I was prepared to be thoroughly grossed out by most of the corporeal aspects of parenthood – especially the various fluids and semi-fluids coming out of orifices. I was prepared because I’ve heard so many gross-out stories from parents throughout the years, and I was prepared because I’m particularly squeamish. I don’t even want to hear about your injury or affliction, let alone see it. I close my eyes at anything medical in movies, and I have never harbored illusions that I could be any sort of medical professional – although I did once want to go to EMT school thinking that maybe I could finally get over my squeamishness, and learn how to save lives at the same time. That idea lasted half way through the reading of the flyer for said EMT school.
So clearly parenthood was going to be one big super-gross-fest. Yet, to my surprise, it wasn’t. Until this week. Until this week, I’ve been shockingly unfazed by being pooped and vomited on; by sucking mucus out of my baby’s nose (with one of the grossest parenting inventions there is: The Nose Frieda); by diarrhea; by hand-washing poopy cloth diapers. It’s all been manageable.
What then could be scads grosser than that? Possibly nothing, but I nearly vomited twice this week at the following (don’t read, by the way, if you are anything like me):
1. My 11-month-old pees on her little potty. She beams when she pees. So sweet. Then she sticks her hands between her legs and touches the pee to see that she really has peed. So far, so good. Then she begins splashing. A little at first but this is a girl who really likes water and soon she realizes that she is sitting on top of her own little water park. So she swirls it, takes handfuls of it, splashes it on her legs and on the floor. She does not drink it, which makes me feel mildly religious because I want to thank some sort of deity for that. Yet something about that splashy-splashy just gets to me. I see the urine everywhere and I nearly lose it.
2. My baby loves our friends’ dogs. Our friends have little, tiny dogs who love jumping up on her and licking her face. Her first reaction to having her face licked? Sticking out her tongue and licking that tongue back.
How I made it eleven months without my squeamish buttons being triggered and why a little pee play and French kissing a dog are suddenly throwing me over the edge, I don’t know. I hear there’s a lot more in store too: pooping in the tub, bloody injuries, oozy things, such as boils.
And I don’t know if the yucky stuff will get easier or harder – if I’ll get more used to it, or if grosser days are ahead. However, all of this grossness is only one of the many uber-challenging things about parenting. Because parenting does not just call upon the resources that you have. Lots of things do that: Good and challenging jobs, creative work, complicated relationships. Parenting also calls upon resources that you absolutely do not have. It asks you to do what the Non-Parent You could not do. Like go without sleep for a sustained time, or devote your waking self to the service of another human being, or, yes, deal with gross stuff. The Non-Parent Me simply did not have it in me. This me who can do these things has come into being through parenthood. This me who is only finally grossed out by seeing my baby licking a dog’s tongue – a me different from the me who could not have even written about that happening, let alone experienced it and moved on, knowing there is a strong likelihood it will happen again.
Before parenthood I could not sleep on a plane no matter how tired. I could not sleep without the lights out and the room quiet. When traveling, I would look for particularly quiet hostels, savoring remoteness. Some of the worst arguments I can remember having are with those who fucked with my sleep. I often wished that could be different – that I could be a person who falls asleep easily without the need of complex ritual: dark, quiet, reading a book, no interruptions or noises during the crucial period of slipping into sleep.
Fast-forward to parenthood where I co-sleep with my baby, sleep with noise, am awoken often, sleep with a nightlight, and never, ever get to read before bed. The old me would have given anything to be a more flexible sleeper. What magic wand does parenthood wave to transform what seemed untransformable?
I do know that not all who are called to the parenting challenge rise to it. Some parents abuse or abandon their children. Some parent haphazardly, without much forethought, or without much attention. Some phone it in. But for those of us who are showing up for this thing 24/7, who are in awe, confused, grateful, joyous, terrified, in love, deep into the mystery of this experience – we might want to stop every once in a while, every once in a pee-splashy-splashy while, and be utterly impressed with what a courageous and gorgeous thing we’re pulling off. This is so gross, and so messy, and so jumping off a cliff every day. And we do it while boiling an egg, and packing a bag, and brushing our teeth, and dressing/amusing our little completely simultaneously. Bumpily sometimes, for sure. But sometimes so seamlessly that we forget what an absolute amazement we are.