fecal Friday: workplace tales

Gawker has a very entertaining piece on how to poop at work. It’s a must-read if you have workplace poop tales that make you laugh, or that you have to deal with in therapy.

Anthony once excused himself for a potty break during one of those all-day job interviews. Unfortunately, his future boss followed him into the restroom. Even more unfortunately, Anthony had to take a dump, but the guy stayed and kept talking as Anthony voided his stool. 15 years later, this is the only thing I remember from my debriefing with Anthony about how the interview went. Anthony was mystified, horrified by the strangeness, but he took the job anyway. Not surprisingly, the boss turned out to be a complete nut job, and Anthony moved on quickly. Lessons learned.

I used to work in one of those fancy law firms with Chihuly and a beautiful receptionist in the lobby. The library would order multiple copies of papers and magazines, and each would circulate to 5 or 6 lawyers. Thanks to the mail guys who came around every hour, periodicals would arrive all day long in my in-box, each with a little check-off list of names stapled on the cover showing me who had already read it. The restrooms were near the beautiful receptionist, who took note of a particular partner who hit the can for a long spell every morning, always carrying a circulating newspaper or the Economist. The receptionist was a great source of fun gossip. Needless to say, everyone in the know had their names removed from circulation when they saw this partner’s name above theirs on the check-off list. I know I did, pronto.

It’s really about etiquette, I guess, but how does one associate etiquette with pinching a loaf?

By the way, I learned that phrase when I was a little girl, listening to a Cheech and Chong album that my brother Ted had. I didn’t know they were supposed to be stoned. I laughed and laughed, and accurate or not, this is how I remember the album starting: Hey maaaan, I gotta pinch a loaf… What? I gotta drop a stool. Whaaat? I gotta take a dump! And then there was something about a dog chasing a car… Huh. I must have snuck that album, because I don’t really think Ted would have put it on for me.

Anyway, in the workplace the one paramount behavior that etiquette requires, in my opinion, is the courtesy flush. A dear old friend who shall remain nameless once made me cry laughing when he described going to the restroom at work for his usual morning bowel movement. He settled on the can, and just a few seconds later the outer restroom door opened and an anonymous voice barked just two words, “COURTESY FLUSH,” causing my friend to have a minor existential crisis about whether everyone in his office thought his shit stunk.

Well of course it did, but so did everyone else’s. The pre-conclusion courtesy flush was sound advice.

grumpy about memorial day

We spent most of the Memorial Day weekend gardening. I don’t go in much for token remembrance days, and I don’t feel like spending just one day out of the year glumly remembering fallen soldiers. I feel that we should remember their ultimate sacrifice every day, rubbing our noses in it repeatedly and thinking hard about whether the wars we wage — justified or based on lies — are really worth the lives of the boys and girls we send to kill and die in them.

Instead of focusing on truisms, I prefer to honor the dead by simply embracing life, even as I struggle to grasp the horrible reality of soldiers dying in battle. Hence gardening. At this time of year, it’s a life-affirming labor. Anthony and I dug and split plants, thereby re-enacting the fish-and-bread miracle (gardeners’ edition). We effected a different kind of miracle by relocating a couple dozen volunteer hellebore seedlings from under the parents, our beloved plants spreading around the yard like a mushroom cloud. As we weeded here and there, we spied out rare trilliums, less-rare jack-in-the-pulpits, dainty lilies-of-the-valley, and many other untended treasures. Jesse and Anthony filled our pots with a lively array of annuals. We discovered baby chickadees nested in a deep dark hole on an old stump. We could barely make them out, so we used a flashlight to give the kids a better view of new life finding shelter in a dead thing. The wee babies stared up at us in frightened and curious silence, while the parents squawked their helpless ire from high in nearby trees.

The kids came outside Monday just as a long breeze blew a cloud of white petals off our apple tree. The petals flew thick through the air like snowfall. Nick burst into laughter as he ran to the tree with his arms raised, yelling in noisy wonder about “all the flowers in the air!!” Jesse joined the chase with more peals of laughter. It was very beautiful. I took a break from the hopeless task of getting creeping charlie out of our lawn by hand, watching quietly as my kids reveled in this simple and extraordinary moment. I was surprised to find that my mind was filled with one word, a mantra. “LIFE.” My heart tied up in achy knots. I don’t have a fully realized word for the feeling, but I think I was happy.

Anthony also found the dead chipmunk in the attic that was making our garage stink. He brought it out but it was really stuck to the big garbage bag it died on, so he left it in the open air next to the garage. Maybe a coyote or raccoon will come by and get some sustenance from it. We found a dead goldfinch under the bird feeder, with no obvious signs of why it died. Before I tossed it into the woods, Jesse wanted to see if its head was missing, because for some reason this spring she’s seen several headless (dead) ducks along Lake Michigan. I saw a tiny dead field mouse next to the road on a dog walk this weekend, no signs of trauma. The wild animals are struggling this spring, after a bitter arctic winter. Life and death are all tangled up together, as usual.

