The Gift of Low Expectations: How to Survive Any Errand with Kids

This was me 10 minutes before we headed off to the grocery store. Yep, hiding from my bickering, tantruming, antsy, nap-skipping kids. So, how did I survive a grocery store run with all three mischievous minions in tow? Low expectations.


Don’t get me wrong I love my kids. I mourned when I thought we couldn’t have our own children. I lament their return to school each fall and celebrate our time together. But some days… woo! Some days I hit a point after 500 snack requests, 20 sibling melees, 3 missing sock expeditions (only to find 1 in the toilet, another on the kitchen table, and 1 forever unfound), and an outing gone awry, that I feel the innate need to hide from my offspring. I’ll quietly slip into a room, close the door, and listen with equally anxious anticipation for the sound of incurred injury or approaching footsteps.

And so, yesterday, after I hid from my children for 5 calming minutes, I made the fateful decision to take my crew to the grocery store.  Because what else did I have to lose?

Had my ever-mothering mind gone berserk? Likely. However, I was armed with something so powerfully self-preserving that no childish onslaughts could undo me: a low bar.

That’s right. I entered the afternoon grocery run fully aware of my fate. I had low expectations, so diminished that simply surviving the errand would stand as a win. This would be a shit show. I owned it.

We shuffled through pre-leaving routine: pottying, pants finding, sock hunting, shoe retrieving, shoe fixing and re-fixing (because despite having only two feet, my 4-year-old can put his shoes on the incorrect feet 6 times in a row), and finally leaving. As I waited for my eldest to get buckled, I texted my dear fellow mom friend and told her of my expectation that my middle son would lose cart privileges before we ever left the produce section. My inkling that my eldest would publicly release a (understandable) fury of frustration upon her irksome younger brothers. My awareness that pushing my toddler in the shopping cart would be akin to maneuvering a rabid kleptomaniacal octopus through narrow aisles of glass jars and delicate produce. This would be a disaster. I knew it. I felt it in my bones. I didn’t dread it. I didn’t fear it. My shame had been whittled down by 6 years of parenthood. I had nothing left to lose but my patience. Her knowing response: “Good luck.”

And so we went. And so the trip descended into chaotic mayhem, with my uncoordinated 6-year-old attempting to simultaneously read a book and walk through the wine section, my 4-year-old hanging in a backbend off of the side of the cart despite my constant reminders that he shouldn’t because his head would get smushed, and my 2-year-old releasing random shrill shrieks just for the hell of it.

At one point, my 6-year-old took to poking plastic bags of bread “because it’s squishy” as my 2-year-old attempted to throw his shoes out of the cart. Then, as I turned to pick up the one jar I needed in the aisle, my 6- and 4-year-olds took off down the pasta aisle in a foot race. Yes, full-on discombobulated running complete with jabbing chicken wing elbows down the grocery aisle of dried noodle and glass-encased marinara. Who does that? Are they new here?

Then, as we reached the furthest back portion of the store: “Need pee-pee! Potty!” Shouts my potty-training 2-year-old. So we haul ass to the front of the store. Every few feet I rerun the kid count: 1-2-3, 1-2… where’s 3? “We’re not buying Fritos. Better catch up or find a new family!” Then we hit a slow moving herd with grandma pushing the shopping cart. They were the hair-ball to the shower drain. As I envisioned a deluge of toddler pee pouring from the shopping cart, I bobbed and weaved pushing my car-shaped cart through the clog, leaving my older two to either follow or flounder: “Better keep up! Your brother has to pee!” I yelled back to them.

We made it. He peed. In the potty. Then there was a meltdown over the hand dryer, but that’s normal. Well, our normal.

Back to the cart we returned. We finished or shopping, skidding into a register lane with the grace of a three-legged water buffalo. There were candy grabs, sibling squabbles, fussing, and “Are we done yet?”s, but we survived. I loaded the minivan and as I shut the trunk door, I felt accomplished. I survived the shit show. I was still smiling. I was certainly laughing. All thanks to my low expectations.

Potty-training Tips

After potty-training two of my three children — 1 boy and 1 girl — and beginning to introduce the venture to my third child, I have learned more than I thought I would ever want to know about potty-training. Through my own, as well as others’, mistakes and successes, my knowledge base has expanded. I’m no potty-training expert but I’ve certainly gleaned experience. If you want my real, raw toilet-training tips, read on.

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In throws of pantless potty-training #2

Pre-potty-training is a great first step, if you’re granted the opportunity. Begin introducing toileting during usual urination times — such as first thing in the morning, before naptime, after naptime, before baths, and before bed — on a standard toilet. (Why add an extra step to the process by having to wean off of a tiny potty? Why make public toileting dramatic? Why add “rinse feces from plastic toilet” to your to-do list? Just start on the real thing.) Next, start introducing toileting when you are using the facilities, whether at home or in public.

