Me and Mr. Winkie

My son was five months old when his dad moved out, leaving him outnumbered in a house full of women. The poor little guy was left to figure out on his own how to do “boy things.” There’s no way I could teach him how to make those cool machine gun noises, let alone how to properly throw a baseball.

When it came time to potty train him, I didn’t really know where to start. I’d successfully trained his sisters, but they were girls - and part of their training included watching how Mom does it. That approach clearly wouldn’t work here. So, I began asking friends and family for advice.

Should I start him sitting down or standing up? He’s too short to clear the rim of the bowl, so should I pick him up and point him downward or get a step stool?

Because he was vertically challenged, I decided to start him sitting down. He hated that little guard attachment that came with the potty seat, so he popped it off and threw it away, announcing, “I don’t like it, Mama.”

After a few times of having his pee shoot straight out and down his legs instead of in the pot, I taught him how to tuck it down and lean forward. This worked pretty well, until I noticed his pee was still not hitting the water. Instead it was running under the seat and down the front of the bowl, pooling on the floor.

Now, with the bathroom stocked with Clorox towelettes and flushable baby wipes, we tried a new approach. This time he stood on a stool, with me behind him, holding him steady. He preferred to stand, but not by himself, since being up so high made him feel wobbly.

The first time he peed standing up, it shot upward, like a fire hose, nailing the back of the toilet and the surrounding wall. I couldn’t believe the force with which he peed – especially in the morning. The pressure was incredible.

So, we began to tackle the issue of aim. Recalling advice from a friend, I tossed a few Cheerios into the bowl and encouraged him to use them as a target. Confused, he looked up and told me (with a look of concern) the cereal shouldn’t go in the potty.

“No honey, you’re not going to eat it, you’re going to pee on it,” I explained. He shrugged his shoulders and complied. He tried to take aim by moving his hips from side to side and leaning forward – an approach that was creative, but not effective. Using this style, he hit the water for one, brief instant, and then ended up nailing the shower curtain, vanity and a towel rack as he swiveled his hips.

I knew I had to get him to take hold and take aim, but I wasn’t sure what terminology to use.

Penis sounded too clinical. Besides, it reminded me of story a friend once told me about growing up with her psychologist mother. The woman was strictly against using cutie-pie names like pee-pee or woo-woo to describe body parts. Instead, she insisted they use correct anatomical terminology. She felt that euphemisms were ridiculous and downright embarrassing. Sadly, her plan backfired when one of her daughters fell off her bike and ran into the house yelling at the top of her lungs, “MOM! I HURT MY VAGINA!”

I considered using the word pee-pee, but decided against it because pee-pee is what comes out and I don’t want him touching that.

Another friend (also a single mother) suggested I call it Mr. Winkie. Her daycare provider called it that and her son didn’t seem to have a problem telling Mr. Winkie where to squirt. I tried it out a few times, but it just didn’t roll off the tongue.

Finally, I settled on pee-pee maker. I know it’s a mouthful, but he gets it and I’m not embarrassed to say it out loud – which is good, because I find I’m saying it often.

“Hold your pee-pee maker and squirt it in the water.”

“No, you do it,” he says, folding his arms and piddling on the floor.

“That is your pee-pee maker, not mine. You do it.”

Still, he refused to touch it. I guess he thought he would eventually perfect his fancy-dancy hip maneuver.

After another week arguing over who was responsible for whose pee-pee maker, I finally figured out why he wouldn’t grab on and take aim. One day, after I had to aim for him, he refused to wash his hands.

His argument: “I didn’t touch anything,”

Once I convinced him that he has to wash his hands every time he goes potty, regardless of what he did or didn’t touch, he finally relented. Now, when he goes, he takes hold and hits the water a good 75% of the time, which I call success.

Potty training my son was a long, tough journey, but together, we made it through. He’s even trying to go all by himself, without help, which when he perfects his aim, will be just one more milestone that makes my life easier.

In the end, I won the potty war at my house. My boy is peeing like a pro and shows no hesitation to reach down and take matters into this own hands. In fact, this new willingness to reach down there has evolved into a sort of fondness for it. I caught him a few times just today, “feeling things out”, if you know what I mean.

