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Our potty training story

This topic will appeal to maybe one of my ten readers, but I'm putting it out there because potty training can be frustrating, and when we were in the trenches, I wished there were more personal accounts and fewer bits of scientific bull shit. Here is what worked for us.


Mo is a girl. She is now about 98.7% potty trained at 2.5 years old. We were not in a hurry to potty train before now because we are not bothered by diapers and neither was she. But with a baby due in early November, we wanted bathroom habits to be solidified in advance, not only so we would only have to change one person's diapers, but also so there was less liklihood of regression in this area when a baby shows up to stay.

Pre-training: Totally Casual

Before she was two, we introduced Mo to the toilet. We had no expectations, we just wanted to familiarize her with the environment and the vocabulary. We let her sit on te toilet sporadically, paying no attention to patterns and possible signs that she had to go, we just sat her there when the mood struck us. Sometimes she'd want to hop off after 20 seconds, sometimes she was content to sit and read for long periods of time. We put no pressure on how long she stayed or what happened while she was there.

However, after many months of this, she still had not produced anything on the toilet. I thought for sure with so many cumulative hours there, something would accidentally come out and we could cheer and celebrate and start to instill the idea that this is what is supposed to happen here.

But nothing ever happened, and so there was nothing to point to and celebrate. I began to think we'd never make any progress because there's no way to instill a habit when you can't get it to happen in the first place. 

Plus, none of the "tricks" we heard about were working. We tried keeping her naked for periods of time, but she had no shame about peeing on the floor. We tried just undies, just pants, undies and pants. Wet bottoms did not bother her a bit. She'd walk around, feet wide, and go about her day. She just wasn't ready yet.

Phase One: Let's Do This...Sort Of

We decided we wanted to try the weekend approach, wherein you do nothing but potty train for 2-3 days. (It's a thing, google it for details on how to make it work. Our approach is detailed in Phase Two.) We picked a weekend where we had nothing going on, and we kept it that way. We wrote Potty Training! on the calendar and stuck to it. But for a few weeks leading up to that weekend, we got a little more serious about familiarizing Mo with toilet-related stuff.

We found a potty training sticker chart in a book we happened to have, so we made a big deal about how peeing in the potty earns you a sticker. And a candy! We bought plain M&M's and used those as rewards, as well. A sticker and a candy when you pee in the potty. 

We started to put her on the toilet more regularly, hoping to actually catch her when she had to pee. We both work full-time though, and we weren't ready to involve daycare just yet, so we only did this in the evenings and on weekends for the first couple weeks.

It didn't go well at first, it just wasn't clicking for her. She didn't accidentally pee on the toilet and didn't grasp what we meant by "pee on the potty." We put her in pull-ups in between and so she still felt totally safe to pee in her pants.

Finally, one evening, she peed in the toilet! We made a huge deal about it, making the sticker and candy into a big ceremony, talking about it for hours. She was really into the stickers and candy, so they were great motivation, and the sticker chart was a good visual about the progress we were making. And a few weeks later, she was earning far more stickers than the early days. We even told daycare (and Grandma, who watches her twice a week right now) what was going on, and she had some success with them too.

Toilet Seat v. Potty Chair

Let me pause here to say that I tried, early on, to avoid a potty chair. She was not afraid of the toilet, and she even liked to sit on her potty seat (the ring that goes on the toilet seat), so a potty chair felt like an unnecessary regression. We pee and poop in the bathroom on a toilet, so we may as well train to that from the start. 

But then one day I was digging through some stuff in our basement and found a potty chair my sister had given to us, and I thought, what the heck. Mo loved it of course, and it turned out to be really helpful in potty training. When she was just learning, it was great that we didn't have to travel far to the toilet (we primarily kept it in our living room), that she could sit on it with very little effort, and that we could take it anywhere we wanted, including outside.

