Keeping it real – “toilet time”

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So often the media, TV adverts, pinterest and yes, even Facebook, paints motherhood with a very glamorous finish; those super precious moments in pregnancy, birth and the ‘first’ everything’s. There’s a warm and fuzzy feeling, thoughts of stay-soft scented towels, peacefully sleeping babies and don’t forget the proverbial ‘glow’ associated with expecting a baby. Medicine is similar. When you mention that you’re a doctor, people have connotations of success, fancy pens (one needs to prevent the bad hand writing at all costs!), expensive cars, and the title which somehow sees this group of professionals often placed on a pedestal. A glamorous job to have! My experiences of both motherhood and doctoring have been anything but! One thing that they both have in common, is a frequent encounter with all things associated with the toilet. Toilet…hardly glamorous!

Over the next few days, I will be potty training Eden. Not something that I’m particularly looking forward to, as I never know what to expect from my little determined princess. In thinking through my tactics and what I need to do in preparation, I was reminded of those 3 very intense days of potty training the twins when they were 22 months old. The “3 day potty training” approach worked for us at the time. This is an intensive 3 day method where the focus is on teaching the child what the “urge” of needing the toilet feels like, and then showering them with loads of praise and little rewards. There’s nothing negative, you commit to never using the word “No”, and although following your toddler closely for every waking moment of 3 days can be utterly exhausting, it really did feel like quality time with the girls as they had our undivided attention for a full 72 hours! “Different strokes for different folks”, but this worked for me, so I’m going to try it out with Eden. I’m hoping that just having one toddler this time round, will in itself make things less intense.

Thinking back, though, I’ve wondered how on earth we got things right considering that they were deaf, and we hadn’t realized it yet. Gestures – that was the key. We continuously gestured everything we showed them. From a “thumbs up” to convey a job well done, to a holding of the crotch area conveying the need for the loo. This is what worked as each moment passed, so without even being aware of what we were doing, we were engaging by a means of visual communication. However, our limited “signs” did pose for a few problems… You may think that “toilet talk” is indecent, but then considering that on average we will all spend approximately 3 whole years of our lives on the loo, being able to communicate with our children about this less mentioned area in life, is actually really important in the reduction of potential daily chaos…Let me share a few first-hand examples…

Our gesture for asking the girls whether they needed the toilet was to hold our own crotch area and have a very questioning look on our faces. They understood this and it worked. However, as you can imagine, this is not exactly socially acceptable. Initially in the training, I didn’t even think of this as I was so engrossed in getting results for my efforts of “ditching the diapers”. But over time, I’d found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable and aware of doing this in public, as it always felt like everyone noticed. Consequently, one of the first words that I learned when first embracing sign language, was that for toilet. It took a day or two for the girls to pick this up, and they now use the sign toilet most times when they need to go, which is far more socially acceptable.

The embarrassment doesn’t end there though. “Toilet”, was really the only sign that we had taught them. We would also say “wee” when they needed to have a “number one”, and mostly felt that between hearing this partially sometimes and lip reading that they knew what “wee” meant. One afternoon we were picnicking at a park. Tahlita signed that she needed the toilet. I asked her if she needed a wee, and she nodded her head. I assumed that she understood me. The ablution facility was miles away, and quite honestly public ablutions totally gross me out, so I saw a bushy area nearby where I thought I’d help her “squat”. I actually don’t even know if this is legal, but seemed innocent enough to me. There were other people around, but they were at a fair distance from the chosen “spot”. Hand-in-hand we rushed off to the bushes, as when the girls feel that they need to go, they need to go as a matter of urgency! It wasn’t long after we had committed to the “motion” when I realized that this was NO “number one”. But it was too late to change our tactic –my back breaking due to the now prolonged assisted squatting, we were committed to the bushes! Expecting that she was just needing a wee, I hadn’t taken wet wipes or anything to clean up the mess. I then had the task of hiding the “crime” whilst getting Graeme’s attention to bring wet wipes and a packet of some kind. My gestures, expressive face and subtle cues did not work, and I ended up needing to select a few large leaves, to cover things up, and then retrieve my wet wipes to sort things out. It was anything but a subtle rescue of a situation gone wrong, and that’s when I realized that the time had come to learn more specific toileting signs other than “toilet”.

Things are a lot less chaotic, less messy and of course less embarrassing, since teaching all of them the extra signs, and I intend on using them from the beginning with Eden. How wonderful to also know signs for “wet”, “dirty”, “good girl”, and “toilet paper”… this time round should be a cinch! Again my little “police” helpers should prove to be very useful!… I’d better curb my pride, as one thing that I’ve found to be true with mothering and also medicine especially with paediatric procedures (which is my line of work) – is that these areas in my life are continuous leveling zones in times when I’m feeling confident and relieved at finally “knowing how”. Areas, that whether I like it or not, are humbling, as there are always new things to learn.

(By the way, the associated photograph above, is not a contradiction to my distaste for using revolting public toilets, but rather a fun form of seating at an aquarium where each section is meant to resemble areas of an old ship. It’s made to look grimy and used, but actually very clean! We were viewing the shark tank from the “bathroom”.)

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