GB and I currently have a love-hate relationship (as I’ll share in my upcoming birthday letter to him), so I wasn’t sure how this weekend would go. In all honesty, it’s been great. We’ve been getting along–with the exception of one fight yesterday at naptime–he hasn’t been resisting the potty and he only had three accidents on Saturday morning… and none thereafter (yet).
He was even dry during his nap, during which he refused to wear a Pull-Up. He also refused to sleep on top of a bedwetting mat thingy… until I agreed to draw Spider-Man on it. For the record, he did wear a Pull-Up to bed but he was also dry overnight.
One of my biggest questions about potty training is how they magically switch from being taken to the potty every 20 minutes to knowing when they have to go themselves, but somehow it just happens.
Today he was preparing to take a walk with Philip and Brutus and I said he had to go potty first. He said, “I already did mom! Just now! By myself!” And he had. No idea how that happens.
Of course, he hasn’t pooped at all yet. Like at all, at all. We’ll see how that goes.
Since January 20, 2017, I have personally been trying to make small, positive efforts when I feel appalled about current events.
On January 27, I started a monthly gift to Planned Parenthood because I believe we all should have access to comprehensive and affordable healthcare. On January 29, I started a monthly gift to the ACLU because I believe that the rights and liberties of all people matter. This week, I purchased some Spanish-language early-learner novels to donate to our local public school district in response to the appointment of the current Secretary of Education.
I’ve also been working on a project with some friends since the January 28 announcement of a certain “travel ban.” Feeling helpless, I googled ways that I could help refugees in my own small way and I found IOCC, International Orthodox Christian Charities.
IOCC offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination. An average of 92 cents on every dollar donated goes directly to assisting the people IOCC serves, in areas like Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem, Haiti, the United States and more.
One of IOCC’s initiatives is the Donation of Emergency Kits. Emergency kits are small packages of essential supplies assembled in the United States and shipped to people in need around the world.
I bought enough materials to make 12 School Kits for about $100, including the canvas bags. I wanted to make it an activity I could do with my kids, so I showed Holdy this video before we got started to help frame the conversation:
Assembling and Sending Emergency Kits:
Choose which type of kit (or kits) you wish to assemble and only include items specified on each list.
I’ve debated writing a post like this for a long time. I’m not sure if I was embarrassed, or if I didn’t want to overshare something my daughter might be upset about later, or if I just didn’t want to get into it. So I didn’t write it.
But as the months have gone by and I’ve talked about it more, and people have come to me with questions and help for their own kids, I’ve decided it’s time for this post. Because it is nothing to be ashamed about, because I think Holdy would always choose to help others, and because I kind of just need to get it out now.
Most of you know Holdy from my posts, from her funny faces in my Instagram photos and her fashionista hashtag, #whatholdywore. You know that she is fun and vivacious and silly and creative and strong and brave. She lives life out loud.
A photo posted by ohbotherblog (@nomiddlenamemeg) on
But last winter, I started to realize that the size of Holdy’s emotions and reactions to negative situations seemed to be more extreme than other kids. She was frequently and easily frustrated. She would throw a tantrum on a dime: huge, Exorcist-style tantrums that could last for 45 minutes. I noticed that, as a tantrum was starting, she would rub her feet together–almost as if the emotion was fighting to get out of her. One time at school, she had kicked her shoes off during a tantrum and rubbed her feet together so vigorously that she blistered and bled. The physical aspect of her emotional reactions really scared me.
There was also the defiance, which was off the charts–even for a threenager. Extreme excitability and impulsivity. Bedtime was a nightmare. We were getting some negative reports from school–reports that Holdy was bullying other kids, specifically picking out the meeker kids that she felt she could control.
I felt like I was always walking on eggshells, not sure which Holdy I was going to get. Everything came down to picking my battles–was this “lesson” worth the 45 minutes of horror that would ensue? I hate to say this, but I dreaded picking her up from school. I could feel my blood pressure rise every time I pulled into the parking lot. I felt like a failure.
People tried to reassure me, “she’s just three;” “all preschoolers are like that.” But I knew there was something more. So I made an appointment with her pediatrician and I started scheduling sit-downs with her teachers. And together we worked out a plan.
Holdy and I started attending family counseling in March. These sessions mainly consist of me airing my grievances while Holdy plays with the counselor’s toys. We work on behavior goals and tactics for me to try positive parenting and keep Holdy on track. Honestly, it’s more like parental counseling for me and I’m fine with that. I also took a Positive Parenting Workshop in the spring offered by Holden’s school.