I didn't find itto be as gross as I anticipated, and I'm a potty chair convert

Phase Two: The Weekend Approach

When the pre-determined weekend arrived, we did nothing else all weekend. We woke up Saturday morning, stripped Mo naked, and told her we were going to use the toilet from now on. We left her in the nude the whole first day, except for diapers for naps and bedtimes. We gave her lots of juice so she'd drink more than normal, and therefore pee more than normal. And then we put her on the toilet all the time. About every 30-60 minutes. And holy crap, she peed! In the toilet! 

The first day was incredibly successful. She earned 13 stickers that day, including one for a poop, which was a total fluke. Mo had pooped on the toilet only twice before, both times when she was home with Grandma, so this was a first for us. After such a great day, we thought we had this in the bag, but it proved to drag out longer than we anticipated, as you'll see later.

Mo potty chart

This is the only picture I have of the potty chart. Day One of the Weekend Approach is the bottom line (S for Saturday) of Week 4. We used the free potty chart the first two weeks, then I made this.

The second day, Sunday, was equally successful as the first. We put her in pants without underwear to start, because the pee would run down her legs more that way, hopefully making her uncomfortable enough to realize her mistake. We didn't give her as much juice, so she didn't pee as often, but she mostly did it in the toilet or potty chair. There were accidents, too, but very few that weekend. By the end of the day she was in underwear and pants, and still doing great.

I had taken Monday off to give us a third day to instill the habit, but she was doing so well, I decided to see how she did at daycare. She did excellent her first day at daycare, even pooped in the toilet. But turns out that was a fluke. Poop ended up being the most difficult part of the whole process.

Phase Three: Almost There

The big weekend happened in mid-June. It's now the end of July. Until a week or two ago, Mo still needed frequent reminders to pee. We'd ask "Do you have to go potty?" and she'd almost always say no, but then we'd make her try and sure enough, she'd pee. Now she mostly initiates using the bathroom on her own. We remind her at key times - before leaving the house, before naps and bedtimes, if we notice it's been awhile or she's doing the potty dance - but more often, she says "I have to pee!" and off she goes.

We still use the potty chair, and she can get on and off that by herself. If she chooses to use the big toilet, which she can now do without the aid of the potty seat, we help her. With a stool she can get on and off herself, but it takes longer and could more easily lead to accidents. 

She still has the occasional accident, but it's at odd times. The other day we were out at our pool, and she was standing nearby, outside the pool, and suddenly said, "I'm peeing." Sure enough, it was streaming down her leg. At daycare last week, she had an accident because she was busy playing in the sandbox and didn't tell anyone she had to pee until it was too late. But I'd say she's 99% potty trained for pee. Poop? Well...

The Poop Problem

Poop training Mo has been the most frustrating thing I've done as a parent. That's not saying much since Mo is a pretty easy kid, but the poop business really tested me for awhile.

She was just not getting it. At all. And nothing I read anywhere was helpful. Here's what I kept reading:

Your kid doesn't poop in the toilet because s/he is scared to. I don't think that was true for Mo. She never expressed any fear or discomfort with the idea. In fact, she seemed totally down with it. Yet, she kept pooping her pants.

Look for signs that your child has to poop before it happens. We called Mo a Stealth Pooper. You didn't even know it was happening until it was over. She didn't hide in corners, she didn't grunt or make faces. In fact, one time she got off the toilet after peeing, immediately ran around the house for less than two minutes, then told me she had pooped. She had pooped mid-run!

Your kid may be holding it in on purpose. Nope, not at all. It was coming out, just not in the right place.

I concluded that Mo truly didn't know it was happening until it was happening. She didn't recognize the sensation until she was mid-process. One weekend, I hit my limit. She had had poop accidents all week, then didn't poop at all Friday. So that evening and all day Saturday, I watched her like a hawk. I put all my energy into encouraging her, reminding her, asking her, taking her to the toilet just in case. It was exhausting. She didn't poop Saturday either, so I knew it was going to happen sometime Sunday. 

