My wife pointed at something in the hallway. “What is that?” Mel said.
I walked over. It looked like a small ball of chocolate. It was smeared in a long line, as if someone had slipped on it.
I leaned down, took a sniff, and said, “It’s poop.”
My friend James, and his four children had just left. We’d all been swimming at the river. It was a Sunday evening. Tristan and Norah, our two oldest were getting in the tub. Mel was holding Aspen, our one-year-old in her right arm.
The sad thing is, with three kids, this was not the first time someone pooped on our carpet. Nor would it be the last. It isn’t a regular thing. It doesn’t happen every day. But it happens. And I suppose that’s the really strange part about having kids. I’ve become to expect that shit like this might happen. Before children, if someone pooped on my carpet I’d have had them killed. But with kids, the rules change. Life and expectations get all out of whack, until suddenly, you find yourself staring at a turd on the floor and trying to figure out who did it so you can have a “talk with them.” But what that talk is supposed to accomplish, I’ve never fully figured out. I felt bad for punishing one of my kids for something that was clearly an accident. But at the same time, I wanted them to never do it again. But I knew that it would happen again, sadly. And I knew that I’d have to clean it up, too. Which was going to suck, undoubtedly. This is parenting. It’s about finding something that your children have done that would make them socially off, interrogating them about it, and then hoping that they don’t grow up to be some weirdo adult who can’t help but drop turds in random hallways.
“Great,” Mel said. She yelled down the hall, “Who pooped on the freaking carpet!”
Tristan poked his head out the bathroom door and said, “I didn’t. But I stepped in it.”
“Did you track it into the living room?” I asked.
I walked into the living room. Two little poop prints were next to the pantry.
“Why didn’t you say something?” I said. “Now it’s all over the place.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t want you to think it was me.”
“Was it you?” I said.
Tristan opened his eyes big, shook his head, and then shut the bathroom door and locked it.
Mel came down the hall. She’d just interrogated Norah. “She says it wasn’t her.” I can only imagine how this went. Norah is at the age where when asked if she did anything from spilling cereal in the kitchen to pooping on the carpet, she responds with aggression. Her little round face goes red, and she says things like, “You always blame everything on me. Always! Always!” Then she folds her arms, and shuts down, not speaking for a good ten minutes. The really frustrating part about this, outside of the obvious, is that it’s a serious defense mechanism that I have yet to figure out how to get through without getting pissed off. Usually I end up yelling when she does this, and I suppose I’m glad that I didn’t interrogate her because I probably would’ve been yelling about a turd in the hallway.
“Naturally,” I said.
It seemed too solid to be one of Aspen’s. She was still on a mostly liquid diet. Aspen was still in Mel’s arms, and at the mention of her name, she said, “Uh oh…”
“Do you think it was one of James’s kids?” Mel asked.
“All I know is that it isn’t mine,” I said.
I raised my eyebrows, and looked at Mel suspiciously.
“Really?” she said.
I put my hands up and shrugged, “I’m just making sure.”
“I’m clean,” she said.
We both looked at the trail of poop in our hallway without speaking. Then we went back and forth about it for a moment. We questioned if it was animal poop, but the small sliver of peanut in it seemed to rule that out. We discussed which one of James’ four kids might have done it. Who entered the house? Who stayed in the yard? Who changed into swimming suits in which room? It was a mystery. We discussed if we should tell James about it.
“How do you tell someone that their child may have pooped in our hallway?” I said. “It would feel like I was accusing him of a crime.”
“I’d want to know,” Mel said. “It kind of is a crime. If an adult did this, they would be arrested.”
I nodded, “Kids have all the breaks.”
“Are you suggesting that you want to poop in people’s hallways?” Mel asked.
“Not specifically,” I said. “I just think kids get away with a lot of crap because they are kids. It’s really remarkable.”
“You should tell him,” Mel said. “This person probably has poop all over their butt. It might be getting in their car.”
It all seemed so accusatory. Would I have to get diplomatic? Rather than say, “Your child pooped in the hall way?” Say something generic like, “Poop was found in the hallway.” I really liked James. He was a close friend, and I didn’t want our friendship to suffer because I accused one of his kids with dropping a turd in my house. It is standard practice that parents handle their own kid’s poop. It’s a line that should never be crossed. But here I was, with an unclaimed turd in my hallway that I was going to have to handle.
Finally I sent James a diplomatic text with no proper nouns, “Might want to check butts. Found turd in the hallway. No one is claiming it.” I might as well have been saying, “Mistakes were made."
And when I think back on this moment, I don’t know why we were so preoccupied with whose turd it was. It almost felt like we were trying to circle around the obvious question. Who was going to clean it up?
“I’m going to get the kids in the tub,” Mel said.
“What the hell,” I said. “Why am I cleaning it up?”
“You’re the one who wanted to go swimming,” Mel said.
“So,” I said.
“And,” she said. “When Tristan puked in the hallway and the living room this week, I handled it. You’re up.”
Then she went into the bathroom.
When faced with a disgusting mess is when I hate parenting the most.
We didn’t have a full sized carpet shampooer, just a hand held spot cleaner. Which basically meant I had to get really close to it. And as I started scrubbing, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that this might be another child’s poop. And there was something about that thought that really turned my stomach, and I’m not sure why. Poop really should be poop, regardless of whose butt it came from. But that isn’t true. There is something desensitizing about cleaning your own child’s poop. I’ve handled it so many times, that I’ve started to feel like it’s just a job. Some banal part of parenting. I’ve become desensitized to my own children’s crap, but thinking that it could, maybe, just maybe, be some other child’s… seemed to make it more real. Nastier.
Then, near the end, I had a different feeling. A sickening feeling that there was something wrong with my family… my children. While I assume that stuff like this happens in other homes, I don’t really know for sure. I really wondered if there was something wrong with my children.
Once it was all said and done. After towels lined the hallway, and the carpet cleaner was rinsed out and put away, and the kids were out of the tub, I got a diplomatic text from James with no proper nouns.
“No one is claiming it here, either. Someone is lying.”
And as I read his text, I had to assume that he did the same interrogations. Raising kids can feel isolating, and sometimes it feels like there is something wrong with your family. Especially when you find a turd in the hallway. And even though we never found the owner, I felt a little better knowing that something similar to my own situation obviously played out in James’ house with the same results, no confessions.
You would also enjoy, The Copycat Game Is For A-Holes
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 onFacebook and Twitter.