I was bathing with my one-year-old when she grunted a little, her face went red, and it happened. She pooped. Then she gave me a two teeth, gummy smile, and said, “Bah…”
I was home alone with Aspen. My wife, Mel, and our two older children were at a church activity. They had been there later than expected, so to save time, I just hopped in the tub with Aspen.
The little brown poop floated to the surface, and rolled over. I looked at it for a moment, not sure just what to do. Sadly, this was not the first time a baby had pooped while I was in the tub. Every time I get in the tub with one of my young children I know there is a 40% chance that poop will happen. But every time it does happen, I am always surprised.
I froze, weighted with thoughts and questions: should I leap out? Is there poop on me? Can poop bacteria travel through water? If I don’t touch it, will I still be clean? Why is the baby so happy about this? Why haven’t I gotten out yet?
And as I thought, Aspen turned around and reached for the turd. She got half a grip on it, breaking it into smaller pieces. Then she reached for her mouth, and I caught her hand.
Everything goes in a baby’s mouth.
I tugged her out by wrapping my left arm around her waist, and held her poopy hand with my right. I took her to the sink, and washed her hands.
We were both freckled with baby poop. I could feel it. This was not the worst kind of poop. It was somewhere between adult poop, and small animal poop, never the less, it was still poop. As a parent, I’ve learned a lot about poop. In some ways I feel like a poop expert. And yet I couldn’t quite figure out just what to do in this situation. Last time I was in the tub and a baby pooped, Mel was home to help.
But now I was alone.
I set Aspen down and shut the bathroom door. Then I drained the tub. Baby poop spotted the tub, and the tub liner, and the baby toys. I wanted to just light the tub on fire and start over. It seemed like it might be easier, and more sanitary. But I couldn’t, so I turned the shower on high and hot, and started working the poop down the drain. I had to use my hand once to force a large chunk down, and as I touched it, felt it’s texture, I thought about how this is not what I signed on for. No one ever told me that I’d be forcing poop down a bath drain before I became a father. If they had, I assume it would have been a deal breaker.
I was so focused on the task at hand, my own misery, that I didn’t notice that while my back was turned Aspen had gotten a hold of the plunger and was now chewing on the rubbery business end. And when I spotted her, she laughed at me. A sweet baby laugh that seemed to say, “You weren’t paying attention, so I did this to myself. You suck as a dad.”
I took the plunger away and said “Yuck,” and “Gross” in hopes that she would understand that what she did was nasty and never do it again. But I don’t think she got that message. Instead she just smiled, and then crawled to me and hugged me, and all I could think about was how she’d just had a plunger in her mouth, and she was wet with poop water. I didn’t want to hold her. I wanted to soak our bodies in bleach. I wanted everything to be clean and bacteria free. But I couldn’t do that just then, so I picked her up, looked in her blue eyes, and said, “You are the nastiest baby I know.”
She didn’t laugh, or cry, or look offended. She stuck her hand in my mouth. The same hand that touched the turd. The same hand that just touched the plunger. I spit her out, and gagged. I put Aspen down again and used some cleaner on the tub and the toys. I kept a closer eye on her this time.
Then I filled the tub again, we both got in, and I lathered us both with soap. And as I did, she giggled and cooed, and by the time I got out, I didn’t think about all the nattiness we’d just gone through. I didn’t even feel gross anymore. I had, for the most part, put it behind me. By the next day, I felt confident that I wouldn’t even think about it.
I wondered why I wasn’t angry. I was frustrated and grossed out when it all happened, but I never got angry. I thought about how, if anyone else in the world pooped in my tub while I was in it, made me clean it out, and then stuck a poop hand in my mouth, I’d have them killed. But with Aspen, my daughter, I put it all behind me within moments.
This is the real power of children.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. 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 essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley