When to Admit Defeat

imageKids really are gross. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I really, really hate potty training. It is, in my eyes, quite possibly the worst, most disgusting parenting experience to date. Which is saying something.

Let’s be honest, kids are pretty foul from day one. They wipe their snot all over your clothes, do explosive poos, even throw up in your hair. But there is something so gross and soul destroying about dealing with poo-filled pants on a daily basis. I think it trumps all the other things hands down. It is the pure, shitty relentlessness of it.

We embarked on our third and final potty training journey about two months ago. It started well and T nailed getting wee on target immediately. OK, so he was still pooing in his pants but it was early days. I even proudly announced that he was the best so far and was sure that my clever boy would work out number twos soon enough.

Days and then weeks passed with daily turds in kecks. We had a couple of memorable craps to deal with: one down the trouser leg and one he tried to clean up himself, mostly by rubbing his arse on the wall.

Still I persevered. After all, my eldest did poos in his pants for about three months before he finally worked it out. T would get it soon, surely. And I didn’t have a little baby to manage as well this time round, so how hard could it be? I just had to endure it for a bit longer and he would hit a turning point and work it out. So, I bought more cheap pants and braced myself for yet more shit.

imageOne thing I didn’t want to do was go backwards. I have always believed that mixing up nappies and pants during potty training just leads to confusion, so the best option seemed like sticking with it.  Besides, I really wanted him out of nappies in time for our holiday at the end of August and time was ticking.

But the strain of dealing with the accidents has really been getting me down. It is one thing coping with it at home but out and about is something else altogether. I no longer carry nappies everywhere, as I have done for over eight years now. Instead I have the Shit Kit, a bag full of numerous pairs of pants and trousers, poo bags and wipes. If anything, it is more cumbersome than the changing bag used to be.

Plus there is the feeling of dread when away from home. A trip to soft play is positively terrifying. What if he has a crap in the ball pit? Wherever you go, you invariably end up trolling about with a bag of poo-smeared trousers stuffed into your bag. And dealing with the fall out in a park or a grubby public loo is just foul. Half a bag of wipes to clean legs, bum and hands later and you still feel like you are both grubby.

I can’t help but get annoyed with T after the third accident of the day and he is now refusing to even try to do it on target, opting for hiding behind the sofa instead and not telling me he has done a poo, leading to dried on disasters to deal with.

I keep beating myself up for not knowing the solution to this. I mean, third time round, I should be able to work this out, right? And I feel really annoyed with T for not even trying to figure it out. I have gone from being really proud of him to really pissed off. He must be confused and he is clearly worried by failing. So I am being horribly unfair but it is just impossible to smile through it sometimes. I do my best to hide my frustration but sometimes it shows.

imageWe are both getting more and more stressed about crap. So I decided to forget my own rule about not going backwards. After all, I made the rule up and, as I have clearly demonstrated three times now, I am in no way an expert on potty training. So the rule is no more.

Yesterday morning T crapped himself and I made the decision that it would be the last pair of binned underpants for a while. The pull ups are back. And do you know what? We both had a lovely day. There was no pressure on T and he behaved like a dream, which for my naughty little lad is a very rare thing indeed. I didn’t even pester him to wee on the loo and he absolutely loved it. He happily reverted to babydom without a backward glance.

So, have we just wasted the last two months of misery by going backwards? Am I just giving up when the going gets tough? Possibly. But I hope not. I hope he remembers what he has learnt and can pick it all up again when we are both in a better place for dealing with it.

imageI do feel a bit annoyed with myself for not allowing T as long as I gave H when he was struggling to poo on target, for running out of patience with it. But my boys are very different creatures and what is right for one isn’t necessarily right for the other. Besides, I only had H and his baby sister to worry about back then. I was on maternity leave and yes, dealing with it when there was a three month old baby in the house was no kind of fun but, on reflection, it was probably easier than it is this time round, with three kids, work, school and various other commitments to juggle.

Even if we are back to square one when we restart in a couple of months, at least we will both have had a break. And boy, do we need a break. Two months is a long time in the life of a not-quite-three year old. Who knows how my funny boy will have developed and changed by then? So I am hopeful. There is no point in being any other way.

For now though, we are both going to chill out and relax about it all. T can merrily crap himself without guilt and I can stop feeling like I am banging my head against a wall of turds. If he is still in nappies by our holiday, so be it. Shit happens. He can happily crap while the sun shines as I drink cocktails without having to run back and forth to the loo with him every five minutes. And we won’t have to worry about a poo in pants on the aeroplane either. Every cloud, and all that.

I dare say I’ll let you know how we get on next time, if you can stand reading any more about shit, that is.

As I said, kids are gross.

