The Sniff Test

Who knew parenting would smell so bad?

Of all the indignities which are visited on us by motherhood, I vote that the sniff test is the worst.

You know: that horrid and humiliating practice we moms have of putting our noses way up close to the most gut-lurchingly awful things in order to correctly diagnose a predicament.

I have become one of those people. 

I remember being pregnant with my eldest and attending a baby shower where one of the ice-breaker games involved a number of diapers with various types of chocolate smeared inside them. Bending low, we took deep sniffs and giggled as we scribbled: “milky way”, “reeses”, “junior mints”. Imagine eating that, we thought. Hardy har har.

My newborn smelled nothing like that chocolatey mess. Her head was pure heaven: baby and angel and natural and breathtaking. I sniffed her head like a hormone-addled addict. I tried not to think about where she’d just come from and why she might smell so good… but there was just nothing like the smell of her newborn head.

Input leads to output, as the lactation consultant euphemistically quipped, and pretty soon our sweet-smelling newborn was producing plenty of regular ‘output’. I took mental notes watching my adept-with-infants mom whose babies had all used cloth diapers: to check if a baby was wet, she would hold the baby up to her chest and gently feel inside the leg hold of the diaper to check the moisture level. Was baby wet? Yes? Grandma was quick to supply a dry outfit.

I followed my mom’s trick once, twice, three times. With the “stay dry” diaper technology, my baby always seemed dry enough. And then there was that paradigm-shifting fourth time – when I reached my finger into her little diaper to check for wetness, and was met with an immediate and sickening squelch. I pulled a bright yellow finger out, yowling for SOMEBODY TO GET ME A WIPE!

That was the day I started the sniff test.

It was cumbersome to get a winter-born baby sufficiently unbundled to see what was happening in their diaper, and far too dangerous to feel  what was going on down there – so I became one of those people I had always silently judged for their Public Acts of Grossness. When I suspected that there was some output activity (<— see how tactful that was?), I would lift my baby high in the air and press my nose to her cushy tush. Relying on the science of olfactory sensitivity – it never took long to diagnose disaster.

Quick. Clean. Efficient. And still: totally gross.

I think what surprises me, though, is that seven years later, I am still doing the sniff test, and it just gets grosser. 

Has this shirt been worn? (Let me smell)

Have these underpants been worn? (Let me smell)

What are you drinking? (Let me smell)

Did you make it to the potty on time or did you drip just enough to make you smell like a truckstop urinal? (Let me smell)

How long have you had milk in that cup? (Let me smell)

“Oh…. that’s what that smell is. Let Mommy get that moldy apple/old yogurt/soiled pair of shorts/dead mouse out of here…”

Ew. ew. ew.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. A friend and I were lamenting recently that we preferred the old Bible translations renditions of ‘patience’ as ‘long-suffering’ – because at least the latter admitted that what we were enduring was both suffering, and it was taking loooong. Parenting requires long-suffering. And encouragement. And a sense of humor. And lots of deep breaths.

Just don’t make them too deep.


48 Tips from the World’s Worst Potty Trainer (A Cautionary Tale)


Did you know I am the Worst Potty Trainer In The World? With an average toilet training time of 22 months/child, I dare you to challenge my title. I’m a firm believer of learning from others’ mistakes, so as someone who has made every possible mistake in potty training, I thought I’d share them with you as a cautionary tale.

Follow closely. Each step is important.