The more I think about it, I guess I can claim at least partial credit for teaching him one of those “boy things.”

Be careful what you wish for

Due to my ex-husband’s crazy work schedule, I have my kids most of the time. He takes them on one-night visits about once every 7-10 days, which leaves him aching to see them more, and me fairly exhausted by the time one of my “breaks” come along.

I say “breaks” because typically I use those nights to do some pesky chore or run errands that’d be difficult or downright impossible to accomplish with three kids in tow. My friends tell me to relax and take a bubble bath, but more often than not, I’m using that time to scrub a dirty ring from the tub – not soak in it.

So, you’d think that when my ex informed me he has a full week of vacation coming up, and that he’d like to take the kids for 5 straight days – I’d be thrilled. Surprisingly enough (especially to me), the thought of being without them for almost a week makes me nauseous.

Seriously, I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

When you’re solely responsible for your kids 99% of the time, it’s hard to just hand the reigns over to someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I trust my ex completely – he’s a great dad. It’s just hard to turn off being in full-time mom-mode, ya know?

I remember the first few times the kids went away for a one-night stay. At first I thought I would pamper myself by doing my nails or enjoying a glass of wine and a good book. Instead, I puttered around the house, walking from room to room, missing the kids. I felt (and most certainly looked) pathetic.

The next time they went away, I had visions of accomplishing all sorts of errands. I’d do some shopping free from the cries of “Mom, can I have this?” every ten steps. However, in reality, I crashed out on my couch and fell asleep by 6:30 p.m., not having accomplished a thing. I think it was a combination of exhaustion and depression. My body just gave out and I shut down.

Over the last three years, it’s taken me a while to begin enjoying my nights off and actually use that time more efficiently.

So, what am I going to do with a full week off? I think it’s going to shake down like this:

Early in the week, I know I’ll be full of energy and eager to get out of the house. I really need to reconnect with some of my long, lost friends (the ones without kids, especially). And I’m dying to see a movie out in a movie theater. It can be any movie – so long as it’s not animated, or has animals that talk.

And I want to go shopping – but instead of getting things for the kids, I plan to come home with a few little treasures just for me. This won’t be a crazy splurge that I’ll regret later. Instead I’ll get something small but personal, like new perfume. I haven’t bought new perfume – or have had anyone to buy it for me – for years. The other day someone told me I smelled good and asked what I was wearing. Embarrassing as it was, I had to fess up. It was just my Lady Speedstick. Yes, new perfume. Definitely.

I’ll also catch up on some much-needed downtime. This will be a great opportunity to get some decent sleep. As it stands now, at least every other night, someone creeps into my bed due to a bad dream, upset tummy or just because. I have to admit that on one level, I love it – my kids are great snugglers. But on the other hand, sleeping with your kids isn’t really restful sleep. Someone’s always snoring or poking you with their bony elbows. A week without a nighttime visitor may be a tough adjustment, but one that will be well worth it.

This weeklong break will be good for all of us. When the kids return, I’ll be rested and rejuvenated. My batteries will be fully charged. I know I’ll be more patient and will appreciate them more. My desire to cook will return and I’ll be eager to eat some good, home-cooked meals myself.

The more I think about it, the less apprehensive I feel. Instead of a twinge of nausea, I’m beginning to feel a twitter of excitement. Instead of dread, I’m actually looking forward to this.

Still…we’ll see how I feel when I see them drive away in their dad’s white Ford. Seeing my whole life drive off, not to return for almost a week, will surely make me feel sad and lonely.

But I know that their return five days later will bring me indescribable joy. I’ll be elated when they rush me, shouting, “Mom! Mom!”

I can feel myself getting a little misty just thinking about it now.

For me, with my kids in my arms, the planets are aligned and my world is in order. I silently complain that I wish I had more “me time” but I know deep in my bones that my kids are my life and I need them near.

