This is not as easy as it would seem to be. As someone who has had bodily functions all of his life, and who cannot currently remember having gone through his own toilet training, I always kind of assumed that probably the single easiest part of learning to use a toilet is the part where you sit down and wait.
What could be easier that that, after all? "Sit here, wait a few minutes, then clean up. DONE!" That is pretty much the prescription for a perfect anything: morning, life, day at the beach, whatever. If you told me that for any single endeavor I would have to just follow those three steps, I'd be up for it.
But not Mr F, and not, it turns out, me, either, since, ironically (?) it is my job to sit here, wait for a few minutes, then clean up, DONE!" while Mr F is not doing those things, and I'm not so good at it either, although in my defense, it's never a few minutes. Yesterday, it was over two hours.
I watched an entire movie.
Oh, and he does in shifts, of a sort. Sometimes, he'll leave the bathroom but he's not done. Technically, during those times, we're on a time-out of sorts.
This latest round of "OhmygodwhathaveIgottenmyselfintoI'mnotpreparedforthis" began on December 26, which many people know as "Boxing Day," while many others know it as "The day we go buy the stuff we wish we'd gotten as presents the day before" but which for me will forever be "OH GROSS" because December 26, a few months ago, was the day that we decided that's it, no more pull-ups for the boys, period, it's OVER.
Up until then, we had been fitfully working on toilet training the boys, a process that was less process and more interruption, and a process that had begun, rather hopefully, back before we knew they had autism and instead just thought that maybe they were, you know, stubborn, all the way back when they were almost 2 and we'd just gotten back from a vacation and decided, flush with the kind of energy I have rarely felt in 6 1/2 years, that we were going to toilet train the boys, and so we went to Wal-Mart, which is a necessary step in every single project I undertake, and got those little potty chairs and brought them home and showed them to Mr Bunches and Mr F, and explained how they worked and when you used them and how everntually this was going to lead to sitting on the real toilet and using that and then...
...I don't know...
...Things got sidetracked. I am not, at this stage, even sure what happened, aside from, well, life, and as time went on and they kept not getting toilet trained and not getting toilet trained then we got distracted by other things that seemed more important, or if not more important than "knowing where to poop when you live in a civilization," then at least equally important.
A few months back, before the latest round of Attempted Forced Civilization, which is what my parenting efforts would be labeled if they were a college course or a military project, which I almost feel like they are given the amount of people involved and plans we make and even diagrams.
I diagram parenting.
You would too, if you had to every single day face off against Mr F and Mr Bunches, who have all the wily cunning of a Lex Luthor plus the strength of The Hulk, if The Hulk were only about 3'10" and weigh 65 pounds, but even at that size, The Hulk would be pretty strong.
Anyway, a few months before the latest bout of parenting, I told Sweetie that perhaps we were doing it wrong. I said that maybe this whole list of things that we were making, mentally and sometimes literally making, of things that we needed to teach the boys or improve upon with the boys or whatever, a list that grows ever longer, maybe that wasn't the way to go.
See, what happens with Mr F and Mr Bunches is, not unlike any other kid, we as their parents will determine that they need to learn something, something basic that kids need to learn, and we will have to teach that to them.
With a kid with autism, that list is maybe larger than the list for other kids, or maybe it just heads sideways more, with more subheadings and footnotes and indexes, a complicated list that branches out. This is because there are basic things that the boys don't do the same way we do,
It was pretty empty at the pool, just me and him (Mr Bunches was at a birthday party, with Sweetie chaperoning. Whenever one of the boys go to a social function, we have to chaperone, because other parents are well-meaning and all but they don't know things) and at the pool, there were perhaps three other people, so as I drifted lazily in the shallow end watching Mr F drift around and jump up and down and put his face in the water, I had to make sure he kept his swimtrunks on -- he's doing that again -- but also I had to let him know he should "use his inside voice" and at the same time I had to wonder what it was, he was saying.
He was saying something like this:
"Oooohhh! YA! Oh oh oh. BOY!"
And it didn't seem he was in any distress, or wanted to go, because he didn't seem sad and he wasn't trying to leave, but I didn't know then if he was trying to get me to do something, or to not do something. Did he want me to help him jump off the edge of the pool and catch him, the way I sometimes do with Mr Bunches? Did he want me to stay farther away so he could get his swim trunks off? Was he just scripting -- repeating some scene from a movie or show or video as a comforting move? Was he talking to me, saying "This pool sure is warm!" Was he asking me where Mr Bunches was?
So the neat lit of parenting goals:
34. Use Inside Voice
Looks more like this:
And it grows.
