Thursday, September 27, 2012

Potty Time, Excellent

Okay, so.

I wasn't going to write about potty training on the blog because it seems a personal thing between us in the family, and I don't want the little man's future high school buddies to have Google access to his toilet training adventures... that just doesn't seem fair.  However, since mentioning that we'd finally leaped this immense parenting hurdle, I've had several inquiries about what we did to make things click.  I'd be lost without all the advice I've gleaned from other young parents, so in the name of knowledge sharing and this whole parenting thing literally taking a village, I thought I'd share some broad, general tips from our journey.  I also realize that if my current experience holds true, I'm going to have absolutely zero recollection of how we did this when it comes time to potty train son #2.  I seem to have this exhaustion-induced syndrome where I immediately forget all the details of the stage we've just passed (I'm hopeful the husband remembers something/anything regarding swaddling and infant nursing schedules, as that is all but a hazy dream to me...), so this will serve as a reference for us again a few years down the road as well!

In any case, there were some general ideas that got us through this experience which I think would be useful to anyone attempting to potty train a little boy:

1) Firm Resolve.
This sounds simple and obvious, but it was absolutely critical to our success.  We had several false starts at potty training, and while they may well have been because the little man wasn't quite ready, I think my flustered frustration and lack of total commitment played a part as well.  I was always too quickly willing to pull the plug on the whole operation and return to the (relative) simplicity of diapers.  This time around, my resolve was sparked by an e-mail from a good friend who was also in the thick of potty training and finally seeing some results.  She's one of the most loving and capable moms I know, and I'm always happy to take a page from her playbook; but the irony is, she wasn't even trying to give me a motivational speech or even any advice... all she said in regards to her newfound success with her son was "...we gave him no choice and stuck with it and it clicked." Something about this simple idea of having no other choice just lit a fire under me to get this thing done.  Sure enough, once I acted as if there was no other choice, things started to click for us as well.  Simple, but powerful.

2)  An attitude adjustment. 
I think part of my wishy-washiness in my previous approach to potty training came from feeling like if my son resisted then I was trying to foist some rite of passage on him before he was ready, creating lasting damage.  Not so.  This go around he was 3.5, and surely ready to make the leap... I just needed to change my internal monologue on the subject.  What I came to was this... I owe it to my son to give him the tools to survive in the real world... in this case, I owed it to him to make sure he wasn't the only non-potty-trained kid his age in his pre-school class.  I've found this simple mantra to make lots of the worst parts of parenting more palatable.  From vaccines to teaching table manners, some of the least pleasant things about parenting are the most crucial to creating capable, successful children and adults.  Applying the attitude that I was doing him a huge favor by potty training him made the whole thing much easier for me to bear.

3) Understanding boys.
I grew up in a girly house as one of three sisters.  Until I married the husband, my understanding of the male species was based entirely on my experience with my dad (who happened to grow up with three sisters and is definitely an advanced male when it comes to dealing with women) and the brief, failed, ridiculous relationships of my early 20s.  I've learned a lot about men from shacking up with the hubs for the last eight years, but now, with this whole raising sons situation, I'm REALLY learning. The first thing to know about boys and potty training?  Many don't do it until they are four, or close to it.  And it takes a lot longer than it does with girls. So taking a page from friends with daughters, or my mom's stories of going through this with us, or even those rare friends with an unusually advanced son is kind of worthless.   Let your dude take his time, as hard as that can be.  Patience is key.  Sweet, crucial, sometimes seemingly out of reach patience.

But the major thing to know about boys? They have a limited ability to multi-task.  If a little boy is immersed in something, say, lining up all his trucks in a row or disassembling a remote control, he is not going to interrupt his activity to focus on something else (like running to the bathroom).  This ability to have a single-minded focus never seems to really change (see: my dad with the Sunday New York Times, my husband with New England Patriots football).  So it follows that, in the beginning, they need to be reminded almost relentlessly to use the bathroom.  It feels like harassment, but asking every 15 minutes in the beginning turned out to be so helpful to our success.  It was as if it literally hadn't occurred to him until I asked (see: taking out the trash or switching laundry loads for later-in-life male brain examples).  Keeping this ability to maintain a singular focus in mind brings me to our next item...

