"We're fighting a losing battle," said Sheryl.
"Which one?" said I.
Emma came rushing past her mother, "Look! Daddy! The doctor gave me a stick with a sticker on it!"
"Great. Was he nice?"
"You're feeling fine?"
"You're going to go potty?"
A losing battle. I don't care which side of the discipline battle you fall on, it is impossible to humanely force the issue of someone else's bowel movements. Not even a four year old--maybe especially a four year old.
"I thought we were done with this." I said to Sheryl.
"Yup." She sighed and then sat down to eat the burger I'd made for her.
Emma is nearly five years old. She, as well as twin Brigid, had an amazingly easy time of toilet training a full three years prior to this particular episode, which began three weeks ago. Emma had a stomach virus. She got dehydrated. Her stool hardened up. She goes from spewing out one end to plugging up the other! She's constipated. Following our physician's advice, Sheryl and I take extraordinary measures to clean out Emma's plumbing. The job gets done. But after a half an hour of her sitting on the pot, screaming and pushing, no one in the house is very happy.
Suddenly, Emma has issues with poop. It hurts (she remembers) so she doesn't want to go, so she doesn't go, so it hurts ever so much more, and the cycle repeats until she has to go. And then it's a trauma, a drama, and a comedy all rolled into one. The trauma is the pain itself. (I hate that bit. If I could hurt for her, I would. In a shot.) The drama is Sheryl and I trying to get her to understand the process, to do what has to be done in order to make it all work out well, to bring this all around to a happy ending. The comedy comes in many bits. Trying to find a bathroom if we're caught unawares out of doors. Combing the grocery shelves for fibrous foods that Emma will eat in order to ease the process along. Having long, thoughtful discussions with my beloved wife about poop (as opposed to our usual thoughtful discussions about raunchy sex and the failings of Descartes ... but that's another column.).
The fact is, I know far too much about Emma's poop. I am far too aware of it. It has filled my recent days and kept me up at night. Not that I shouldn't be concerned with the healthy functioning of her small body, and not that a smoothly functioning excretory system isn't an important part of that healthy functioning but ...
I don't want to think about it! I don't want to know from anyone else's bowel movements!! I just don't want to know!
It's like an acid flashback. Suddenly we're back in that precarious 0-to-18 month period when the sun rises and sets on eating and poop. What goes in? What comes out? The mood of the day is set at the changing table. Is there joy in Mudville or has little Casey struck out? I ask you this: Is anyone in the world ever as obsessed as the parent of a newborn is obsessed with that newborn's bowel movements?
But we're beyond that. I thought we were done with this!
Okay, perhaps I've got the wrong perspective on this whole thing. There are those who would argue that poop is just one of the many multi-sensual reminders of the immediacy of life that we encounter each and every day. Of course, these are the same people who write scholarly works on the eschatological power of menstruation, but never mind that. Stay with me on this. Poop is like compost, they might say. Poop is a symbol of the Great Cosmic Cycle. What goes around comes around. You get what you pay for. Poop in, poop out!
(Well, that's not exactly right; maybe it should be: Macaroni & cheese in, poop out!)
Anyway. The point is that it just doesn't get any earthier than poop. Robin Williams once defined a real man as someone who could step in their own poop and proudly proclaim, "It's mine!" Gary Snyder wrote a brilliant poem, "Changing Diapers." As he sits under a poster of Geronimo, changing his son's diaper, he muses on the process. (Remember, artists, it's the process that's important, not the product.) He closes with the lines, "No trouble, friend,/you and me and Geronimo/are men."
There's a poet for you. From poop to warm inclusion in the family of man.
Emma has been given a prescription for Laxatives-from-Hell. Wonder what Snyder would do with that?
Now that would be a poem.© 2005 - 2012 Hal Levy and the above captioned author.