We were in the garage after watering the plants when she said, "I have to poop!" I swooped her up and had her inside faster than I knew was possible. She was wearing a skirt and no underwear (on purpose because I knew we'd need easy access), so I plopped her on the toilet and waited. Nothing happened.

Finally I got her off the toilet and noticed there was a need to wipe her clean. But there was no poop in the toilet. What the heck? I retraced our steps and found the culprit five feet from the toilet, on the kitchen floor. She had pooped mid-air as I carried her in. 

I lost my shit (pun intended). I had hit my limit and I started crying. Bawling. Poor Mo, she had no idea what was happening. Through tears, I told her how gross it is to poop on the floor, and how big girls poop on the toilet. Mike came inside at that moment, and I told him I needed him to take over, and I went to my bed and cried for 20 minutes. It was not my finest parenting moment. Mo still mentions the time she pooped on the floor and mama cried. What if that's the first memory that imprinted on her brain? It's embarrassing for me that I got so upset with her when it clearly was not her fault, but like I said: most challenging thing I've done as a parent so far.

It continued like this for awhile. I almost called her doctor to ask if maybe she wasn't anatomically ready to control her bowels, and should we stop trying for awhile? I didn't want to revert back to diapers to catch the occassional, and unpredictable, poop because she was a pro at peeing, but I could not clean up anymore poop! I didn't end up calling, but here are a few things we tried:

Making poop something funny. We joked about how poop didn't go in the fridge or the car or on her head or in her toy box or in her undies. It goes in the toilet! She thought this was hilarious and loved to play along, but she still pooped her pants.

Sing the poop song and read poop books and watch poop videos. There are a lot of resources our there for potty training kids and parents, and it was great to keep it at the forefront of her mind. But she still pooped her pants.

Rewarding her for successes. The sticker/candy system was great for peeing, but it did not work for pooping, so we upped our game. I bought a bunch of dollar store crap and showed her the prizes, telling her she'd get a present every time she pooped in the potty. She loved those gifts the few times she earned one - she still tells people that she got these things because she pooped in the potty - but she still pooped in her pants more than not.

Making her clean herself up. This kind of worked. When she'd have an accident, instead of cleaning it up quickly and moving on, I'd get her involved. It ultimately made for a bigger mess, but it showed her just how gross it is to poop anywhere but the toilet. The first time I did this, she was so pleasant about helping, but every time she tried to talk, she gagged. It was hilarious, I'll admit. I still laugh out loud to myself every time I remember her innocently gagging as she tried to ask me to wipe off her hand. The next time she tried to refuse to help, but I told her she made the mess, she had to help clean it. We sat at a stalemate for 15 minutes before she gave in and did it. I think this actually helped her realize that this was no joke, poop is gross, but less gross if it goes in the toilet. She still pooped her pants pretty often though.

In the end, I don't know what finally clicked. I guess it was just enough time and practice, but now she poops in the toilet far more often than not. Sometimes she has several false alarms before the real thing, but I'd rather her sit on the toilet to toot than poop in her pants. I wish I had could say what magic trick finally helped her figure this out because I never did read anything that helped us, but there isn't just one thing that worked. It was just time, practice, some tears, and a lot of accidents.

And Now

Like I said, she's about 98.7% potty trained. The accidents are truly accidents, mostly when she is too busy to listen to the signals. We still put her in diapers at naptime - though she often wakes up dry - and bedtime, where she still wakes up wet. We aren't making any effort at this point to drop the diapers while sleeping. She's still in a crib, and I figure until she can get out of bed and to the bathroom if she needs to go, we'll keep her in diapers to sleep.

We've taken a few longer car rides since she's been trained, and we've put her in a pull up for these. We still treat it like underwear, stopping frequently for potty breaks and encouraging her to tell us if she has to pee rather than just let it go. For the most part, she gets to the destination dry, but it is a good backup in case we're not able to stop. 

