It was nearing lunchtime this past Monday when I realize my kid has ingested dog poop.
The dried shit is on the bottom of a pair of sneaks I had sported over the weekend and left in the hall of our building. In my rush to get my 10-month-old out the door, I slip them on, laces tied, and jog to the bathroom to run my toothbrush over my teeth (the lone bullet point remaining on my once detailed morning beauty regiment. But that’s neither here nor there). My child is a solid month into crawling (Read: the Hugh Glass of army crawls), so slowly getting faster and faster. I have been in as much denial that he is becoming increasingly mobile as I can stand to muster each day. I do not recommend such an attitude.
So anyway, back to the shit eating. As I get ready in fast-forward, a miniature giggling human scrambles across my feet like an egg in hot oil and pauses momentarily to gag and vomit. Appropriately panicked, I scoop him up and inspect his face and body for clues as if I’m gathering evidence from a crime scene. It is the scent elicited from beneath his whisper of a pointer fingernail that takes me back to the time I played a classic, childish prank on a neighbor who kept double parking in my designated lot. Then I also gag, but pull it together just in time to completely lose it as the full picture of what just happened … what I had just let happen, takes form (insert toilet humor related metaphor). I behaved exactly as you would expect a mother of a baby who just consumed dog feces to act: Totally not okay. After chucking my poop shoes out the door I had just brought them in from, rinsing my kid’s mouth out with a squirt bottle until his screams reminded me he hasn’t yet mastered the gurgle, I was physically wringing my hands with shame.
Three minutes previous to this incident, I vaguely remember beaming a bit, proud of myself for coaxing a tiny human into a hat, matching shoes and one-third of a jacket. Also my hair was clean and a thin layer of Chapstick had been dragged across my lips. So. Close. To the car. When Baby decided to eat poop, it understandably halted our day. Yes, some pause and attention should be given to calling the pediatrician and cleaning up vomit and poop and brushing the child’s teeth, (check, check, check) but it was more that I let the incident disrupt the part of my psyche that tells me “I’m a good mom.”
Let me back up (just a bit) further. I haven’t been myself for a long time. I hear that happens to you after you have a baby. I archived the notion after hearing it from my mother (a mother of four kids whose age gaps rival; a woman who I now recognize as the inspiration behind B.o.B’s 2007 title track “Beast Mode“), from the pointed middle-aged Ukrainian women in the breakfast cereal aisle, from my childless friends, and from my childless friends’ parenting articles sent in private messages. I knew it would happen: The sense of losing yourself in this brand new person you grew in your body, fed with your body and sang to sleep every night. In many respects, I was prepared for the identity crisis that would unleash itself with the coming of this small stranger.
One acute experience that has taken me by surprise is the amount of unbridled guilt that has consistently plagued this ‘new baby’ adoration. Until now, I really haven’t seen the “mom guilt” for what it is (presence robbing, anxiety inviting, oppressive, not supportive) until I was deeply, violently consumed, and nearly intoxicated by the weight of it.
The poop thing is a simple example of how I so often let my mistakes qualify my capacity to mother and how harshly I see myself when (in this case, literally) shit happens.
I’m writing this today to stand up to the guilt I’ve allowed to overwhelm my ability to parent with a clear and focused mind. I make mistakes; I always have and from what experience I am able to draw from other humans of this world, I always will. I’ll make errors in judgment, lose my temper, overlook the obvious and stick my foot in my mouth. I’ll probably do all of these things at least once tomorrow. Going forward, though I acknowledge my mistakes (and sincerely apologize for them), I don’t condone them, and I won’t let them own me.
I owe that to my new identity as a mother, my sanity as a parent, and to my perfectly adorable, shit-eating son.