When I was about 12 or so years old, I was doing something typically pre-teenish, minding my own business when my father called for me to report to the bathroom.
I entered the hall and saw my brother*, who made eye contact with me and a mini shrug as if to say “damned if I know what he’s up to this time”.
* The one 2yrs older than me. Yeah, this one .
We got to the doorway and saw our father standing in front of the toilet, telling us to come in.
Our only bathroom was about the size of most people’s powder rooms, so once we squeezed our way in, the three of us were in such close quarters that if any of us so much as hiccupped the others would feel the shudder of his diaphragm most intimately.
Then, out of absolutely nowhere, our father begins calmly lecturing us on how many squares of toilet paper each of us should use, depending on the bodily function, gender parts involved, and number ply that particular roll of toilet paper happens to have** (boy + pee = no squares/just a shake; girl + pee = 4 squares of 1-ply; either gender + loose stool = 6 to 10 squares of 1-ply; etc).
** Who did he think he was kidding? He was so cheap we were lucky that we were even allowed toilet paper, never mind this fantasy of a quilted two-ply being allowed to pass the threshold.
You would think that my brother and I would be having some sort of reaction at this point, but alas our father was a bit crazy and this kind of scenario was par for the course.
When being lectured on the number of squares one should use depending on the solidity of one’s feces, it is best to just keep quiet until it is over, nodding your head solemnly for the duration, hoping this acknowledgement will make the whole thing pass a bit more quickly.
The Squares Lecture was just about over, when our father kneeled down in front of the toilet.
He then, practically in passing, used the phrase “skid marks” and said that rather than splashing about with that scrubber brush hidden behind the waste basket, making a mess for our mother to deal with later, if either of us should leave this kind of fecal evidence in the family toilet we should simply put our hand in the toilet and wipe it off ourselves manually. Then we have the option of using either the bar of Dial soap or the sandpapery bar of Lava soap by the sink to clean ourselves, a step we do after using the toilet, anyway. That sage green rock of Lava Soap would have no problem getting our hands extra clean if we needed to perform this service.
I admit that I did not expect him to do a live demonstration of how one should clean the inner bowl with his hand at that very moment.
I was caught a bit by surprise when I saw the contributor of half my DNA elbow-deep in the porcelain pool. Not too surprised to flinch back against my brother in order to avoid being splashed by the eau de toilette droplets fluttering from our crazy father’s hand as he spoke…but still, a bit surprised.
As usual, his instruction ended just as abruptly as it began. He asked if we had any questions. My brother and I shook our heads, and were dismissed.
Never to touch our father’s hand or eat any food he ever served us from his bare hand ever again.
This memory of life with my father came to mind yesterday while dealing with a Poop Situation of my own child’s doing.
Mr T has a Tinkle Emergency Potty in his room. He just doesn’t use the bathroom at night, but I feel better knowing that if he wakes up in a dark, quiet house with an insatiable urge to pee he can totter over to the Tinkle Emergency Potty in his room, do a little drip-drip, then get safely and quickly back to bed.
This thing is almost never used.
Today when I opened up his door to tell him Quiet Time was over, I almost passed out from the fumes.
My sweet boy, rather than interrupt some serious Lego play, decided to take a dump the approximate size (and shape) of New Jersey in the sterile little potty meant to hold a tiny peep.
I – as calmly as I could – insisted he IMMEDIATELY get into the bathroom and scrub his hands thoroughly, while I carried the white plastic bowl with what looked like Yogi Bear’s arm in it to be discarded in its appropriate receptical.
As my son washed up, I – as calmly as I could – reminded him that the Tinkle Emergency Potty is only for (guess what!) tinkle emergencies, while trying to flush this unflushable behemoth down a toilet drain not made for bulk enterprises.
It took multiple flushes and some waiting in the hopes that things – ahem – broke down a bit, to accept the realization that I’m gonna have to do something that makes me throw up in my mouth a bit.
There was something that, I estimated from my father’s lesson 20+ years ago, required about 35 squares of 2-ply sitting in the hall toilet. Nothing was going to get this Bad Boy down to where it belonged unless I (barf) broke it down with a plunger.
I wanted to make my kid clean the poop up.
I wanted to yell at him for not thinking it would be weird to poop in his room.
I wanted to somehow punish him for forcing me into the position of having to use a toilet plunger.
Plunging toilets makes me gag.
That suctioning splashy sound.
Knowing that when I lift it up some poop may plop back into the water, quite possibly splashing me.
But I didn’t.
All he took from this incident was a reminder that he cannot do that ever again.
I hid my horror, disgust, and white fury from him. I believe these were reactions anyone would have, especially anyone with an aversion to large stinky mounds of crap.
I couldn’t help but think that if I had been the kid in this situation, I know I wouldn’t have had it so good as to have had a parent who held it together ike I managed to***.
*** By the skin of my clenched teeth.
I want my kids to remember a peaceful, happy childhood. I want them to have pleasant or fun or silly memories of our bathroom time together when something related comes up with their own kids some day. Tub time when I blow bubbles so hard they stick to the walls, their heads, the shower curtain. The washing-our-hands song that makes sure we got all the germs down the drain. How I taught them to brush their teeth so they could do it on their own, big-kid-style. How I added fluffy bathrobes into the post-bath ritual to make sure they don’t catch a chill before I fully dry their hair.
Not some crazed rant with me screaming about how disgusting this nasty man-poo is.
Not making him feel embarrassed for being a kid, making normal mistakes, misjudgements.
Before I had them, I always wondered what I would be like with my kids. But when you do finally get into it, you have no choice but to jump in with both feet. You don’t often get time to think about what you’re actually doing, you just are doing it. Whether you’re shouting a little too loud with adoration at their soccer game or trying not to shout obscenities when they get on that last frayed bouncy electrified nerve at the end of the day, you’re just doing it at that moment without thinking about what it will mean to them later.
The memory above of my own childhood made me shake my head at how I managed to live in that environment of weirdness and come out relatively sane.
I now wonder what they will remember of me as a mom, and whether they will be glad to have survived it or appreciative that I made it something special for them.
So many people have memories hit them hard, make them tip over with just the shadow of the force that the real event held.
I only want that to happen when the force involved was my unerring love.
So when things happen that make me feel ready to fly off the handle, I believe for my kids’ sake that I have to make a deliberate effort to get a grip.
Even if that grip is the one on the handle of a toilet plunger.