In July, I took Holdy to see Dr. Susan Mayes, a pediatric psychologist at Penn State Hershey, for an evaluation. In advance of her appointment, I, her dad, our counselor and her teachers filled out extensive questionnaires about Holdy’s behaviors. The appointment consisted of 45 minutes of alone time with Holdy and the doctor, while Holden played games that were actually various tests. Afterward, they brought me in for the recap and diagnosis.
And so I got the official word on what I had pretty much known all along: Holdy has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder combined type (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), often associated with ADHD.
I was a bit taken aback to learn that Holden was also diagnosed with dysgraphia, which is a difficulty with handwriting and letter recognition. According to the tests she took, Holdy’s IQ is in the “gifted” range and she did very well with puzzles, reasoning and vocabulary… but her performance on writing skills and letter recognition were very low, which led to the diagnosis.
I had just assumed she had terrible handwriting because she was four, but once I learned about the disorder, things came together. Holden doesn’t write her name in a straight line–sometimes she writes it like a box. Some of her letters are written backwards. Dysgraphia is a graphomoter disorder that will require a lot of remediation and accommodations.
So there it was. Out in the open and down on paper. Verified.
I felt… relieved. Relieved that this wasn’t all in my head. Relieved that I wasn’t just a terrible parent who doesn’t know how to control my kid. Relieved that there was help on the way.
But I also felt sad. Sad knowing that this is something Holden can’t control and doesn’t understand. Sad that this is something she will struggle with her whole life. Sad to learn that kids with ADHD and ODD frequently deal with frustration, low morale, and poor self esteem because they’re constantly being scolded.
So again, we worked out a plan. We’ve started wraparound services and Holden has a therapist who works with her at school a few hours a week, helping to redirect her when she sees Holden being triggered. Soon we will also have a therapist come to our home a couple of hours a week in the evening.
The teachers and leadership at Holdy’s school, York Day Nursery, have been amazing through this entire process. They truly care about Holdy and want to help her succeed. We’ve been working together to make accommodations for Holdy during her school day, including:
a behavior plan and reward system to promote attention and compliance,
cues, redirection, repetition, and rehearsal,
frequent and specific feedback,
breaking tasks into small, manageable segments,
preferential seating near the teacher and between peers who are attentive,
subtle signal system between Holden and her teacher to be used when Holden is off task,
hands-on activities that allow for active involvement,
computer learning activities (because children with ADHD are generally attentive to and successful with
computer educational programs),
frequent communication between parents and teachers.
When Holden starts kindergarten, she’ll require an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, to help her be a successful student. If we decided to try medication, we’ll be able to do that once she turns five.
For my part, I’ve been trying very hard to work on my patience, to try to praise the good more than I’m pointing out the bad, to keep her on task, to not put her in situations where she’s set up to fail. It’s not always easy.
Last week, as we were hurriedly driving away from a family dinner out that ended early (and badly), Holdy was writhing in her carseat, trying very hard to use her coping skills and deep breathing to ward off a tantrum. She told us, “I want to be good, but it’s so hard.”
So, we’re figuring it out. No day is the same. I often regret the way I react or handle our interactions. I still often feel like I’m failing her.
Sometimes when I’m feeling bad about the situation, I return to Dr. Mayes’ assessment, which included the line:
Holden enjoys a warm and affectionate relationship with her mother (who accompanied her to today’s appointment) and was happy to be re-united with her after testing. Holden’s mother interacts with Holden in a very loving and therapeutic manner and uses excellent behavioral strategies and accommodations.
I’m probably jinxing myself terribly right now, but I just have to give a shout out to Holden’s much-improved behavior in the past few weeks.
I started to write a post this week about Holden’s improved behavior as of late, but–expectedly–as soon as I wrote it, her good behavior crapped the bed. Le sigh.
But yeah, up until Thursday night, Holden had been almost like a new kid–polite, helpful, sharing with her brother, eating her dinner, etc.
Part of the improvement could no doubt be attributed to the new preschool she started a month or so ago. I’ve also been a bit more diligent about explaining behavior expectations to her before we go to a new place or embark on a new activity.
But about two weeks ago, we also started using these behavior jars. These were a tip given to me by another parent in the “Raising a Toddler” workshops I took this summer. Basically you have two jars–one for “good” behavior and one for “bad” behavior–and you place beads/tokens/etc. in each jar accordingly as needed.