Time away, whether it’s one day or five, reminds me of who I am and what I’ve been put on this earth to do. I’m a mother – their mother – and a damn good one. And it doesn’t matter if my perfume is nothing more than Fresh Scent deodorant.

Single mom secrets revealed

The other day, when a new acquaintance learned that in addition to working full time, I’m also a single mother to three young kids, she burst out with shock and surprise.

“Are you kidding? I have one kid and a husband and some days, I think I’m going nuts.”

This reaction is actually quite common. Most people can’t imagine what it’s like to raise one kid, let alone three on their own.

That kind of praise and adoration is extremely gratifying. Working solo means that any kind of feedback – especially that of the positive variety – brightens my day and boosts my ego.

At this point in the conversation, I usually blush and use my favorite one liner:

“I guess I’m like that Nike commercial. I just…do it.”

It’s true. Every single parent finds a way to “just do it” using their own unique system. For me, my system hinges on being extremely organized and pretty darn resourceful.

Naturally, outsiders want to know how single moms juggle everything. And lucky for you, I’m not shy. So, here’s a glimpse into the busiest part of this single mom’s day – the morning.

4:30 a.m. - Up and at ‘em

For me, getting up early is mission critical. After I stumble out of bed and consume enormous amounts of coffee, I do a few loads of laundry, take care of the dishwasher and either defrost something or prepare a crock pot for dinner.

Next, I make bag breakfasts for everyone and pack afternoon snacks. Then, I make sure that all permission slips, book orders and teachers’ notes have been addressed. I do a quick weather check and pick everyone’s outfits.

5:30 a.m. – Get ready

I try to be 95% ready before rousing the kids – and I do it in just 30 minutes. As a result, I’ve learned to streamline my morning beauty regime considerably, without compromising the end result too much.

Getting dressed now would be a bad idea. With an hour to go, a variety of likely scenarios could wrinkle or soil my ensemble. Instead, I select an outfit and set it aside, to be put on just two minutes prior to departure.

6 a.m. - Get the kids into gear

I’m extremely thankful that my school-age kids can read and tell time. With our “Morning To Do List” there’s never a question of what needs to be done. It reads:

1) Get up.
2) Get dressed.
3) Brush teeth.
4) Brush hair.
5) Put on shoes.
6) Load back packs.

In addition, they know they need to have the list completed by 6:50 a.m. and watch the clock accordingly.

The list system works well. Instead of barking orders, I calmly ask, “So, are you done with the list?” The girls know what they have to do and on most mornings do it with little-to-no complaints.

Waking up my toddler on the other hand, is a much more delicate operation. In the morning, he’s particularly fragile – a tantrum time bomb, ready to cry and go limp in protest at any second.

To this end, I’ve added 5 minutes of uninterrupted snuggle time. This allows him to wake up slowly. If I don’t take the extra time, he’s sure to meltdown – which will only end up wasting valuable time.

7 a.m. - And…we’re off!

Once coats are on and we pile into the van, we do a quick check of the time. If we’re all bucked in by 7 a.m., we rejoice and celebrate. If we’re late, we try to figure out what went wrong and how we can get ready faster tomorrow.

And thus, the shuttle departs. I drop everyone off at daycare and the before-school program then head downtown for work. If the planets are aligned and traffic is cooperative, I’m at my desk by 7:45, ready to (get this) begin my day.

Begin my day indeed! I’ve been up for over three hours. I’ve folded laundry, prepped dinner and got three kids up, dressed and out the door in less than an hour.

I think it’s actually time to call it day, don't you?

~ ~ ~ ~

The secret’s out

So, there you have it. There’s no magic behind how single parents do it. All it takes is organization and a little creativity.

Well, that and a sense of humor.

Getting your kids to work together as a team is a clear challenge. So maintaining a good attitude is crucial. In my house, positivity inspires cooperation and negativity breeds rebellion. I’m pro cooperation, so keeping everyone's spirits up (including my own) is essential.

So, the next time you see a single mom, express your amazement and ask her how she does it. You’ll give her a much-appreciated “atta-girl” and possibly learn a few tricks that’ll help your household run more smoothly too.