Parenting Lessons in the Potty and Pool

Content notice: Potty training, poop. This post will confirm every stereotype you’ve ever heard about people becoming parents and talking about their child’s elimination to anyone who will listen. 

Last January we potty trained our son, who was almost 3.5 years old at the time. He was one of those stubborn kids you hear about who did NOT want to poop in the toilet. He knew how to pee in the toilet for many many months before we trained him, having figured that part out for himself. But for some reason pooping in the toilet was terrifying for him.

When he was 18 months old, he pooped on the potty for the first time. Naturally we lavished him with praise, but he looked so horrified at what he had done that he refused to go near the potty again for almost another year and a half.

I could tell that he looked frightened, but I didn’t know why. Then I learned (I forget who told me) that at his age, kids didn’t understand that poop isn’t really a part of themselves. The idea of letting go of and flushing a part of themselves can be very scary for them.

Intellectually I understood this, but I couldn’t really relate. I just kinda went with it, but I didn’t personally remember how it felt to have that fear.

So there we were, waiting for a stubborn (frightened?) kid to decide he was ready to try pooping on the toilet again. So we waited….and waited…and waited….and then one day when he was almost 3.5 years old, I received a text message while I was at work from his babysitter: “he just told me ‘I’m gonna use my diaper forever!’ LMAO!” And I said “that’s it; we’re potty training him this weekend.

We told him that as soon as the current box of diapers ran out, we weren’t going to buy any more diapers. That weekend we stayed home and did lots of time with pants off.  I knew he had no problems peeing in the toilet, but since he was scared to poop, we rewarded poops with lollipops.

It turned out to be remarkably easy to train him. He only had two accidents the entire weekend, and both of them were on his way to the bathroom. But he started holding his poop and becoming constipated.

He still had the fear of letting his poop go. We made sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables and oats and lentils in his diet. But it took several weeks before he was comfortable pooping in the toilet regularly. And then it took several more months before he was comfortable pooping in the toilet anywhere other than our home. He would hold his poop all day long. His babysitter would try to get him to poop in her bathroom or in public bathrooms. He obstinately told her “No; I poop at MY house.”

I laughed and shook my head at all these stories and his reticence to poop.

And now, in my swim practice, I think I actually understand it. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna talk about pooping in the pool. I’m gonna talk about flip turns.

I know how to do flip turns. I know it is the fastest way to turn when doing freestyle laps, allowing you to cover more distance in less time.

But I still don’t like doing them. I feel nervous as I approach the wall. I’m still not confident in how to adjust my breathing pattern in anticipation of the turn. I don’t like the sensation of not being able to breathe for a few seconds longer than normal.  So even though I know how to do flip turns and I know they are faster, I usually only do a few in any given swim. Maybe as I get more used to them, I will do more and more flip turns.

And I thought to myself “this must be how my kid felt about pooping on the toilet. He knew what to do, but it still felt weird and he didn’t like it.”

Yes, swimming does give me a lot of time to ruminate on things like this. I feel like I understand my kid a bit better.

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Year in Review: Outcomes of My Second Year of Habit-Based Self-care

When I started two years ago, deciding to track healthy habits instead of a number on a scale or clothing size was unfamiliar territory for me. I decided I wanted to be open to whatever outcomes would come.

Last year, I listed the following outcomes I experienced after one year along on a habit-based, weight neutral health journey:

Looking back on what I wrote last year, I am happy to say that most of those outcomes have continued throughout year two. I did have some depression and back pain creep back in when an injury required me to stop lifting for a few months. With adding lifting back into my life, both of these conditions are improving again.

I also experienced some other cool things in year two.

Looking back, I feel really proud of what I accomplished this year. It didn’t seem like I did much of anything until I actually went back and read all my older posts. What I feel most proud of is keeping up a consistent self-care routine during a very challenging year.  My family had a lot of challenges: my husband got injured, I got injured, we lost our pet, we had a terminal illness and death in the family. I feel so proud that I took excellent care of myself so that I could face these challenges well.  Honestly, the self-care felt like the easiest part and I know that is because of the habit-based approach.

So…..to give credit where credit is due, I feel very proud of myself this year. I’m excited to see what year 3 brings!

