“Mom, did you know…(grunt)…when I was three…(grunt)…I got poop stuck…(sigh)…on my butt?” his enormous eyes blink and head tilts to see if I truly grasp the magnitude of this experience he’s sharing.
“You’ve had a lot of poop stuck to your butt, buddy…jump down, bend over…and stuck to a lot of other things, too,” I say and wipe his bottom. When I finish, he reaches to his ankles and tugs at his pants, pulling them harder when the left leg gets stuck underneath his foot. He nearly falls but rights himself just as he’s ready to topple.
“Yup. Stuck right to my butt,” he confirms, then strolls out of the bathroom and on to the next thing, shaking his head at whatever image this memory has called forward. I wash my hands and search the bathroom for the missing towel. Something is always misplaced in this house. A rogue Lego under crumpled bed sheets. A stream of urine running the length of the kitchen. My patience. My joy.
But the bathrooms, and things better left contained within a bathroom, are the worst. Nothing ever seems to land in its rightful home. Like the time my son frantically called from a distant toilet. Off I ran through the house to reach the butt in needing of wiping, only to find a perfectly round turd six inches behind him on the floor. “I thought it was a fart,” he whispered, eyebrows raised, standing before the john, hands still shaking the final drops of pee from his willy.
Or the continuous list of miscalculated minutes one boy or another thought he had before whatever needed to come out of him came out of him, typically distracted by some t.v. show or Battleship nail-biter simply too tempting to walk away from.
Or the dozens upon dozens of emergency roadside stops down dusty two-tracks or in open Midwestern fields of wheat, rushing to assemble the travel potty and mark our territory.
Or the time one of the babies, still new to this world, launched pale yellow liquid from his tiny bum hole directly into my hair, a gift of thanks for carrying him warm and safe inside my womb for the previous nine months.
And who can forget the infamous shit snack of 2015? Rest assured, I never will. Still in my rookie season of parenting (it was actually year three; there was a big learning curve), I had been helping my oldest master the art of toileting. I was perched in front of him, coaching him through proper pushing techniques and how to make a respectable poop face while my other son played behind me. Minutes into our training session, the baby toddled over, reaching out a hand covered in what I assumed was some sort of choco…shit. Shit. Shit!
I grabbed his fingers, turned his arms over, finding streaks of brown leading to his face, his teeth. Blagh! Blagh! I gagged, then shoved my fingers into his mouth to wipe out the remains. Blagh. Dry heave. Then screaming. Another gag. Maybe some tears. Back to the screaming. I wasn’t handling this well.
Once I had regained control of my body, my potty-trainee announced that he hadn’t made it to the toilet “in time,” leaving a deposit on the floor when he climbed aboard. I had missed this when I walked into the bathroom, but clearly, the baby hadn’t and reveled in this new find, smearing it across the floor and most of his body before I was brought into the know. A lengthy bath followed along with a call to the pediatrician’s office and one rousing story to tell at parties, this particular tale becoming something of legend in our tiny universe, the kids demanding through laughter and shouts that it be retold around campfires and on every road trip.
There have been so many bathroom mishaps over the years, too many really, but despite their varying levels of trauma, they are my favorite. The time I’ve spent with my kiddos, their butts planted on a toilet seat, me cross-legged on the floor looking up at their perfect little faces rolling between smiles and grunts and sighs of relief – these minutes (sometimes hours) are what this grumpy Mama needs. And with as much defeat as we’ve seen, missed bowls and dirty drawers and projectile poop in the dead of night, we’ve also seen a few victories. We’ve found success.
“This one is not going to come out, Mom. It’s not! It’s really stuck in there! Like I know it is stuck in there and it’s too big to make it out.” Tears are running down his face at this point, and he’s given up trying. He refuses to push. “It hurts too much,” he tells me through sobs. I lower myself to the spot directly in front of the toilet, the smell of old pee hitting me as I relax into the bathmat. I can see that it’s going to be a while, and though I was just too busy to play monster trucks with my other son and my phone is ringing from the living room, suddenly, I have all the time in the world to just sit and wait.
So, I do. We sit there, together, eyes locked, holding hands, me whispering words of encouragement, rubbing his back and asking him questions about his day for distraction. I sit there with him patiently, listening to his cries, assuring him that we will get through this, it will all be okay (and maybe he should up his water intake and cut back on the cheese) until, eventually, nearly an hour later, we have conquered the beast and flushed it away. Mission complete.
My kid, thankful and relieved, free from the potty and the giant (seriously…GIANT) poop, trusts in his Mama just a little bit more, thinks maybe she is magic. And I think maybe I am, too. I ruffle his hair and kiss the top of his head, then catch a glimpse of this new, more magical Mama in the mirror right before I turn off the light and head out to race monster trucks, reconnected to my current calling.
These moments, though outwardly “yucky,” are actually really intimate, and sometimes, they are the only things able to call me back from the dark side of motherhood, the land of self-pity and exhaustion where I take up residence from time to time. These little people need so much, take so much, leaving me numb to their endless prompts.
“Play with me.”
“I wanna blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…………………………blah……………”
I stop listening. I hush them.
“In a minute.”
“Go find Dad.”
“Not right now.”
“Seriously, go find your Dad!”
Sometimes I feel guilty and sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I make time and sometimes I don’t, but for whatever reason when they are bearing down on the pot, a giant log stuck just shy of the exit or pee-soaked undies around their ankles, I always have the time. I melt. I am butter and instantly present because this stuff is special. They are quite literally stripped down and naked, in need. Sitting there, helpless and vulnerable, they are my babies again, and I am their Mama in the same way I was when they were six pounds and completely dependent. I am reminded that this stuff, this animalistic, undignified stuff is my job, my honor, however stinky. Plus, it makes for good fodder.
I can’t always find the beauty in motherhood. There are plenty of moments, entire days when the joy is gone and try as I might, I am lost on the dark side. But this shadowed existence only ever lasts as long as it takes for one little boy to have a potty problem, and then I’m back – their tender, lovesick Mama, obliged to strip them down and launder their latest miscalculation, ready to set up roadside with a travel potty and a handful of butt wipes, happy to sit and stare at their scrunched up faces as they battle another too-big-poo. When I’m lucky, I find the beauty of being a mother in their laughter and sweet snuggles, but when I’ve lost my way and misplaced the joy I normally find in each one of these spectacularly obnoxious, wonderful boys of mine, a desperate call from a distant bathroom always brings me back.