4) A schedule that sets you up for success.
We have been totally on the go all summer.  Swimming lessons, playdates, travel, and beach days have dominated our schedule.  Plus, the husband works at home, so for all of our sanity, I do my best to get up and out with the little man every day, and spend our days adventuring out in the world rather than at home getting in one another's hair.  HOWEVER.  I found that the early days of potty training are best done close to home.  Like really close to home.  Like venture out to your backyard or driveway, but not much farther.  After our slammed summer schedule, I looked at the calendar at the end of August and saw nearly two good solid weeks with nothing planned.  I had to reign in all my little social butterfly, Libran multi-tasking, adventure-seeking tendencies to keep it that way, but here was the perfect window of time to seriously hunker down at home and get this done. And right in time for preschool.  We literally did not go anywhere or do anything except hunker here and focus on the task at hand for the better part of ten days.  It sucked, and I went slightly batty around day five, but it was very, very worth it in the end.  If you find yourself with an unscheduled period of time around when you think your little one might be ready to give this a go, I say toss out the social schedule, hunker, and go for it. 

5) Incentivizing (aka good old-fashioned bribery). With buy in.
I'm not talking about a trip to Disney World here, I'm talking about a simple system of rewards tied to positive actions... another thing that seems to be critical to the success for boys (and men, for that matter, no?).  This whole phenomenon seemed unsavory to me at first, so I avoided it on previous tries, but I had heard enough bribery success stories that I was ready to go all out this time around.  
The morning that I made up my mind that we were going to do this, I sat the little man on my lap and told him we were starting a new project.  We were going to learn to use the potty.  Every time he went in the potty, he would get an (organic, hippy, vitamin C enhanced) lollipop.  I Google Imaged "lollipop" and let him choose his favorite picture (see above).  Then we talked about new toys he might like... he has been super into this one DHL Delivery truck at our local toy store (which we haven't purchased for him because really?  Another truck?) and we've also been loitering a bit at the kayak outfitter where I used to work, where he's had his eye on some kayak shaped party lights for his room. We found photos of these and printed them as well.  Finally, in good old Word, we created a potty training chart with the days of the week on it... I let him choose the font and color.  And print.  

We then created the above pictured Inspirational Refrigerator Montage.  I feel like he had extra buy-in in the process because we created it together, and put it up together, right on his level.  Sure enough, the lollipop incentivizing was a miracle worker.  It was hard to enforce this and I felt like a meanie, but we didn't dole the lollipops out for near misses... only successes.  When a successful attempt was made, a lollipop would appear with a moderate amount of fanfare, and he'd get to put a sticker on the chart.  When we hit a week of successes with minimal accidents and a really good faith effort on his part, we headed over to the kayak store and got the lights.  My old boss made a big deal and took a photo of him with the lights, and he was pretty much the proudest kid I've ever seen.  You could see he really felt like he had earned something, and I think the pride had a snowball effect that made him want to keep going.  He had gotten a taste of what it feels like to attain a goal, and that's pretty powerful stuff for the human spirit at any age.  Not to mention that the colored kayak lights give his room a groovy, Greg Brady-esque vibe that we're all enjoying.  Win and win!

6) Keep things positive and low-key.
This is a messy, set-back filled, bleach cleaner addled, laundry intensive, sometimes seemingly futile process. Of all the things we've gone through as parents so far, including the dog days of sleep training, this has been the hardest one in which to keep my cool.  However, you MUST keep your cool... at all costs.  Melting down, yelling, or expressing intense emotions will only make your toddler dig in and resist even more.  Sounds simple, but like most things in life, it is the seemingly simplest things that can sometimes be the hardest.  If I had this to do again, I would not do it 7 months pregnant, as a hard, endorphin-giving run in the morning and an XL glass of wine in the evening would have gone a long way towards augmenting my patience, but I called upon myself to dig deep and not react during any of the accidents and the husband did the same. We just offered a simple message about trying again next time and a quick, emotionless clean up with each setback, and I think this lack of drama kept us on the road to success.  Lots of deep breathing and plenty of encouragement from friends and family were key to keeping the patience coming. 

7) Slowly but surely, turn down the fanfare and treat this as the mundane act that it is.
We're about five weeks into this process and going strong.  Once again getting buy in, I let the little man choose a bunch of cool undies (fire truck boxer briefs have to be the cutest thing I've ever seen), and he's been successfully sporting them for school, soccer, and beyond.  We've moved to pull ups for naps and nighttime and they've been great.  Slowly, we're working towards making this potty thing just an average part of our life and not a cause for daily celebration.  I started by taking down pieces of the Inspirational Montage one at a time.  He hasn't asked after any of them. Now all that is left is the chart and he hasn't put a sticker on it in two weeks.  If he asks for a lollipop (and he does maybe three times a week), we'll give one, but if he doesn't, we just proceed on without a hullaballoo.  A cool art project is due to come home with him from school tomorrow, and I'm planning to swap out the art for the potty chart, and then that will be that.  Potty becomes routine and not prize-worthy.  And hopefully that's that!  All's well that end's well.