For me, I realized that I needed to do a better job of praising positive behavior, rather than always pointing the negative behavior, so these jars have provided an opportunity to do that. To be honest though, “a bead in the mean jar” is proving to be a pretty effective threat as well.
Living with a threenager continues to be a struggle, but it seems like we’re figuring it out bit by bit. Let’s call it “two steps forward, one step back.”
Truthfully, things in the behavior/discipline department have improved since the last class. Whether it’s Holden responding better to my cues or me just ignoring her craziness, overall things are looking up. Now the issues seem to be how to handle two little toddlers at very different stages of their toddlerdom at the same time. But that would be a semester-long class all to itself.
This month’s workshop was called “Power Struggles,” a topic I’d say I’m somewhat familiar with. We started by talking about the struggles we’re all currently facing and I tried very hard not to dominate the conversation, as I have a ton of great material. We were asked to identify our physical triggers that we feel before we get into an argument with our kids (muscles tensing, gritting your teeth, breathing heavily, etc.) and then we talked about ways to stop ourselves from getting worked up: namely, Square Breathing.
Square Breathing: Take a deep breath in for 4 counts, hold it for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts. Apparently the counting requires your concentration and requires you to focus on your breath, rather than the incorrigible little monster standing before you.
Not getting worked up is important: once again the moral of this class was Do. Not. Let. Them. Win.
For me, though, the best way to avoid getting worked up is to avoid the situation in the first place, so luckily, we talked about that too.
One of my biggest takeaways from this workshop was this: “No” is a complete sentence. Don’t allow them to talk back. Don’t continue the argument. This is something I struggle with.
I also noticed that I tend to phrase things as a question when I talk to Holden: “Are you going to come eat dinner?” “Why don’t we go to the potty?” “Can you stop hitting your brother with that wooden train track?” I guess I was trying to make her feel like she has a choice in the matter, but really I just open myself up for arguments and pain.
So really, in the end, we’re all just struggling to be The Boss.
But in order to be The Boss, you actually have to act more like that “Like A Boss” meme. Don’t let those little jerks cherubs ruffle your feathers. Keep cool and stand your ground.
That (cheap) process worked super easily for me, so I replicated the formula when it came to the thank you’s this time around.
I had to adjust the poem a bit to be appropriate for a third birthday party, but I thought the results were pretty cute:
The literary masterpiece went like this:
Thank you from Holdy!
The party is over; I’m officially three!
Thank you for sharing my birthday with me.
Pancakes are my favorite; I hope you liked them too. My birthday was so fun, because I spent it with you.
Thank you for my gifts, my wishes and more. See you next year, when I turn four!
The “pancakes” line could easily be swapped out with “cake” (or whatever random food item your child exclusively eats and you choose to plan a party theme around). And yes, I realize the “and more” was a stretch, but I was experiencing some writer’s block on other words to rhyme with “four.”
I did let Holdy “customize” the envelopes for a more personal touch.
Oh, and here’s the original poem from the first birthday, if you want to cheat like I did:
The party is over. I’m officially ONE! Thank you for coming; I hope you had fun! Sending big kisses, from me to you. See you next year, when I turn TWO!
Holden, Holden, Holden. Where do I begin? In this past year you have blossomed into quite the spirited, creative, silly, fiercely independent little girl. No two days are ever the same with you and absolutely no days are boring.
You started attending daycare (“school”) three days a week this year because we thought a little structure and socialization would be good for you (and for our sanity).
A photo posted by ohbotherblog (@nomiddlenamemeg) on
You enjoy school and have made some good friends, like Rylee, Daphne and Liam. You’ve learned your ABC’s and count 1-2-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 (we’ll work on that). You like to do art and take part in creative play. Lately, however, you have been getting notes about having trouble following rules, having meltdowns and hitting your friends. I’ll be honest: your behavior has become a bit of a struggle for us recently, but we’re working through it. Most issues arise because you are THE most stubborn and independent person I know. You want to do everything yourself. I’ve seen you throw a 30-minute tantrum because I flushed the poop down the toilet before you could. That tantrum actually ended up with you in Urgent Care, in a story I will share over and over again in your teenage years to embarrass you.
We try to work your independence to our advantage, and enlist your help around the house. You’ve been picking out all your own clothes this year, which has led to the Instagram hashtag #whatholdywore, because oh boy, there have been some doozies worth sharing.
