military-tough, and I’m not gonna lie to you, it is. One week. One focus. And the only way out of it is to pee to get off the pot. This is not for the faint of heart, or those weakened by watery toddler eyes and trembling pouty lips. Nor, as I’ve recently experienced, is it for those easily confused by the difference between toddler drama and toddler trauma. (Oh, Miss Birnie, you certainly kicked it up a notch!) You must commit, and make no mistake, it is a huge, time-and-energy-draining commitment.
     Here’s how it went with Miss Birnie:
     We spent the morning playing as usual. There were only two main differences. She was of the Bare Bum Status, and I was pressuring her to drink water on a minute-to-minute basis. All was jolly, as per usual. We were having fun. Cheering. Sipping.
     And then she set her cup down, refusing to accept it when I offered it back to her. This was a good sign. Her bladder was full, and she knew it.
     “Miss Birnie, do you need to use the potty?”
     She glanced at me. “No!”
     I waited a couple of minutes, watching her closely. She couldn’t stand still to complete the block tower she was making, so she moved on to the kitchen set and began taking out plastic food and placing it on a tray. Step to the sink. Step back to the bucket. Step to the sink. Step to the bucket.
     “Why don’t you come and sit on the potty for a few minutes? Let’s try to pee-pee in the potty.” I picked her up and placed her on the potty, and then sat down on the floor in front of her. The other two kids joined us in a circle of support. “Pee-pee, Miss Birnie, pee-pee!” we chanted.
     Miss Birnie began to cry. Oh no.
     “It’s ok, sweetie. Just put the pee in the potty. The potty wants the pee, remember? It’s the potty’s favorite thing! Give it to your friend the potty.”
     She began to cry harder and pointed to the play kitchen.
     Ok, we’re going to have to have an accident first. Sometimes, that’s the best way to jump-start success. There were two possible outcomes for this method. One, the trainee becomes horribly upset by the sudden expulsion of pee that soaks her legs and the floor around her, and becomes more open to suggestion the next time she finds herself with a full bladder. Or two, the sudden gush of pee landing on the floor is solution enough for her and the relief so great, she will happily plod out of the new floor river, and go about her play undaunted. (Yes, I just shivered. Been there. Done that. No thank you.)
     I crossed my fingers and lifted her from the toilet. “Ok, honey. Go play. Let Kelly know if you need to pee-pee.”
     I handed her the sippy, encouraged her to take another long drink, and sat back to watch. It didn’t take long.
     The screams started while I was attending the 3-year-old boy’s sock issues—tucking his pants leg back into his sock while he cried hysterically and swiped tears from his cheeks. Miss Birnie’s shrieks blared over his cries. She was standing in a yellow lake of her own making.
     I rushed over, swept her out of the raging river and placed her on the potty. “Oh, honey, you just had an accident. It’s ok. Put the rest of the pee into the potty, and Kelly will clean up the accident. It’s ok. You’re learning.” But it was too late. All the pee had hit the floor. No worries, I had expected that.
     I cleaned up the mess, gave her the sippy back, and sat back to continue the watch. It usually only takes 10 minutes or less for the second wave to hit once they’ve had a couple sippy cups full of water.
     Miss Birnie, now fresh and clean, went back to the play kitchen, offering plastic eggplant and hot dog buns to Miss Seay and the little mister. And then she grabbed a tray full of plastic donuts and teacups and began to run.
     The first round I didn’t pay much attention. She ran around the circumference of the playroom at a moderate speed, easily balancing her tray of goodies. The little mister immediately took up the chase. They do love to chase.
     By round three, donuts were flying off the tray willy-nilly as she picked up speed. Little mister couldn’t catch her, so Miss Seay joined the merry chase.
     “Ok, you sillyheads, stop running now before somebody gets hurt,” I said. “Somebody is going to trip on a toy and fall.”
     Miss Birnie shot-put the tray into a pile of teddy bears as she passed by, and took on a look of concentration I’d only seen on the faces of Olympic athletes ready to go for the medal. Uh-oh.
     “Miss Birnie, do you need to pee?”
