Category Archives: potty training

Four point five cake

Saturday was Mabel’s four-and-a-halfth birthday. I like to make a bit of a thing about half birthdays, because a year is a long time to wait, and also Cake, any excuse for; and because sometimes I can make it into enough of a milestone in their minds that they’ll do something, or start doing something, or stop doing something, just because now they’re whatever-and-a-half.

So Mabel is no longer having boo(b) in the evening. At all. This is great.
Also, she is going to start trying to wipe herself after a poo. All I’m asking is that she tries, that she’s willing to give it a go, which will be a lot better than the point-blank refusal I’ve had up to now. And she has been trying, since Saturday. So that’s great too.

On the other hand, she had a fit of the screaming collywobbles at drop-off this morning, and I very much hope that’s not indicative of how four point five is going to go. I know it’s a tough age and I’m prepared for some backsliding in behaviour and/or willingness to try new things, but I would really like to be able to bring her to school without the clawing and the screaming and the tearing at my heart, because it’s nice when that doesn’t happen.

Oh well. Onwards to five, which everyone agrees is The Golden Age, rivalled only by eight.

More importantly, cake.

Burnt butter brown sugar cupcakes with chocolate ganache icing

I made half a batch of Burnt Butter Brown Sugar cupcakes (Nigella, How to be a Domestic Goddess) topped with Dark Chocolate Icing (Darina Allen, Easy Entertaining), and they were, if I say it myself, rather gorgeous. I haven’t done the brown butter thing before even though Smitten Kitchen and others have been raving about it for a while. It was really easy and I’m pretty sure that’s what I have to thank for the fact that these buns are still moist and soft two days later.

(I know, why on earth do we still have any two days later? That will be remedied, don’t worry.)

Charting success

As soon as Mabel started school this year, the immediate challenges that came to light revolved around the bathroom. At school, not unreasonably, they try to get the children to use the bathroom after snacktime. Mabel did not like being told when to go. She, further, did not like the fact that when she went, the teachers wanted her to – most unreasonably – keep her underpants round her ankles and her shoes on her feet. She was used to kicking everything off so she could straddle the seat comfortably, and though I’d tried to instigate some keeping on of stuff before the school year began, because I wasn’t exactly blind to the fact that this was going to be an issue, it hadn’t really gone down well.

I don’t know how this had resolved itself last year, but somehow it wasn’t a problem then. She was toilet trained by about March, so she’d clearly spent about three months using the bathroom, or being allowed refuse to use it, in her old classroom without incident. In September, though, – new classroom, new teachers, new people to inculcate in the ways of Mabel; or vice versa.

Mabel and I spent a fraught few mornings before she’d agree to darken the door of the classroom working out some sort of compromise whereby I would tell the teachers that she would go if she needed to, and they wouldn’t make her. They agreed, but tried to make her anyway. She refused. Stalemate was reached, but they gradually realised that, like her brother before her, she has a bladder of steel and doesn’t need to go all morning.

Meanwhile, though, I thought we should tackle the pants-round-ankles business as soon as possible, and the most direct method seemed to be some form of bribery. A star chart might do the trick, I thought. So I drew a few lines on a piece of paper. While I was at it, I thought I’d add a column for cleaning up, and of course there’d have to be a complementary chart for Dash too, because heaven forefend she have even the prospect of some new thing if he didn’t too. Casting about for something to fill the other side of Dash’s chart with, I decided maybe he could do some reading practice.

And so, the new chart was affixed to the fridge. Mabel’s prize, if she ever tidies up anything again in her life, will be – surprise! – a new baby. Dash filled in his prize suggestions himself, so they might be a little hard to read, but it says “Litsaber” [light saber], “woch” [watch], “new shoes!”

As you can see, the toilet practice was a total success. In fact, after about three days she was happily keeping her knees together (such a lady) and her shoes on, which I’m very pleased about even if she never actually uses these new abilities in school. With winter approaching, it’s a good thing in general.

Dash’s reading practice also went really well – I told him ten minutes’ reading was enough to get a star, and he was totally motivated to pick up a book any time I could sit down with him. Sadly, once those stars were filled in the habit didn’t persist, but maybe I can start another one for something else. When he’d finished with the reading stars he started trying to earn clean-up stars as fast as he could, only just stopping short of making a mess in order to be rewarded for cleaning it up. (No need for that. There’s always a mess around thanks to his sister’s habit of playing with a small subsection of every different thing at once. Though I did have to stop him from cleaning up when she was still in the middle of playing.)