Not everybody is as confident as us. We consider her potty trained and make a point to make frequent bathroom stops if we're out and about, but others who watch her are more hesitant. When her grandparents watch her, for instance, they will put her in a pull up if they leave the house for more than 30 minutes. I don't blame them, it's intimidating to think about dealing with an accident out in the world, and it's tiring to have to visit the bathroom before you leave the house, when you get to your destination, before you leave your destination, etc. 

All in all, it took about two months to get from never-ever-peed-or-pooped-in-the-toilet to almost completely potty trained. Some kids do it faster, some take a lot longer.

My biggest tip is wait until you think they're really ready. If you start too early, it will take longer to click and to eliminate accidents. We decided we'd rather change diapers for a few more months than start too early and deal with wet clothes on a regular basis. 

My second biggest tip is chill the eff out. Stick with it and be consistent, but don't expect results over night just because someone else says they potty trained their 18 month old in one day. Ignore them and go at the pace right for your child. It can be really frustrating because it takes a lot of your time and energy, only for them to pee their pants in the cart at the grocery store (happened to us!). But if you set realistic standards and chill out a bit, it will happen. I can't believe how different things are from less than two months ago, and in the big picture, it was no time at all.


Before and after

I was going through the photos on Mike's old phone tonight, saving any we want before we get rid of the phone for good. I found two that stopped me in my tracks.

This one was taken at the first ultrasound of my pregnancy last Fall. Just before we discovered that things were not right.


This one was taken less than a month later as I was being prepped for my D&C, after my miscarriage was confirmed.


I think that pretty much sums up how everything changed in a few short weeks.


24 weeks

I finally uploaded some pregnancy photos, so I thought I'd share a few. I'm sorry to my son that Mo is in most of these, but she likes to be involved when we take the pictures. I guess it's part of life with a big sis!

This is from 19 weeks. You can't see my belly, but mid-photo shoot Mo got upset about something and Mike snapped away as I tried to help her work it out. I love that we look deep in an emotional conversation.

19 weeks - Mo and mama deep conversation

This one is from 20 weeks, shortly after we found out we are having a boy. I love our matching stripes, her puffy pigtails, and the way she's talking to her baby brother.

20 weeks (Mo and mama in stripes)

This one is 23 weeks. I don't think Mo fully understands what's happening with the pregnancy. She likes to talk to and kiss the baby in my belly, but she also thinks she has a baby in her own belly, so...

23 weeks

And finally, this last one is from Wednesday when I turned 24 weeks. I had an appointment that day and everything was great. Healthy baby, healthy me. I promise you I never, ever take that for granted!

24 weeks

My good friend lost her first baby to pre-eclampsia and HELPP syndrome just before 24 weeks. He was born at 23w5d and only lived a few days. Even though I know a lot can still go wrong, 24 weeks feels like a major milestone. 


Updates on... miscarriage.

There's not actually anything new, but it is something that is still with me. I find myself relating better to women who have recently experienced loss than to those who are currently pregnant. There's a woman at work who is pregnant, and she seems to be constantly talking about it. It makes me cringe from salt in the wound more than it makes me smile from an ability to relate. I still often think about how I'd have a two month old about now, how different my life would be. Everytime someone asks about my pregnancy, I feel compelled to share that it came on the heels of a loss. It seems important for them to know that. It's probably not, but it is important for me to share it.

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- pregnancy.

Despite the residual pain from the miscarriage, I'm finally starting to enjoy this pregnancy. Not in the way I did with Mo, unfortunately. I still don't feel completely free to embrace and enjoy it, and I haven't been documenting it in the same way I did with Mo. Which makes me sad for this kid. I'm sure he'll assume it's second kid syndrome: never as many photos, never as much attention. But it has much more to do with the part of me that won't allow myself to do most of the things I did when I was pregnant with Mo. 

But I have settled into it a little more. And I feel really good. My biggest complaint is still my hips and pelvic pain, which I can't seem to get a handle on. I'm also tired all the time even though I've been sleeping pretty well. Otherwise, I feel really good at 23 weeks.