Your latest trend has been wearing pants over shorts. I can’t wait to use these photos for future embarrassment opportunities. I’m willing to admit I’ve resorted to reverse psychology to get you to do what I want sometimes:
A video posted by ohbotherblog (@nomiddlenamemeg) on
Child, you do not eat. For the longest time, all you would eat was pancakes. And sometimes sushi. It has gotten to the point that your birthday party is actually a pancake party because that is your lone dietary staple.
You have a very active imagination and you’ve really started to embrace creative play as of late. Most of your scenarios involve a dinosaur or someone needing help and calling for their mommy (which makes me feel good). You also like to play “Miss Amanda” (your former daycare teacher) and boss your stuffed animals around.
One time I heard you/ “Miss Amanda” say, “Fine, if you’re not going to listen to me, I’m just going to leave.” I figured, if I were teaching toddlers, I’d probably say the same thing. Speaking of the darndest things you say, other sayings that have cracked me up:
“I can’t BELIEVE this right now.” (complete with hands on head)
“What’s that face about?”
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” (your standard goodbye greeting, regardless of time of day)
You also always follow up telling me you love me with, “but I might get mad at you sometimes.” (Thanks, kid). You like to make up your own song lyrics:
A photo posted by ohbotherblog (@nomiddlenamemeg) on
But you are also a sweetheart. You are a very protective and attentive big sister to GB. You stuff his Nuk in his mouth when he’s upset (when you aren’t sneaking a suck or two on it yourself), and you literally smother him with hugs. And you always offer him an inferior toy before you just snatch one away from him. He follows you everywhere and you’re remarkably tolerant of it (except for when you’re in the bathroom).
You always ask for “a kiss and a hug” when someone leaves. You give out a ton of compliments: “I like your hair.” “I like your toenails.” You ask me to “hold you” when I tuck you in at night. You tell me I’m your best friend (I’ve also heard you say that to your Duke and to GB, but I’ll let that slide).
You like to read books, sometimes making up your own stories to go with the pictures. Sometimes you “read” to me, and by “read to me,” I mean you point at the picture and say, “Tell me what’s this. Now tell me what’s this.”
You like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Doc McStuffins, Yo Gabba Gabba and Daniel Tiger.
You started gymnastics this year at Skyline. You expertly perform headstands and forward rolls and sit like a butterfly.
I reread last year’s letter to see what changes we’ve made since your last birthday. Back then I acknowledged that you had entered your Terrible Two’s early, that you were an overly aggressive hugger with an impressive vocabulary, who loved her dog and her brother. It’s funny to see how your personality has been solidified from such a young age.
I’m happy to share that you’re developing into a very special, smart, creative, funny, unique sweet little girl. I’ve heard you described as “someone who lives life out loud,” and I think that’s pretty accurate.
“I might get mad at you sometimes,” but that’s just because I’m still trying to figure out how to raise such an independent little woman.
You’re three going on 13, the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced… and the most rewarding. I love you very much, Punk. Happy Third Birthday.
I’m gonna be honest: the odds were against us this Potty Training Weekend. I woke up Saturday with absolutely no voice whatsoever. GB woke up with pinkeye. But Holden woke up ready for “no more diapers!” and to take on this potty training weekend I had been hyping up for days. So that’s all that really mattered. We soldiered through because this was the only weekend in the foreseeable future that we could dedicate solely to this purpose.
So these are the two blog posts I studied in anticipation of this weekend:
Day One was a long, pantsless day, broken up into 15-minute segments of potty going. I set the timer on my phone and we visited the potty religiously every 15 minutes (ish). Sometimes she peed. Sometimes she just sat. But then we’d wipe, flush, wash hands, and–if she went–get a stamp (“tattoo”) and a sticker.
Per the blog posts I studied, you’re supposed to ply the kid with lots of fluids and salty snacks to make them pee more. Holden doesn’t eat or drink anything unless it’s on her own terms, so that really didn’t happen. Though I will say she had an above-average day in chocolate milk consumption.
About mid-morning, she came downstairs and said the words every potty-training parent dreads: “I pooped.” We rushed to the potty, took off the panties (carefully so as to collect the… “droppings”… and then drop ’em in the toilet), and sat her butt down. As I talked to rasped at her about having that gotta-poop feeling and coming to tell mommy… she pooped again. In the toilet.
This kid pooped all day long. I seriously wasn’t prepared for it–it’s like she saved up all week for this one day. Luckily most of it was in the toilet and not in her panties.
I did put her in Pull-Ups for her nap–judge me all you want, I’m not dealing with that mess yet. In the afternoon/evening, the every-15-minute potty visits were wearing on both of us. But we persevered and survived the first day. She was in Pull-Ups again for the overnight too.