The next time we really made a concerted effort to toilet train the boys was, to be honest, August 2012. Yes, they were turning 6, and had not yet been toilet-trained, not perfectly. By then, they would go ones, in the toilet, with about a 99% success rate, which is pretty good for any kid, I figure. Mr F was more trouble than Mr Bunches, as Mr F gets seriously distracted and cannot be bothered to pay attention to things like pottying in the toilet, or, sometimes, even, carrying bowls of snacks level or keeping one's boots on outside in a blizzard. (We did eventually find the missing boot, two months later.)
I figure whatever is going on in Mr F's mind, it is fascinating, because his eyes are rarely focused here. He's always got the kind of look I get when I imagine the day I finally retire to Hawaii for a life of leisure and old TV shows on Netflix. (Estimated Date: Nov. 1, 2025). So while he understood pretty quickly where to aim things and when, he'd frequently lose focus and would not get himself to the thing he was supposed to aim at during the time he'd need to aim.
We fixed that, largely, by instituting mandatory bathroom breaks, taking Mr F to the bathroom every hour or so, whether we felt he needed it or not, and before we left anywhere and as soon as we got home from anywhere, and Mr F, in turn, responded by not always going to the bathroom even when he had to do so -- even when it had been hours and he'd been drinking water and was standing next to a waterfall, etc. etc. -- either as a protest ("You can't make me go potty when I don't want to," his face might have said) or because he wasn't thinking about it and had 100% of his brainpower devoted to figuring out how he was going to get us to let him swing high enough to hit the light fixture.
So we're still working on that.
And EVERYTHING ELSE. But the toilet-poop-training we decided to really focus on on August 16: we were going to get the boys to stop using pull-ups and start using the toilet. We'd gotten them, by that point, to wear pull-ups and stand in the bathroom, and both of them were getting comfortable with that, so Mr Bunches would say he had to "Go poop on the potty" and we'd get a pull-up and he'd go into the bathroom and put it on and read or play in there until things were finished, and then we'd clean up, but then, in August, we decided it was time to get to work on eliminating the pull-up part of that and aiming things directly into the toilet, for a change.
And, of course, the very next day, Day Two Of Serious Toilet Training Round II, Mr F fell off the counter and had to be rushed to the ER and spent the next four days in the hospital having brain surgery and the next four months with stitches holding his scalp to his head and a helmet and bandages.
We hadn't actually scratched any other items off the Parenting To-Do List, mind you. And if we had, we'd added tons more things to it, working on getting the boys to eat more than cheese puffs and learning to put on their socks and having them understand why traffic isn't good to walk into, and faced with this huge list of tasks, we'd spent most of the last couple of years saying "let's tackle the big things, first," the "big things" being things like talking.
Mr F, for example, doesn't talk, really. He can, if you push him, say stuff. Usually one-word sentences, and he'll mumble and try to avoid you. He understands you just fine. The other day, I said "Hey, can you hand me that shirt there?" and he bent down and picked it up and gave it to me, but he won't talk back.
So we spent a lot of the last four years working on getting him to talk, or at least to communicate, because that's one of the things we learned right off: communicating is not the same thing as talking, which we sort of had gathered because Mr F wouldn't talk but he'd let us know he wanted something by taking our hands and leading us to the thing and then sort of "throwing" our hand at it until we got it for him.
Early on, we tried (with the help of the platoon of therapists and teachers and doctors and whatnot who trooped through our house every day) to get him to learn words and say them using pictures. We had a bunch of little picture-squares on the refrigerator, and when he wanted something, we'd say "Hand us the picture," and make him pick the picture of the thing that he wants and give it to us.
That, as I've probably mentioned before, did. not. work.
Instead of learning, or at least deciding to, communicate -- instead of saying "milk" or handing us the picture, Mr F stopped drinking milk.
It's been three or four years now and he will not drink milk.
So you can see where the Parenting List grows. So 'round about Christmas, I mentioned to Sweetie that maybe we were doing it wrong.
I said maybe we should just tackle everything, all at once, just make a big list of everything we want the boys to do or do better or not do or not do so much or not do better, that latter one being a small but important category that includes "escaping", and just do them all, make a big list and put it up around the house like the time I was helping Middle Daughter learn Spanish and we labeled everything in sight with 3x5 index cards with the Spanish word for that thing, a method that worked like a charm because even now, 10 years or so later, I still know that the Spanish word for giraffe is jirafa.
(We didn't actually have a giraffe in our house. And I didn't learn that word that way, anyway. I just said all that to impress you. I actually learned the Spanish word for giraffe off a program on my Kindle that promised to teach me Spanish in a month, which it probably would have done if I had ever used it more than once. As it is, I've used that program as much as I used the "Space Invaders" game I downloaded, but that latter is not my fault, as I downloaded it out of a sense of nostalgia. I wanted to play the old Space Invaders game, like I had back when I was in 6th grade at Skateworld, but the game I downloaded wasn't exactly classic Space Invaders, it was more Space Invaders mixed with Galaga, and I never liked Galaga.)
