Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Don’t Fight the Brown Turtle

Don’t Fight the Brown Turtle
Stacey Greenberg

Prior to becoming a mother, I shared most of my bathroom humor with my fellow returned Peace Corps volunteers. Intestinal worms, amoebas, giardia, and bacterial dysentery were shared experiences that formed the basis of our friendships. After living without plumbing in Cameroon, West Africa for two years, I am not shy when it comes to bodily functions. I never thought of this as an asset, but now two and a half years into this mothering gig, I can see that it has its advantages.

Mothers have to deal with a lot of crap. Literally. I have calmly endured things that would make a grown man, namely my husband, cry. As the mother of a toddler and a newborn, I can get puked on, peed on, and pooped on without even flinching. Bodily excretions are simply a part of my daily landscape. In addition to changing diapers and prodding my oldest to use the potty, I have to quiz several people (my husband, my mother, Satchel’s teacher, and Jiro’s daycare provider) on a regular basis to determine the frequency and consistency of the bowel movements that have occurred in my absence. This veracity and thirst for knowledge has helped me realize a number of things. 1. Gum doesn’t stay in one’s stomach for seven years. 2. Corn really is hard to digest. 3. So are carrots.

Talking about bowel movements seems crass to some people. In Cameroon we developed a lot of catchy phrases like “dropping the kids off at the pool” and “fighting the brown turtle” to accommodate the comfort levels of some of our more modest volunteers. Unfortunately these euphemisms only confused my toddler. (“I want go to the pool!” “I want a turtle!”) I think Satchel’s straightforward approach to calling a poop a poop is, for lack of a better word, refreshing. The day that Satchel took his favorite book Everyone Poops to school, all of the children collapsed in hysterics when the teacher read it. I have found that I can pretty much read any book and insert the word poop for an easy laugh.

I like that my son has no shame regarding his bodily functions. He gleefully exclaims when he has made a BIG poop in the potty and unabashedly bends over to have his butt wiped. (Also in my job description.) I admire his lack of self-consciousness so much so that I have become one of those people who goes to the bathroom with the door open. I have found this open-door policy to be quite pragmatic. Satchel likes to know where I am at all times. Plus it allows me to carry on conversations as needed or listen for loud crashes. Once Jiro was born, having one or both of the boys in the bathroom with me became a necessity. I couldn’t leave the toddler alone with the newborn for several months for fear he would hug him a little too hard, try to pick him up, or just smack him for the hell of it. So I found myself encouraging Satchel to join me in the bathroom on many occasions. If I was home alone with the baby, I also found that it was easier to bring him in with me rather than worry about him crying if I was gone too long. I have even gone so far as to nurse while on the toilet.

I know I am not alone. I saw a funny cartoon in the zine, “Wrinkle,” that depicted a newborn bathroom scene—Mommy on toilet, Baby on floor—and contrasted it with a toddler scene in which the tables were turned—Toddler on toilet, Mommy on floor. Having just started potty training my oldest, I find this cartoon funnier and funnier each day. Like most toddler activities, going to the potty can take a loooong time. Once, in the middle of dinner, Satchel announced that he needed to poop. I got him settled on the potty, pulled up my stool, and then hesitated. I actually said, “Wait a minute while I go get a piece of pizza. Mommy will be right back.” (I still reserve the right to snark, “Would YOU want to eat your breakfast/lunch/dinner in the bathroom?” to someone suggesting that nursing in public bathrooms is better than nursing in public.)

Potty-training my toddler has made me realize that I am going to need a bigger house. Or an outhouse. Or two. On a recent morning, after dropping Jiro off at daycare, I realized that I had left my breastpump on the kitchen table and that I desperately needed to use the bathroom. I turned around and headed home at record speed. I rushed into the house to find Satchel sitting on the toilet in “my” bathroom reading Once Upon a Potty and my husband holed up in “his” bathroom reading, I can only assume, War and Peace. Then it dawned on me that one day soon I would be competing against three “men” for a place on the toilet. Before I know it, I may have to face the ultimate challenge in body function acceptance: Depends undergarments.

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