Fecal Friday: the wilderness poop

When I was a little girl, I lived in Korea where people would often sit comfortably in a wide full squat, feet flat on the ground, their arms or armpits resting on their knees. Very relaxing. My grandma’s home had a well-dressed latrine hole in the bathroom for human waste, so if I had to vent when I visited her, I squatted just like that. It worked great. But by the time I grew up and was going backcountry, I had lost the knack.

Americans don’t do much squatting except in exercise routines, and that sort of half-squat will do you no good when it comes to a comfortable rest, a bowel movement, or child birth for that matter. My brother Mark (who is weirdly full of sage and practical information) once told me that the best approach to a wilderness dump is to find a young sapling you can grab with both hands as you squat, and that lets you bear down without falling over. It was great advice.

I have very few memories of pooping in the wild, but I must have done it many times. I assume it must be traumatic in some way, so that I block it out. I don’t get it. I don’t want my kids to feel weird about it. I just want them to comfortably go about the business of voiding their waste, with no fuss, taboo, or remorse.

Nick was born ready for the wilderness poop. He learned not to crap in his pants mainly by running outside and pooping in our yard. He would just drop his ass down into a textbook poop-squat, his hands resting lightly on the ground in front of him, and let loose. Since his tiny cheeks were spread so wide by the stance, usually there was nothing to clean off his butt. One little wipe to make sure, and done. If you’ve ever pooped in the wilderness and handled it right, then you appreciate what a great thing this is. You pack out what you pack in, including used toilet paper, so a low-maintenance poop is highly valuable. Way to go, Nick!

I used to think the OCD would make wilderness pooping extremely difficult for Jesse. But Jesse’s OCD, like many mental disorders in kids, doesn’t seem to exist in a wilder setting. Nature begets all kinds of wellness. The foul, filthy outhouses we often find in campsites drive Jesse (and me) to madness. On the other hand, she’s perfectly fine with a lovely bit of earth covered in leaf mold and peopled with a few creepy crawlies.

One day on a hike through some woods and meadows in the Tetons, Jesse had a sudden and desperate need to poo. We scurried off the trail and looked for a good spot. It was a bit marshy, but we managed to find a place dry enough to set her feet on firmly. She settled down and issued one of those enormous stools that sometimes come out of children, an anatomical impossibility. It took a while for her to clear her colon, and of course flies gathered, buzzing the poop and Jesse’s bare ass. Jesse wanted to know what the flies were doing on her shit. Eating it, I answered. It’s fresh food for them. La la la. We took care of business, wiped Jesse’s ass down, bagged the used TP in a ziplock. We headed back to the trail, but after a few paces Jesse paused and looked back. “FLIES!” she cried out joyfully and musically, throwing her arms wide with a Broadway flair. “FLIES, come eat!! I have left a Jesse poop feast for you!”

Now that’s the right proper spirit of a wilderness poop.

grumpy about greed

Jesse has never really been greedy, apart from rare phases of normal childhood jealousy and desire. She’s not that into stuff, even though she has a lot of it, and she shares without reservation. After the dentist pulled two molars out of her mouth yesterday, I wondered aloud what the tooth fairy might bring. Usually it’s books or toys, but I was thinking maybe this time the tooth fairy might bring money. Because maybe that would be easier for the tooth fairy, hypothetically speaking. But Jesse told me she hoped the tooth fairy didn’t do that, because she already has money. So next I asked her what she would want. She answered, “I don’t really like to say ‘I want’, mommy, because that sounds very selfish. ‘I want I want.’ It just sounds greedy, and I don’t really need anything.”

Contented sighs filled my heart. And yet, because Jesse is who she is, it would never occur to her that she could refuse to put her teeth out and tell Tooth Fairy not to bring her anything. That would be hubris. So she wrote a note to T.F.:

tf note

“Please don’t send money because I am already earning money.” Wow. I wonder what the world would be like if more adults felt that way. Also I think it’s sweet that Jesse warned Ms. Fairy about the stink of her rotten teeth.

Nick has always been naturally more greedy than Jesse. He wants a piece of the action, no matter what it is. He wants stuff. He’s still good at sharing (he’s had a nearly-perfect role model in Jesse since the day he was born), but he’s more materialistic. I don’t fault him for this, because I think it’s just how he’s wired up, and we’re working on it gently. This morning I was pottering about taking care of mommy business while he played. He took note of me writing a check and asked me what I was doing. “I’m giving money to your school,” I answered. “They’re collecting money from families to build a cabin in the woods space.”