The point I'm trying to make is that if we are ever attacked by a giraffe and I have to call 911 and the operator only speaks Spanish, I'm covered.
The other point I'm trying to make is that of course we did not try my "Everything all at once" Explosive Parenting style, because that would be insane. It would be like Spring Cleaning, only for parenting and all the time, and I don't even Spring Clean anymore, although I did dust off the ceiling fan in the kitchen when Middle Daughter brought her new boyfriend over to meet us for the first time.
Instead, we tackled the most important thing at the time, which was pooping, something that will almost always appear on your top 10 lists of parenting issues. And that is how, on Boxing Day, I ended up sitting outside the bathroom for hours at a time, because we went cold turkey on the Pull-Ups. We took all the Pull-Ups we had in the house, except for the one I had in my work backpack which I forgot about for a week but it didn't matter because I'd forgotten about, and we threw them out, and then when the boys needed to poop, that cold Boxing Day morning, we said "Okay" and led them into the bathroom where we encouraged them to sit on the toilet and poop like grown-ups, or at least 6-year-old versions of grown-ups, and things went perfectly!
Things went horribly. They cried and complained and tried to get back out of the bathroom and searched the house for Pull-Ups. Mr F alone made me lift him up 7 times to see the shelf where we usually kept them but they were not there, because we are smarter than the boys (barely). They tried to get into the locked closet where we keep my comic books and some bathroom supplies and an old TV and, for some reason, the Christmas Nativity set, and I caved and showed them that, too, and when they couldn't find Pull-Ups Mr Bunches tried to convince us to go to the store and get them.
But eventually, that day, they pooped and with that began the learning, except that I'm lying again.
They didn't poop that day.
Or the next.
Sweetie, bless her heart, was thinking about caving, because Sweetie is an Advanced Parent and knows that everything is fatal, even not pooping, so when my continued insistence that "eventually, they'll poop" didn't reassure her, I told her to call the boys' pediatrician, who probably makes about a million bucks a year and so has to by law answer our questions about pooping, and the nurse who took her call reassured her that eventually they would poop and that we could help that along by putting some stuff from the drugstore into what they drank.
And eventually they did poop. Mr Bunches got the hang of it pretty quickly. He'd sit on the toilet and poop and then call us up there for some help, and to prove that he was done he'd point at the toilet and say "Hey, check it out," which is probably a more charming story if he's your kid, I suppose.
Mr F, though, did not get that far, yet. He for some reason doesn't want to sit on the toilet, and he's never in a hurry to get things over with, so what he has done for the past three months or so is get into the bathroom sometime roughly speaking about 72 hours before he actually has to go, and from that moment forward, the process goes something like this:
1. Go into the bathroom.
2. Hand us the bathroom rugs, garbage can, plunger, and anything else that's in the bathroom.
3. Take off all clothing.
4. Close the door.
5. Immediately open the door and hand something else out.
6. Close the door again.
7. Start playing in the medicine cabinet.
8. Close the door again.
9. Stick a hand or something in the toilet.
10. Come out and get a drink of water.
11. Close the door.
12. Get a book to read.
13. Get another book to read.
14. Throw a book in the toilet.
15. Unroll the entire roll of toilet paper.
16. Time for a snack!
This goes on for a while. And during that time, he doesn't do any bodily functions, to speak of, but we have to sit by the door, one of us, because if we don't he'll keep getting out and we'll find him downstairs on the exercise trampoline, jumping and laughing and naked and ready to poop, or, worse yet, he'll fall off a counter, which is what he was doing when he broke his brain the first time and set us back four months in this process.
And then at some point, he poops, but there's where the real problem begins because if you don't catch him right away he'll try to get it off of him, or off of the floor, and his method for doing that is apparently to splatter it around the room like he's Jackson Pollock only with more determination, and with (slightly) more horrifyingly unartistic results.
Which meant that for the past two months, we spent our time sitting outside the bathroom, and then, as soon as he finished, one of us would scoop him upstairs to the bathtub for cleaning up while the other would scrub our bathroom with industrial strength bleach.
Until I decided that this must end, and that doggone it, no kid of mine is going to not sit on the toilet when he poops.
Which I justified by pointing out that it was really for his benefit: if I could convince him to sit on the toilet while he poops, I reasoned to myself and a skeptical Sweetie, he could poop anywhere! The world would be his for the taking!
Also, I was really tired of scrubbing floors. THAT IS HARD WORK.