So, on Sunday, the chart reached the dizzying heights you see in the picture, with all of Dash’s stars filled in. (Please excuse the crumple marks. Mabel was making her displeasure known one day.) I knew we were in for trouble. Dash spent all morning mooning around asking when we’d be going to Target to buy his new thing. Mabel spent all morning telling me earnestly how it wasn’t fair if Dash got a new thing and she didn’t. Pointing out that when (when? if ever?) she fills in her side of the chart, she’ll get a new thing and he won’t, did nothing for me. We did not go en famille to Target for the purchasing of the object; I sent Dash with his father and instructed them to pick up a small item from the $1 section to appease The Unappeasable One.

Dash came home with not a light saber, not a watch, and not shoes, but a new Nerf gun (oh joy); and they brought Mabel a tube of glow bracelets, which kept her happily entranced all afternoon.

So that worked out better than expected. Next chart: back to eating vegetables, perhaps.

Tiny increments of betterment

Is it time for an update on the sleep situation? I suppose it is.

Let’s start with the good news. Mabel is definitely toilet trained. Pull-ups are strictly for night time, not even for naps. (I put a waterproof crib mattress pad under her at naptime just in case, but mostly she doesn’t need it.) My diaper-totin’ days are over. I am in no way tempting fate by saying this.

Okay, okay, that’s not sleep.

Last time I took you down this fascinating road of good intentions, I was trying to night-wean the three-year-old; something many people do when their babies are six months old, or maybe twelve, or perhaps two years. But I’m a slow starter, and I dislike confrontation.

The first few days went startlingly well: Mabel would go back to sleep without nursing at her first wake (10pm or so) and skip her second wake (midnight-ish) entirely. By the time the formerly third wake happened (3am) I was so impressed, and she so frantic, that I would happily give her what she wanted, and we’d all go back to sleep.

But then she started not eating dinner. Which made her wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Which was not conducive to staying asleep or being content with an inane story about Dora and some butterflies instead of the much-desired boobie.

(She has started to say “boobie” instead of “mumeet”. I am not happy about this development. When I’m on the phone to my mother and Mabel starts to shout “Give me your boobies!”, there’s little I can do to dissemble about what’s going on.)

So we had some frustrating evenings while B was away, and we’re just getting back into the swing of things now, remembering to send him in when she wakes the first time, even though she’s not yet back to ever going back to sleep without me. But still, some times, more often than not – almost always, I’d say optimistically – she will go back to sleep without nursing at the first wake. The night before last she went back to sleep the first two wakes without nursing. Even. But she’s still waking – that is, enough to start calling for me and escalate if ignored – as much as ever.

Still. I’ll take what I can get, for now. It’s a start.

Victory! (Um, victory?)

Mabel got a new baby yesterday. “What, woman?” you ask. “Have you no sense? Have you no willpower? Have you an infinite amount of space in your house – and your heart, [sob] – for more babies? When will you say no?”

Don’t worry. This was a special baby. This was her potty-training sticker-chart baby.

Some time back in January or so, I had a brainwave. Which I didn’t even mention here, for fear of having to eat my words yet again. I told Mabel that when she saved me enough money on pullups by wearing underpants, we could spend that money on a baby. Some rough calculations led me to believe that if a box of Pampers at Target costs $20, then half a box costs $10. (With me so far?) And there were many attractive babies in the toy aisles that could be purchased for such a price. Including the one Mabel had just set her heart on.

It appeared that she was using about three pullups a day (night-time was off the table at this point). So to save 30 pullups, or half a box, should take only about ten days of solid underpantsing. It worked like magic for five days, but then the novelty started to fade. She’d wear underwear at school and then not take off her naptime pullup all afternoon. I let it slide, especially as we were off to Ireland and I really didn’t want to try getting her to go commando on a plane or during days of jetlag again. Every now and then she’d wear underpants for a whole morning or a whole afternoon, and we’d add a sticker to the chart.

At some point during our trip away, I think, she started pooing in the toilet whether she was wearing a pullup or not. I was, you can imagine, pretty happy about this development. We were given some hand-me-down (but very clean) underpants from a friend, and Mabel suddenly loved them. Hey, whatever it takes.

So on Friday, the last sticker went into its place on the chart, and Mabel was pronounced officially potty trained. We went to Target yesterday morning and she’s now the devoted mother/big sister of Princess Bonny, who came with a tiara and a “baby list” (that is, an ad for all the other baby princesses you can buy). She’s meant to be Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty, but Mabel says (scathingly) that Sleeping Beauty doesn’t have a tiara, and she thinks Bonny is a prettier name. Take that, Disney Corporation.