That being said, let me add some disclaimers here:
1) I am certain that we'll have accidents and regressions in our future, but I'm hopeful that by sticking to all of the above tactics, we'll be able to keep soldiering through and keeping this guy in boxer briefs for good.

2) A totally unintended fringe benefit of this process?  In the times that we'd be hanging out in the bathroom waiting for something to happen, we found it helpful to count to ten to get things going. The little man was really into this and it actually seemed to help the process along.  Out of boredom, we started switching up the languages we'd count in.  At the end of five weeks, little J now counts to ten in Spanish, French, and Japanese.  Totally unintended, slightly hilarious, and a good party trick to boot :). 

3) I am certain that everything that I've said has been said elsewhere by someone far more qualified to dispense this type of advice, and I'm also certain that counter-advice is out there that would make us look like fools for using any one of these approaches.  I just wanted to share what worked for us, in our particular set of circumstances, with this child. If any of these little tidbits so happen to help anyone who has inquired about this, awesome.  If not, the best thing I can say is to have faith in yourself as a parent and in the knowledge that these kids aren't going to go off to high school in dipes.  This will happen.  All in good time.

And finally, the products we loved along the way:
1) Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes (for accidents and potty clean-up)
2) Pampers Kandoo Flushable Wipes (for kid clean-up)
3) Baby Bjorn Potty Chair 
4) Yummy Earth Organic Lollipops
5) Huggies Pull-Ups for Boys
6) for a fabulous selection of easy-to-order undies (which are shockingly hard to come by in the right size at your local brick and mortar store... at least around here)
7) And, last but not least, of course the Sea Kayak Party Lights.  What toddler's room would be complete without them?
Good luck, friends!  And please share what worked for you.
It takes a village, people.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Anti-Aging Face Mask

I was recently asked to be part of a Blogger Book Tour for author Peggy Kotsopoulos' new book Must Have Been Something I Ate.  This holistic nutrition guide delves into the connections between the foods we eat and how we look and feel... a simple concept that when put to use can create some pretty powerful results.  The book explores the correlation between food and mood, weight, beauty and health, with many whole food recipes broken down to explain the benefits of specific components.  I'm always interested in this type of information, but with the new baby on the way, I'm even more intrigued.  I had a serious energy dip after little J's birth and remember having to dig so, so deep to rally on those early mornings getting us all out the door to work and daycare.  Coffee played a huge supporting role, and while I'm sure it will again, I'd love to explore other ways to boost my energy, deepen my sleep and help me look and feel refreshed, naturally.  This book showed up at the just the right time!
As part of the book tour, bloggers are testing and sharing different recipes throughout the month of September.  While I'd normally be the first to sign up to make her Sprout Salad or Coconut Kelp Noodles, as I mentioned the other day, I no longer like food.  I'm in much more of a self-care place these days than an experimental cooking one, so I opted to try Peggy's Anti-Aging Face Mask. 

She recommends combining the following foods into a soothing facial:

