Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Poop scoop

Okay, I'm of the opinion that if you're reading this despite its inauspicious title, you deserve whatever you get, so I ain't holdin' back in talking about an apparently endless source of fascination to most parents--children's bowel movements.

This, to me, is the true badge of motherhood. It's not stretch marks, the scent of spit-up that is our new perfume or even the realization that yes, running shoes DO go with everything. It's the ability to talk about a baby's excrement at any time or under any circumstances. We talk about it after church services, huddled around the foyer or the coffee urn. We talk about it to complete strangers, even ones who have no children. I remember once my friend Joanna was talking about her son's pooping habits--including a graphic tale of having to stimulate his rectum in an attempt to "get things going" and then getting sprayed with a stinky blast. This was WBD (Way Before Davis) so I was a little horrified at the level of detail in the story (and this is after having dated a veterinary student, for pete's sake, so it's not like I was a wimp to stories of bodily functions). But I guess I knew intuitively that this was something that comes with motherhood, like a short haircut or the ability to do almost anything --type, make a sandwich, fold laundry-- while holding a baby.

And then my own moment of poo-mania arrived with the birth of my son. Not only did I insist on keeping a record of whenever my son, say, "crapped his nappy," but I found I was able to maintain an almost catalouge-like knowledge of consistency (what do you mean, 'soft?' Soft as in foamy? or soft as in runny?) and color. I seem to remember an exchange like the following: someone, probably my husband, who is the Diaper Changing Champ in our home, was changing Davis and announced the presence of fecal matter in the diaper.

"What color is it?" I demanded from the other room.

"Uuuh, brown."

Clearly, this lovely person had no idea that I was looking for a color more along a kind of J. Crew palette.

"Brown?! Like Spring Dirt? Cherrywood? Warm Brownies?"

There was a slight pause-maybe it was the food reference that hung him up?- and then,
"Um, no, more...yellowish."

Finally, instead of yelling the entire spectrum of crayola crayon colors and feeling like a Pottery Barn consultant at that, I stopped whatever I was doing to go and inspect said feculence myself. "Oh, I'd say that's somewhere between Burnt Sienna and German Mustard."

And that's when I realized I was too far down the road of Poop Inspecting. I backed off after this, mostly because keeping up with the stats was too exhausting, but also because I finally realized that all kids are different, and if mine was content and gaining, there were probably, as Anne Lamott says, a few dozen other things I could mind-f*ck to death instead.

All this is to preface for those of you without kids why it is so crucially important when an infant poops and to have you understand in some small way how it is I might know, for instance, that it had been 5 days and 6 hours since my son's last poopage when he finally went yesterday. And why, when he finally did go, my husband and I were ready to declare it a national holiday, complete with a theme song and day off of work. God had answered our prayers (and, for a change, in precisely the way we asked to have them answered), the universe was re-aligned, and the birds were chirping just for us.

So you're thinking, are we mothers really so insecure that a few days of no poo is enough to make us think we've caused our children permanent physiological damage? Speaking strictly for myself, yes and no. Logically, I knew my kid was fine lo those 5 long days: he was generally happy, ate well and slept about as well as he'd been sleeping when he was a once-a-day kinda guy. Also, there is a Benevolent Soul who watches out for him so that even I can't screw him up too much.

But you know, things often seem so tenuous with an infant--one minute, he's laughing and kicking and ready for the world and the next he's decided that you alone are repsonsible for the dropping of the favorite toy, the howling of the dog downstairs and the electing of George W. It makes one crazy sometimes, the general inscrutability of babies, and things like lists of Normal Behaviors are supposed to take the scariness out of all that. But they don't, really. If anything, they can make it worse, like when it's your kid who goes for 5 days and 6 hours without dirtying his diaper. I've found that often the best I can do is follow common sense and thank the Benevolent Soul for being so tireless, patient and vigilant with my kid.

And also for being so tireless, patient and vigilant with me.