Updated: Apr 9, 2021
Enduring the Mess
“Mama, you need to poop BIGGER!” she implored, tears brimming her gigantic hazel eyes. They plopped down her cheeks, rosy red from anger. “It needs to be BIGGER, mama,” she held up her hands, gesturing how large she wanted my excrement to be.
“I can’t go anymore, honey. I tried and I’m all done,” my voice was filled with empathy and sorrow over hurting her feelings.
“But WHY, Mama? Why are you all done?” she sniffled, barely keeping her breathing calm after her enormous temper tantrum.
“Because I just am. God made our bodies to stop pooping when it is all gone, I guess…” my voice trailed off as the utter ridiculousness of the conversation washed over me.
How did we get here? How did I end up so deep in negotiations with my three year old that I was genuinely apologizing for my lack of impressive bowel movements?
We had hit the threenager stage hard, and she was choosing independence at every opportunity. “I can do it with myself!” she would proclaim, proud to take off her shoes and push down the toast on her own. She was potty trained and could even wipe herself—unless it was poop, in which case I needed to get involved.
She called me in, proud of herself and ready for me to use her “special poopoo wipes” to clean her up. I praised her for her toilet usage and helped her down off the stool, glad to have graduated from the small plastic potty that I had to dump and clean every time. Soon she would be able to do this whole dance on her own and I would be able to lick the dark chocolate off my shirts with confidence once again.
I reached to flush the toilet and then paused, remembering her newfound three-ness and her new disdain for me doing anything she might be able to do herself. She heartily agreed to flush herself, though her tiny fingers could not quite pull the lever down on their own.
“Let’s do it together,” I offered, as we waved bye-bye to her poo. I put my hand over hers and flushed the toilet.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO” she immediately howled, to my confusion. “You didn’t let me do it TOGETHER with you! You just flushed it BY YOUR OWN!” Her voice and indignant anger continued to rise. “I want it back! Make the poopoo come back, Mama!”
“Oh baby, I’m sorry! I thought we did do it together!” I knew I shouldn’t dismiss her big feelings. I had to stay calm and definitely not show that this was an absurd thing to be upset about.
She descended into tears and clenched her firsts. “Mama, make my poop come back up! Make it come back! I wanted to FLUSH IT MYSELF!”
She was learning what her emotions were and how to handle them, and I wanted to model searching for a solution calmly. “How about this? How about I will go now and you can flush my potty?”
She bit her lip and nodded ever so slightly. I stepped past her to the toilet and went, thankful I am a fantastic hydrator. But it was not enough for her. I gave her literally everything I had, but it was not enough.
Parenting constantly drags us into situations we never could have imagined. The brink of a tantrum corners us into a desperate “yes,” caving in to the one thing we swore we would never do. Our preconceptions about being a perfect parent collapse so quickly. If these notions haven’t dissolved by our kid’s first blowout diaper or teething, they certainly will by the first outward defiance in public. We negotiate, bribe, beg, and occasionally coerce our kids just to get them in the ever-loving van and stop trying to bite each other. Suddenly our parents seem so much smarter than we ever realized.
Yet then the enormity of our love pushes us through it all, coming out the other side of the ridiculous, disgusting, and infuriating for the better. Our patience multiplies out of necessity, not saintliness. Our voices lower and our arms open to them no matter what fantastically ludicrous argument we have had that day. We make it through the worst moments because there is no other choice—you do what you have to for your child.
We grit our teeth and endure the mess, because we know what it is to love without condition.
In the midst of keeping our heads down and surviving the infuriation, they smile. You know the one. That heart melting, show stopping, astonishing smile that transports you back to the first moment you laid eyes on their tiny, squishy face. Out of nowhere, they smile and immediately move on, forgetting the shouting you both did or the toy that was broken. They find the next fun thing and chase after it, leaving you in the wake of their magic. And you sigh, get up, and follow, knowing you will be cleaning their mess. But you might not realize they will also be cleaning up yours, refining your roughest edges and making you softer, stronger, and more whole.