Buttermilk: Contains alpha-hydroxyacid which rejuvenates skin and is often found in professional peels.
Avocado: The high-fat content and antioxidant vitamins A and E soften the skin.
Banana: Potassium revitalizes the skin.
Kiwi: High in antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E.
You blend these items in a blender to create a little at-home, all-natural facial.  One thing I didn't love about the "recipe" is that she didn't include any amounts... just the ingredient list.  I used about 1/3 of a small banana, 1/2 a kiwi, 1/4 of a avocado and 1 tablespoon buttermilk and had enough for about 5 of these face masks.  It would have been perfect for a spa party with some friends, but when I tested this, all I had was myself, my dog and a napping toddler on hand, and unfortunately, due to the instability of the avocado, the mask really doesn't keep.  I hate wasting food, so this was kind of a bummer.  If you want to make the mask at home for one, I'd suggested a heaping tablespoon of each fruit and a little less than one of buttermilk.  For such a small amount, you could combine them by hand or use a mini-prep to blend them, which is what I did.  The result was this lovely green goop.
You simply apply the mask and let it sit on your skin for 20 minutes.  I was worried it would come glopping down onto my shirt and was pleased when it stayed put.  For your Friday entertainment, here I am mid-mask...
Check out XXL belly + awesome antiqued mirror frame on the bathroom mirror in this apartment!
I felt I was camouflaging with this painting in our dining room and had to share.
It was fun to whip up a little spa treat during naptime with ingredients we almost always have in the house (kiwi, banana, avo).  The only thing I had to buy specifically for the recipe was buttermilk, but at $1.99/bottle for the good stuff it was no biggie, and kind of great to have an excuse to make buttermilk pancakes and biscuits this week.  After I rinsed the mask off with lukewarm water, my skin definitely felt firmer and refreshed.  I've also had a lot of redness and inflammation in my skin since my third trimester started, and I noticed a significant diminishing of my red spots after using the mask, which was wonderful.  I'm excited to try some of the other beauty recipes in the book as well, including her homemade moisturizer recipes which, if they work, could be a huge money saver over time.  I'll share when I whip up those potions!  In the meantime, try this mask this weekend!  It's a simple and easy skincare treat to whip up in your own home kitchen for immediate results.
Wishing all of you a restful weekend complete with spa treats and 
best of luck to Peggy on the launch of Must Have Been Something I Ate!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Making My Way Back

Is there anyone still out there?
I'm working on making my way back from this unplanned summer hiatus.
Friends, I have had one solid and stubborn case of writer's block.  The reasons are thrice...

1) Good old fashioned exhaustion.  The heat, the pregnancy, the always-on-the-go little man... these have conspired to make this summer a rather sleepy season for me.  I've been napping a lot.  My brain feels like mush.  Most days, when I get to that evening moment where the little dude is asleep and the kitchen is clean and I'm showered and my chores are done for the day, I feel like I am crossing something akin to an Ironman finish line.  I made it!  And it all starts again in 8 hours...
         1a) I don't like food anymore.   This pregnancy has been napalm for the cooking element of SMJ.  A solid four months of morning sickness segued into a general apathy for menus that don't involve pizza, Honey Bunches of Oats (not a cereal I had ever purchased before... crazy craving action there) or Oreo frozen yogurt.  I'm usually the menu-creating wizard, the husband's biggest barbecue fan, a summer seafood aficionado.  Yet with this pregnancy, I just don't really feel like anything, cooking or eating wise.  I've gone to the trouble of cranking out epic dinners once or twice, but always end up feeling like, "Eh.  Pass the Honey Bunches," no matter how delish the dish turns out.  I'm sincerely hoping the arrival of the baby and the coziness of fall conspire to get me back in the kitchen.  I miss it.
         1b) Adventures in Parenting.  The little man is potty trained.  Amen and hallelujah.  It was no small feat, and to blog it would have been to basically give you a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Some things are better left unsaid.

2) Summer being summer.  Travel, visitors, ice cream runs, canoe rides, road trips, lawn chair sitting, family time... these have all taken precedence in the demands on my time and energy.  We went on an amazing family vacation in South Carolina in June, and part of me wished I was one of those bloggers who had photo-essayed the whole thing, it was such a feast of visual beauty, great food and hilarious fun, but at the same time, I was so glad to just immerse myself in the experience over taking the time to painstakingly photograph and document like a proper blogger... living in the moment with the family just won, and I'm so glad it did.  This has truly been a glorious summer...
My boys "fishing" in the pool in South Carolina.
A lollipop reward for a potty training success.
Sometimes it just takes good old fashioned American bribery to get the job done.
All gussied up (third-trimester style) for a beautiful wedding in Vermont.
Visiting friends in New Hampshire's stunning Lakes region.
Trying desperately to stay cool by any means possible.
3) And this is hardest to form words about... Being at a blog crossroads.  This blog started as a way for me to write in a more disciplined way, share recipes and adventures with friends and family, and stay grounded with myself in the early, bleary-eyed days of working parenthood.  Over time, my readership grew, and somewhere along the way I thought I might be able to make blogging into a part-time job.  I resolved to be a more disciplined, scheduled poster, seek professional blogging opportunities more aggressively, and find ways to "grow the brand."  Somewhere in the midst of this ambition, two things happened (well, about one hundred things happened, but two major items jump out in regard to blogging):
    1) As my focus on the blog world intensified, I came to realize that I am literally one of 10,000 mama bloggers who love Lululemon, Anthropologie, long runs, Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms, a craft project and a recipe for a good quinoa salad.  I stumbled upon a blog one day where the author was taking part in a group blogging exercise where she linked back to everyone else participating, and I'll be damned if there weren't over 100 links to people just like me.  And guess what?  All of us are just plodding along with these websites, waiting for Martha Stewart to call and give us the perfect part-time, creative, at-home mom job of our dreams.  Man, did the grimness of those odds totally take the wind out of my blogging sails.
    2) Blogging suddenly became a lot less fun.  Loyal readers and good friends could probably easily pick out the posts I've put up because it was Wednesday and posting a blog was on my list whether or not I was inspired.  Most of these have evolved around shopping I won't actually do, and I despise that voice of bored longing I've invoked despite knowing better.  Not my best look.