She’s also wearing a pullup right now, and plotting her next sticker chart. Clearly, I have triumphed.

Progress, maybe

We’re travelling tomorrow, but before I go and ruin everyone’s (read, Mabel’s) new good habits by dragging her across the ocean to a continent five hours ahead, I thought I should document them. For posterity, and because by the time we get back I’ll no doubt have more things to say.

Two Fridays ago, there I was moaning to a friend about the terrible night Mabel – and therefore I – had had, when I realised that I was now undeniably one of those annoying people who complains about a situation but never makes a move to change it. Which is fine if it’s on my blog – right? Right. – but not fair to people standing in front of me who are too polite to just throttle me for not getting on with it.

Later that morning, Mabel and I had a little conversation.
“Oh, Mabel, when are you ever going to stop having mumeet?” I sighed, and she replied, “When I’m four.” She may have said this before, and I never took her up on it because it sounded so far in the future that I was hoping for something a little better, but now suddenly, it sounded like an acheivable goal.
“Okay then,” I told her, “we’ll stop when you’re four. But we’ll have to start having a bit less, so that we don’t just stop all at once. So from now on, we’ll only have mumeet in the morning and at naptime if you take a nap, and at bedtime.” And all night, which was implied and understood, if not actually said.

“So now you’re just nursing her three times a day and all night, and that’s good?” you ask, shaking your head to get the buzzing sound out.

Yes, because she’s finally learning that there are other ways to be happy without just grabbing a boob at the merest hint of personal grumpiness. Even though there have been days when she’s gone a long time without – from before school all the way to naptime, or even beyond if she didn’t nap and we were busy – those were probably the exceptions, and she was pretty used to having a little sumpin’ sumpin’ before lunch, or after nap, or around 5pm, or just to keep her going till bedtime.

But I made some wonderful discoveries:

  • I can say no, and if I keep saying it she will eventually go away and do something else.
  • She will accept a cuddle instead of nursing, if I stand firm.
  • She’s quite willing to take a chocolate chip and a mini marshmallow as a post-nap treat instead of nursing (this is a short-term thing that will be phased out, honest).

Of course, once she figured things out, she realised that it was to her advantage to nap, or at least try to nap, because then she gets a hit in the middle of the day. I’m happy to do this, so long as she naps reasonably early, and to take the resultant fallout of later, more long-drawn-out bedtimes for a while, as it’s all in a good cause, and really, who’s to look a gift-nap in the mouth? But if she tells me at 3pm that she wants a nap, it’s no way Jose and she has to make do with a cuddle on the sofa. And she does.

So. It doesn’t solve my night-time problem, and the wearing of the underwear has once again receded into the dim and distant, most of the time, but I think it’s a good step forward. When she’s used to it, and when we’re back from our trip, I’ll make some other change, like moving bedtime mumeet to the sofa and letting Daddy do bedtime, on days when she’s really tired because she hasn’t napped.

The other thing we’ve been doing lately is having B go into her the first time she wakes, the time that’s a paltry two hours or less since she went to bed in the first place. It’s usually around 10pm. The first night we did this, despite having been warned in advance, she cried hysterically, with the heaving and the gulping and the pushing him away and then taking an hour to calm down once I did go in. But we’ve done it most nights since and now she just grouses at him until he goes away, cries for me, and nurses to sleep pretty quickly. Once, just once*, she fell back to sleep without any further intervention, and I did a happy Snoopy dance. But even without that, since she’s accepting his presence more readily, I see progress, even if I’m not sure what exactly the progress is moving towards.

Eventually, it will all fall into place. Won’t it?¬†

*Update: Well, stop the presses, she just did it again! Or he did. I don’t care, so long as they can do it without me.

Goings-on ongoing

Once again, this morning, I didn’t go for a run.

One way or another, the fates have conspired against me for the past week, and between weather, and days off school, and weather, and my period, I haven’t had a chance to go out for ages. I hate this – not because I’m a runner, all champing at the bit for activity and pacing up and down like a caged tiger; but because it makes me afraid that I’ll never get back out there and my tiny bit of motivation will desert me and I’ll be back to being a blob who wasted money on good shoes for nothing.

