It started out like any other birthday party she’s attended, with my five-year-old daughter sprinting ahead of me, screaming excited greetings to both friends and strangers. I watched her spring into the pool, catapulting herself over friends gathered on the steps. I discreetly grabbed the purple romper and sandals she had flung into the middle of the concrete walkway in her excitement, grabbed a seltzer, and snagged a shady seat next to a friend.
It was the perfect pool party, really: Kids laughing and having fun, balloons, signs, an over-the-top Barbie cake, and brightly colored unicorn towel party favors. My little extroverted, pool-obsessed, party-animal’s own slice of Sunday morning heaven. That is, until it wasn't.
I had already given her the ten-minute warning. Things were winding down and the party was almost over, but she was never going to want to leave. Some of the other girls were still in puddle-jumpers, a little uneasy in the pool, but my little swim enthusiast was cannonballing, deep diving, swimming in and out of other parent’s legs and hanging on their arms, wanting to play. If there’s two things that she is extremely confident doing, it’s swimming and socializing. This was her Super Bowl.
I should have known something was off when I noticed her standing in the same spot for a few minutes, on the steps along the edge of the pool. The look on her face seemed like a mix between concentration and confusion as I watched, wondering what she was thinking. And then I watched her do something very strange.
Facing me, still standing on the steps, she grabbed the bottom righthand side of her bathing suit with her right hand — as if picking a wedgie. But instead of just pulling at her suit and then letting it go, she started to shake and shimmy it a bit. What the hell? I thought. I took a step closer and watched her repeat the same movement a couple of times. No. No, no no, it can’t be. And then I saw them. Three little pebbles shimmied out of her bathing suit and started floating to the top.
Holy shit. A Code Brown.
Already knowing the answer, full of panic and dread, I called out to her: “Hey! Sweetie! What are you doing?!”
Her eyes whipped over to mine and widened, and then she screamed.
Before I could even blink, she was sprinting across the street, back to our house. I grabbed the arm of the host, who was right next to me. “I think my kid just took a dump in your pool, I gotta go. Sorry,” I explained. Completely engrossed in her daughter’s happiness and party happenings she just looked puzzled and responded: “Oh. Ok! Wow. You go then!” (True mom-friends are hard to find and I feel very lucky this one is my neighbor.)
When I got home my daughter was in the kitchen, hands over her face, crying. I cleaned her up and talked about how accidents happen all the time to everyone, and that it’s okay. We chatted about what to do after making a mistake — and about the necessity of taking breaks from things that are fun for really important things like going to the bathroom. We talked about feeling embarrassed and how to work through that feeling alone and with friends.
She rallied surprisingly fast. Within minutes she was playing with her Barbies — smiling while organizing their shoes, as if nothing had happened.
Reflecting on the incident now, a few weeks later, a couple of different feelings surface. First, of course, I feel bad for my neighbors who had to skim my princess’s tiny turds out of the shallow end mid-party. They were a couple of saints that day! I also feel confused, because this wild turn of events was so unanticipated, despite me typically worrying about every possible scenario in social settings.
But mostly, I feel proud of how my little girl maneuvered so seamlessly through the aftermath of what could have been a really traumatic experience. I mean, you have gotta be pretty confident to think you can poop in someone’s crowded pool and get away with it, right? Somehow — with all of my hangup and anxieties — I have raised a little human with very little of either. One with a level of bravery and self-security that even a shallow-end crap can’t shake. Maybe we should all be a little more like that. Minus the pooping part, obviously.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.