I was at my 7-year-old’s soccer game when Tristan ran off the field, the ball still in play, his right arm hooked around his back, hand pinching his butt cheeks.
We were at a park on the southern side of Small Town Oregon. I followed him as he scurried to a row of port-a-potties that were on the opposite end of the soccer field. Tristan ran, his little legs moving quickly for a moment or two, then he seemed to lose something inside, so he stopped, pinch his butt harder, and walked until he’d regained what ground he’d lost. Then he ran again.
His rigid shoulders, tight-legged stride, and pale face all seemed to say, “I’m not going to make it.”
I felt horrible for him.
Tristan was old enough to handle going potty by himself, but for some reason he insisted that I follow him in. And once there, I understood why. Tristan was a little guy, the smallest on his team. The soccer league that he played for issued uniforms, but they always seemed to have a difficult time finding shorts small enough to fit. This caused him, apparently, to tie about fifty million knots in the strings of his soccer shorts, and now the damn string was so tight he couldn’t slide the shorts over his hips.
I crouched down in the port-a-potty, my face inches from the bowl, the smell of others wafting into my face, and attempted to unravel Tristan’s many knots. It was fall, but it was still warm out. The cramped space was stuffy and smelly, and I thought about how the company of these portable restrooms called themselves Honey Bucket. Let me be the first to say, there was nothing close to honey in the bucket. My face had never been so close to something so foul.
In front of me Tristan danced a jig, and I cannot recall ever being quite so miserable as a parent. I couldn’t think of anyone in the world that I would do this for outside of my children. Or perhaps my wife, and when I thought about her, struggling to get her pants off because she had to poop, and me crouching down to help her, I wondered if a situation like that could be a deal breaker in marriage.
What I’m trying to say here is that this is what the unconditional love of parenting really looks like. It isn’t always rosy and sweet. Sometimes love takes the form of crouching down in a hot sweaty port-a-potty, your head inches from a stranger’s turd in a pool of filth, your 7-year-old dancing a jig as you untie all the stupid knots in his soccer shorts, waiting, anxiously, for shit to come rolling down his leg and send the bile that’s been resting just below your jaw over the edge.
In what I assume was the nick of time, I managed to work through enough of Tristan’s knots to wrangle his shorts off. The boy wiggled onto the toilet, and then I had the pleasure of watching him release one of the most amazing pooping spectacles ever produced by one of my children. It was a bubbly wonder of smells and sounds, and once it was all done, and my shirt was covering my nose, Tristan smiled up at me, blue eyes a little watery, and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
As much as I didn’t want to smile, as much as I wanted to gag, or pass out, or run from that place and never return, I couldn’t help but look at my son, his face one of relief from embarrassment and body pressure, and feel like I’d done some great deed. I’d been there for someone I love dearly when he needed me most. I don’t know what it is about kids that can turn the most horrible situation into a warm heart, but they can. And in that moment, with Tristan’s gratitude, I felt satisfied as a father.
“It’s cool, buddy. You feeling better?” I asked. Then I rubbed the back of his buzzed head.
“Yeah,” he said.
“You going to be able to get back into the game?”
Tristan was pulling his shorts up by then. He thought for a moment, and said, “Yup.”
We each used hand sanitizer, and as we did, I wanted to wash my body in it. Then Tristan ran back to his game.
When I was cursing and struggling with those knots, I wanted to lay into Tristan about what he’d done. I wanted to let him know that tying a bunch of knots in his shorts was asinine and led to a situation that I really didn’t appreciate. But once everything was said and done, and Tristan said thanks, I didn’t say a word about it.
In so many ways I wanted the moment to be over, and perhaps that’s why I just let it go. But when I thought about how that situation was probably as difficult for Tristan as it was for me, I realized that I probably didn’t need to say anything. The lesson had been learned. Parenting seems to be full of moments that are horrible and frustrating. Moments where life lessons are learned, unconditional love is tested, and nothing more needs to be said.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.