I remember, as a teenager, being weirdly fascinated but grossed out by babies and small children. My limited experiences with babysitting left me shuddering at baby spit up and pretending I hadn’t smelled the scent of poop wafting toward me from a little one’s diaper. I quickly got over most of those feelings when my own kids were born–mostly out of necessity. I think most parents have a built-in damper that kicks in when our own children do gross things that we have to handle. Probably some kind of Darwinian construct, the way babies are always adorable.
Here’s the thing, though: kids generally are gross. From Day 1, when you’re cleaning up that disgusting meconium (also known as tar) from your baby’s bum, all the way to the stinky, sweaty teenage years. I remember a friend complaining about how her husband avoiding changing her baby’s diapers because he claimed they made him gag. All I could think of when she told me (aside from trying not to roll my eyes too far back in my head) was, “Dude, this is only the beginning.”
If you have a toddler who isn’t yet potty trained, you know of what I speak. Who doesn’t long for the days of breast milk poop, once their child has started eating solids and meat, specifically? Honestly, there are definitely days when I’ve done my share of gagging, as I changed my 3-year-old’s pull up. He is potty trained for peeing, and knows when he’s about to poop, but do you think he’ll go near a toilet then? Nope. So he asks for a pull up to poop in. And there are few things that smell worse than his poop right now.
Those are the good days, too. Small children, when they have an upset stomach, do not have enough control to make it to the toilet when they feel the urge. That means even after you’ve toilet trained your kids, you may find yourself cleaning up crap. And let me tell you, it’s even more disgusting when it’s smeared or pooed in underwear!
And have you ever been given enough warning by your child to catch their vomit in a receptacle beyond your hands or lap? Chances are slim. I don’t know about you, but my handfuls of vomit have included everything from rainbow sprinkles to undigested (and unchewed) pieces of pizza. Delicious.
Recently, my kids have undergone a series of ailments that always seem to result in bodily fluids needing to be cleaned up. I’m fairly certain we should be buying stock in a certain name brand of ibuprofen, what with all the middle-of-the-night fevers I’ve had to treat. The one from last weekend started with high fevers and ended in horrific-looking rashes, and believe it or not, the rash was the good part. I’ve never been so happy to see a full body rash in my life.
This is only the gross part that involves illness, too. My son regularly goes out of his way to lick window panes, and my daughter collects rocks in her pockets, which I generally discover as I’m washing her clothes or hanging up her jacket. Both kids will happily stick their fingers up their bum (not each other’s, thankfully) and then go back to eating dinner, leaving me wide-eyed in horror and demanding they go wash their hands immediately.
None of these acts are going to ruin their lives. I know that. But how many times can one parent say, in one day, “Ugh, stop! That’s so disgusting!”
In the end, it comes down to one realization for me, as a parent: bodies do gross things all the time, we just get better at hiding it as we grow up. So I suck it up and help my kids negotiate their messy little bodies, because they’re either learning something, or fighting something off. And I guess I love them enough to help with that. Because eventually, our bodies stop working quite so well, and when that happens, I hope my kids will remember how I helped them and return the favour.