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Better Late Than Never

Some self care I practiced this week, above and beyond regular daily habits:

I reached out to some understanding friends to vent about some big feelings I was having, and realized that I wanted to follow up on finding therapist who specializes in eating disorders. It feels like a bit of a strange time to do this, given that my relationship with food is currently better than I ever imagined it could be. Even so, while my behaviors around food currently feel healthy, balanced and comfortable, my body still plays a more prominent role in my thoughts than I would like. I recently realized that I had eating disorders as a child and young adult that went untreated. While I was able to overcome the disordered behaviors and fears around food with the help of some wonderful communities online, the continued preoccupation with my body over other things in life is starting to annoy me. I get very preoccupied with my body in order to avoid certain things that scare me in my life. And I also find that I am still dealing with some of the effects of being brought up in an environment where I was told that something was wrong with me by parents, doctors, and other children.  It caused depression, self esteem issues, vulnerability and productivity issues that I am still sorting out, well into adulthood. Keeping this blog and participating in online groups has been a great tool that has brought me very far….and I’m feeling like I am at the point where I would like some help. So I’m going to try out therapy. Better late than never, right? My first appointment will be next week.

In other “better late than never” news, I remembered that my physical therapist had noticed in the initial evaluation (back in June!) that my feet over-pronate when I walk, and mentioned that it could be a factor in my back aches. Remembered that I have had issues from my flat-ish feet off and on since childhood and in the past had used either prescription orthotic inserts or running shoes good for over-pronators with good results. Looked at my very worn out sneakers. Ordered some running shoes for overpronators (a similar model to a shoe I had used in the past). I’m crossing my fingers it will help with my back aches. The nerve tingling in my legs is completely gone, but my the back aches are still persisting with standing/walking.

I also figured out how to get around the resentment I was feeling around doing my physical therapy home exercises. I “shrunk the habit” by deciding that the goal was to just do one exercise. Usually once I start, I end up doing most of them. But I can mark the habit as successful even if I just do one exercise. I also sometimes switch up the order of exercises if I want to so I feel like I have some autonomy/choice in the matter.

Finally – I decided to try something a little bit outside of my comfort zone! I signed up for a Drills and Distance class at the Y! It’s a class that meets twice per week for 85 minutes to improve stroke technique and endurance. Since it meets on the days I already go to swim, it shouldn’t be too big a change. However, I’m nervous about being in over my head, and a little nervous about getting kiddo out the door in time. I’m doing it anyway though and I’m excited!

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

So, three things to look forward to next week…..a new swim class, new shoes, and meeting a new therapist.

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A Punk Ass Cat, Self Care, and Intuitive Eating Choices

I am stressed, and I am tired.

It has been a month with periods of high adrenaline and low grade chronic stress. One of my cats, who has lived with us for 5 years, ran away. She is very skittish, and proving difficult to catch. We flyered our neighborhood, including giving notes to every house. A few weeks ago, one of the neighbors told us that she had seen our cat. She feeds feral cats for Trap- Neuter- Release and my cat had started showing up there at night. 

So my husband or I have been going there every night. The cat sometimes shows up and she is always looking for food. But she is skittish, and won’t let anybody get near her. She often will eat the food that we leave if we go back to the car. We have been trying unsuccessfully to trap her, and every night has been a nail biter. The neighbor who is very experienced with trapping cats is calling her “stubborn,” “very smart,” and “a stinker.” A couple times we came very close’ and last night we actually got her to go into a drop trap by disguising it like a cardboard box, but she slipped out just as my husband triggered it. Tonight we plan to disguise the trap with plenty of leaves and twigs and other things to make it look like a comfortable outside hiding Place. Fingers crossed.

My husband has been a saint. It has been four weeks since our cat disappeared. He stays out often for 3 or 4 hours a night waiting for this very smart kitty to be willing to approach a trap. I take a night here and there, but I seem to need more sleep than my husband does, and the cat watch gets my heart racing faster. The other night we both took a night off, because I was exhausted, and my husband did not feel well. 

With four weeks of compromised sleep and late nights, something has to give. Our house getting disgusting. And for better or for worse, my home exercise program for physical therapy has taken a back seat. This concerns me, but I have been feeling an entirely unmotivated to do these exercises that I am supposed to do for injury rehab. The only reason I am not even more concerned is that swimming seems to be good injury rehab as well. I am definitely seeing how, when one is exhausted, something has to give, and for me that “something” tends to be the thing that I don’t particularly enjoy. On the other hand, I have NO problem making time for the things that I enjoy doing, even when I am exhausted. Even when I am exhausted, I am able to bring my son to the Y and do my swimming (and sometimes the video game stationary bike), because to me these activities are fun and restorative. Since I want to do them and I feel like I am choosing to do them, they are taking priority over the exercises I feel I have to do but dont particularly enjoy. They are taking priority over cleaning my house too.

