I can still see Dee standing in the doorway, slightly crouched and holding her little belly – her three-year-old face frozen in a sorrowful wince. She was braced for pain but too young to know how to handle it. I’d learned the hard way not to approach her in this state, as she would just shriek and plead to be left alone. I’d just watch her and think this is all my fault.
My first daughter potty trained herself early, with almost no help from me or my husband. So when Dee turned two and showed no signs of a similar feat, I still held out hope that she’d get with the program sooner rather than later. By the time two-and-a-half rolled around, she was peeing like a champ on her Dora potty, but still requested a diaper when she felt a more significant urge. I began to lose patience, figuring that if she could control things enough to wait to be suited up, she could handle a little change of venue – one that didn’t result in my having to spread a towel on the bed (she’d long outgrown the changing table), lie her down and do the deed, my eyes watering from the stink.
As kids grow, naturally, so does their…output. Every time I bought a package of diapers, I said a silent prayer that it would be my last. I was well ready to be done with them but, sadly, Dee was not.
I started with the bribes. Dee knew better than to be swayed by stickers – she had already accumulated a drawer-full from goodie bags and doctor visits. There was, however, very little she wouldn’t do for candy. “Just try,” I’d beg. “Instead of putting a diaper on when you have to go, sit on your super cool potty. Even if it doesn’t work, I’ll give you three jelly beans.” Although at first this was a no-brainer, it didn’t take Dee long for her devotion to candy to wane: “I’ll just have a diaper, Mom. I don’t really feel like jelly beans.” Say what?
I soon began to suspect that Dee was just playing games with me. Roughly twice a day she would come up to me with the cheekiest grin, put her hands on her hips and say, “diaper time.” It was maddening. “Dee,” I said, “you’re a big girl now, you can poop on the potty, no prob.” She’d just continue smiling, and repeat “diaper time.” To counter her efforts, when it was time to deal with the aftermath, I would let her know how disgusting I found the whole ordeal. My husband would even cover his nose and mouth with a bandana to get the point across. At the time I didn’t blame him at all — the turds were approaching adult-sized, and it was repulsive.
Then one day, it looked as if there’d been significant movement, so to speak. The news came happily bellowing from down the hall, “I did it! Mommy, I did it!!” And indeed, upon inspection, Dora had been heavily christened. “Whoo hoo!” Everyone was proud. Grandparents were called. We had a congratulatory ice cream party for Dee. No more diapers!
Except – Dee still wasn’t ready.
Dee’s celebrated success was a cruel fluke. When nature called next, she was more adamant than ever that she needed a diaper, and we were more insistent than ever that she didn’t. I told her that I simply wasn’t going to buy any more diapers; she was welcome to use what we had left in the closet, but after that she’d have to figure it out.
There’s a lot of this whole experience I’d like to take back, but that threat would be the first to go. Figure it out? What does that even mean to a three-year old? Not long after this, my baby stopped asking for her daily diaper. Why? Because she had stopped pooping.
Dee developed a chronic stomachache, didn’t want to run or jump, and was utterly miserable for days at a time. I got calls from the nurse at her daycare, dumbfounded because, although Dee didn’t seem particularly fluey, and wasn’t running a fever, she just wasn’t her happy self. What had I done?
I turned to my favorite source for pediatric advice, Dr. Michel Cohen, or, as he’s affectionately known in our house, The Frenchie. It was in Cohen’s book, The New Basics, that I first read about “stool retention.” At that moment I vowed to ignore all of my instincts about the Great Dee Poop Crisis, and do exactly what The Frenchie recommended — back off the poor kid.
My husband and I apologized to Dee and told her she could use a diaper for as long as she needed to. But Dee was still very backed up. A steady diet of Miralax, prunes and apple juice helped to jostle things a bit but at this point, when the eagle eventually did land, and I’d be cleaning things up, Dee would apologize repeatedly, through the tears still spilling from the physical pain she’d just experienced: “Oh Mommy, I am sorry I’m so disgusting and you have to still wipe me up.” My heart hit the floor.
After about two more months, Dee quietly started using the potty to its full capacity. We didn’t make a big deal of it (to her face), but to this day, over a year later, I still keep a pack of diapers on the closet shelf – just in case she needs them.