Yesterday I heard comedian and writer Marc Maron tell “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross that he had waded out of his dysfunctional upbringing, deep into middle age, only to discover that he’d like to offer his much younger girlfriend the gift of a child.
“Don’t do it!” I found myself screaming at the radio. “You’ll be cleaning fecal matter out from under your fingernails for the next seven years!”
I’m not even talking about diapers, which are revolting enough. But new parents are so sleep deprived and their infants’ needs so persistent that this stage blurs in memory, rendering it somehow more palatable.
I sat on the floor for the first year of our twins’ lives, swabbing up the poop they continuously squirted out. Even when they started solid food, and their feces became more offensive in odor and substance, cleaning up after them was so relentless that we didn’t have much time to think about it. Plus babies are cute. They have chubby legs and gurgle.
What I personally resent, and what no one told me before I embarked on parenthood, was that the wiping doesn’t end with the last diaper. It goes on and on—for years.
I recall when I was still childless and teaching, talking to some elementary school colleagues at lunch. Discussion of the bathroom arose. “You mean you have to help your students wipe?” I asked one of the pre-K instructors, horrified. “I could never do that!”
Three children later, “that” seems to be all I do.
While our twins, now 6, are nearly self-sufficient in the bathroom, at least one of them leaps up from the table during most meals, shouting, “I have to go poo-poo!”
“Just do it,” I keep telling them. “You don’t have to broadcast it.”
But they insist on giving notice. And sometimes, echoing from the confines of their tiled cell, a distress call sounds, “I need help!” Nothing kills my appetite like having to rise from the dry rotisserie chicken I purchased earlier at Giant to inspect a kindergartner’s backside.
Having to help our 2-year-old in the bathroom seems more justifiable, although I still haven’t forgiven her for last summer’s swim diaper blowout at our township pool. And while I am delighted that Jane has since learned to make her deposits into a toilet, I continue to view assisting her as an entirely repugnant ordeal.
Sometimes, during daylight hours, Jane entertains me with descriptions of her feces. “It went ‘plop!’ three times,” she says, alighting from her throne to inspect her work. “There’s a mommy one and a daddy one and a baby one!” I can’t help but laugh. But at other times, I find my forced participation in the evacuation of her bowels to be a cruel torture.
Jane splinters our slumber, often at 2 or 3 a.m., stumping into our bedroom and declaring, “I have to go potty!” I’d love to tell her to stop bothering us and just go in her Pull-Up, but I sense that this advice would lift to the top of a list of grievous parental failures. And so either my husband or I heave ourselves out of bed each night to help Jane push up her stool, place the potty seat on the toilet, clamber up top, pull down her pants, wait (sometimes for quite awhile), clean her undercarriage, pull up her pajamas, depress the flusher, shove the stool to the sink, clamber up top, open the tap, lather her hands, turn off the water, dry her fingers—and then trudge back to bed.
If we’re lucky, Jane falls again quickly to sleep. If we’re less fortunate, we’re all awake for the next several hours, during which time Jane inevitably has to “go potty,” and repeat the aforementioned process, all over again.
And then take last weekend, when Jane informed me with 15 minutes left in her brother’s soccer game that she had “to go poo-poo.” We were at an elementary school field. The buildings were locked. So I pulled out a potty chair I keep stowed in the trunk of our minivan for just such occasions. As Jane sat and sat and sat in the parking lot, however, we ended up receiving company. Another minivan arrived, a clown car, it seemed, one that kept burping out spastic kids and adults, who couldn’t get ahold of their balls, tie their shoes, find their coffee cups—who couldn’t seem to pull themselves together enough to move on and afford us the privacy we deserved.
I hovered in front of my squatting daughter, trying to avoid eye contact with the strangers whirling around us. I silently willed Jane to hurry up with her business. When she finally did finish, I was stunned by what she had accomplished, quickly covering up the mess with a plastic supermarket bag. When the other family eventually left the area, I tipped the contents of the toilet upside down into the sack—which unfortunately bore a few holes—and ferried it extended out in front of me, Jane in tow, over to a dumpster.
“I did a good job!” Jane declared.
I resisted tossing her in and silently swore that I would save my celebrating for when I was no longer toting around potty seats—and when the only ass I was responsible for was my own.