On the other hand, it’s novel, if irritating, for me to actually want to exercise and be prevented by outside influences. I’m almost completely certain I’m not just using them as excuses. And B has been very good about not bugging me, because he knows that the one thing certain to make me not go is someone telling me that I should. (Mabel? My daughter? What? I see no correlation here.)

I have gone to the not-aerobics class for the past two Saturdays, even last week when there was fresh snow on the ground (all of half an inch) and only the die-hards were there (and me), so all isn’t entirely lost. I can do a sexy march with the best of them. (No. No, I can’t. But I’m learning.)


The wearing of the underwear was going really well until I bragged about it to a friend, whereupon Mabel immediately went through two pairs of trousers, peed on the aforementioned ice, and is now wearing a pullup. I suppose we’ll get back on the horse soon, but I’m not talking about it. If you see me start to talk about it, put your fingers in your ears and sing la la laaa at the top of your voice.


Yesterday, in a fit of something or other, I bought a bag of mini croissants. (This is what happens when I go to a different supermarket. All sorts of odd things seem perfectly reasonable purchases.) Dash was excited but wished they were chocolate croissants, and I said we could probably do something about that. So when we got home I cunningly sliced along the top of one, put in a few chocolate chips, and heated it for five seconds in the microwave. He was quite pleased.

Today, somehow, there are two…one…oh, look at that, the mini croissants are all gone. Mabel just asked for the last one, let me put three chocolate chips carefully in it, and said she didn’t need it heated up. Then she fished the chips out again, sucked each one into happy oblivion, and told me I could eat the croissant.


Dash came home today with a big picture of a penguin captioned in his writing with “My penguin and I like to fly.” His teacher had stuck on a post-it in response to my e-mail of this morning, saying that the children had used their IMAGINATIONS to think of something they would like to do with their penguins. (Hmm. That sounds dodgy. She didn’t put it quite like that.) Dash has recanted his earlier statement about there definitely being a flying species of penguin and now says the movie they watched was a cartoon. I’m still a bit confused, but I think we can be confident that his teacher was not using BBC April fools jokes as source material, and that you can’t always take what a five-year-old says at face value.

No news there, then.

Note to self

For future reference, when your recently-bribed-into-toilet-training three-year-old clutches her crotch while you put on her ice-skates, don’t just let her refuse to let you take her to the bathroom. Because the quickly spreading yellow puddle on the ice is a bit of a giveaway when things go wrong.

In fact, backing up a bit, when you know that she really should have taken a nap, even though you’re trying to phase out the naps because they lead to neverending bedtimes, don’t take her ice-skating in the first place. Because while it may seem cruel to deny her the outing if her brother and her daddy are going, having her fall so solidly asleep on the way home that she takes an unwakeable hour-long nap at 4.30 is probably going to have a worse effect. On your mood when she’s still wide awake at 9pm. (Not that we’re there yet. Maybe the gods will be kind.)

This time I mean it

But first, some administrative stuff. Have you noticed my new thingy? Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it? Oh, and also, I have a clever whatsit now that picks out four related posts, with or without pictures, and links to them at the bottom of every post. I’m not sure if it uses the tags, or possibly magic, but I love that it’s giving some love to lesser-spotted posts, and personally I have found when I saw such a thing on other friends’ blogs, that it drew me in and brought me to lots more interestingness, so I hope it does the same for you.

And then, when I was thinking about how to lure you people in and enmesh you in my fascinating word-tangles – I mean, how best to serve your needs as readers – I decided to do away with the silly and self-perpetuating “Popular recent posts” section in the margin and instead make a new page called Cliff Notes, which lists a few of my favourite blog posts and serves as a sort of potted history of what’s been going on here and what I like to write about.

If you’d like to nominate a post to go there, I’m always open to suggestions, by the way.

(Cliff Notes, for my non-American readers, are those yellow-and-black-covered summary texts you can buy so that you don’t have to read the whole book. Not that I’ve ever owned any such thing.)

See the link over there under the About Me section? There it is.


That’s enough of that.

I vowed not to mention this until we were at least a week in, but then I changed my mind. So what if I end up eating my words (again) in two days’ time? Will you scorn me? And will I know? Will you stop reading entirely because I jumped the gun and blogged about something without giving it due thought and process? Well, fine, I never liked you anyway.

No, not you. Come back. You don’t even know what I’m going to say yet.

On Sunday, which was exactly one month after her third birthday, I said to Mabel, “Let’s put on your new dress for your friend’s party,” and she said to me, “I want to wear underpants.” And I did not stand upon the order of my going, but went at once and fetched said underpants from the ranks of their brethern where they have been waiting patiently ever since June, being the last time she was potty “trained”. I also took with us a spare pair, and a pullup, and an extra outfit just in case, because I’m not thick, me.

