I learned something really important today: a good friend lets you clean up your own messes.
Not all the time, maybe. And not in totality. But it’s actually charitable to let someone take care of their own shite. Literally, in this case.
Today I went next door to have coffee with my friend and let our kids play together. Liam was thrilled, because she has three older boys and they have *excellent* boy toys. Lincoln was thrilled because he’s thrilled every single time he gets to walk out the door. I was thrilled because she’s awesome and she makes phenomenal cappuccinos.
After a half-hour of intense talking and coffee drinking, I thought, “I smell something — what is that?” Just as I raised my head up to look for the source, Liam said, “Mom, Lincoln is poopy and he stuck his hand in it and now it’s all over my foot.”
And it was all exactly as my son had described, except that his description was much too narrow in scope to capture the totality of the situation.
Here’s what actually happened: Lincoln had apparently pooped in his diaper, stuck his hand down the back of his diaper, pulled out some poop, and wiped it all over his shirt, shorts, legs, feet, the floor, and his brother’s legs.
Did you notice how I described that factually, with zero histrionics and absolutely no embellishment? That’s because it was so bad that I would hate to obscure the sheer awfulness of the situation with exaggeration.
Remember when said we were at her house? I love going to her house, because she’s a spectacular housekeeper and I am not. I’m very good at keeping the sitting room clean, because that’s the room where I write. But sometimes I forget the rest of the house exists, and then when I go visit it, I actively try to forget again.
My neighbor’s house is beautiful. It’s tastefully decorated. It’s always tidy and gleaming, with no stray toys or random shoes underfoot. Each room radiates peace. It’s an oasis of order for my artistic, haphazard soul.
And my toddler shat on her floor. Her sparkling, sparkling floor.
I freaked out and stood there, holding Lincoln’s wrist in a vise-like grip to avoid him further contaminating anything with his poop-covered hand, and sputtered, “I’m so sorry! Why? Why? Why do they do this? What…Lincoln…why? Oh, blech. Blech blech blech. This is so disgusting. I’m so sorry!” She said, “why are you sorry?” then calmly rose, told me to take him to the bathtub, brought me plastic bags and a box of wipes, and proceeded to clean the poop off Liam and the floor while I used an ENTIRE box of baby wipes to get all the poop off Lincoln. Then I turned the water on and bathed him with a vengeance, while she told me the story of how her son, when he was a toddler, once took a poop on the floor and then ran his Tonka truck through it and around the rest of the house — back when they rented.
Afterward, she got Lincoln dressed while I bleached her bathtub. She didn’t protest, she just let me bleach her bathtub. I was so grateful for that.
When people come to my house, I have this weird compulsion to insist that they do nothing. Literally nothing. If the situation had been reversed, I might very well have insisted on bleaching it myself whle waving off all protests. This is not some kind of virtue, though. I will often refuse to let people help even when they say, frankly, that they feel uncomfortable watching me work so hard. I always just blow it off and say, “here, have some more wine!”
As I was wiping down her bathtub, I realized that I would have been not only embarrassed but humiliated if she had refused to let me bleach the bathtub. No mother wants to let someone else clean up her child’s poop if she is physically able to do it herself…it would be a dereliction of duty, plus it would be gross. Mothers are always a little desensitized to their own children’s bodily excretions, but that desensitization does not extend to other people’s children. Letting me bleach the tub was generously acknowledging that fact.
Plus, my compulsive desire to ensure that no guest of mine need ever lift a finger is actually a manifestation of vice, not virtue. It’s pride, not humility, that motivates me to gaily wave offers to help with the dishes as if it ain’t no thang, and then wearily stay up until 2 am doing them myself. It’s pride that compels me to insist to my dinner guests that “I have this covered” even when there’s smoke billowing alarmingly out of the oven and my finger is half sliced off and spurting blood.
Okay, maybe I’m overstating my case just a little. It may not be totally pride, or at least not pride in the sense that I want to be seen as utterly competent. More prideful in the way that I don’t want to burden others. And maybe that’s not actually pride, maybe that’s just a failure of charity.
Because it is, actually, charitable to let people help. It’s charitable to give them the opportunity to contribute. It’s charitable to accept and acknowledge their help.. And it’s charitable to let people clean up their own messes. Even God does that…He forgives us readily, but He doesn’t make the consequences go away. We still have to get on our hands and knees and mop that shit up.
And sometimes we have to make sure we bring our neighbor a bottle of wine, later.
For these and all other lessons I’ve learned through cleaning up poop, Deo gratias.