Yesterday was a particularly stressful day. I found out that a friend of mine no longer has a job and I don’t know the circumstances behind it but it shook me. I think my threshold for stress had already been close to the limit, because the cat, and lack of sleep. So yesterday I consciously decided to soothe myself with food. It was a very conscious decision. I felt completely in control as I was doing it. I ate #alltheicecream, and #allthegreencurryandstickyrice. I had chips at the ready, and decided not to eat them. I knew I was not hungry anymore. Though I chose to eat more curry and rice than I was hungry for, I chose not to eat the chips. Then I took my shift at the catwatch, and then stayed awake in suspense as my husband took his shift…..and nearly trapped the cat only to have her slip away in the final second. I got less than 6 hours of sleep last night.

Today, I predictably feel exhausted.
I made some conscious choices that I don’t usually make on days when I’m feeling rested and energized. I brewed a pot of coffee (which I only drink on days I am exhausted, because I don’t like it). I drink the whole thing. I considered eating breakfast and then realized that not only was I not hungry, but food sounded vaguely repulsive. I knew my body was probably plenty carbed up for my swim from all the ice cream and rice I ate yesterday, and decided against eating breakfast. Instead I packed myself a couple turkey sandwiches and bananas so that if hunger kicked in later while I was out, I would have them at the ready. 

I took my son to the community garden, where I ripped out the diseased cucumber plants and bachelors buttons, and pruned the tomato plants. I saved all the plant matter, which I will use to disguise the trap tonight and make it look like a comfy pile of weeds so the cat will be a more comfortable entering it. Then, we headed to the Y, as is our usual Thursday routine.
Some days we go to the Y and I use the entire 2 hours that I have while my son is in the childcare. The other day I even used the entire 2 hours, plus the half hour when my son was in a preschool sports class. That day I did my physical therapy exercises, spinning on the video game stationary bike, swam some laps, used the hot tub, and took a shower.

Today was a obviously a different kind of day. We went to the Y so we could continue our routine, and so my kids would get his time out of the house so we wouldnt drive each other crazy. But I was not attached to the idea of moving a ton. I knew that today my body needed more rest then it sometimes does and putting my body through extremely heavy exercise would put further stress on it. So I told myself that I was going to get in the pool and see how I felt – no promises about how long I would stay there. Even if I sat in the lobby on my phone for most of two hours today, that was fine.
Getting into the pool felt good, but I’m not gonna lie; I was really tired. After 15 minutes I told myself I could get out of the pool if I wanted. I kept telling myself that. But I was having fun, and I took it slowly, and I ended up spending almost 50 minutes in the pool. I did not use the hot tub today. I did not even take a shower; I only rinsed off. I was really tired and I had no motivation to do those things. But my body feels good from the swim. And now I am sitting in the lobby writing this blog post while I wait for my son to finish playing. I feel great about that. I am taking care of my body with enough movement to feel good, and not enough to make my exhaustion worse. I’m going to take it easy today. I’m going to hope I can nap after the caffeine wears off.
So that is what my life and self care looks like today. I know I could be caring for myself better, and I know I should let the cat go, but I miss her and so this is always on my mind, and I am handling it as best I can.

I took a flash photo of my cat’s eyes last night.

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Arms, Oars, and What’s Below the Surface

Have you ever felt like you were putting a lot of energy out, but weren’t moving very far?

I just realized that I have been swimming the freestyle stroke “wrong” my entire life.

I took years of swimming lessons as a kid because I loved swimming. In the seventh grade, I tried out for the swim team at my local YMCA. I didn’t make the team, and they suggested I enroll in a class where they taught more advanced swim skills in preparation for tryouts another year. 

But I never got much faster and speed always seemed to leave me so out of breath. 

I got discouraged and abandoned swimming in favor of music. Now, two decades later, an injury was the catalyst for me taking up swimming again.

And I still struggled with speed in the freestyle, as when I did when I was a kid. When I tried to speed up, I would move my arms more quickly. More strokes per lap. I focused on how my arms exited and re-entered the water.

This week, it dawned on me that by focusing on what happened above the surface, I was ignoring where all the power was: beneath the surface.

Swimming “works” by using your body to displace the water. You pull the water in the direction opposite where you want your body to go. All that pulling happens when your arms are IN THE WATER. What happens above the water is pretty irrelevant.

It was a lightbulb moment. How did I never realize this before? When you row a boat, the oars don’t move the boat while they are above the surface; that’s just recovery so they can get back INTO the water. All the pulling and all the power happen while the oars are IN the water.

