Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Laziest Potty Training Manual Ever

Our house has potty chairs everywhere. Every room. My minivan has a potty chair. Our kitchen has a potty chair. Some people have side tables and magazine racks in their living room. We have a couch, an entertainment center, and potty chairs.

It's because I had to make a choice: dedicate one day, every moment of the day, without distraction, to teaching my child toilet skills, or dedicate haphazard EMERGENCY moments unpredictably every day for 18 months.

Obviously, we chose the latter.

My earliest memory is potty training. A dive apartment in the eighties, orange curtains, green couch, brown carpet, and me, sitting on a kid-size potty in the bathroom, while Mom paces the hallway between sister in the living room, brother at the table, and baby brother in the bedroom, saying again and again, "CHARLENE. GO POTTY." Somehow, someway -- God bless my Mother -- I pooped in the hallway.

I don't remember what happened next, but it must have been something, if this formative moment has stuck around as my first memory of life. At least the carpet was brown.

So with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and twins on the way (see here for why we're having a million kids), I told myself, "Okay. For real, Charlene. You can't have four kids in diapers. You can't. Do something." 

Technically, this is Wally's problem. Since I covered the overnight breastfeeding of babies, he volunteered to do the overnight potty training of toddlers, when the time came. But "when the time came," we had twin babies on the way, and all bets were off on any plans we'd made for anything.

So the biggest problem we encountered with potty training was accessibility and timing. 

There's an awful moment seared into my mind of being pregnant, balancing the 4-year-old on a public toilet at Target, while the 2-year-old laid on the tile floor in the handicapped stall, trying to look through the grate. The Grate where all the gross-grossety-grossness of everything in the bathroom drains out, from overflowing toilets to mop water that has touched every unimaginable surface of the entire public restroom. 

So I added a potty chair to the minivan, which doubles as a step-stool when the lid is down, so the 2-year-old can climb in his car seat all by himself. (Don't try to help him: "I can do it! All by my own!") A diaper booster pad (cheaper than disposable diapers) is folded in the bottom of the bucket, so pee doesn't slosh everywhere while we're driving. And I keep plastic grocery bags on hand to dispose of the waste regularly. We also keep a full box of baby wipes in the car. And hand sanitizer.

I can't explain the peace of mind this porta-potty brought. The kids are all contained in the car, we can stop in any parking lot, and I always know exactly how clean the "bathroom" is.

It's also been a better option than the tree in the front yard, when I finally get everyone and everything out to the car and loaded, front door locked, only to hear, "I have to go to the bathroom!" The car potty gets just as much use around town as parked in our own driveway before a trip. Still, sometimes I can't re-direct them from the tree in the front yard.

With the success of the car potty, our preschoolers were pretty much good-to-go, except overnight. 

But knowing twins were on the way, pre-emptive sleep was way more important to me than saving money on overnight diapers. We also just didn't have it in us to change toddler sheets every morning and set alarms for midnight potty runs.

Enter, the potty chair by every bed. This is lazy potty training at its finest.

Even though the boys share a room, we still give each a designated potty chair. (For boys, this one is much better than this one. It keeps the spray down, ifyaknowwhatImean.)

Some lessons learned:

1) Put the potty on a folded towel. It cuts down on carpet cleaning.

2) Put a nightlight in the room. (We like these, because they double as emergency flashlights, when the power goes out, and provide enough glow for the kids to use their potties.) 

3) Empty the potty chairs first thing in the morning, before, um, before the dog finds them. 

So if your kid's a potty genius, congratulations! Please feel free to roll your eyes and shake your head and smile a little at our ineptitude. 

If you're like us, and sleep is glorious, and toddlers in public bathrooms are messy at best, and life is just moving along too quickly for a one-day potty-training seminar, then fear not! 

They will figure it out, eventually. Hopefully our 18-month lazy potty training guide can help. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

On Schools and Rodents

I could tell, looking at the faces of other parents around the circle, that everything being shared was as much news to them as it was to me. Joe's school called a surprise meeting at the beginning of the week, and whatever they had to say was important enough that the national executive director flew in from Atlanta to say it.

It turns out even awesome hybrid Catholic schools aren't immune from terrible landlords! On the one hand, it's good, because we're not dealing with vengeful, cheapskate landlords, just volunteer-staffed, somewhat neglectful landlords who speak a different language (literally, not a figure of speech).

But still, leaky roofs, unscheduled mid-year construction projects, and resident rodents are not great for a learning environment. (Actual quotes from the meeting: "Don't worry -- they're not LARGE rats. They're small, like mice." And "It's not school-wide, just in the Pre-K wing.")

As the administrators and teachers discussed problems at the school, my imagination took over, and I pictured sinkholes and poisonous gas and ROUS chewing off my son's shoes during nap time. A follow-up email to his teacher clarified that they actually have new carpet this year, and no one has actually seen any rodents.

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Picture Source
Building issues don't really phase me. I went to public school. In my elementary years, five-gallon buckets were standard-issue to each classroom, as a quick fix for leaky roofs. We saw more than "evidence of rodents"; we saw the rats themselves. (And once, even a snake!) Our bathrooms were colorful graffiti, in both hue and language, and we had as much soap as locks on stalls (= none).

But I had great teachers, and it didn't even occur to me that the learning environment was anything less than ideal. Could I have learned more and learned better? Absolutely. But it wasn't because of crappy buildings or uncommitted teachers. I think it was the educational system itself. I got really good at "playing school," and then promptly forgetting everything after acing the tests.

Granted, in the meeting last night, I did think once or twice, "OmgOmgOmg, we can't let Joe come back here," because I'm a helicopter parent, and I like to stay up at night (in between feeding 5-month-old twins) and worry about everything that could possibly happen to my precious, precious children. (Mostly I worry about driving off a bridge into a lake with all my kids in the car. But I've worried about it enough that I now have a fail-proof plan that unbuckles everyone from their car seats, escapes the minivan before it sinks, and swims to safety with four kids ages five and younger in tow. Worrying works.)

So every school has its issues. Whether it's an elite super-expensive private school or the public school down the street, or your kitchen table, because you exclusively home-school. Every school is going to have issues. 

A few questions to consider: 

1) How is the issue addressed when it happens? 

2) How is the issue addressed going forward? 

3) How does it affect my kid? 

The executive director of Regina Caeli flew into town and scheduled a school-wide meeting of all the families. The chairs were in a circle, discussion-style. The school is not lawyering up, prolonging the dysfunction, and fighting for the landlord to fulfill their side of the lease. With two months left in the school year, the administration has taken the initiative to fix leaks, deep-clean, and hire exterminators for the building. The plan is to move to better space (or at least a better landlord) next year.

I had no idea there were any issues with the building, because Joe had no idea there were any issues with the building. He came home happy every day, full of stories about friends and teachers and learning.

So all of this just reminds me why we chose Regina Caeli, a homeschool-private school hybrid, for our kids. It's an awesome program, with highly-degreed, credentialed and experienced tutors, a proven curriculum, and an amazing community. Maybe a crappy building, and some landlord issues, but overall, it's parents, like us, who just want to be actively involved in our kids' lives, to help them reach their greatest potential and highest calling, to love God and love others.