If the trainee produces, praise. If nothing is produced, quickly move along. No need to pressure. This is simply an introduction to potty usage. Once your trainee shows readiness to potty-train, I suggest these basic steps.

1) Go underwear shopping. Take the trainee to select his/her new underwear. (Buy 3 more packs than you think you’ll need. Trust me.) While you’re at the store, stock up on all-surface and fabric cleaner. You’re going to need it.

2) Box up the diapers. No more absorbent undergarments during waking hours (except in the case of deuce drama… more on that later.) Naps and nighttime are different. Bladder control while sleeping is an entirely separate milestone.

3) Go under house arrest. Don’t tempt fate. Keep things simple. Stay home for the first 3-5 days of potty-training, based on your child’s progress. If you can schedule potty-training to start over a long-weekend, do it! Devote the time to hydration (water, juice, ice-pops, soup), frequent toileting, excessive praise, lots of bio-hazard clean up, and laundry.

4) Hide the blankets. Dress-ups, blankets, throw-pillows, stuffed animals, doll clothes, area rugs, and unsecured fabric within your trainee’s immediate reach during waking hours must be stored away. Got a boy? Tie up those drapes! Lest you feel like memorizing all of their washing instructions. Oh, and secure the air vents if your tot has a y-chromosome. Who knew peeing down an air shaft would be so enjoyable?

5) Think like you’re pregnant. Visit the lavatory every 20 minutes and upon entry and exit of every establishment. What if you just toileted before exiting a restaurant and pop over to the craft store just five minutes down the road? Still give pottying a go. Better safe than sorry! Bladders have terrible timing, like when you’re midway through loading your groceries onto the cashier’s conveyor belt on a busy afternoon or when you’re in the midst of a PAP smear. Frequent restroom stops are the best way to avoid public bladder deluges and dicey toilet sprints.

6) Pack an entire spare outfit. You’ve probably stepped down from full-on diaper bag to “mom purse” by now. Potty-training means it’s time to dust off the big tote! When I say pack an entire ensemble, I’m talking down to the shoes. Trust me. Be sure to have wipes and a bag big enough to hold an entire soiled outfit. You don’t want to walk through the crowded mall carrying your shoe-less tot wrapped in a coat toga while lugging paper towel wrapped, urine soaked clothes. From personal experience, I’ll assure you it’s unpleasant.

7) Incontinence pads save car seats. Place an adhesive incontinence pad on the seat portion of the trainee’s car seat. It won’t shield everything, but it’s better than no protection. Removing the trainee’s pants for car rides is a bonus precaution, as changing underpants is far easier than changing the lower half of an outfit.

8) Have a Plan B. Devise a car trip potty plan. Are you cool with popping a squat on the side of the road using the car door and a windshield shade as impromptu outhouse walls? Would you prefer to use a portable potty or stash a large empty bottle in the car for bladder emergencies? Think ahead. Traffic happens. So does urine. Think ahead to poop too. Emergency Pull-up? Two bags folded over an empty sand pail? The old Boy Scout dirt latrine? Ponder your options before crap happens.

9) Don’t push poop. If your kid pees fine on the potty but is averse to dropping a deuce in the bowl, let him hide under the table and poop in a Pull-up. Seriously, ask any parent who has experienced poop withholding drama if changing a feces-smeared Pull-up once a day or 10 days of self-inflicted constipation is better. Guaranteed answer: “Give the kid a Pull-up!” Your child will not go to college with a stash of Depends, hunkering under his dorm desk to take a crap. If, for some reason, you are genuinely concerned about that possibility, consult your pediatrician. Toilet training therapists exist and do wonders for children who have a hard time letting go.

10) Accept that it’s going to be imperfect. Potty-training is not a straight-line progression. Just know that. There will be regressions and gross, embarrassing, long phases you think will never end. There will be months when you cannot have outsiders in your home because it is a pantsless, bio-hazard war zone. You will read more books on a tile floor than you ever thought you could. You will cheer for production in public facilities. You will use restrooms in which you suspect breathing will cause you to contract a venereal disease. You will lose any shred of pride you had left. You will know which venues have the best — and worst — public facilities. You will clean up pee in public. Your house will feel like a port-a-potty. You will wash entire loads of laundry almost fully comprised of miniature pants and underwear. There will be a shrewd underwear assessment scale for determining whether to toss or wash. One day your pissing, shitting, pants-averse heathen spawn will be able to wear the same underwear for a whole day without soiling it in some form or another. One day this will end. You will survive. You can do this!