Having never had a child, I have never potty-trained another human being. And having never had a puppy… until now, I have never potty-trained another LIVING being. To quote Coldplay, “nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard.” Wowzers, I am being challenged in ways I never expected. And my shame is being triggered in ways I never thought to anticipate.
Oscar is partially potty-trained – he can sleep all night with no problems, which is wonderful, and sometimes he goes to the door to let me know he has to go out, also wonderful. But when it comes to consistently communicating his needs to relieve himself, well, let’s just say we’re working on it. I have been on near-constant “potty watch” since we brought him home 4+ weeks ago. I am continuously observing his behavior, looking and listening for signs that he has to go so I can usher him outside and avoid accidents in the house. And for the most part, I have been successful. But anyone who truly knows me knows I do not focus on “for the most part.” I focus on the other parts – the parts that have NOT been successful. It’s just what I do. And unfortunately, but as is the case with a puppy (so I have been told many many times), there have been mishaps. Just when I think we are making lots of progress and Oscar is really getting this potty training thing, we take a step back, and even if several days have gone by without any accidents, I find myself becoming really discouraged when the mishaps occur and I let those bring me down. I start to feel like a failure, and those ugly words creep into my mind… you’re never going to succeed at this. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re doing it all wrong. Who do you think you are?
I google how to potty train your puppy, how long should it take to potty train your puppy, am I the only one failing at potty training my puppy (just kidding on the last one… for now…) in an attempt to figure out the exact magic formula for getting Oscar 100% potty trained FOREVER, just to feel like a colossal failure when ooops, he did it again. There I am, on my knees over the puddle on the rug or hardwood floor, spraying the enzyme cleaner and scrubbing like crazy in desperate hope of ridding the area of any scent that could attract him in the future, and feeling like a colossal failure. And then the shame gremlins attack. You’re never going to get this. Just give up and let him pee in the house. You’re doing it all wrong.
Why do I fall into this shame trap? WHY, when we have had WAY more successes than failures, do I let those failures affect me so much? Well, I think it’s because I have come to expect the failures. Ouch. That hurt to write. But gosh, it’s true. It’s true! Whether it’s potty training my puppy, building a successful business, making macarons like the perfect specimens I ate in Paris, writing a book, re-learning how to play the piano, mending a broken relationship, being the person I want to be… I am far less successful than I let myself hope… or maybe the truth is that I am far less successful than I think I should be… so when I stumble, it hurts. It hurts so much that I want to quit. I want to forget I ever had that idea to do that thing or act that way in the first place. Just give up, I tell myself. Of course, I can’t really do this with a new puppy in my care – nor do I truly want to – but I can and have done it with other things throughout my life. I have let the discouragement keep me from pressing on. I have let the self-doubt convince me that there is no point in continuing. I’ll never succeed anyway.
But then this morning, as I found myself kneeling on the floor scrubbing the rug and feeling completely dejected (after several days of successes, I might add!), I was reminded of some encouragement that God knew I needed in times of discouragement and self-doubt. A couple of weeks ago I read a blog post written by Andrea Lucado. Andrea is the daughter of Max Lucado, a noted Christian author and brilliant (in my opinion), insightful man. Max’s works have helped me through some incredibly difficult days, and I am finding that his daughter’s words are having the same effect. When I read her honest and vulnerable words recounting the self-doubt and fear she has surrounding the book she is writing, I felt a deep connection. Me too, I thought. I struggle with this. I am not alone. And in that moment, I found the encouragement I needed to keep going. Keep working with Oscar. Keep writing. Keep practicing. Keep baking. Keep trying to build a bridge and not a wall. Keep. Going.
There’s no good reason for me to feel ashamed of my failures with potty training Oscar. I know he is not pottying on the floor to prove that I am a terrible puppy mommy – this innocent and adorable creature is just doing what he knows to do, and even though he is learning what he is supposed to do, he will make mistakes, just like I will. Despite knowing that, though, I have felt ashamed of myself every time he has pottied in the house. I should have been watching more closely. I should have interpreted his whimpering as “I need to go potty, mommy” even when the same whimpering frequently means “I want to play, mommy” or “I’m hungry, mommy” or “I want to sit on the couch with you, mommy.” Seriously, how could I NOT know that THIS time the whimpering meant potty, is what I think. But instead of feeling shame that I failed again, maybe I should recognize this as what it is: my own ridiculous perfectionist expectations. And perhaps I should just kick those out the door and out of my mind. After all, I’ve never had a puppy before! I’m just trying to do my best every day and hope for a little bit of forward progress. Just like in all of those other areas of my life. Forward progress is better than no progress is better than backward progress. And as long as I keep going, I’m making forward progress.
This puppy and a gifted writer are teaching me some valuable lessons. I’m blessed to have both, and more determined than ever to keep going.