  1. Read widely before you begin. Create a Pinterest board and title it “Potty Training Tips”. Knowledge of the options is crucial for success.  
  2. Start when they are infants – practice ‘elimination communication’, whereby you learn to read (and anticipate) your kid’s body cues. (I was dead in the water on this one, since I never even managed to tell the difference between a tired cry or a hungry cry. It all just sounded like crying to me.)
  3. Start with they are 18 months: walking, communicating, and showing an interest in imitating you. Do not wait: it will be harder later.
  4. Start with they are 2 1/2, when they have better language and body awareness. Do not start before this: you will stress them out.
  5. Start with they are 3 1/2, when they can remove their own shorts and the threat of never being able to go to preschool forces you into panic. Do not start before this: you will stress them out.
  6. Take your cue from your child. They will tell you when they are ready.
  7. Post your decision on when to potty train on Facebook. Solicit dozens of unwanted opinions.
  8. You can potty train in one day if you do it right (notice: it’s all on you.) Prepare for the day with books, training DVDs and lots of exaggerated facial movements about the thrills of going potty. Have them train their teddy bear first. Then, on one day: banish the underwear and hold potty boot camp. Be persistent. They’ll get it by the end of the day…. if you did it right.
  9. Potty train in three days. Choose a weekend when you are not distracted and have your kiddo be nakey nakey all weekend. Involve all the stuffed animals and siblings in the Great Weekend of Potty Training. Be persistent. They’ll get it by the end of the weekend… if you did it right.
  10. Potty train when they’re ready. You’ll know when they’re ready because it will work. This makes complete sense… if you read the literature right.
  11. Let them run wild and free while training.
  12. Have them wear pull-ups while training.
  13. Let the diapers continue while training.
  14. Big-kid underwear from the get-go! The pride of getting it right as a “big kid” is a powerful motivator!
  15. Don’t be afraid to let them go back into diapers: what’s another couple hundred of trees in the landfill?
  16. Be persistent! Once you’re doing this, you’re doing this! If you communicate that regression is an option, your kid will turn it into power play.
  17. Be flexible! If your kid isn’t ready, listen and try again later.
  18. Bribery is brilliant: offer a treat for each successful tinkle. If you’re feeling extra motivated, offer two treats for number twos. The logic is lost on kids, but makes total sense to the one who has to wash out soiled underwear.
  19. Avoid bribery: it will be hard to undo the sugar-reward habit later.
  20. Use stickers instead.
  21. Don’t use stickers – they stick them on furniture.
  22. Star charts are awesome motivators.
  23. Except when they aren’t. For us, this is about day 3.
  24. Do whatever it takes: read books or sing songs or let them play with the iPad to keep them on there long enough for a “win” while they’re busy.
  25. Beware: kids are smart. All of mine figured out how to turn “I need to go potty” into a gratuitous story-reading time, without ever producing the “deliverables”.
  26. Let them watch potty training DVD’s. This does not count as ‘screen time’ because #educational.
  27. Make up a potty cheer. “Happy pee on the potty to you” (to the tone of ‘Happy Birthday’) is good in a pinch.
  28. Be prepared to have to sing your cheer of choice, at volume, in public places. Prepare to have to sing it more than once.
  29. Post your decisions on how to potty train to Facebook. Solicit dozens of unwanted opinions. As an Imgurian over 30 this is how I feel when I read
  30. Start potty training in the summer, so they can practice outside.
  31. Start potty training in the winter, when you’re cooped up anyway.
  32. Important: start potty training when YOU are ready to tackle it.
  33. MOST important: start potty training when your CHILD is ready to tackle it.
  34. Invest in a potty chair, and think carefully about what kind of ceremonial ritual you will devise to celebrate its arrival in1B5548278-tdy-130116-ipotty-1.blocks_desktop_smallto your house. If the literature is to be believed, the success of potty training is causally related to how much hoopla you can raise about a kid getting their VERY OWN mini-throne. If you get one with a built in DVD, all the more power to you (see #26).
  35. Don’t bother with a potty chair: invest in a step stool and have them sit on the main throne. They will feel more grown-up and it will make it easier to transition to public restrooms.
  36. Teach boys to pee sitting down: so much less mess.
  37. Teach boys to pee standing up: aiming for cheerios is such a great incentive.
  38. Figure out as a couple whether you are going for sitting-down or standing-up before you engage in Operation Potty Train. In my experience, those who have to clean the bathroom usually opt for #36. Dads usually opt for #37. (Because it’s so much fun to demo. And apparently some things never get old.)
  39. Make potty training fun! Hype it up as a coming of age thing!
  40. Make potty training just “one of the things you learn to do” – the less hype there is, the less pressure there is on the kid to perform, and the less power play leverage you give them.
  41. If things aren’t going well: keep reading widely and pinning madly to research other best methods. Pin this. You may need it if all the other advice from those who succeeded doesnt pan out and you need to know that you weren’t the worst potty trainer in the world.
  42. If someone says their method worked for them, it must have some merit to it. Keep a tally of how guilty you feel each time there’s an accident: that accident probably means you were doing it wrong.
  43. Try not to feel guilty, though. It’s not about you.
  44. If your plan isn’t working: try something new, or try some other time.
  45. But WHATEVER YOU DO: be consistent!
  46. No matter what kind of diapers you chose, for potty training make sure you invest in 3-fold cloth diapers: they are by FAR the most absorbent cloths for cleaning up spills. There is no paper towel which is worthy for this trial. None. Bounty, be gone.
  47. Ask for hugs. For you, not your kid. Potty training is hard and demoralizing and sometimes makes you feel you have an angry, panicked, crazy person living in your head.
  48. Ignore all this advice, except for #46 and #47.