I still don't feel him move as much as I'd like. I'm eager for the days when he reassures me several times an hour instead of only several times a day. I haven't had any bizarre cravings, but no bizarre aversions either. 

The other day someone at work heard me say something about daycare for two, and she was shocked to learn that I was pregnant. This tells me two things: 1) I don't talk excessively about my pregnancy, which is a good thing. 2) I still just look chubby. I'm a curvy girl and so I can understand that my growing belly just looks like another curve. But I thought I was crossing over to the point where I actually looked pregnant, at least to people who know me. This coworker sees me every day, and if it wasn't obvious to her, then clearly I look like I'm putting on weight, not growing a baby!


----- ----- ----- ----- ----- Mo.

If I could freeze time and capture Mo at this age forever, I would. I'm excited to watch her grow up, but this is such a magical age and I don't want to ever let it go. She is old enough to do so many things for herself - she can even swim in our pool with nothing but supervision from my sunny spot on the patio! - but she hasn't grown out of loving her mama. She regularly climbs into my lap or throws her arms around my neck or tells me she loves me unprompted. I'm most certainly still her favorite person. She can communicate wonderfully, which makes things so much easier. And she's so full of life and wonder - she loves everything and everyone. I told her we were going to a parade on the Fourth of July, and even though she's never been to a parade before and had no idea what to expect, her immediate reaction was, "I love going to parades!" Her imagination is vibrant and wild - we are often being chased by lions, for instance - and I can't get enough of her.

If we could just get her to consistently poop in the toilet so I don't have to clean up any more poopy underwear, I'd freeze everything about this age and stage and keep it with me forever!



22 week update

With my first pregnancy, I started to miscarry before I had a chance to even think about taking photos. With my second pregnancy, Moselle, I was nervous but also so thrilled to be pregnant after my loss that I took belly photos as early 5 weeks. With my third pregnancy, I again wanted to celebrate from the start and began a photo series at 4 weeks, right after finding out I was pregnant. Then, of course, I lost that pregnancy, and this time around I was too unstable to take any pictures for many weeks. I addressed this already, but basically I was too nervous and reserved to really connect with or celebrate this pregnancy. It wasn't until 13 weeks that I asked Mike to take a photo of my growing belly.

We've done it weekly since then, but most of the photos are on my camera still. I'll be 22 weeks tomorrow, so my belly is even bigger than in these photos from 16 weeks. 

16 weeks



16 weeks

I'm slowly adjusting to the fact that I'm having a boy. It's been almost two weeks since the ultrasound, and I'm surprisingly still jarred by the news, but it's sinking in a little more each day. I made an initial list of names and shared with Mike (people keep asking if we have names picked out, and the truth is we've hardly discussed it - I think it feels too daunting still). I started imagining a room for a baby boy, I even ordered a rug. I even bought a newborn "boy" outfit for Mike on Father's Day. 

I've been feeling pretty good. No more nausea (finally!), but my energy is seriously depleted. I remember being tired last time, but I thought the second trimester brought a boost of energy. This time, it's all I can do to get through the day. I'm really grateful to be having a healthy, easy pregnancy. My biggest complaint is my hips. I can't get them to loosen up and it is often very painful to move. Getting out of bed is an Olympic sport every morning!

Everyone also likes to ask about cravings. The only trends to note are 1) I don't have many aversions like I did with Mo. Most things sound good and I want to eat them all! I finally reintroduced a little coffee into my life after months of not being able to even smell the stuff. 2) I crave salty, sweet and savory. With Mo, it was definitely more sweet things, but this time I want a burger and ice cream and potato chips and watermelon and everything else equally!

I've been feeling the baby move pretty frequently. I found out I have an anterior placenta, so I don't feel him as much as I wish, but often enough to take comfort in it. I smile and silently say thank you every time I feel a little poke from him. I'm so grateful he's in there and he's healthy and he's mine!