So this past weekend was the beginning of "Operation I Didn't Really Call It Anything, So Let's Pretend This Is A Clever "Zero Dark Thirty" Joke" and when Mr F decided it was time to poop, about 1 p.m., I took him to the bathroom as usual, and we cleared out all removable items as usual except for the Tums, which I didn't know were required to be removed because that was a new thing and I only found out about Tums' status on the removal list a few minutes later when Mr F dumped them all over the floor, and anyway, he was put into the bathroom, ready for pooping, and I sat down outside to read on my Kindle, and put my plan into action.
About thirty seconds into it, I opened the door. He was standing by the counter eating cheese puffs and reading his "First Words" book. Did I mention that he eats while he's in there? I probably did. Sometimes he eats chocolate, which seems really gross to me, eating chocolate while pooping, but, then, I'm not Mr F. Maybe he's on to something. Maybe we should all be snacking while we poop.
"Sit on the toilet," I told him. He did. I closed the door.
A minute later, I opened the door. He was standing up again. "Sit on the toilet," I told him again. He did. I closed the door.
That went on for about ten minutes. Then he escalated it. When I'd open the door, he'd stand by it and push it shut.
"Open," he'd tell me, because he is not sure whether "open" or "closed" is the right word but "open" is easier to say, so when he wants a door shut, he'll frequently tell you "open" and motion for you to shut the door.
So I escalated it.
"If you don't sit on the toilet," I'd tell him, "I am going to come in there and make you sit."
Then I had to go through with that. NEVER BLUFF MR F. So I did. A few minutes later, I opened the door, he was standing on the toilet, and so I sat him down and closed the door behind me and sat down.
He promptly came and sat on my lap.
When THAT didn't work, and I sat him down again, he got up and tried to press me through the door, then tried to pull me out of the way and open the door and he finally got upset enough that I figured I made my point and so I said "Sit on the toilet and get this over with and I'll stay out." And I got up, left, closed the door, and sat down.
Thirty seconds later I opened the door and he was standing up.
That went on for about an hour, after which he had pooped exactly one Higgs Boson-sized poop, which we cleaned up, and he decided he'd had enough. We both declared victory in round one: he and the bathroom were clean, but, technically, he had not sat on the toilet while he pooped.
Two hours later, he was back in, and we went through the whole process again only this time I threatened him with the "Pooping Seatbelt," which was an old scarf of Sweetie's that I said could be used to tie him to the toilet. He sat down pretty quick then, for two seconds.
Round Two led to another tiny poop and another moral victory, for someone, probably, and Round Three took place later that night at 10 p.m., at which point he got the rest of it out, without sitting, but without having time to make a major mess of things.
And that continued Sunday, our new pattern: he has to poop, I have to sit outside and open the door every thirty seconds to make sure he's sitting down when he poops. It takes A LONG TIME, and I'm sure it's annoying for him, as annoying for him as it is tiring for me.
I don't know why he won't sit on the toilet. That's part of the problem. Mr F won't say, or can't say, or both. Maybe he can't say but even if he could say he wouldn't. Maybe there is something about the way the toilet seat feels that makes him uncomfortable. Maybe he's afraid of the toilet, something I would give more credit to if he didn't exhibit exactly zero fear of the toilet at all other times including the time he spilled his cheese puffs into the toilet and decided that, rather than flush them, he'd scoop out handfuls of soggy, toilet-wet* (*which is the grossest kind of wet) cheese puffs and fling them onto the floor and walls, and cleaning up toiletcheesegoo is marginally less gross than cleaning up poop, but only marginally so because, after all, the cheesegoo has been in a toilet.
The thing is, he can't tell us. He can't tell us why he can't sit down, anymore than he can tell us why it's so necessary to go get a drink of water midway through -- and I'm not exaggerating. I tried to get him to stop at one point, to sit and poop instead of going to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Imagine a running back, at the goal line, in the Super Bowl, heading in for the game winning score. Now imagine that if that running back makes the touchdown, he gets to date three supermodels at once. Also, if he scores that touchdown, cancer will be cured.
THAT is the sense of urgency that Mr F exhibits as he pushes and pulls and struggles and dives and rolls, seriously, and otherwise has to, simply has to, get a drink of water right now.
He can't tell me why, or won't, anymore than he can say "Listen, father, here is why I do not wish to sit on the toilet seat at the present time." Someday, maybe, but not yet.
So we're not even sure what we're fighting against, which makes it hard to fight. This is a kid, after all, who has such discerning senses he will frequently decide that this cheese puff is preferable to that one, and once he makes that decision, he will never, ever touch the latter cheese puff again, and if you slip it back into the bowl, he'll know. He once decided he had to stop eating his favorite chocolate chip cookies because the color of the package changed.
All we can do, then, is keep trying to convince him that sitting on the toilet is okay, that it is, in fact, preferable, that he would like it more and we would like it more and what's bad about that?
He is, as I said, making progress. And, as we work on it, I'm looking on the bright side. It may be 30 seconds at a time, but I'm getting lots of reading done.