Last year, when my daughter Tyson was pregnant with her third child, she had gestational diabetes and morning sickness that lasted all day. Having birthed four kids of my own, I was no stranger to the joys of 24/7 nausea. At the time, I lived with Tyson, her husband, and two kids: 5-year-old Miss America and 3-year-old Destructo; and while we shared the house equally, I tried to let their family life take precedence. I was there for love and support, but it made sense to me that my daughter should set the ground rules for the house, while I moved in and about autonomously.
That was cool for me because my daughter is very domestic and, well, since the kids left home, I'm not. Instead, I provide fun and educational activities, like taking the kids for ice cream before dinner (coffee flavor is especially good on a weeknight), or showing them how to do cheerleader herkies off their beds (missing the overhead fan is key, although not missing it gets you style points), and schooling them in performance art. Hey, Skippyjon Jones and Miley Cyrus never sounded better than with Nana's tutelage. Yeah-ah-ah, yeah-ah-ah, it's a party in the U.S.A.!
One evening, while her husband was away, Tyson, Miss America, and I watched our favorite show, So You Think You Can Dance. We never missed it, and after the kids had their baths, we settled on the couch with popcorn, ready to be dazzled.
During a sock-hop number, Destructo tore in front of the TV speaking gibberish so fast, I thought he'd launch himself into hyperspace. He danced around frantically while holding his behind. There's only one reason a 3-year-old in potty bootcamp does that.
Tyson's eyes rolled in my direction, her face paled, and she moaned, "Mo-o-o-m."
It's times like these that you want to say to your grown daughter, "I was only kidding when I said you could always count on me." Because let me tell you, I normally balk at the combination of kids and bodily functions. It never ends well. Still, I liked to pitch in when my daughter made me. I mean, when I was needed. And how hard could it be? It's a simple matter of letting the kid stop, drop, and let it roll, right? Besides, Destructo had that "adorable" factor dialed all the way up to 11.
"C'mon, Nah," he said, extending his tiny hand.
I sighed, unfolded myself from my comfy slump on the couch, and resigned myself to my maternal task. Destructo led me down the hallway to our half-bath. I flipped on the light for him, pulled down his pull-ups, helped him scootch onto his potty seat atop the big people toilet, and handed him the "Hello Kitty" book. Who better to inspire an indoor poopfest than a cat?
Once in position, Destructo pointed with his whole arm and barked, "Out!"
"What?" I said.
"Geez, I get it, you don't want an audience. Girls don't mind an audience, you know. Girls go to the bathroom in pairs."
Destructo's brows dipped into a deep V above his button nose. Hmph. I exited and closed the door, when I heard him scream like a baby banshee.
"My god!" I said, jerking the door open. "Is it hemorrhoids?"
He said something in 3-year-old twaddle that I took to mean he just wanted the door almost shut. More importantly, he wanted to see me through the crack in the doorway and know that I hadn't left his fate up to the fiendish flushing machine. I'd been down that road long ago with all four of my daughters, so I gave the kid his privacy and took the opportunity to peek at the hoopla on SYTYCD. I left one foot in place where Destructo could see it and lunged on the other, as far and low as my thighs would let me, to see the TV. But I'm vertically challenged, and as it turns out, horizontally as well. Along with the bones in my pelvis cracking, I only heard Tyson and Miss America wow-ing and laughing and clapping, and generally relishing my show in front of the big screen where I should be.
I sighed and went back to check on Destructo. "You done, buddy?"
"No, Nah!" he said. "OUT!"
I felt like I should click my heels and spout, "Ja wohl, mein führer!" But I invoked some long-dormant facility for patience and gave him a few more minutes, alternately observing him through the space in the doorway and staring at the ceiling and my feet.
"You're missing it, Mom!" Tyson shouted from the living room.
"Not like I can press the fast-forward button," I mumbled. "How ya doing there, buddy? All done?"
Apparently not. Destructo concentrated and scrunched up his face till it had that inflamed quality. I figured, a little forcing couldn't hurt. I didn't know any 3-year-olds with hernias, and hurrying things up could only bring this little adventure to its happy resolution—and by happy resolution, I mean the most important part of my job, the sole purpose for my existence on earth at that moment: the wipe.
He grunted. I peeked. He gestured. I sighed. He decreed "Nana be gone," and I suggested prunes. This went on for another 15 minutes, during which time I missed the poignant moments of my show. I heard Nigel Lithgow give critique of a Bollywood number and Mary Murphy shrieked that the couple "earned a seat on the Hot Tamale Train!" Their voices taunted me while I stood sentry over a toddler version of The Thinker. By then, Destructo had been at it for so long, I had to go to the bathroom.
"Be right back," I promised. "Nana will be really quick, okay? Uh, don't go anywhere." Like that kid was ever getting off the pot.
Sixty seconds I was gone. Sixty. Seconds.
On my way back, I got a whiff of the boy's poo-pourri. Fabulous! Congratulations were in order, along with a quick swipe between the cheeks, and I was back on the couch. Hallelujah!
That is, until I noticed Destructo had taken matters into his own hands. Telltale smears of his effort had somehow gotten onto his night-shirt. And his thighs. And the walls. He had completely unfurled the toilet paper until there wasn't any left on the roll, and the puddle of tissue on the floor was not recyclable.
"No-o-o-o-o!" I wailed. Why me? I already graduated Mommy School. I let other people cook for me now. I get out of the house in two seconds instead of two hours, with just my purse. I get drunk without worrying about toddlers. I have sex without birth control! I've . . . matured!
Tyson yelled from the other room. "Everything okay? You got it, Mom?"
Got it? I got it alright—if it meant a direct message from the fecal gods.
Destructo clutched a spitwad of soiled toilet paper. To be honest, it would take a trowel to get that stuff out from under his fingernails. Where was Mike Rowe and his industrial-strength disinfectant for an epic taping of Dirty Jobs?
"Sorry, Nah," my grandson muttered.
I had to remind myself I was helping my sick daughter while she incubated an unborn child—a child who was likely to require my rusty butt-wiping skills at some point in the future. My eyes rolled back into my head, and I felt faint. But something snapped inside me: a little thing called motherhood. Tyson's, and my own.
I worried about my daughter overdoing when she felt so tired and sick. Nobody had been around to help me when I had morning sickness or the complicated migraines that dominated my third trimester with my 4th daughter. I became a single mother long before my husband and I split up. I didn't want Tyson to feel that way, like she carried the load alone.
Destructo stood very still, staring up at me.
"It's okay, buddy," I said. "Not that I don't love what you've done with the place, but let's get you out of here."
Right then, I channeled the attentive, competent, no-nonsense mommy I was in my twenties and thirties. I told him to wait right there while I sprinted into the laundry room and grabbed a towel. In one swift move, I pulled Destructo's shirt over his head and tossed it, wrapped his sticky little hands and arms under the towel, and pinned him inside it, strait-jacket style. I scooped him up and shuffled past the couch potatoes reveling in TV-land, and I dropped him into my shower where I lathered and quarantined him until he was properly sanitized.
Then I stood back. "Stick your fingernails in the soap," I suggested. "Like, you know, claw the soap."
He glared at me through the shower glass and raised his arm, pointing toward the bathroom door. "Out, Nah!"
I smiled. "Sorry, dude, not this time. Nana's in charge now."
He sank in the stall and rolled around under the spray, then pressed his nose against the glass and grinned at me. "I luh you, Nah."
Oh, poop. There he goes again, dialing up "adorable"—all the way up to 11.
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