The great thing about having a two-year-old in the house is you feel your mortality like a happy little gun to your head. They’re not just growing—you’re dying!
Does that make sense? Since I was already post-middle-aged when my newest daughter dropped in, it felt, in some existential way, like we were crawling past other in different directions. She was newly born; I was newly old.
See, the first time I was a father, I was dying cause I was shooting dope every day. The Big Nod, not to get all queasy-romantic about it, was never more than a syringe plunge away. Now—the good news!—I’m not closing in on death because there’s Mexican tar in my arm, it’s happening on the natch. You know, the cycle of life.
Why mention this? Because! That’s where my Old Guy brain goes in a morning. I have an hour or two around dawn to write before baby and mother wake up. In these hours, the mind travels. I remember what it was like to live alone, and have days to sprawl out and make lots of time for wrestling a few thousand words to the ground. Not writing can eat up a lot of time. But now I’m a workadaddy, to lift a Tom Wolfe-ism, with an honest to god job every day—the first since my late thirties, when I wore the proud McDonald’s red and gray. Before heading into Maron to hang with the other yuck-hucksters, I put in some early a.m. time honing my long game.
What I like to do is stagger upstairs, after banging out a page or two, and cut up some nanas and strawberries for tot-girl, just so I can experience the fun of having her look at the fruit, then look at me, then look back at the fruit, then take a tentative nibble and say, “Nico’s fine. Nico doesn’t need any fruit.” Which, aside from sounding like Yankees demi-god Reggie Jackson, who used to answer reporters questions with, “That’s not good for Reggie,” is better than her previous baby move: grabbing the plate and hurling it at the floor for the dogs to scarf up and then shit out later on their favorite rugs.
One of our dogs, the basenji, likes to leave discreet, efficient little turds in out-of-the-way places, so we don’t find them for months, by which point they’ve calcified into tiny turd rocks, generally discovered by N when she’s groping for marbles behind a couch. It’s disgusting, but on the plus side said basenji has let little N stroke and pummel him and pull his curly tail since she was old enough to maul. When you weigh that against the odd calcified crap nugget, it seems like a square deal.
But I’m not sure. Besides my fear of baby brain cancer (Google bedside cell phones and baby brains), I have an unhealthy obsession with my daughter breathing poop fumes. Because we are on a septic system, and I have consistently forgotten to dump the monthly enzymes in our toilets, I’m also convinced some kind of cell-curdling swamp gas leaks from our commodes. Though so far I’m the only one who can smell it. As my mother used to say, “it’s probably your upper lip.”
Now that our daughter is toilet trained (except for some random bed-wetting, which I like to think of a tot-homage to Sarah Silverman) I look back on the first two years of her life as a sea of ungodly diaper loads. Once, in a pinch, I changed her on the hood of my old Cadillac, just off a skeevy stretch of Sunset Boulevard, and caught some pervaloid homeless guy smacking his gums and peeping from behind a dumpster. Then he called my name and I realized I’d been to rehab with him. He was my drug counselor. Life.
Anyway, now that she’s housebroken, our little girl climbs onto the potty all by herself. New to the whole process, she’s still in the Kabuki-wiping phase. By which I mean she will bunch up some toilet paper and kind of air-wipe her tushy after going pee-pee. Which is fine, as long as I take a follow-up swipe. Poop involves a bit more choreography, but we’re getting there. (And can I mention the cottage industry in poop and potty-centric children’s literature? Once Upon A Potty, A Potty For Me! P Is For Potty! And the old standby, Elmo’s Potty Time Play-a-Song Book. The idea, I think, is to turn every bowel movement into a little musical.)
Our goal is to get through the whole toilet transition without shaming her. My own upbringing was a little different. I pretty much left the womb and went straight into a shame spiral. And the seat of all shame, no pun intended, was the toilet itself.
My mother, and I say this with love, was the Herman Goering of anal cleanliness. She was so obsessed with keeping my tiny heinie clean she’d flip out at so much as a chocolate smooch in my underwear. Her threat, of which I’ve written elsewhere, was that she’d hang my dirty undies on the line in the backyard, “for all your friends to see.” My solution, Dr. Freud, was to not move my bowels for weeks at a time. Until Mom whipped out Mister Squeezems, her trusty enema. It was like being raped by Harpo’s bicycle horn. The mere sight of which would cause my little boy butt-cheeks to pucker in premonitory dread. To no effect.
Fracking for poop, Mom would inject hot soapy water up my 3-year-old ass with a force and conviction that would make Dick Cheney weep. With joy. When I read excerpts from the CIA Torture Report, I could not help picture my late mother at some black site, her stiff Lucille Ball flip intact as she sphinc-slammed some sleep-deprived Yemeni goat-herder into submission.
Could that be the silver lining of enhanced interrogation? Instead of shaming and abusing their own innocent children, our stalwart intelligence agents were shaming and abusing captive Muslims.
Sometimes it’s the little things.
I feel safer already.
This essay will appear in Jerry Stahl’s forthcoming book, OG Dad, a collection of his Rumpus column along with new, previously unpublished installments. OG Dad will be released by Rare Bird Books on Father’s Day, June 21st.
Rumpus original art by Max Winter.