(Here’s a little something I wrote as an audition for Listen To Your Mother. Alas, I didn’t make the cut. However, I will come to your house and perform a live reading in exchange for wine.)
When I first began dating the man who would become my husband, I worked hard to maintain the illusion that I was exempt from certain bodily functions. I never passed gas in his presence, and defecation took place only in the privacy of my own bathroom, which was safely separated from his apartment by seven miles, ten subway stops, and the East River.
I long for those decorous times. Today, Steven and I are the parents of a three-and-a-half-year-old and a one-year-old, and poop is an essential part of our daily lives. When we’re not physically handling it, we’re talking about it: Who did it, and how many times? What was the color and consistency? If I had to guess my most frequently uttered phrase, it would probably be: “Did somebody poop in here?”
We used to swirl wine in thin-stemmed glasses and inhale its bouquet; now we hoist babies into the air and bury our noses in their butts.
It’s not that I’m squeamish about it, but it does get old after a while. And sometimes it gets ugly. Like the time the baby had a blowout while sitting in his ExerSaucer, and his feet were slipping and sliding in the poop that had escaped from his diaper. Or the poop that transformed our bathtub into a toxic waste site. But the one that still haunts us is The Lobster House Incident of 2014.
We were on a family vacation in Cape May, and my parents had taken us to dinner at one of their favorite seafood restaurants. I was six months pregnant with our second child, and our son Theo was two. I had decided to go nautical for the occasion and had dressed him in a striped T-shirt and white pants. That’s right: White. Pants.
We were only a couple of minutes into our meal when Theo paused, his face scrunched up in concentration. I leaned toward him and whispered, “Are you pooping?” His reply was a half-grunted “Yeah.”
Theo was still in diapers at the time, so it wasn’t a big deal. Steven stood up to change him in the men’s room, and I reached into my bag for a diaper. I panicked for a moment when I realized that I’d accidentally left the rest of the changing kit back at the house. But my mom produced half a packet of wet naps and we were saved. Or so I thought.
When ten minutes passed with no sign of Steven and Theo, I went to investigate. I ran into them coming toward me in the waiting area. My husband was sweating, and our son wasn’t wearing pants.
“We have to leave, right now,” Steven said. “We can’t go back in there. There’s shit everywhere…”
I looked around. Our fellow patrons were making no attempt to hide their interest in our conversation.
“It’s on my hands, on his legs, in his shoes, on the car…”
“Wait,” I said. “On the car?”
“There wasn’t a changing table in the men’s room so I went to change him in the back of the car,” he said. “But then I realized I didn’t have the keys so I changed him on the hood.”
I looked at Theo. He sat happily in Steven’s arms, unfazed by the recent trauma and unperturbed by his lack of pants. I dashed back into the dining room to grab the car keys and explain the situation to my parents.
Our car was a ghastly sight: brown smears streaked the hood, and in the center of it all an overflowing diaper slumped like an exploded bag of chunky peanut butter. I dug a few old tissues out of my purse and we scraped the whole mess into a plastic bag.
There are many things the pre-parent me never could have imagined I would do once I had kids. Scraping human feces off the hood of my car in a restaurant parking lot tops that list.
More than a year and a half has passed, but the Incident remains fresh in our minds. Both Steven and our Subaru have been permanently scarred. My takeaway: never leave the house without a change of pants. Also, we haven’t eaten at a seafood restaurant since.
Theo is almost completely potty trained now, but the baby still has a long way to go. And, as much as I look forward to the day when my kids’ excrement is no longer my responsibility, I don’t want to wish away their baby- and toddler-hood, which is, of course, passing much too quickly.
I remind myself that changing poop is probably one of the easiest labors of love I will perform as their mother. It’s pretty simple, really: remove diaper, wipe bottom, problem solved. I know as they get older and face more complicated challenges, I won’t always be able to help them.
I will try to keep this in mind the next time I find myself scrubbing poop out of yet another pair of Star Wars underpants, or when I’m too slow to stop the baby’s foot from landing splat in the middle of a soiled diaper on the changing table. I will also try to be patient the next time one of them barges in on me when I’m in the bathroom, which is pretty much every time.
And I will never, ever, dress my kids in white pants again.