By Kate Kole
If my neighbors happened to look out their window that sunny December morning, they likely caught sight of me crying while picking up dog poop in our backyard.
It was approximately 11:47 a.m. and it had already been a day. Or rather, it had been four days. Four long days since I announced that we were ditching the diapers and starting the dreaded experience of potty training.
“Are you sure you want to start now?” My husband asked hesitantly before heading into his home office.
“There’s no good time,” I replied. It’s like the idea of starting Whole30. Once you consider birthdays and holidays and plain old Mondays, the stars just never completely align.
First, our son was too young. Then, I was pregnant again. Then, we had a newborn. If we were waiting for the perfect opportunity to potty train, our children would be in diapers for the foreseeable future, if not the next 18 years.
I’d read the blogs, listened to the podcasts, stocked up on the essentials, and texted the moms that came before me. With two full bags of m&ms in the pantry (mini for #1 and regular for #2, in case you were wondering) ready or not, I was committed.
96 hours later, I did not feel committed.
I felt exhausted, defeated, and disappointed. Not in my son, but in myself.
Accidents will happen, the experts said. It’s your job as a parent to stay calm.
Calm? With poop on the floor, door, and baseboards and a toddler screaming in my face?
“Dan!” I screeched to my husband, across the house.
Our two-and-a-half-year-old cried as he held onto me.
“Dan, I need your help!” I yelled again.
JJ cried harder and squeezed tighter.
There’s a line in a Llama Llama book that has become a running joke in our household. Llama joyfully exclaims, “Things are going really well today.” I’ve taken to reciting it as the dogs eat half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich off the high chair while the kids have dueling meltdowns. More often than not, the cathartic release of sarcasm keeps my own tantrums at bay. This time, it didn’t work. I could feel the sting of tears threatening to escape me.
Stay calm, the voices on the internet teased. I cackled crazily as I carried our son upstairs to his dad for a bath. Passing him off like a football without a play call, I scurried back downstairs to clean up the mess awaiting me.
Once I finished scrubbing the bathroom, I continued on my quest to rid our property of all its poop. I imagined how ridiculous I must look, squatting and sobbing, picking up one pile after another.
My mind flashed back to a few nights before. My friend had reached out to see how our first day of potty training had gone.
“All in all, I think it was good,” I said, going into far more detail than even our pediatrician would desire. “I just don’t want him to be scared or emotionally overwhelmed by it.”
I cringed considering what today’s recap would sound like. “We held onto one another in the bathroom, screaming, with poop smeared across the hardwood floors.” So much for making sure that it wasn’t a traumatizing experience.
My tears, I realized, had little to do with hiccups in potty training and more to do with my own glaring flaws that it felt were being exposed. I was ashamed for becoming impatient. I was frustrated that I couldn’t seem to match the perfect image of parenting that I had painted in my mind.
I’m acutely aware of the mistakes I make in mothering. I feel bad as I scroll distractedly through my phone with my kids playing on the floor in front of me. Judgement rises as I serve pancakes for 2 of 3 meals. I often find myself wishing that I could be as fun as I am clean.
When we found out our second baby was a girl, I knew instantly that I wanted her middle name to be Grace. I had spent so much of my life trying to earn my keep through good grades, good deeds, and good reputation.
My dream for my daughter was that she would feel her inherent worth. I hoped that in spite of mistakes she would make, failure she would experience, and worldly rejection she would inevitably face, that she would know the gift of unconditional love.
Each time I say her full name, the invitation of mercy washes over me. Nothing I need to accomplish, no one I need to become, no perfection I need to achieve, to be worthy.
When we chose Grace as Callie’s middle name, I imagined the big moments it would be bestowed upon her. The time she might stand staring at a roster that she didn’t make or be heartbroken from a breakup that she didn’t initiate.
I wasn’t envisioning the millions of little ways it would be woven throughout her days. When her morning coffee becomes cold before she has a chance to taste it and the dirty dishes in the sink are more plentiful than her patience. When she spends an afternoon staring at the time, longing for the clock hand to move more quickly and she’s left out of a conversation in the lunchroom. Or, when she’s regretfully crying while picking up dog poop in the yard.
My wish for her is that she will feel as deserving of love and forgiveness on her darkest days as she does on her best.
I came inside from cleaning up and headed to my closet. Within the silence of its walls, I took a few deep breaths and wiped my eyes before walking to my toddler’s room with my invisible tail between my legs to see if we could hit the reset button on the afternoon.
Out of the tub, he sprinted happily to see me. His arms wrapped around my legs as if the last hour hadn’t happened. I gently reached my hand out to sweep his wild blonde curls across his forehead.
“Hi Sweetie,” I whispered, kneeling down for our faces to meet. “I’m sorry I got so worked up earlier. I love you and I’m proud of you. Do you forgive me?”
He nodded and ran to his little sister’s room, grabbing a book for me to read. Plopping his bare buns down on the couch, he patted the cushion next to him, motioning for me to sit down.
I studied him for a moment. Entirely unfazed by the morning, he excitedly opened the front flap of his book and looked to me to begin reciting its pages.
All was forgiven, if not forgotten. It felt like the kind of grace that only Jesus and a toddler know how to offer so freely.