Nick goes to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool. Today is his last day at the preschool, ever. There are three outdoor classrooms. The only one without a house-like-structure is known as “the woods space,” and a wonderful mom has spear-headed an effort to get families in the class of 2013-14 to donate money to buy a cabin for it. It ain’t cheap. If you donate a hundred bucks, you can have a hand-carved wooden oak leaf attached to the cabin with whatever names on it you want. I’m going for it. I think it’ll be a pretty cool legacy to the school from our year. Plus I’d like to see a leaf on the cabin with Nick’s and Jesse’s names, since they’ve both spent many delightful hours at the school. In the years to come, we can go visit the building and find their names, retrieve happy memories, and thus hold onto a piece of these joyful early years.  As such, for me it feels less like a charitable donation and more like a selfish act. I’m still being greedy, even though I’m giving money away.

Nick was contemplative when I told him what I was doing. He stared out the window into our back yard for a moment, and then he looked up at me, speaking his four-year-old mind. “Ooooh. The woods doesn’t have a cabin… We can buy one for it?”

“Yup. That’s why mommies and daddies are donating money.”

“Can I give some of my money too?”

(more contented sighs in my heart.)

“You don’t have to, but yes, you can.”

He ran upstairs to find his tiny cache of cash. I honestly don’t know where he keeps it. He came down with a dollar bill. This is a mighty treasure, exceeding an ordinary tithe by a wide margin. I put it in the envelope and bit my tongue, which wanted to tell Nick he didn’t have to give that much.

“Is that enough to buy the cabin, mommy?”

“No,” I chuckled, remembering that wee kids have no concept of scale when it comes to cost. “It’ll take a lot more than that.”

“Wait a minute,” he announced, as he ran upstairs again. He came down next with his tiny hand full of change from his piggy bank, to add to the kitty. Three trips later, he was finally done, but only because I had sealed the envelope, and also I fibbed. “Yes, Nick, I think that’s finally enough to buy the cabin.”

After I tucked the envelope in a safe place, I melted into a puddle of happy on the floor of my living room. My kids have given the one-two punch to greed in the last 24 hours. I hope they hold onto that goodness in their adult years and keep teaching me lessons in generosity after I’ve forgotten them myself. The road to greed is broad and well-trodden, a veritable trench. I wish with all my soul that my kids take the road less traveled by, and perhaps make all the difference.

grumpy about anxiety

I took Jesse to the dentist today for fillings in a baby molar. Jesse faced it like she does many anxiety-inducing activities these days — she shuffled into the office like a POW being marched to an annihilating doom, her face blank and fatalistic except for a few edges of worry around the eyes.

We go the Fun Kids Dentist. I can’t tell if “fun” is meant to modify “dentist,” which would be a little twisted, or “kids,” thus implying that you shouldn’t come here if you’re no fun. Either option seems wrong to me.

Most of the kids have their mouth work done in a big open space, which fills with noisy little voices and squeaky toys and little people wandering around like drunks.  But the shop also has a couple private rooms for kids who can’t handle the herd. Jesse can’t manage it because the noise and bustle can rattle her badly. Also the clinic and all its patients wouldn’t be able to manage it if Jesse blows an anxiety gasket.

Jesse’s anxiety disorder is a demon that comes and goes without any obvious trigger. Some days are worse than others, and some days are truly awful. When it revs up, her anxiety is a deep-rooted fear of just about everything real and imagined, expressing itself in strange noises and behaviors. It’s the dread knot in the throat, uncontrollably blossoming over and over again, the anxiety itself creating further anxiety as she tries to grasp what’s wrong. Weekly talk therapy helps, but I believe deeply that the best therapy for Jesse at this young age is having a parent by her side to shore up her emotional reserves.

Going to the pediatric dentist is a constant reminder of the many separation rules our culture imposes on parents and children, starting right from the beginning of life via cribs and sleep training. Dentists in particular are always trying to spirit my kids away from me, with admonitions that everyone will be better off without me there. I don’t think so, friend. I’ve watched Marathon Man. No one is working on my spawn’s teeth with dental tools unless I’m in the room. I’ll stay for the rectal exams too.

We get a private room at the dentist, because of the anxiety (Jesse’s, not mine). (I think.) Nonetheless, the hygienist, whom I will call Pat (because that’s her name, of course), gave me The Talk about how parents aren’t usually allowed in the room. I said that’s fine, but I stay. Pat retreated to a secondary position: they ask parents to be absolutely silent and stay out of the way, so the child can develop a rapport with the dental staff. I secretly rolled my eyes. I’ll try not to talk too much, I answered, and I will rub Jesse’s feet as discretely as I can while you do your thing.

