Like riding a bike, I always presumed that pooping was one of those things that once you learned how to do it, you pretty much had it down for the rest of your life. Turns out that journey is not so simple. Our 4-year-old has hit some bumps in the road.
I was sitting all smug up on the toilet, scrolling through my phone to catch up with my selected family and friends. This was my me time. I didn’t have to use the toilet, but it’s a place a parent can sit on occasion (as long as one’s spouse is there to occupy the kids) to get a moment’s reprieve. I think of it as a panic room of sorts, in the hour after dinner, before bedtime. A place to go to forget about life for upwards of three minutes. A spa. It was here that I came across an amusing post by my younger sister. I’m paraphrasing here, but it said something like, ‘I’ll NEVER get used to cleaning poop out of the tub!‘ I responded the only way I knew how. ‘Oh my god. That’s so gross!‘
After a minute or two, a few more kindhearted friends and family expressed empathy and understanding in the comments. It occurred to me that I might be tempting fate. In an attempt at something of a reverse jinx, I went back to the comment thread and expressed something closer to thoughtfulness. Something like, ‘Oh that so sucks. I’m so sorry. We’ve been lucky so far.‘ I was totally faking it. That shit doesn’t happen if you’re careful and stay attenti…
‘Joe! Oh no… Joe!‘ My wife shouted from upstairs.
I was on the couch enjoying some end-of-night screen time, alongside the big boy, the 4-year-old, when my life took a dark turn.
‘T had an accident. In the tub!‘
I’m guessing there are some parents that have made it all the way without dealing with this dark day. With the extracting by hand of a turd that floats in parts and sinks in others like dynamited fish in a filthy pond. I remained calm on the outside because you need your children to know that although life is forever changed and you’ll never be able to truly look each other in the eye again, they are OK and one must be strong in the face of fear. I am a role model, after all.
Karma was not through with me.
Believing that we’d learned all we needed to learn in order to avoid this issue in the future, we let down our guard. Somehow a few days passed without our big boy making a ‘poop family’ in the potty. That’s what he calls it when it happens in phases. It’s amazing what you find cute when your kids say it. When we pointed it out to him and asked him to try, he was resistant in a way that only a 4-year-old can be. He had become afraid to poop.
We coaxed. We bribed. It worked a couple of times, but it hurt and came with tears. Then he just stopped. Refused. He would have intermittent bouts of pain due to his being backed up. We couldn’t convince him with logic. We tried everything. What happened next is amongst the dumbest things I’ve ever done. I can’t believe it occurred, even as I sit here and write about it. It’s so dumb I’m embarrassed to say it.
I decided that a good warm bath would do the trick.
Our 4-year-old is huge, like the size of a 7-year-old. This is not an exaggeration. He is the average size of a 7-year-old. Turns out it’s possible for a backed up 4-year-old who is the size of a 7-year-old to poop like a 41-year-old who had a steak burrito and coffee for lunch. Through tears and the splashing of fecal-infested bath water, we learned the power of karma. At that moment I knew it was done. Karma had made sure that I learned my lesson.
We are a modern family, and my duties as a man are far more extensive than those of men of previous generations. I am a competent and caring nurturer. Still, there are certain tasks that only a mother can perform. One of those tasks is performed now when we note it’s been a couple of days. Our system of rewards for willing poops (chocolate, funnily enough) is pretty good. But if we let it slide, the fear returns.
When it does, my wife becomes the guide that our boy needs at that moment. They will retreat to the bathroom, where she allays his fears, sticking with him through his vicious rebukes and tearful apologies, always reassuring him that this is how it has worked since the dawn of time. That despite his fears, he will live through this and be so happy with the results that he’ll choose willingly to do it again! She employs cold compresses and a soothing voice. She will light candles and dim the lights and be truly unflappable for hours on end. Eventually he believes her and they are one, holding hands as she provides him with the spiritual and emotional support to allow his body to do what it’s made to do.
Without intending to and being motivated only by deep deep love, my wife is now a poop doula.