There are times in motherhood, times involving cursing and sweating and frantic rubbing at stains, when you must weigh the situation at hand and determine if:
a) you are actively dying or
b) someone out there has it worse than you.
These times demand your careful consideration because otherwise, you can become overwhelmed by the seemingly intractable, filthy circumstance you find yourself in and you can go mad with the injustice of it all.
There are times, too, other times, when you are so exhausted, so physically worn out by the 2 am wakeups and demands for more milk, more crackers, more goddamned renditions of “Hush Little Baby”, that your decision making becomes impaired, and you find it difficult to perform these tiny feats of analysis.
These are the times that try women’s souls.
Say, for instance, you know in your heart of hearts that a balanced diet is more than just a good idea– it is insurance against the runny mess you will have to wipe from your child’s butt in a few hours. But, say, for instance, even though you know this, you still feed your child not yet three feet tall a full cup of blueberries, some watermelon, a peach smoothie, and some dried mango and nothing else in a 24-hour period. Never mind that you’ve tried to coax her into eating the tender meatloaf you lovingly formed with your own hands and have cut into small bites suitable for her adorably small mouth. Of course you know this is a diet better suited to the chronically constipated, or maybe a species of tree sloth, but your endurance is withering thanks to sleep deprivation. You are too defeated, too plain old worn out to do the arithmetic of:
Needing to be somewhere on time on Wednesday + too much fruit on Tuesday = disaster.
Say, too, that you have forgotten that the babysitter is on vacation. And say you’ve already packed up the kid, and her lunchbox, and her diaper bag, and your own lunch bag, and you park the car at that asshole angle that says “But I’m only running in for a minute!” and you haul the kid out and all her seven changes of clothing (because, don’t forget, you’re in the middle of potty training and life has been reduced to mad dashes between potties). And say, for further instance, that you are tired of wearing the same old baggy post-partum shirts to work so you finally zazz it up a bit with some tailored slacks and a crisp blouse but now you have to walk through your sitter’s yard – where she keeps chickens, god bless her homesteading soul- in that outfit, your bags banging against your legs, to check to make sure your sitter IS still on vacation and you haven’t lost your mind. And say you haven’t lost your mind (hallelujah! A minor victory!) and you remember, right, your sitter IS still on vacation, and now you must come up with Plan B. So, say you pack up the kid, who is quite fond of her sitter and the chickens and most definitely does NOT want to get back into the car, and you text your client and beg forgiveness for needing to bring your kid to work today.
Say, too, that you are so preoccupied with the fact that you are going to have to be productive and deadline-conscious while keeping your curious little angel under your desk for three hours, you miss the turn into the parking garage at your client’s building. Another bit of dangerous math will enter your head: the construction downtown plus a new series of stops and one-ways yields a potential for a potty accident. You are now sweating through your crisp, new blouse.
And there, just as you round the last traffic-clogged corner and descend into the cool darkness of the garage, you see it. In the backseat, your child’s face is bent into a look of concern. Her tiny fist rises into the air, her thumb tucked beneath her forefinger, slowly waving, like a flag of defeat, the toddler sign language for “potty”.
As you snake your way into a parking stall, The Fisher Price carseat mirror confirms what you can already smell. There will be poop. Lots of it.
Though you are still dressed in the uniform of an office working lady, you will now need to assume the temporary role as head of FEMA. What you need to know is: How big is this mess? How long will it take you to clean it up? What’s in the car that can be used as a shovel? A bag? A hazmat kit? Is there clean water nearby?
You will do a tiny bit more math. You will realize this is not the worst day of your life. No, the worst day is still yet to come. That day, you will be hugging the toilet bowl, puking your guts out while your toddler stands close by and shoves something insistently into your ear, or maybe your lower back, while whining about the PBS station break. No, that day, after you’re done vomiting the last bit of water from your system, you will also be washing everyone’s pajamas, sheets, the dishtowels, the bathroom towels, and anything else you grabbed that day to mop up regurgitated toast. You’ll be doing this in between trips to the bathroom and to the kitchen to warm soup and refill juice cups. So, really, that day is not this day.
This day, you will have all the poop contained in a wet bag. You will have remembered to pack that, of course, but no wipes. So you will daub at your daughter’s butt with some old Chipotle napkins you stashed in the glove box half a year ago, and you will use the water from your water bottle to moisten them. When your daughter whimpers and gives you the sign language for “hurt”, realize that maybe you are trading efficiency for hapless brute force. You will realize it is hopeless to try to get all the poop off, absolutely hopeless. You will pray that the Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo wafting off her adorably curly head will be enough to mask the smell of excrement that will surely permeate her pink and green toddler leggings for the rest of the day.
And just as you extract yourself from the backseat where you will have been performing this triage with your breath held for three minutes straight, your daughter will crinkle up her face again, and give you the “potty” sign with her hand. Again you will try to be mindful: you are not dying. It is only poop. You can do this.
Your instinct to comfort your daughter will be duking it out with the stopwatch ticking in your head, because, after all, you were supposed to start work twenty minutes ago. And then there is the decency issue: you are floors and floors below an actual potty, to say nothing of toilet paper. If the first batch of blueberry fueled crap you gingerly tucked into that zippered bag was any indication, this next round is NOT going to be pretty. However, you are a mom before you are anyone’s office monkey, so you will grab your half-naked kid by the armpits, squat her in front of the car, and you will tell her to go, right there, on the parking garage floor. And boy, how she will go.
You will do more mental calisthenics. Drying time for kid diarrhea? Roughly the same amount of time you might need, say, to perform your job today? Availability of rubber gloves? Negative? How about a half-eaten bag of dry cereal you happen to have stuffed into the console weeks back? Could you empty that out into the carseat snack cup and use it to scoop up the poop? Yes? Well, then maybe you will NOT have to be that mom that left a steaming pile of shit in a parking garage.
Oh, and make sure while you are re-gathering the lunchboxes and bags and your purse to repeat the litany of gratitudes you have designed for such occasions. Be sure to take a minute and be mindful that you have not washed upon a foreign shore’s lands in a rubber raft, or have to worry about being shot for having a tail light out. Repeat over and over again the refrain of the white privileged working mom: This too, shall pass. It’s not that bad. At least you have a job. And a car to take you there. And a healthy baby to pour out all the binder clips beneath your ergonomically designed office chair.
Push down the urge to cry that stems from having to be the torch bearer for the leagues of female workers that are lined up behind you, convinced they can “have it all”. Sit there in that yawning divide between a 21st century woman’s life and her 19th century work culture, and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Be grateful for the invention of washing machines, and indoor plumbing, and plastics. Congratulate yourself on having had a few spare napkins in the car. Be exhausted. Be happy for your kid’s gleaming colon. Spot check your new blouse for stains. Now “go to work”, even though you’ve been at work nonstop for the last 23 months, 19 days, and 6 hours.