Luckily, the host is a wonderful, laid-back mother who greeted my news of an undefended bottom on arrival with “It’s not a party until someone’s peed their pants.” Indeed. And Mabel successfully came to me twice and had me take her to the bathroom, before the third time telling me that she had indeed peed her pants just a little. That was pretty good going for a birthday party, and I certainly wasn’t swooping down on her to check every ten minutes, because there was wine and spinach puffs and entertaining people to talk to and my son wasn’t hiding under my legs like last year – he was happily playing with the birthday boy’s brand-new robot and eating his weight in potato chips.

Yesterday I casually produced more underpants with the day’s clothes, not sure how it would go down, but she was happy to put them on and tell everyone at school, at the top of her voice, that she was wearing underwear. She came home dry, wearing the same thing she’d set out in, and then proceded to motor through four pairs of bottoms in about two hours.

This may be the pattern for a while yet. Today I was all set to announce, in foolhardy manner, that this was it, no turning back, pullups for bedtime only… and then she took an extra-long nap, woke up soaked, and tearfully demanded a diaper for the rest of the afternoon.

Like I said the last time Ted, it won’t happen again.

Disaster / preparedness

Mabel is sitting on a blue plastic chair in front of the dollhouse, using a large toy car as a footrest. Every so often her bottom emits a noise, and I look at her, and she looks at me. If I try to take her to the bathroom, she runs away. Then she sits back on the chair and gives me those looks and tells me, “This is your last chance.”


Okay, now she’s napping. I have moved from zero to somewhat prepared in my Christmas readiness – it’s amazing how much you can accomplish in an hour at Target with focus and without children. As I think I rediscover every year, once I let go of the compulsion to buy everyone the Most Perfect Gift Ever, that they will treasure for many years and regale their grandchildren with tales of, it becomes much easier. A present that’s good enough is still a present, and will probably be worn or played with or read or otherwise used at some point, and that’s fine. Getting it to the recipient before Christmas day is also quite important, at least with kids.

(I have to pack a box and mail it to Ireland by December 9th, lest you think I’m crazy ahead of myself. I could use or some other Internet source to buy myself more time, but I do really like just going shopping and picking things out myself. This, presumably, is why bricks-and-mortar stores still exist even in this click-button age. And I could shop for twelve-year-old girls all day. Which is unfortunate for those of my nephews and nieces who are no longer, or not yet, or have no hope of ever being a twelve-year-old girl, but quite happy news for the one who is.)

I have found some Christmas cards, but have yet to print out a few photos to accompany them – my nod to the American habit of sending cards featuring a lovely shot of you and your family, which to non-Americans seems simultaneously a bit pretentious but also very nice because it’s good to see the kids growing up once a year. I have a lead on a present for my Dad, and some thoughts about the remaining people on the list. And when all that has gone to the post office, I might start contemplating gifts for my nearest and dearest and most demanding.

How are your Christmas preparations going? Or are you still hiding under the covers until it’s really December?


I have approximately one hour, and I’m going to spend it with my laptop, briefly, and then a book, and possibly a coffee and a homemade cookie. I am not going to tidy up, clean the kitchen, put on a load of washing, make pumpkin bread, or start making Christmas lists. Doing any of those things might make me feel efficient and that I have accomplished something useful, but I’d still harbour a boatload (harbour, boats, gettit?) of residual resentment at not having got to just sit down and do nothing.

So instead, I’ll go back to my original mantra of doing nothing with this time that I could do when the kid(s) are at home. I can always put on the washing after Mabel gets back, and whip up a loaf of pumpkin bread while she’s napping.

In the car this morning, Mabel and I had an interesting discussion:

Mabel: Mummy, you know, I think now I can go to the top of the big climbing frame in the playground, because I’m older.
Me: Really? Maybe so. You know, I think now you can wear underpants and use the toilet, because you’re older.
Mabel: No, I’m not going to do that.
Me: Well, I think after Christmas you’ll start wearing underpants.
Mabel: Will I be older after Christmas?
Me: Oh yes, definitely.
Mabel: Well, that would be okay.
Mabel: Why are you laughing? I don’t want you to laugh at me.
Me: I love you, that’s why I’m laughing.
Mabel, grumpy: Well, I love you, and I don’t laugh at you.