I should mention that, despite having pinkeye and a fever, GB was a real trooper and chilled the whole day, just along for the ride.
I should also mention that it’s already not easy to communicate a point to a 2-year-old. When you have no voice, it’s damn near impossible.
I woke up Day Two with more of a voice but feeling absolutely sick as a dog. GB woke up fever-free and with somewhat brighter eyes. Holden woke up eager to start Day Two. And again, that’s all that mattered.
Our morning went along swimmingly, again in 15-minute increments. I even tried to sneak in a quick shower while Holden played quietly in her room.
And of course, that’s when the accident happened.
And of course, it was a #2 accident.
But–brightside–it was the only accident all day! So we went from six accidents on Day One to one accident on Day Two. The rest of the day went along incident-free. Holden actually seemed excited when the timer went off every 15 minutes for her bathroom trip.
I’m back to work tomorrow and Holden’s back to school. They already take Holden’s class to the potty every half an hour at her Daycare so tomorrow she’ll just be doing it in panties instead of diapers (don’t worry–I’m packing lots of extras!).
So obviously it is not ideal to potty train a child when you are sick and have no voice. Or when your other kid is sick. Or when it’s 40 degrees outside. But whatever. This was the weekend we had to do it so we sucked it up and powered through. It honestly wasn’t as bad as I was envisioning.
So now my question is: when does she start telling me she has to go? When does that start to click?
The time has come. I have stalled long enough. Potty Training Weekend is this weekend. It’s going to be a naked-toddler-butt-setting-a-timer-and-sitting-on-the-potty-every-15-minutes-getting-a-sticker-doing-a-dance pee and poop extravaganza. Hopefully we all make it out alive.
Since then, she has started daycare, where they take kids to the potty every half an hour. She will also pee “on command” for me when I put her on the potty at home (before bedtime and naps, etc.). She has definitely been displaying all of (what the Internet is telling me are) the readiness signs recently:
Language – In the past week, Holden has actually asked to use the potty, AND THEN USED IT, several times.
Staying Dry – She has periods of dryness of about two hours, which apparently illustrates developed bladder control.
An Interest in the Bathroom Habits of Others – Nothing like peeing with an audience.
Awareness of Bodily Functions – She usually sneaks off in private to go number two. But for the past couple weeks, she’s been announcing it immediately and wanting it OUT. Several times she actually stripped naked right after going.
I’ve been avoiding doing the Potty Training Bootcamp for multiple reasons, mostly not having time and having my bathrooms being renovated. But now, no more excuses. The bathrooms are completed. She’s ready. I have the time. We’re going to do this.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
FTR: I’ve been studying these blog posts to craft my approach:
So it was a big day for us here at the oh, bother house: Holdy’s first day of daycare. She’ll be going three days a week while my parents continue to watch Gatsby full-time.
I think it’s going to be great to provide her some real structure and to be around other kids. We’re all really hoping it’ll help with some of the tantrums and discipline issues (fingers crossed!).
So, true to form, I tried to make a cute chalkboard sign for a First Day photo prop. True to form, my sign is pretty much a poor man’s Pinterest reject.
And, true to form, Holden refused to pose for an Instagram-worthy photo:
Just to be clear, the tears were for the photo and not for going to daycare itself. She’s been asking excitedly about school for like two weeks.
She was super psyched to wear her (completely empty) backpack:
On the way into the center, I asked if she wanted me to take her picture. She actually looked at me, rolled her eyes and said, “mooooom.” I remind you: she’s two.
No, there were no tears for Holdy during drop-off. In fact, the teachers told me they think she’s the only kid to never cry on their first day.
She ran into the room, said hi to the kids, gave and accepted several hugs, and then joined the crowd and literally never looked back. Not even when I said goodbye. I was prepared to feel elated to have a day free from being screamed at by a toddler. I wasn’t prepared to feel a little sad at how big my little girl was. I mean, I guess independence is a good thing, right?
I didn’t get a call all day telling me to come back and get her out of there so I figured we were good to go.
When I picked her up, she was playing dolls happily with another little girl. Her teacher said that Holden had been good all day–no screaming, no tantrums. She did apparently cry for her mommy a couple of times (is it bad that hearing that made me feel a little good?). She even napped. And went on the potty. So overall, a great day.
I decided our new tradition is going to be ice cream on the first day of school, so I went ahead and got that started today.