For the past twelve weeks or so, I have had what can only be described as an unhealthy preoccupation with poop, more specifically that of my beloved preschooler. My obsession runs the full spectrum, for I am concerned with her poop’s frequency, its consistency, and its size. My preschooler’s bathroom habits are so much so on my frontal lobe that it is the lens through which I see everything else lately. Ask me about the weather, I will invariably somehow connect it to my preschooler and poop. Ask me about what I ate for dinner last night and again, I will invariably somehow connect it to my preschooler and poop…
As all new parents know, poop is a Very Important Topic. When you bring home that adorable lump of quivering nerves, you are automatically initiated into the Poop Obsession Club. You study up on poop, memorizing the signs to look for in your newborn to confirm that she is, in fact, pooping (wrinkling up her face, straining, grunting)…You jump for joy at the first inky meconium-laced poops; you marvel at the seedy mustard- like sweet smelling poops of your breast-fed baby; you jump up and down with giddy delight from each and every poop thereafter (even the ones that don’t smell as sweetly) because pooping is confirmation that all systems are a go. But membership in the Poop Obsession Club is temporary, or so I thought.
Let me back up a bit.
When my beloved preschooler turned three this past summer, miraculously she seemed to have potty trained herself. I had very little to do with it. In fact, I can state with absolute certainty that I was a big-time slacker in the potty training department when it came to her, due in large part because potty training the now almost eight year old was such a draining pain in the ass. When my son was three and a half and not at all interested in potty training, I experienced a psychotic break after a particularly repulsive and horrifying ball-coating shit that I had to deal with in the restroom of Nordstrom and my wipes supply had been alarmingly low.
With the boy, there was never any interest in potty, no intellectual curiosity, no desire to see what everyone else was raving about and it nearly drove me to insanity. So with him I ran a potty training boot camp. I made us reclusive shut-ins for days at a time, militantly setting timers and running hourly drills to place his tiny behind on the potty. I threw Cheerios in the toilet and tried to teach him how to pee standing up (which was no easy task for me despite the fact that my husband would swear that I had a set of balls hidden somewhere and suspects that I can probably pee standing up). I set up a reward system complete with pie charts, progress graphs, stickers, posters, candy, a prize box, and none of it, NONE OF IT, I tell you, sparked any interest in potty training. At one point, I nervously wondered whether I had given birth to a potty training-resistant strain of human being and even suggested to my husband that we should probably think about providing for adult diaper changing of our son in our wills if things continued on the current trajectory. But as I am learning, each child is different and he is simply the kind of kid that needs a gentle nudge now and then, for he loves to linger in his comfort zone, sometimes way past its expiration date.
When it came to my daughter, I spent more time not thinking about potty training than anything else. I am not sure what it was really that led me to adopting this laissez-faire attitude: burn out from the experience with the almost eight year old or a newly adopted “give it up to the universe” philosophy. I felt no real pressure, and there were no in-public ball-coating poops to push me over the edge (for she, like her mother, can only do her business at home). It just didn’t really didn’t seem to matter as much. So of course, whatever form of Murphy’s Law or the law of attraction or the transitive property of math intervened, and one day over the summer she just woke up and said a quick goodbye to the diaper and hello to the toilet and it all happened so fast (for me) that it was all over before I had realized that it had begun….I could not take any credit for it. It was flawless and stress-free.
But then one week in late August she didn’t poop for four days. Immediately, I googled constipation home remedies and called the doctor. Though she was in fine spirits and was eating and drinking normally, I periodically pondered the whereabouts all of the food she was eating and where it was ending up since I hadn’t witnessed any of it coming out. The doctor reassured me that constipation in preschoolers was not life-threatening and very very common and, that the poop would eventually come. He explained that one painful poop can cause palpable fear in little ones leading to total potty avoidance; that more than the physiological implications of not pooping regularly, it was really a psychological issue, one requiring patience and retraining and no pressure. While I was appreciative of the fact that my daughter’s constipation was normal and not life-threatening, on day six when the poop still didn’t come, I was completely consumed by her lack thereof. As her tummy became increasingly more distended and she became more visibly uncomfortable, despite the prune juice and the Miralax and the warm baths and the belly massages and the high-fiber foods, I felt so helpless and desperate. I wanted to reach up into her tiny tushy, grab all that poop and yank it out. My worst case scenario meter was off the hook; all sorts of horrific possibilities danced around in my head… perforated colons, sepsis, colitis, birth defects, intestinal blockages. I kept this all to myself as I lay in bed at night with my eyes wide open, shaking with fear. Each night I silently prayed for her to poop, made all sorts of deals with the higher power in exchange for a bowel movement. I angrily condemned myself for my laid-back approach, placing the blame solely on myself, for I had to be the root cause of this. I inwardly pleaded for her to just go, telling myself that I would be so okay with her pooping all over the floor, my bed, all over ME, anywhere, ANYWHERE…and I would even pick up her hot steaming poop with a Ziploc-clad hand WITH A BIG SMILE, if she would just go….
And then on the morning of day seven, the morning we were scheduled to go to the doctor for an enema (!!!!!!), she threw up… all over me and then finally, blessedly, pooped. I was never so relieved to be vomited upon and to have to deal with five-plus pounds of poop as I was on that morning. Tears of relief and joy spilled out of my eyes and I thought that it was over. But it wasn’t. I had no idea just how big six days’ worth of poop could be, but I learned the rest of that day and part of the next.
I will never know what caused this abrupt shift in potty training and instilled a paralyzing fear in her that prevented her from going to the bathroom. But the good news is that today she is eating prunes and drinking Miralax cocktails and it’s working… slowly but surely it’s working. I do find myself watching her like a hawk, silently praying that each day is the day she will get over it and go back to the way we were. I try and bite my tongue when what I really want to do is beg her, plead with her to get back on the toilet, but the more I talk about it, the more she retreats and resists, and this is a battle I cannot afford to engage in for both of our sakes. Recently on the advice of a friend, I succumbed and purchased a potty, something I have staunchly railed against because it is truly vile, and in my humble opinion, an inaccurate portrayal of how one uses a toilet….But in the name of supporting and restoring my daughter’s healthy bowel habits, I purchased a tiny princess potty, all pink and sparkly, befitting of her royal heiney. She has taken to it, trusting it a bit more than the big toilet and is making great strides, pooping every single day in that little princess potty (not that you asked). We cheer and high five each successful poop. And I try and suppress my gag reflex each and every time I have to bleach that nasty potty out.