I’ve only begun to get to know Jennifer Grant this year, but in these several months I have found her genuine, kind, and always willing to encourage and advise a newbie writer like me. It’s a treat to have her as part of this series.
If you’re a parent, you’ve likely been through something like this: Your child retreats, innocently enough, into another part of the house in search of a book or a Lego figure or a lovey of some sort. You encourage your child to retrieve the desired item and, when he or she is out of sight, you begin to notice clutter or little messes that somehow had escaped your attention until then.
A blister of dried glue on the kitchen table.
Handprints on the wall.
Markers lying under the table, caps missing.
Minutes pass. You busy yourself working the glue off the tabletop with your fingernail or sweeping up a mound of detritus (torn paper, dry cereal, a doll’s tiny sunglasses) from the corner.
Then, all of a sudden, the buzz of an internal alarm startles you. You realize that your child has been gone too long on his errand. Everything. Is. Much. Too. Quiet.
Most endings to this story are happy, and the child is found daydreaming on the stairs or silently paging through a book.
But there are times – and if there haven’t yet been, please trust me that they will come – when you find your child in the midst of creating a full-fledged disaster. Somehow she’s decided that your necklaces should be tied together in knots or the bathroom walls simply must be covered in shaving cream. Whatever it is, your plans for the day have been upended.
My worst discovery after one of those “it’s too quiet in here” moments featured a newly potty-trained preschooler. The child in question had decided to take care of post-potty clean up all by himself, for the very first time. When he found himself in possession of badly soiled underwear, he withdrew to his bedroom for a clean pair.
On coming upon the scene, I didn’t need the chain of events to be explained. The story told itself and, well, it reeked. There was a sullied potty chair. A mound of dirty tissues. A trail of excrement produced by a naked little bottom that had scootched along the floor to the dresser.
My son’s eyes widened when he saw me standing in the doorway. He seemed, as young children sometimes do, uncertain whether or not what had just happened was worthy of praise. He labored to explain, in the careful broken English of a three year-old, how he hadn’t been able to identify the material he’d found on his hands and legs after sitting on the potty chair. It only became recognizable to him when its stench filled the room.
“It smelled really, really bad. So then I knew it was my poo-poo,” he declared.
I didn’t quite know what to say.
“Honey,” I said, exasperation and fondness for this little boy dueling violently in my heart. “God made poop smell bad for a reason.”
My son’s face lit up. “Ahhh,” he said, as though it was not I, but the oracle at Delphi who had addressed him. “I see!”
Said oracle then bathed her child and spent the next few hours disinfecting the bathroom, wielding a bucket full of a bleach solution, and shampooing the carpet. All the while, those words ran through my mind: “God made poop smell bad for a reason.”
Truth is, excrement isn’t made to be smeared on the knobs of dresser drawers or rubbed into the carpet. There’s usually no good cause – unless you’re a gastroenterologist or the parent of an infant – to study your own or anyone else’s poop. Some things are just meant to be flushed away.
I have a tendency to over think the events of my life, particularly the stinky stuff. I ruminate over foul situations, find myself sleepless in the middle of the night recounting my regrets, revisiting bad memories, or trying for the hundredth time to discern the solution to some impossible problem.
Mucking around with these things isn’t, ultimately, constructive and I know it, but sometimes I can’t seem to help it. But there are moment when I’m locked in unproductive and distracting thoughts, when the words I spoke to my son more than a dozen years ago return to me: “God made poop smell bad for a reason.”
And I am reminded that I don’t need to busy myself with friendships or ideas or situations that just plain stink. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, encouraged the church to “forget what lies behind and strain toward what’s ahead” (Phil. 3:13). Without giving these words too scatological an undertone, I think his advice is relevant to this story. He later writes, “Whatever is good and true, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
So, when someone or something consistently fails to challenge, inspire, nourish, or bring me peace, I acknowledge its odor and try to put it behind me. Instead, I seek friendships, ideas, and projects that, by pointing me toward what is good, smell much more pleasant to me.
Jennifer Grant is the author of two books about family: Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter and MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family. She writes for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog and is currently at work on two new book projects. She lives with her husband and four children outside of Chicago. More at jennifergrant.com.