So I started focusing differently on my stroke technique for the freestyle. Instead of focusing on “how can I get less tired while moving my arms quickly,” I started focusing all my attention to the pull that happens when my arms are IN in the water. How can I create the most resistance, and pull through it? THIS is the key part of the stroke.

And…HOLY POWER! Now my strokes are actually doing something.  I got faster overnight. My heart rate and breathing are challenged, AND I am actually moving. Not by putting out more strokes per minute…..but by putting more muscle and focus into my strokes.

Fewer, more powerful strokes get you farther than more strokes that are less powerful.

There has got to be a lesson applicable to habits in that. I will be mulling this one over. How about you?

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The Locker Room Scale (and Some Injury Updates)

Content heads-up: This post contains scale talk (no specific numbers). Skip it if that isn’t your thing.

Swimming is going well. I’ve got my routine down pat. I am proficient in 3 strokes. After watching some of the other lap swimmers do flip turns, I was inspired to try them for the first time in years.

Yesterday I went to the beach with my family and swam in the ocean a bit. I’m not used to swimming in the ocean so it was mostly water walking. Still, plenty of movement. And even after a day at the beach (including walking and carrying gear), I didn’t have any back aches.

In fact, I haven’t had any back aches in a week or two. The three times per week swimming plus hot tub routine, plus physical therapy, seems to be working wonders.  I had my follow up with the spine doctor this week, and he said that if in three months I am still pain free, he will likely clear me to do whatever I want. Since what I am doing is working, I am going to keep doing it.

A couple things I wasn’t anticipating:

  1. I’m not sure whether it is the relaxing effect of the swimming, or the fact that it is super hot outside, or a side effect of the antidepressant I started taking…..but I have been feeling really unmotivated and sometimes sleepy.
  2. I keep feeling drawn to the scale in the locker room.

I felt a bit conflicted about the presence of the scale at first. For the past year and a half, my approach to the scale was easy. I didn’t own one at home. I got on the scale if I was at the doctors office, to satisfy my curiosity. This happened maybe once every couple months.

Now, I see a scale in the locker room three or four times per week, and I wish I didn’t feel drawn to it, but I do.

For a little while I fought it. I just didn’t get on.

Then one day I decided I was going to get on, just to get it out of my head. So I did.

Then the next time I went to swim, I wanted to get on again. Rather than argue with myself (“This is really unhealthy. You don’t need to weigh yourself that much”), I just told myself “you want to get on the scale? That’s fine. You know what you weigh anyway, and it’s not like it is going to change anything you are doing today.” So I did.

And maybe it is unhealthy to want to get on the scale every time I see it. Maybe it’s a vestige of diet culture and unhealthy behaviors. But for now, I just tell myself that it is just a number, and it is fine to get on the scale if I want to, as long as I know it is not going to change the way I am taking care of myself today. I hope I can keep up that perspective.

I’m not saying I think it is or is not a good idea for people to do this, and it may not be the “correct” fat positive thing to do…..just sharing where I am right now, and how I’m handling seeing the scale on the way to the pool a few times per week.

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No Watch, No Lap Counters

Meandering post ahead….literally.

I am enjoying swimming with minimal gear. When I was a teenager and would swim, I had a waterproof sports watch that could count splits and time laps.

Now, I have no watch, no lap counter, no underwater music player. To keep time, I blink and take blurry glances at the clock on the wall to see how long I have been in the water. I have no idea how long it takes me to swim any given lap. I have no idea how much faster I swam today than I did on my first day back in the pool.

This is a very different experience from lifting weights. I always know how much I am lifting. The program is laid out in advance and I follow it. I can see how much I have improved in a year. The numbers are objective and ironclad.

If I was running or walking or cycling, I would have some concept of distance traveled. I would be somewhat driven by landmarks (e.g., “I will walk as far as the post office, then turn around.) Perhaps I would map out my route in advance with distance in mind.

Swimming laps is different. Back and forth. Since I don’t count my laps, I have no idea what distance I cover in the amount of time I spend in the pool. My only goal right now is to get to the pool three times per week. I pay attention to my body and swim as long as it feels good. Some days that is 25 minutes. Some days that is 75 minutes. I vary my strokes as it feels good, depending on how my muscles feel. I feel proficient in three strokes: freestyle, breaststroke, and backstroke.  When I fatigue on one stroke I move on to another. If I need a rest, I hang from floats in the deep end and allow my legs to dangle, like they showed me in physical therapy.

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