A lot of people conflate anxiety and depression. The two problems can indeed come hand in hand, but they’re not the same. Many well-intentioned grown-ups come at Jesse as though she’s depressed and needs an up-beat, gung-ho adult to make noise and distract her. Anxiety isn’t like that, at least not Jesse’s. Up-beat buzz just makes it worse. It makes Jesse anxious because she’s thinking things like, there must be something for me to worry about because this grown-up is sure trying hard to make me not worry. In this vein, Pat —  as well-intentioned as any adult could be — leaned over Jesse as she lay on the dentist bench, looked her dead in the eyes, and said cheerfully, “Oh honey, you have to let go of all that stress! Stress will kill you!”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Pat was actually very charming with Jesse, leaving aside the “you’re killing yourself” gaffe. She didn’t even seem put out when I eventually explained that I ignore separation rules — especially at school — when it comes to Jesse, because it’s a choice. I can choose to give her the support she needs to find her courage, or I can choose to give her anti-anxiety drugs. Many educators are very hard-assed about not wanting me to do things like give Jesse an extra hug when she’s crying about going in to school, or walk her to her classroom on a day when things just feel bad. I ignore them all. They can talk to my back as I hug Jesse or walk on through the front office with her.

Last week, as Jesse and I toodled around on our bikes, she asked me an odd question. “Mommy. What do you think of me?”

As usual, I wasn’t sure what emotional vector this question was riding on, but I gave it a college try. I told her I think she’s a brave and strong little girl, because even though she has a lot of fears about the world and about school, every day she gets up and does what she’s supposed to do, and also I know she’s working really hard on controlling her tics. I started to say something like, “I know your egg allergy makes you a little more anxious about your world too, like when kids bring treats to school, so I’m even more proud of you for —“

Jesse interjected, serious and resigned. “I’m not just a little anxious about the food, mommy, I’m really scared.”

It was so honest and true that it took my breath away. I hid my tears from her and pedaled along, wondering if she would feel any different if she didn’t have an anxiety disorder. Her fears are well-founded. But would she experience them differently? Would they be less demanding, less constant, with less negative effect on her body and behavior? I’ll never know. But I know enough now to not dismiss her feelings or her reality. Instead I said, “I’m sorry, Jesse. I’m always right here next to you, fighting to keep your world safe. So far, we’re doing good.” It seemed to be what she needed to hear, or maybe she just acted satisfied because she decided it was what I needed to say.

So it goes with anxiety. I need an arsenal at the ready to help Jesse fight back the demon, who comes calling without warning. My weapons of choice are my own warm body, my advocacy, a strong emotional back to carry her through the inchoate fire, or a firm hand to hold hers when she’s strong enough to walk through it on her own emotional feet. Sometimes I manage and sometimes not, especially when the demon surprises me.

At the dentist today, I managed. Jesse’s fillings turned into a tooth extraction. The dentist had to pull two molars. Jesse lay there patiently for almost an hour with different things stuck in her mouth, listening to the dentist and Pat discuss and plan and change course, her hands tucked under her butt so she wouldn’t twitch too much. Whenever I saw her starting to do her agitated-nervous squirming thing, I massaged her feet and calves and reminded her to breath through her nose so she’d get plenty of laughing gas. I answered questions she was too nervous to answer. A couple times she called to me because she couldn’t see or feel me; hearing my voice and feeling my hand on her leg eased her. Jesse handled it all like a champ, and when they were done she smiled and said thank you. She was mature, polite, pulled-together. It was awesome.

I got in the way of the dentist, but I think I helped Jesse. So I feel like we beat the demon today. Do-over tomorrow with whatever life throws at us.

grumpy about a Wisconsin spring

Even the New York Times wrote about how hard this past winter has been on midwestern gardens. My own feeling is that the article was published by the Times as a sort of curiosity piece about those crazy people somewhere west of Manhattan, with cutesy quotes from quirky Wisconsinites to add color. Nine years ago, reading the article would have made me chuckle and shake my head, and then I would have rented Fargo to keep it rolling. Because Fargo has anything to do with Wisconsin.

But I’m enlightened now. I’m becoming one of those crazy midwesterners — only without extended family living in six houses within a mile of me — and this may be the year when I finally go native on the gardening front. I’m giving up on my dream of re-creating, here in the harsh Wisconsin air, our slightly-southern gardens of the DC/Maryland area. This winter broke me.

Everything seemed fine until really late in the winter. The snow piled higher and higher, and the animals got hungrier and hungrier. Anthony noticed it first. “Carla. Have you seen what the rabbits are doing to your evergreen?” Then a few days later, “Carla. Have you seen what the deer have done to your maples?”

I had to stop typing just now to put my hands over my eyes for a moment and pull myself together. I am actually grieving for my beautiful little trees, and it pains me to write about it. I feel regret, loss, guilt, a physical pain in my gut. I also feel a feral rage at the animals that ate my babies. One day I was chatting about the situation with our neighbor Pete, as he walked by with his dog Robert. It’s pronounced “Row-Bear,” a fact for which I have no explanation. It puzzles me. I don’t think it’s a Wisconsin thing, but I’m not sure. I said something about what the deer and rabbits had done, and how I wanted to kill them, and I called the deer “f*ckers.” Pete looked a little disappointed in me and spoke gently, saying something like, “well… maybe they were hungry and just looking for something to eat.” I rolled my eyes into the back of my head and made faces, but this is also why I’m fond of Pete. He’s right of course, and I’m so glad that I could provide them with a late-winter feast.