Trust me.

And now, I’m going to print out my list and study it closely (see tip #1), because it seems to me my third kid is about ready to jump onto the potty training wagon, which means I’m bracing myself for another 22 months of insanity…

Rest in Pieces


I knew, I knew, I knew it was going to happen, and yet I did not see it coming.

It started with a Saturday morning errand to get a new comforter for our bed. Which took us to IKEA. Where it seemed like the right time to consider getting our 4 year old a twin-sized bed. Which meant buying him a bed. And linen. And a mattress. Which meant an afternoon spent assembling the bed. Which meant 3 kids horsing around as we worked, and one eager little boy climbing into his crib to get a better view, and jumping with glee. And then trying to climb out again, but falling instead and narrowly missing hitting his head against the edge of his brother’s shiny-new-bigger-bed…

Which made us wonder if maybe the bed we should be getting rid of was the crib, rather than the toddler bed. Which meant dismantling the crib and presenting the toddler bed to a wild-with-joy near-2-year-old.

And then, seeing the crib resting in pieces against the wall, resting in peace after 6 years of holding my babies as they slept – I began to sob.

The past months have seen a slow trickle of baby gear from our house: the high chair is gone, the baby toys given away. It’s been a while since we had a play mat for “tummy time”, and the nursing pillow which was never further than an arms’ reach away is now miles away cradling a new infant in a new home.

Three is our number. This body of mine will not be growing or nursing any more littles. I will not breastfeed again, I will not welcome another newborn into my home and my heart. The first solids have been eaten; the first steps have been taken; the first words have been spoken. My babies are growing up.

And although I knew it was coming, I sobbed… for there is an ache, a tender moment of silence in acknowledging that a season is finished. It was a precious, beautiful season: I learned to love in a way I never dreamed possible, and my own soulish developmental milestones tracked each of their physical ones. I learned the comfort of a new community of young parents: the fellowship of the sleep deprived and ever-ready. Last month I saw an online group of “New Parents in Whoville”, and I knew that that was a group I could not join: it is a group of which I am now an alumnus.

Been there, done that, got the spit-up-stained T-shirt.

I would not take it back. I love my little one’s new found freedom: his personality is unfolding and we are delighted with his delight at conquering his little world. I would not have him be a crawler or a nurser or waking up five times a night. I love that the older ones can read and help and tell jokes and understand puns. Their growth amazes and delights me.

And yet, it seemed fitting to rest my head on the crib frame and cry a while: grateful for years past, for sweetnesses remembered, for lessons learned. It is a joyful ache. My babies are growing up, and this is the neither the first or the last time we will salute the bittersweet change of seasons. Life goes on. It is a good thing: I welcome the growth and look forward to the future. But I don’t want to run too fast either: this past season was a sweet one despite the exhaustion.

God met me in the nursery on more occasions than I can number, and so just for a moment: I cry with gratitude for yesterday’s mercies, even as I welcome the mercies of tomorrow.

The Best Parenting Tip You’ve Never Heard Of…

A beautiful smiling baby wrapped in a furry green blanket

I am something of a mommy magpie: I keep a beady eye out for excellent mommy tricks, and when I see a shiny-mommy-skill, I nab it.

I confess to nabbing all sorts of tips to put in my mommy-bag-of-tricks: I thieve tips from online mamas, friend mamas, my own mama, stranger-in-the-park mamas, literary mamas. And Claire Huxtable. She gets her own category.

