We don’t actually use that word to describe literal poop in our home–we use that big bad word to describe much pettier things like gossip or to punctuate our disgust of something that’s simply not true–as in, “bull sh#t”. Jesse and I use the good old fashioned word “poop” for poop and I have tainted and demonized that noun (and sometimes verb) far worse than its naughty cousin. Besides, what is a curse word to a toddler when it’s out of context? It’s only a “bad” word when one makes it such and I have certainly done that to our socially accepted noun, “poop”. In fact, I’m ashamed to say that something in my parenting has gone horribly awry regarding everything having to do with poop. In the last month, Ramona has become ashamed and grossed out by it–especially her own. But horse poop, bug poop, or anything that resembles poop has become gross or even scary. It’s actually heartbreaking to have her look at me directly, while pooping in her diaper, and announce that she is, in fact “not pooping”. She feels ashamed.
Of course, there is a back-story to this demonization of poop and it all began with potty training. Ahhhh–the woes of potty training–there are all sorts of stories and lessons that came out of our first attempt with potty training. I’m learning all about my failures as a parent in this simple act of what I merely thought was a “to do” on the toddler check list. I had no idea what a power struggle and boundary tester it would become. It’s truly the first time it dawned on me that I actually have to “parent”. It turns out that you have to use some discipline when potty training–and by discipline I mean that you have to be conscientious, patient, firm in your boundaries and above all, you must be consistent and approach the subject positively.
Ramona started showing interest in the potty at about 20 months which, is a pretty young age. Her older cousin, Orlagh, was learning to use the pot and Ramona (who is around Orlagh three days out of the week) was fascinated with it and would often accompany Orlagh into the bathroom to partake in the celebratory pee-pee or poopy in the potty. She started to notice potties in books and at peoples homes and when I brought her home a potty of her own, she opened it with glee. At 22 months, we were confident that it was time to start potty training. We started the whole process by proudly putting her diapers in the closet, chanting, “No More Diapers! No more Diapers! No More Diapers!”, which she thought was pretty fun. Things actually went brilliantly at first and I will still say with pride that Ramona never had a single accident with poop. She took to it instantly, exclaiming enthusiastically 20-30 times a day, “I’m pooping, Mommy!”, which just simply meant that she had to use the potty, pee or poop. She even used it as an excuse to get out of bed or out of the shopping cart at Target. I think we were all really into the whole thing for about three weeks, and then we hit a wall. It suddenly wasn’t fun for any of us anymore. The trips across the entire mall for a false alarm or the massive amount of laundry started to become exhausting for me. As I became less enthusiastic about a dribble of pee pee in the pot and the Reese’s Pieces tapered off, Ramona started to realize that she had some control over this little game of potty time. She started having more accidents–or shall I say she deliberately started to pee her pants in front of me. I say this because I actually believe she had the self-control to pee and certainly poop in the potty a few weeks earlier. I believe her defiance started with her desire to exercise her power and independence. I was left feeling exhausted and powerless after a few weeks of this. Out of fear of pushing the issue and raising an “anal retentive” child, I decided to give potty training a break. I simply asked Ramona, “Do you want to wear your big girl panties or do you want to wear the diapers again?”. She frankly said, “diapers”. So that was that for attempt number 1 at potty training.
Except that I couldn’t let it go. I was afraid that we had done it all in vain and that when we started potty training again that all would be erased. So I started to demonize the poopy diapers. I’d change her diaper and dramatically gasp and plug my nose and say, “Ewwwwww! Stinky poop! Gross– it’s all over your bottom and we’re going to have to use 10 cold wipes! Ewwww!”. Sometimes Ramona would ask to see her dirty diaper or would want to throw it in the diaper genie herself and I would say, “Why in the world would you want to do that? Poopy diapers are gross and dirty!” Poor, poor Ramona was so confused. And boy, did I mess up the whole experience for her. When I saw Ramona point to the potty at Grandma’s house one day and exclaim, “Ewwww! Poop!”, I knew I had blown it on multiple levels. But I did learn one of the most important things I’ve learned thus far as a parent. We as parents are never powerless. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. We are everything to our little kiddos and the way that we express ourselves and our attitudes towards situations greatly affect and mold our children’s experiences. Period.
It’s only been a month since our potty training regression and the whole negatives association with poop began, but I’m intentionally starting to talk about poop enthusiastically again. I’ll say things like, “It’s okay if you’re pooping, Ramona–EVERYBODY poops! Even Big Bear poops!” She think this is pretty funny. And when we see horse poop on the ground, we point it out and talk about it. I’m trying to remember that I do actually have some control over certain situations and that I can make these instances positive or negative based on the way that I am reacting to the situation.
In fear of messing up potty training attempt number 2, I am going to give this some time–some time for feelings to neutralize in the poop department, but also some time for me to read up on discipline. I wish that I had understood that it wasn’t only Ramona who needed to be ready for potty training, I needed to be ready too. I needed to buck up and set some firm boundaries while still remaining positive–even if it means dashing across Target in a mad scramble to get the the bathroom, false alarm or no. And next time, when we get there, no more diapers will mean no more diapers.
P.S. Please note that in the heartbreaking image above, Ramona is not crying because she is being forced to sit on the potty but because we couldn’t find Purple Rabbit.