No no no no. I am not glad about it. I am grumpy. Because look at what the rabbits did to my beloved evergreen, just 4 feet tall after 7 years, a slow-growing asymmetric floppy beauty.


The snow piled up a foot or two and covered the bottom limbs, which is why they’re still there, at least at the outer extremities. The rabbits came and hung out on top of the snow, issuing shit in prodigious quantities.They ate the middle of the tree. Then the snow melted, and the middle of the tree was gone, and all the lower limbs were weighed down by a 2-inch thick layer of rabbit shit. It was just sickening, like something out of a horror movie. I actually had to shove and shake the shit off the lower limbs to set them free, there was so much of it. I love this tree so much, but the reality is… It’s stupid-looking now, no longer delicate and strange. Dare I say it aloud? It may have to be euthanized.

Then there are my maples. I know Japanese maples are a touchy thing in Wisconsin, and I’ve had several fail in different spots in my yard. Even the Times article commented on it: “Certain plants that were “on the edge of their hardiness” in the Great Lakes climate, like Japanese maples, did not survive.” Okay okay. But MY surviving maples were in two microclimates that were warm enough. Two are up front near the vent pipes for the heating system, and one was in back on a protected hillock right behind the house. They were making it and thriving. But then this winter happened, and the stinking deer. They killed the maple in back.


The deer ate every branch that would have carried a leaf, and then some. And look at the base. The bark is gone. It’s as good as dead. I pulled the tree out and cringed as I hacked off its well-established roots. Anthony couldn’t say goodbye. He took it down to an ungardened hillside and shoved it into the dirt, with a dry hope that it’ll survive to see another season.

The maples up front were likewise decimated. They were fountaining, lush ornamentals, well-established and thriving. Now it looks like Edward Scissorhands pruned them.


I can only post up a picture of one of them. I can’t take it anymore. It just hurts too much.

Also did you notice what an excellent photographer I am? Do you like the way I captured the beauty of our tarp-covered A/C condenser as well? I’m just trying to change the subject.

Even our wee magnolia suffered this year. Usually it’s covered in beautifully delicate white flowers in early spring. This year, it was not.


The fourteen flowers that did manage to open were ripped off by heavy rains a few days after they bloomed. I guess I’ll just mulch, fertilize, and wait eleven short months for another shot at magnolia glory.

Until a few days ago, I found myself going outside every day to stand glumly before my trees’ broken and maimed bodies, staring blankly as my slippered toes turned frost-bit in the spring chill.

It’s turning around now. A few warm days here and there have started to slake away the dormancy, in our garden and my heart. This morning is glorious, sunny and — for a Wisconsinite — balmy. It’s over 60 degrees!

After 3 nights stuck in bed between Nick and Jesse’s squirming bodies and pokey toes (Anthony has been trapped in Palm Beach since Thursday, poor man), I woke up seriously grumpy. Before my eyes opened, I was snapping unpleasant and inappropriate edicts about where the kids could put their toes from now on. Jesse started whining so I sent her off to her own room. Where she should sleep anyway. I had to walk the dog, who was stopping to sniff something every foot or two. It drives me crazy and turns me into even more of a nattering crazy person than usual.

Still, by the end of my walk, the bright day had lifted me up. There’s green stuff coming in everywhere, and it’s so beautiful that the kids and I decided it’s a perfect day to go to Jumping Country, an indoor blow-up play zone. Why waste a day like this on the outdoors? We hopped in the car and did a full-freeway-freeze-out, windows and sun roof wide open, bouncing and head-bobbing our way north to Grafton as we sang along to Pure Pop on the radio – Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Timberlake. I even remembered to pack my 1-quart coffee thermos, so I am SET on this sofa in this warehouse, typing this blog post on this iPhone, my kids lost in the bowels of enormous polyurethane structures. It’s spring in Wisconsin!

Fecal Friday!

I’ve decided to have a summer series as part of my blogging non-ritual. Fecal Fridays. I have so many poop tales to tell. Friday is a good day for it, because I don’t think many people catch my Friday blogs.

This topic came up today as I was sitting poolside with my friend Phyllis, while our four-year-olds were having their semi-private swim lesson. Nick had dropped his goggles in the water earlier. They sunk (sank?) to the bottom and were promptly forgotten. I noticed him starting to whine about his face getting wet, so I wandered over to pool’s edge, leaned over and peered down at them, and gestured over to teacher Sarah that here they were. Phyllis became slightly agitated. “Is it poop?”

