by Risa Green
I don’t generally pride myself on my parenting. I try to do the best I can, and sometimes I achieve that goal and sometimes I don’t. For the most part, however, I think I pass the basic minimum requirements of good parenting: I provide my children with what could arguably be called nutritious food, I provide them with a clean (though not a neat or organized) home, I provide them with clothing that fits them most of the time (honestly, who can keep a six year-old boy in pants that fit? Who?), and I bathe them (except on Thursday nights, because American Idol is just too good) and make them brush their teeth and change their underwear daily.
It’s the underwear that tipped me off that I was failing. Last week, I instructed my son to change his underwear before bed (it was a Thursday, so no bath), and he threw a strange, unusual fit. He argued that his underwear was comfy and warm and that he would change it in the morning. I thought he must have been tired (it was one of those two hour Idols) and I was tired, and I almost caved, but then I decided to hold my ground, and insisted that he change his underwear. He said FINE, but only if he could do it in the bathroom, alone, with the door shut. I didn’t quite know what to make of this, but I indulged him. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was hiding something from me, though, and so the next day while he was at school I pulled his underwear out of the hamper. Lo and behold, it was filled with dry, stinky poop. Oh, man, I thought. The one night that I didn’t give him a bath. Ew.
When he got home that afternoon I pulled him aside. Listen, buddy, I told him. I saw your underwear from last night, and I just want you to know that it’s okay if you had an accident. I’m not going to be mad at you. But you have to tell me, because if you don’t clean yourself, you’ll get a rash, and it will hurt. So if it ever happens again, just let me know, okay? He agreed, we hugged it out, and I thought that was the end of that.
The next night, however, it was my husband’s turn to give him a bath while I made lunches for school the next day. My husband came out with a troubled look on his face. His underwear is filthy, my husband whispered. Again? Seriously? Don’t get mad at him, I said. Just ask him what’s going on. He said that he did already, and all our son had by way of an explanation was “nothing.”
The next night, it was my turn again. At dinner, I noticed that he’d been pulling at his butt every time he stood up, so I asked him if something was going on in his pants. No, he said. Just sometimes my underwear gets stuck to my butt so I have to pull it out. O-kay. But when he got undressed to get into the tub, once again, his underwear was loaded. Dude, I said. Remember when you said your underwear gets stuck to your butt? It’s because you have poop in there! He laughed. Laughed.
What’s going on with you? I asked him. How come you’re pooping in your pants every day? He stopped laughing and looked at me, indignantly. I’m not pooping in my pants, he said. Oh, really? Then what’s this? I held out his underwear to show him the pile of squished poop that was, undeniably, in his pants. Oh, that, he said. That’s just from not wiping. What???
Buddy, I argued, you can’t just decide not to wipe. But I don’t like to wipe, he replied. It’s hard, and also it’s boring. It’s boring? I’m sorry, I thought. I didn’t realize that your every moment was so filled with thrills and adventure that you’re not willing to give up thirty seconds of it to wipe your butt. But what I said was, sweetie, it may be boring, but it’s not optional. He sighed. I just don’t like it, he said. I liked it better when you did it for me. I’m sorry, I thought. Are you somehow under the impression that you’re Eddie Murphy in Coming to America and that you have royal butt wipers at your disposal? Because you’re not. And you don’t. But what I said was, honey, that’s nice, but you have to start wiping your butt again or I’m going to put you back in diapers.
He smirked. Diapers wouldn’t fit me. Oh, but they would, I told him. They make diapers for big boys. They even make diapers for grown ups. [Horrified look.] But then everyone would make fun of me. Darling, I said, holding out his underwear to him, smell this. He inhaled and made a face, then waved his hand in front of his nose to make the smell go away. They’re already going to make fun of you if that’s what your pants smell like at school all day. [Horrified look #2]. So what do you say? Do you think you can tear yourself away from whatever exciting things are happening in your little brain long enough to wipe yourself when you make a poop? Okay, he sighed. I will. And just like that, I am once again back up to minimum parenting standards.