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Escaping to Remember

imageWe’ve just got back from an incredibly rare weekend away. Well, I say rare. It is actually the first time since we’ve had kids that we have had two nights in a row away together as a couple. So that is just over 8 years.

Some people I say this to look at me in disbelief, as if as we are insane to have never done it before. I know lots of couples frequently hand their kids over to relatives or friends. But I’ve just never really felt I could do it. It isn’t that they are terrible kids by any measure but circumstances and sheer numbers have made me feel very guilty about even considering palming them off.

We have done one night away together. Once. And we’ve both have the odd night away alone from time to time. But it just isn’t that easy to escape together. Even before we had so many kids, it has always felt impossible. Our first was a tyrant as a baby. He honestly couldn’t have been left with anyone, not if we cared about them surviving the experience. Hell, we could barely handle him ourselves. Although still the king of tantrums, he had calmed down a bit by the age of 4. But by then we had a 1-year old that was utterly obsessed with me. Handing over our tantrum-filled eldest and Mummy-obsessed girl while we went swanning off felt like a cruel joke to play on any grandparent.

And then, of course, there were three. Any potential babysitters became outnumbered. Asking anyone to look after three kids, one of which was a babe in arms, just wasn’t an option. I’m probably a victim of my own very active parental guilt but I couldn’t even bring myself to ask.

imageBut, with the youngest now fast approaching his 3rd birthday, we are finally at a point where we no longer have a baby for the very first time. Having three kids pretty close together, we have always had a very little one, but that is slowly shifting. The mix is getting easier. The eldest is pretty laid back these days and, if he does have a strop, he can be easily placated with tech. The middle one is a very good girl, especially for other people, and can be incredibly helpful. And the toddler? Well, he is still a bloody-minded menace who poos in his pants daily. But he is a charming little menace and can wrap his grandparents round his finger with a well-timed, cheeky smile.

A few months ago I had a moment of realisation that asking their grandparents to take the kids for a whole weekend could finally be coming up on possible. I’d sort of forgotten the fact that kids gradually get easier as they grow and it took me by surprise that my wish for some couple time and the hope that it might be possible had, at long last, started to override my never-ending mother’s guilt and fear of imposing too much. So, when a friend told me about her plans to have a weekend away with her husband, it got me thinking and, for the first time, it seemed like it was something that we could maybe consider.

Don’t misunderstand me. My parents are amazing and probably would have agreed to take any number of kids from us at any point. It was me that wouldn’t have dreamt of asking them until recently. Because I don’t want to cause them too much exhaustion and trouble. Because they have done their time with four kids of their own.

imageSo, I reached the point where asking didn’t seem like such a horrendous imposition. And we did it. And it was bloody brilliant. We remembered what it was like to lie about and do very little – something I admit to being rubbish at before kids but find I can adapt to very rapidly these days. With the weight of the responsibility of kids removed from our shoulders, we found ourselves behaving like a new couple again, giggling and finding ourselves far too funny. In short, we remembered what we were like before. And it was good.

Anyone that has kids to cement their relationship is setting themselves up for disaster. Having a baby is the biggest pressure you can ever put on a couple. Having three has proved to treble it in our case. We were utterly solid before having babies but, during the last eight years, we have been shaken to our very foundations at times.

I never really talk about my relationship with my husband on here because that isn’t what this blog is about, and it is too personal. Suffice to say that there were times I didn’t think we’d survive. We are in a good place these days, as the kids are getting older and the slog is slightly less hard, but the stress has been immeasurable at times.

This weekend has reminded us both that – before our three kids, before the marriage and the mortgage, the swimming fees and the school runs and, crucially, before the exhaustion – we were the very best of mates. We still are. But it tends to be buried and forgotten under the pressures of daily life.

Being the grown-ups in this family, we always come last. We put the needs of our kids first and the needs of ourselves and each other way, way down the list. And then we resent the other one, who we perceive to be having the easier ride. We lash out at the only other person in this family that it is acceptable to lash out at. The one you love enough to have gone on this crazy ride with in the first place.

We are back home now from our wonderful weekend and I still have the floaty, floppy feeling of someone who has been hanging out in bars and spas. And we are both still in it together, laughing conspiratorially at the mishaps, rather than scowling and withdrawing into ourselves a little more with each unreasonable demand from the herd.

I am under no illusion – the floaty feeling will drift off soon – probably round about the third poo-in-pants of the day from the toddler. But I’m hoping to hold onto some of it. Because it is good to be reminded who we are, beyond the roles we have to play. To remember that we chose each other for this crazy journey for a very good reason. That we are still more than just parents and providers. That we can be more than that together. And when we do, it still rocks.

So thank you to my wonderful parents for giving us this time off together. It was very precious indeed. The kids had a riot and I hope they didn’t wear you out too much.

And, since it seems to have worked so well, we might just have to ask you again one day…

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