A totally fair question, experience says. A preschool group gets in the pool right before our kids’ lesson. Picture 20 or 30 hypothetically-potty-trained 3-to-5 year olds bouncing around in a cordoned-off part of a shallow pool, packed in shoulder to shoulder, while their teachers laze about on the benches staring blankly into space. Imagine what comes out of their bums. Leaving aside the invisible liquid matter, turds are frequently discovered after the horde leaves the pool.

I personally feel that if the teachers were required to get in that pool with the kids, the poopage would be reduced dramatically. All the right incentives would be there to ensure the kids take care of their business elsewhere.

An aside. I think poopage should be a word. It is a word in the Carla dictionary. Autocorrect should not make it into “poi page.” That makes no sense. Why not at least autocorrect to “poop age”? Why add fish to the equation?

Phyllis knows I’m entertained by poop and fart jokes and stories. (I think it’s why she loves me.) I know I’m not alone. I recently looked through greeting cards at Whole Foods and discovered a full rack of poop-and-fart-joke cards. My favorite was the unicorn flying through outer space with a sparkly rainbow trail shooting out its ass, and a caption along the lines of “where did you THINK rainbow sparkle candy came from?” Oh hahaha, oh stop, stop, I’m doubled over and wiping tears from my eyes. Whew.

Wait while I regather my thoughts and unclench my abdominals…. Okay, better. Phyllis suggested I blog about poop regularly. Brilliant. We noodled some names for such a series and settled on Fecal Fridays. I googled it to see if it’s in use already. I wouldn’t want to infringe on someone’s trademark.

Incredibly, it appears that “fecal Friday” is a sort of cultural phenomenon with animal doctors. I didn’t delve far enough to make complete sense of it, so I could be totally full of shit and exaggerating, but my super-thorough 30-second sweep of google results has led me to conclude that vets across the country offer “fecal Friday” specials so you can bring your pet in for anal exams and drop off turds for testing, for free or on discount.

I’m thrilled to have learned this. It’s really news to me.

Anyway, I’ll try to do it. Fecal Fridays. I’ll shoot the shit about poop-related topics. I hope you’re as excited as I am. Guest bloggers welcome. Share your poop tales with me. I won’t judge.

Grumpy about mother’s day

What’s the deal with Mother’s Day? We’re on duty all year, and then we’re supposed to be satisfied with a little false spoiling one day out of that long year? Huh. That kind of tokenism leaves me grumpy. Nonetheless, I expect this maternal holiday to be taken seriously if it’s all I’ve got coming to me.

Alright, alright, I’ll fess up. I don’t actually have to wait for a Sunday in May to get treated right. Anthony is a dad to shame other dads. At every reasonable opportunity, the man gives me breaks. He takes the kids on an adventure nearly every weekend (leaving me home alone to do what I want for a few hours and to be filled with envy that they’re having fun without me); he does all manner of household chores (except toilets, as far as I can tell); he’s involved in the ordinary daily activities of our lives.  So he would have to top all that to make Mother’s Day special. Tough task. Last year, he took the kids away all day; I think I didn’t see them for 8 hours. I was thrilled and thankful.

A couple years ago, Anthony came home from a Mother’s Day outing and told me that he had noticed other families out having brunch for mother’s day, moms and dads and kids all together, and it left him kind of sad to be running around without me. I had several reactions to this feeling. One, maybe those moms work, and eating breakfast with their kids is special. Not me. Time alone is a rare treat for me, not breakfast with my kids. Two, Jesse’s egg allergy = brunch bad. Three, I wondered if those children he observed were acting like they’d been raised by monkeys, like mine do. Taking Nick and Jesse out to meals in restaurants isn’t relaxing or celebratory, unless I tranquilize them first.

My Mother’s Day weekend this 2014 was a bit odd. Jesse turned 9 last Tuesday, and as part of her birthday gifts she got a “birthday certificate” sending her on an overnight trip to a waterpark with Dad. She and Anthony were gone Saturday and much of Sunday, so I got to have some alone time with my 4-year-old Nick. He wanted to be the boss, and that seemed okay. We relaxed together Saturday, running a few errands and buying a couple plants for the yard. Nick picked a lovely little shrub for me with wee white flowers. Perfect. Sunday we woke up and lazed about. I brought Nick breakfast in bed so he could do a mini-marathon of Digimon. Next he wanted to go to the zoo. I said yes, because it was sure to be a quiet day at the zoo. After all, what mother in her right mind would go to the zoo on Mother’s Day? It would be Nick and me, riding the little steam engine zoo train over and over again, and visiting quietly with the penguins.

Apparently I still don’t understand Wisconsin, despite 8 years here. I’ve never seen the zoo more busy. The back up of cars to get through the entrance and into the parking lot covered 3 city blocks, a huge cloverleaf off-ramp, and the exit lane on the freeway. I was stunned. It was like family reunion weekend, multiple generations and extended families all gathered together to celebrate Mother’s Day. There was picnicking and barbecuing and lounging about on patches of lawn. At the zoo.