At the same time, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that blogging is jumping the shark a bit. Helen Jane writes about this beautifully in this blog post.  There are so many disturbing trends in blogging that have emerged this spring and summer, not the least of which have been that several popular mama bloggers have gone from waxing poetic about their lovely family life to announcing divorces almost without warning.  No one knows what happens behind closed doors, but one wonders if marriages suffered in part because of this necessary refusal to live in the moment when the moment is always being documented.

Successful professional bloggers tend to be the early adopters who developed a consistent following before everyone and their mother had a blog, or those who have spent a lot of time and energy pimping themselves to specified brands... but at what cost?  One health and fitness blogger I used to love to read now literally only writes posts on her freebies and products-to-review from Garmin, Reebok, Crossfit, etc. yet in her sidebar today, there was a Wendy's ad!  Real localvore stuff there, unnamed health blogger.  I loved her so much more when she was just earnestly packing lunches and planning dinners as a busy RD student.  Now, her voice rings very insincere and corporate, and that is not something I'd ever want for myself or this space.

Meanwhile, bloggers who will have continued success seem to be branching into podcasting and other multi-media enterprises, and for awhile I was putting intense pressure on myself to somehow capitalize on this and the blog-to-cookbook trend, but I'm coming to accept that this doesn't jive with my current reality.  Our move, getting us settled in a new place, raising a toddler, preparing for a newborn, keeping house without outside help... these all dominate my limited energy, as well they should.  I've also spent time beating myself up for not being the kind of person who puts the house to bed and then writes like a fiend from nine to midnight before getting up at five to start all over, but I'm coming to accept that right now, I just can't do that.  Maybe down the road, but not right now.  I only have so much energy to burn, and right now, it is all going to my family.  I only get one chance to manage these early years of ours together, and I think and hope that in the long run I'll be glad I allocated my efforts as I have.

I've had to spend some time this summer making peace with who I am as a writer, as a blogger and as a mom/wife/daughter/sister/friend, and it is still a work in progress.  For now, though, I've come to a small, simple, imperfect and impermanent solution:

I'm no longer waiting for Martha to call.  Nor Bethenny, Ellen, Andy Cohen, Joy the Baker, Random House, Real Simple or Ina Garten (let's be real... if Ina called, I probably wouldn't be able to keep it together on the phone anyway).

I'm going to write when I'm inspired and I have something of value to share.  Not because it is Wednesday, not because I was "supposed to" put up three posts this week and it is Thursday and I've only put up one (really, I couldn't be better at creating my own personal prisons of expectation... this is something I aim to stop).

I'm going to have this baby, get the hang of mothering two boys, and figure out how to manage this house where my husband works from home and there is always dog hair on the floor and a Matchbox car underfoot, and I'm going to try to do this without losing my mind.  I'm going to hope that my palate, culinary energy and athletic aspirations return after I heal from the birth of this baby next month.  I'm going to work on getting my body back to normal and learning to breastfeed again.  I'm going to hop on the thrill ride of a holiday season decked with post-partum hormones.  Then I'm going to exhale and reassess this whole career/writing/blog thing.  And I'll write about it all when I have something cogent to share and the moments to express it in a quasi-coherent fashion.

I'm not going to write about earrings I can't afford and don't need.
I'm not going to write about food I don't feel like eating.
I'm not going to write in a brand-stalking, brand-seeking fashion unless I come across something I really truly love (I'm looking at you Sanuk Yoga Sprees... best shoe ever... no one payin' me to say that) and want to share it with you sincerely.
I'm not going to write unless I've got something damn good to say or on the off chance that I go back to cooking food that tastes good.
I sincerely hope you'll stick with me, as I value everyone who reads this blog, and can't imagine what the past three years (!!!) of blogging would have been without you.
Thanks for listening.