My mama-toolbelt is stuffed with pilfered mommy tricks, all nicked from other clever mamas. Except for one mama trick, which yours truly stumbled on all by myself. It has become one of the most used weapons in my maternal armory. I call it the “how many kisses” tool. It works particularly well for the 2-6 age group, and is useful for any of those situations where there are preschooler tears for not-so-serious injuries (they are called “owies” in our family)

Here is how it works: wailing toddler runs into the kitchen brandishing his freshly bumped finger. I triage the injury and assess it to be not-band-aid-worthy. However, seeking to acknowledge the hurt and appease the wailing, I give my kid some options (because options are the holy grail of parenting small kids, right?) and so I say:

“Owie! I’m sorry that happened to you! Do you think that needs two kisses or three?”

Thoughtful kiddo considers his injury. If he’s feeling brave, he takes two. If he is still smarting, he chooses three. But WITHOUT FAIL, the wailing stops, and after the chosen number of kisses have been administered, he runs off smiling again.

For some reason, the choice of number of kisses works better than just saying “let me kiss it better”, which is sometimes construed by savvy preschoolers as being brushed off (because that’s exactly what it is).

But getting to choose the number of kisses works! Oh it works! My kids feel their hurt was duly acknowledged, and the moment is over. For worse bumps and bruises, I sometimes offer ice and/or kisses. My 3 year old will now sometimes run in and let me know what he needs right off the bat: “I bonked my head and I need ice and FIVE KISSES!!” Oh honey, ice and five kisses coming right up.

P.s. one more extra add-on to this trick. My eldest is a little more theatrical sensitive, and sometimes the crying is not done by the time the healing kisses have been administered. In those circumstances I usually play my trump card: the mistaken kiss. Either I give one too many kisses and then insist that I gave too many and try to snatch one back, or I kiss the wrong place and say “oh no! That’s not where the owie was!”, and pretend to snatch the kiss back from the wrong place before delivering the final kiss to the site of the owie. Somehow, the snatched kiss always gets a giggle. It hasn’t failed me once yet.

So there you go, mama magpies. If you think my trick is shiny, feel free to put it in your bag. Because you know I’ve got my eye on your shiny tricks too….

Don’t hijack my rainbow!

Princess castle cakes. Airplane cakes. Green dragon cakes. My Mom could make them all. Every childhood birthday was celebrated with a creative masterpiece made of cake and frosting.

I did not inherit the culinary-awesomeness gene, and so when my daughter requested a “rainbow party” for her birthday, I was more than a little relieved. Foods in ROYGBIV? Cherry Tomatoes, Oranges, Pineapple, Green Grapes, Blueberries and Juice – DONE! Rainbow Cake? Easy to arrange. Party decor? A few colored streamers here and there – DONE! I was getting excited.

But then the questions began: “Are you really going to throw a rainbow party in this (very liberal, very LGBT-friendly) town?” “Do you think that’s really (deep breath and hushed tones) … appropriate?


Me: “but it’s a birthday party for a 2-year old!”

Concerned friend: “I know, but…. it’s a rainbow party, and you know what rainbows represent.”

I do know what rainbows represent. Rainbows are a sign of God’s promise to us, of His continued commitment to His creation. That blessed mingling of refracted light in suspended water is our visual “wedding ring” – it’s a sign of His promise.

South Africa may use rainbows to celebrate it being a “rainbow nation” – a multi-ethnic country. The LGBT community may use rainbows to celebrate gay pride. The Irish may use rainbows in their folklore to direct people to leprechauns and pots of gold. But none of them get to hijack the rainbow.

Rainbows don’t belong to South Africa, leprechauns or the gay community. They belong to God.

The miracle of DNA doesn’t belong to science. It was crafted by God.

Sex doesn’t belong to Hollywood. It was invented by God.

Truth isn’t determined by courts. It is spoken by God.

Music doesn’t belong to iTunes. It existed with God in eternity.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” – Psalm 24:1

“Every good and perfect gift comes from God above.” – James 1:17

We had a rainbow party. It was awesome.


Don’t let anyone hijack your rainbows. Joy, truth, beauty, mathematics, music, the rain that falls from the sky… it’s all from Him and through Him and to Him.