We were having a family dinner when my 7-year-old announced that a girl crapped her pants at school. Then he put his hands over his tummy and laughed long and hard.
“Who craps their pants in the second grade?” Tristan said. “Only babies like Aspen poop their pants.” He started laughing again, and so did Aspen, who was sitting to his right in a high chair.
On the table were small white boxes with Chinese food from Yan’s Chinese Restaurant, a place down the street from our house. Tristan was eating nothing but white rice, like usual, and it fell from his mouth as he laughed.
Across from Tristan was his sister Norah, age five. At the mention of someone in Tristan’s 2nd grade class crapping their pants, she started to laugh hysterically, too. Suddenly everyone but Mel and I were having a good laugh at the expense of a little girl’s bowel issue.
Mel and I were sitting across from each other. I don’t think either of us knew just how to respond to what Tristan said. We didn’t come down on him, like my mother would have, telling him not to speak like that at the dinner table. But we didn’t laugh either, like my father would’ve.
Rather I looked at Tristan and said, “How do you know she crapped her pants?”
Tristan smiled, took a bite of rice, and said, “Jason told me. It’s so funny!”
Jason was Tristan’s best friend. He was a tall half white, half Asian kid with dark hair and a reputation for not shutting up in class. I didn’t hate the kid necessarily. He had nice parents, and he didn’t swear or anything. However, he did have a big mouth, and announcing that some poor girl at school crapped her pants was an example of that.
“I’m just not sure how reliable your source is, here, Tristan. Did he see it or something?”
“No,” he said. “But Jessica Johnson told him that she did it and had to go home early from school.”
“Hmmm…” I said. “What’s this girls name? The one who crapped her pants?”
“Kate,” he said. “Jessica said she could smell the poo.” He laughed again, long and hard.
Suddenly we were having a full on conversation about a poor little girl crapping her pants at school while eating dinner. I suppose I should’ve put a stop to it, but I honestly felt sorry for little Kate, and I thought this might be a good time to try and teach my son an importance lesson, but I wasn’t sure on what. This happens a lot to me. I often feel like I should be like that TV dad of the 50s, who knows just what to say and when to say it. But most of the time I don’t. Most of the time I shoot from the hip.
Mel tapped her hand on the table to get Tristan’s attention. He stopped laughing for a moment and she said, “I think you should make friends with Kate. Be nice to her. It sounds like she could use some friends.”
Tristan opened his eyes wide like he was facing an approaching train and said, “I don’t know, mom. I say hi to her, but she smells really bad. I have a hard time talking to her without my tummy hurting.”
“Does she smell like poo?” I asked.
Tristan laughed again. It was not my intention to make him laugh. This was a sincere question.
This is what it’s like chatting with a 7-year-old boy. Really any mention of poo, boogers, farts, pee, or bodily fluid in general is like hitting the laugh button. Although we were trying to chat with Tristan seriously, he just couldn’t keep his composure. After a few minutes, Tristan finally answered.
“Yeah,” he said.
“If she always smells like poo, then how do you know that she really crapped her pants?” I said. “The smell of poo is the only evidence.”
Tristan thought about it for a moment, then he told me that Jason was really positive that Kate crapped her pants. And when he said that, I couldn’t decide if he just didn’t want to believe that Kate didn’t crap her pants, or if this was one of those, “My friends are always right,” situations that we’d been running into a lot lately. A few weeks earlier Jason told Tristan that the reason spiders can walk on the celling is because they defy gravity. I tried to argue against this. I showed him videos online about spiders. But it was no use. What Jason said was fact… regardless. Really frustrating.
Finally Mel said, “You haven’t been making fun of her, have you?”
Tristan got really quiet and looked at the ground.
“You know what, Tristan. You shouldn’t make fun of someone for something like that.”
He looked at me for a moment, smiled, and said, “Why not?”
“Well… buddy, it happens. In fact, when I was a freshman in high school, I crapped my pants. I was probably 14 years old.”
Tristan didn’t laugh at this. Rather he pulled his head back, and furrowed his brow.
“It’s true,” I said.
I told him about how I was in freshman PE playing softball. “I had to go really bad, and we were a long ways from the restroom. I tried to run to the toilet, but I just didn’t make it. Probably the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
I must have told this story a million times at a million different social gatherings. I even wrote it into an essay and published it in an anthology. Every time I told it, the purpose was to get some people to laugh, and to help myself feel better about the whole situation. Never did I think it would come in handy with parenting my child.
“It really can happen to anyone…. Even your father,” I said. “Someday it might happen to you. And if it does, I’m confident that you would like someone to understand. If Kate really did crap her pants, I assume that she could use a friend.”
Tristan didn’t say much after that. I assumed that he’d laugh about me crapping my pants, but he didn’t.
We ate diner in silence after that. I didn’t know if Tristan would talk to Kate the next day at school, but I hoped he would. From the way Tristan chomped, his eyes deep in thought, I have to assume this was probably one of those moments when he realized that his father was, indeed, a human. And it was my hope that he realized Kate was human, too.
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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.