We waited 25 minutes to ride the blasted, stupid train just once. Even Nick was horrified. There were phalanxes of baby-buggies and loads of humanity blocking every path, which means mostly what Nick saw at his eye level, as we wandered about, was adult butt cheeks. It was the first really warm day of the spring, in the upper 70’s, and this apparently called for women to dig deep into their summer wardrobes and pull out their thinnest tube-top mini-dresses, short-shorts and revealing tanks, their pale winter-bleached skin adding to the glare of a warm sunny day. Wisconsin style.

I stood in line for the train and rudely asked a woman standing next to me, why in the world are you here? Why are all these mothers here? She had brought her sons and left her husband at home to do yard work and “clean up [her] closet.” I wasn’t entirely sure what the second part meant, but I didn’t delve further. She seemed happy.

I guess I must be soaking in the Milwaukee gestalt, because despite my puzzlement, there I was at the zoo alongside thousands of other mostly cheerful moms. And after all, I had fun. How could I not, with this little cutie by my side?

squinchy face nick sweet nick nick on carousel

When we got home, Jesse and Anthony were waiting for us. Anthony had mowed the lawn and washed my breakfast dishes, and he was ready to grill dinner. He and Jesse had brought me a gift (a new t-shirt, always a treat), and there was a special note from her:

mothers day note

In case you can’t make out the body of the text: “Thanks for being a great Mother and you do a lot more things than a mom does. You are very tolerant, you work hard, you make great food, and you make my lunch delicious! Also that birthday certificate was AW[E]SOME. What I mean is thanks.”

I think it’s what moms dream of, even if they have to go to the zoo on their special day.


Grumpy about the heavens

Nick wanted to talk about outer space today as we drove to Target to buy sheets for his new bed.

“Mommy, what would you look like if you were in outer space?”

“Since I can’t survive in outer space, I would look like an astronaut because I would be wearing a spacesuit.”

He answered quickly. “No, what would you look like without the suit?”

I played it straight, of course. “I would be dead. That’s why I would wear a suit.”

Nick thought a moment and then giggled sheepishly, shrugging like he was about to let me in on a dirty little secret. “But what if you were dead AND in outer space, what would you look like?”

I took a moment to consider, as I eyed him in the rear view mirror. I’m certain he doesn’t know about vacuums and such yet, so what was he getting at? “What are you thinking about, Nick?”

He looked sly. “What will happen to you when you die? Will you go to heaven? You know, in outer space?”

I couldn’t stop myself from feeling irritable. “Who’s been telling you about heaven? Did someone tell you heaven is in outer space??”

“I don’t know,” he answered, back to keeping his secrets.

So we had a conversation. I apparently started out a bit too metaphysical for a four-year-old kid like Nick. His facial expression told me “confused” when I said that, if heaven exists, I don’t believe it’s a place where our bodies go, but only the feelings and thoughts that happen in our brains and join together to make each of us unique. Conventionally known as our souls. He blank-stared at me for a second and then soldiered on.

He still wanted to know about bodies, but I didn’t want to talk about cremation or burial or other such options. I unsuccessfully tried to deflect the chatter to living on mother Earth in the here and now, but then DING DONG, my mother-earth-calling-Carla bell went off and I finally said the right thing. “Nick. Outer space isn’t heaven.”

“Oooh.” Still pensive.

“Our dead bodies don’t go to outer space when we die.”

“Oh!” Spirits getting brighter.

“There are not a bunch of dead bodies floating around in outer space.”

“Oh! Okay!”

All better.

I’m glad Nick shares his thoughts with me. Airing that stuff out is so much better than getting tangled up inside, in a dark secret place in one’s mind, like I remember doing when I was little and like I know Jesse does. Children have beautiful – and frightening – twisted visions of the way things are. I like hearing all about it.

Poop tales

Jesse turned nine today, and as I sat around wondering at the passage of years, this deep thought occurred to me: I’ve been wiping kids’ poop-stained asses every single day for nearly a decade – more specifically, for exactly 3285 days.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Sometimes when Jesse was an infant, she went for three or four days between poops, so I guess the off days don’t count, but she made up for it by pooping 14 or 15 times a day for the first few months. Nick is just four, so we probably have a couple years to go; but Anthony often takes the burden so I really shouldn’t complain. I’m not a fan of pushing children too young to self-wipe. There is no way an ordinary 4 or 5 year old would do a decent job of it, and the only thing the would make me grumpier than wiping my kids’ asses is having to deal with their shit-covered hands and wash their sullied undies.

As my friend Erin once said, DAMN I can’t wait for the day when the only ass I have to wipe is my own.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not poop-shy by any stretch, and I always enjoy good, clean scatological humor. Also I do think folks would be well-served by a little less repression on this subject. Did you know there’s a technical term for being poop-shy? “Parcopresis” is what the DSM calls it.

