The other night my husband and I took my 98-year-old grandmother out to dinner with our two young children. My son, age 4, seems to always need to use the restroom. Seriously – his record is 5 pitstops in one meal! Anyway, this was a small Mexican restaurant with a single use bathroom. We were sitting within eyesight of the bathroom, so my husband and I decided we’d let our son go alone. After a few minutes, I got distracted with my 1-year-old daughter, and after a little while I asked my husband where our son was. “He’s probably pooping,” he said. We laughed; pooping takes longer, right? I felt uneasy so I went over to the bathroom and knocked. “Sweetie, are you okay?” I asked. I heard my son break into sobs. “Momma, I can’t get out! I’m locked in!” I felt so bad for him. I reassured him everything would be okay and we’d get him out. By this time my husband was by my side, and then went to ask the manager if she had a key. Unfortunately she didn’t, but she did offer to break the door down if need be. I was able to calm him down, and once he was less hysterical he was able to turn the lock and come out, collapsing into me.
As I comforted him, the manager said, “I know just what will make him feel better! I’ll be right back.” She appeared with an enormous sombrero and a large frame with “feliz cumpleaños” and “happy birthday” all over it. I was confused; it wasn’t my son’s birthday, not even close to it. She said, “Birthdays make everyone happy. I said, “Buddy, let’s celebrate your almost 4-and-a-half” birthday. He looked baffled. What a trooper he was, though. He wore the sombrero and got his picture taken behind the birthday frame. The look on his face was totally priceless! My poor grandmother, whose hearing aid batteries had died, was completely confused. She leaned over to my husband and asked, “It’s not his birthday, is it?” After all that, the manager hands him a small bite sized wrapped chocolate candy. I opened it for him and set it down on the table. Before he could so much as pick it up, his little sister snatched it and crammed it in her mouth! He was awestruck! How could things possibly go so badly for this little guy, all in one night? Luckily, he took a cue from me and laughed about her thievery. What a good sport!
This incident brought back memories of potty training, which is again soon to be a reality in our house with little sister. I had a lot of anxiety, as most first time parents do, about teaching my son to use the toilet. I wasn’t concerned two years ago about him locking himself in a bathroom, but rather learning how to go “pee and poop” in the “potty.” I remember envisioning some uber-strong feat of somehow knowing the child was going or about to go and having to grab him quickly and physically place him on the toilet! I could not figure out how I would be able to do that from my wheelchair with one arm, much less without getting pee or poop all over me! We tried everything they suggest: making it fun, having a special Elmo book and even the Elmo potty. Yes, it talks. I wish someone would congratulate me every time I use the bathroom! Actually, I don’t. The bathroom is essentially my sanctuary at home and at work. It’s the one place I (usually) am left alone!
I started thinking seriously about a technique I read called a “potty training weekend.” Basically, you stay home, pretty much in one room, and feed your toddler salty things and have him drink tons of water! My husband, a bit of a clean freak, was adamantly opposed to the idea. “What if he craps on the carpet?” he asked. Eventually he agreed to try it, and it actually worked really well. We brought the Elmo potty into the living room where we camped out. Our son got so much positive reinforcement so many times, he pretty much learned potty training in two days! That’s not to say there weren’t accidents and setbacks, but it was very successful.
Another worry I had about potty training was having to help my toddler wipe. I needed my son on a changing table or other high surface to change him from my chair. I couldn’t figure how I would be able to get down to help him wipe his bottom. The first time he needed a wipe on the “big boy” potty, we struggled to find the right position and technique. It was…. Messy. Then, my toddler had an idea: “down dog momma!” What? Yeah, he learns yoga poses at preschool, and as it turns out, down dog is pretty optimal wiping position when your momma is in a wheelchair. The funny thing is, my able bodied husband uses it all the time when he has to help my son wipe! Guess it’s nice for tall people, too.
Regardless of your disability, you will find a way to tackle these challenges. Whether you figure out an adaptation, your child adapts to you, or you receive assistance from someone else, the job will get done. In parenthood, there is so much to fear and so much anxiety. Am I feeding them the right foods? Is my discipline technique effective? Is he getting a good education? And what is especially tough is that things are ALWAYS changing! It seems like as soon as you master one stage, your child is already moving on to the next. That’s why it’s better not to sweat the small stuff. And if you have a bad day, like we all do sometimes, take a page out of my son’s book – and celebrate your unbirthday!