     She tucked her chin toward her chest, and kicked into full gear—the last laps for the gold—and screamed, “Noooooo!” as she zoomed past.
     I couldn’t help myself, I started to laugh. Little mister and Miss Seay, oblivious to the problem, continued their chase of her, giggling hysterically by their game. Only Miss Birnie remained serious. She was utterly and completely focused. Without the cumbersome tray, her elbows tucked to her side, and her fists were pumping with each stride.
     “You know you can’t outrun a full bladder, don’t you, sweetie? The bladder goes with you,” I said as she ran past me, bare feet slapping on the floor. “Why don’t you come over here and sit on the potty. You’re going to feel so much better. I promise!”
     She was having none of it. Eyes boring a path into the laminate floor beneath her, she continued her trek around the playroom at breakneck speed. Nothing was going to catch her—not a 3-year-old boy, not her favorite 4-year-old girl, not Kelly, and certainly NOT some stupid, annoying, yucky feeling in her belly-parts.
     I’ve never seen a 1-year-old run that fast.
     I finally snagged her mid-lap. She started to kick, struggling to get loose of me, but I set her onto the potty. As soon as her bum connected with the seat, the gush started, and she screamed as if in agony. She tried to jump up off the potty, spraying pee in every direction—all over herself, me, the floor, and Miss Seay, who had come close to watch this first success. We couldn’t avoid the geyser but it ended quickly, and there was some in the potty.
     “Look! You made pee-pee in the potty,” I squealed. “You did it, honey! You put pee-pee in the potty!!” Dripping with piss and pride, we all began to dance and cheer, clapping our hands, and trying not to slip in the yellow river surrounding the potty. We congratulated the newest addition to The Big Kids Club.
     She stopped screaming, and looked into the potty, pointing at the yellow pool inside. “Pee-pee?”
     “Yes, baby. You did it! You’re Such a Big Girl!! Good job!”
     Oh, if I had the camera when I saw that face. The recognition. The acknowledgment of a deed well-done. Her eyes lit up, the eyebrows shooting up to her wispy bangs. And then the smile. Ah, that smile! Her entire face glowed with the force of that grin. She started clapping and chanting, “Pee-pee! Pee-pee!” We joined her, dancing around her and her tiny bare bum. And then Miss Seay remembered.
     “Her treat! Can I give her the potty treat, Kelly? Can I?”
     “Yes, ma’am you can,” I said, getting the Skittle out of the cup, and handing it to her.
     Miss Seay, with as much ceremony and joy as she remembers receiving in her own potty-training successes, handed the Skittle to Miss Birnie. “Good job!” she said, and petted her little friend on the head. “You did a good job. And only you gets a treat, cause you goed pee-pee on the potty. I’m a big kid now, so I don’t get one. Now you’re getting to be a big kid too. Good job!”
     I turn away to wipe a tear, or three. She remembers. It’s been more than 2 years since she went through these ceremonies, and now she has the opportunity to deliver the grand prize and does it with such pride in her little friend. It’s priceless—every single aspect of it all. The support of the troops, the self-pride, and the joy I feel in these moments.
     It’s easy to focus on how difficult and frustrating potty training can be. I do it myself, I’m not going to lie to you. Potty training is extremely challenging. It’s inconvenient. It’s time and energy consuming. And it’s downright messy. But try to remember. This is your child’s first real chance to tackle self-mastery, to learn that no matter what, their body is THEIRS ALONE to control. They learn that they are IN CHARGE of themselves, and this should be made a GLORIOUS EXPERIENCE for them! So, encourage them with celebration and praise all you can. Help them to learn as gently as possible (and forgive yourself when you lose it, because we all do). And remember that this is NOT about keeping pants dry and saving money on diapers.
     This is ALL about your child learning that they have power in their world, are capable of developing self-mastery, and have a say in what is happening with their bodies.
     These are The Moments, people. Use them to the best of your ability.
     And I wish you the best of luck.
     P.S. I'll be happy to answer questions and/or offer feedback on my boot camp methods/potty training in general via this blog or Twitter @Kellsyjean. I look forward to hearing from you!

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