We’ve all read those articles about “things they should tell you before becoming a parent.” If I could add my own item to those lists, it would be this:
You may be prepared to change dirty diapers, but you have no idea that you are going to be determining your child’s needs, wants, and anxieties through their poop.
I’ve been spending a little bit of extra time the past month focusing on Kellen. He is the youngest of my two boys, separated by 21 months. My sons are best buddies. They beg to sleep in the same bed every night, cuddled up in sleeping bags, and staying up late to look over Lego manuals.
Kellen is in preschool, and Liam is in first grade. That means, four days out of the week, Kellen and I have three hours where it is just he and I until Liam’s school day ends. If it were up to Kellen, he would play games on the computer or watch television for that entire span. I prefer having a son to a zombie, so after a bit of screen time, I advise that we need to do something else.
I am familiar with this territory. When Kellen was a toddler and still required naps, Liam and I would have similar one on one time every afternoon. We painted, drew pictures, played with clay. I prepared sensory activities such as homemade slime and bins of colored rice. I blogged about all of our creative activities and was often met with responses like “You’re so fun!” or “I wish you were my mom.” I gave myself a gold star for having this parenting gig on lock.
Kellen has a limited interest in these types of activities. They other day in an attempt to get him to draw, I cut out construction paper to make our own Yoda figures, and asked him to merely draw the face. No way, uh uh. Sometimes he says he doesn’t want to draw, other times that he can’t do it. I question whether he has lack of interest or confidence.
Kellen is very sensitive to getting wet. He will scream as if I gutted the stuffing from his favorite panda if his shirt gets a drop of water on it. This puts the kibosh on a lot of sensory activities. Sometimes he’ll throw me a bone and paint a rock or glue some random objects to a wooden birdhouse, but not without coaxing.
Crafts and messy activities are my strong suit. I find myself perplexed as to how to engage with him.
Instead of trying to get Kellen to come around to loving my interests, I’m attempting to better understand his. I’m reading a book titled The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine. N. Aron. I don’t know that Kellen fits completely into the category of highly sensitive as described by Aron, but he certainly has some of the attributes. He is sensitive to labels and tags on clothing, and will only wear pajamas. He is extremely sensitive to correction. He prefers small groups to large gatherings, and is bothered by noise. He takes a long time to warm to people he doesn’t know.
The book described some things that I found interesting, such as some HS children do not like affection because they do not like people so close to them. Kellen likes hugs, but does not like to be kissed. I wondered if it was too close to his face. I’ve noticed during large playdates, Kellen retreats to his room to play alone. He will come out when there are a few children remaining- less chaos to manage.
One day, in an attempt to play with Kellen, I began peppering him with questions.
“Do you want to paint? Play with Legos? What about Legos? How about a book? What book would you like to read?”
Kellen stopped me at one point and said “You’re being too loud.”
Oh snap. I get it. I closed my mouth and did not utter another word. For more than an hour, Kellen led me around. We played with sticks and feathers, pretending to have an epic battle. We drew a large picture of the solar system. We played with toys. I only spoke when he asked me to read a book. It was one of those head smacking “duh” moments.
I went to a party at Kellen’s school and asked him to show me what toys he liked to play with. I was not surprised when he led me to the miniature cars, but I did not anticipate him showing me the wooden blocks. He has Legos and Magnatiles and other building systems. He made a castle and garages and all kinds of things. I began to wonder if I got rid of our wooden blocks when Liam lost interest and Kellen never really had a chance to play with them.
Sometimes I know what Kellen likes, but our interests do not match up. During his Cars phase he was perfectly content to race lap after lap around our kitchen, pretending to be Lightning McQueen. I found running through the house dismally boring after a hour (ok, after five minutes.) Right now, he would love to act out ninja battles for hours on end. I do it, but keep asking “Are you sure you don’t want to make something with glitter?”
When I do listen to Kellen and do things in a way he’s comfortable with, I’m astounded by his creativity. Sometimes, he’ll playfully growl or quack at me. He’s always been very talented at making noises. One day, I growled back at him. We began communicating through a series of growls. Kellen was rolling with laughter. Liam looked at us as if we’d lost our minds. I love seeing how he thinks in these ways I’ve never thoughts of.
So where does the poop fit into all of this? You can see I am prone to over analyzing. What do I do when an actual problem presents itself?
This week, the boys returned to school after a lengthy Winter break. When I picked up Kellen, he was wearing different clothes after wetting his pants. Kellen has not had an accident in some time, so I found it a little unusual, but kids have accidents. No big deal.
The next day, he tells me “I pooped in my underwear.” Ok. I ask him what happened and he says “I don’t know.” I clean him up and move on.
The next two days, more accidents. I’m beginning to see a pattern. After the fourth accident, I ask “why aren’t you going in the potty?” He replies “It just happens too fast. I can’t stop it.” I tell him that as soon as he feels like he has to go, to run to the potty.
Another accident. This is where the poop deciphering really comes into play.
My mom brain begins to go into overdrive. I recall books saying that kids communicate through their potty behavior- that its one of the few things they can control. What is he trying to tell me? Speak, poop, speak!
Is the return to school throwing off his schedule? Did something happen at school? I pepper him with questions.
“Is anything bothering you at school? Are the kids being nice? How is Miss Chris?”
Truth or the result of my badgering, he tells me he doesn’t like groups because he wants more time to play outside.
Ok, if I take him to a park will he quit pooping his pants? What if he’s got a physical problem and needs to go to the doctor? A lot of sickness gets passed around at school. Maybe the flu? What about his diet? Perhaps we should see if there is some sort of food component leading to this problem.
What about Liam going back to school? Is he bored? Is he doing what he needs to to ensure he has my undivided attention?
We’re running around pretending to be Han Solo and Chewie about to attack the Death Star, and I see the look. He needs to go potty, right now. I grab his hand and start running.
“Let’s hurry to the potty. We can make it.”
He does his business and I let out the cheer all parents are familiar with.
“Yeah! You did it! I knew you could do it. Good job.”
We wash our hands and I ask if he’d like a treat. We celebrate his victory with cookies.
Have we pushed past the potty crisis. I was hopeful, until today. I see him standing up in the aisle at the movie theater. I motion for him to come to me.
He whispers “I pooped in my pants.”
Ok, back to deciphering. Do I need to return to my arsenal of parenting manuals, or is a poop just a poop? Never did I imagine reading my son’s bathroom behavior like tea leaves. Perhaps I can call in some sort of poop whisperer to tell me what’s going on.