That would be the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a text with which I’m surprisingly familiar thanks to my lawyer days and my daughter. Leaving me alone with the DSM in adulthood is as bad as leaving me alone with the Bible when I was a kid (read my post about vanity if you’re curious). It turns out I am very good at self-diagnosis. I’m definitely suffering from the usual suspects (anxiety, OCD, depression), and I’m pretty sure I’m somewhere on the mild end of the Aspergers spectrum (except it’s all called autism now, right?), and also I think I concluded last year that I have mild oppositional defiance disorder and also a borderline personality. You just have to read the DSM definitions. It’s all there, plain as day. I seem to be high-functioning, at least.

Anyway, back to poop-shy. “Parcopresis” is an odd word that doesn’t give its meaning away easily, and also it’s hard for me to say out loud. I feel all puckered up. Why not just call it “poop-oppressed” and then a person would have a distant chance of guessing what it’s about? The good news is, you can also call it “psychogenic fecal retention.” That’s better.

The only fecal retention problem I’ve ever had is occasional constipation. My dad used to tell me I have diarrhea of the mouth (love ya, Dad). Let me open my literary sphincter and vent a few random poop tales, and then I can feel a little less bloated.

Jesse used to poop so constantly in her early months that every diaper change was high-risk. Once she lay on that changing table and shot high-velocity liquid stools three feet, horizontally, through the air. It splatted on the wall at my eye-level. I remember actually crying out in terror. Cleaning her was like wrestling with a tiny crocodile. She did not cooperate. We frequently ended up holding her in the air by one ankle, upside-down, desperate to stop her from cavorting and smearing poop everywhere. It was carnage.

The next evolution came when Jesse was three and trying to potty train. She was really resistant and kept crapping in her pants, but her no-diapers-allowed nature preschool was starting in a month. Oh no! I really needed my insane daughter to go to school 8 hours a week so I wouldn’t become insane too! It was an emergency. We were on a mini-vacation on Lake Michigan when we were inspired to take her training potty down to the beach with us. It was a popular beach on a warm day, which in Wisconsin means this: the water was probably 60 degrees (balmy by local standards, i.e., warm enough not to make me scream on first contact), the air was in the low 80’s, and there were actually 3 or 4 people within 50 yards of us.

Whenever Jesse wasn’t playing, we encouraged her to pull down her swim bottoms and sit on the potty with a towel over her lap (lest we shock walkers going by), la la la, staring out at peaceful Lake Michigan. Eventually her bowels moved, and then Jesse brought her game on. She leaned over and started grunting and moaning loudly and dramatically, and it went on for at least 5 infinite minutes. She essentially recreated the toilet scene from Austen Powers. Anthony and I rolled on the sand laughing. Peeps walked by with looks that were variously entertained and concerned, but all I really cared about was the fact that Jesse was finally taking a dump on the can.

Nick’s diapers and potty-training were mostly no-brainers, thanks to parental experience and his less-tortured little soul. I didn’t focus on the actual potty as much with Nick. I tended to take him outside and let him squat, because he liked that better. He could pee on a tree and poop on the ground. And anyway it was easier than cleaning up a training potty. One day Nick ran out to the front lawn and decided to poop there. Before I could stop him, he had dropped trou’ and was pushing out one of his massive loads, roadside. A couple cars came by before he was done, but what could I do at that point except wait patiently with a plastic bag?

Here’s my most humiliating personal poop tale. When I was in seventh grade, I cargo-farted during Spanish. I wish I remembered the teacher’s name. She was a tiny little Latin woman with an accent and enormous breasts. She wore bras that made them each look like half a football. I was laughing hard at something that happened in class, and I shot a fart accidentally, and then I smelled something awful. Sure enough, when I went to the bathroom after class, there was a wee smear. I was horrified. I cleaned up best I could and went about the rest of the day. My guess now is that half the schoolboys were wandering around with even better skid marks than mine, but as far as I was concerned, everyone passing near my orbit must have noticed I smelled like shit and held me in contempt forever. It’s a miracle I ever had a friend again.

My grandma was perfectly comfortable with open body talk, including pee and poo news. On the day of her funeral, I ended the day driving back to the hotel with my man Anthony and my brothers Mark and Eric. It was late, we were emotionally spent, the tears were done. I don’t know how we got on the subject of poop, but it was inevitable because Mark and Eric totally get how important pooping is, both as a bodily function and as a source of humor. Eric described a particular impressive dump he had taken. It involved volcano analogies. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I expressed some strongly felt concern that he must have been inspecting his poop closely to be able to describe it in such clear detail. Mark interceded with a vigorous defense of his bro. “Hey! Leave him alone! So he’s fascinated by his poop! What’s wrong with that??” It was a perfect end to the day.

I have officially connected my grandma’s funeral day with my daughter’s birthday via poop talk. I don’t think sweet Grandma would have minded at all. Happy birthday to my sweet little girl.