The pee soaks into the carpet, and I cry. I cry tears of frustration because it was so preventable and unnecessary, and I feel like I have failed my child.
I feel like this failure, tonight, is just the latest failure of parenting in a long string of failures that if laid end to end, point back in time in a straight line from first laying eyes on my future kid’s mother’s apartment and thinking I shouldn’t get involved with her because depressed people’s houses look like this to sitting in front of a piano in an otherwise empty house, drunk, listening to While My Guitar Gently Weeps and deciding to marry her because I was afraid I’d never meet anyone who wanted to be with me.
That was a bad decision on top of being dumb.
I cry, and my seven year-old comes and gives me a hug and tells me that’s he sorry, and that’s everything’s going to be okay. This makes me cry harder, because a seven year-old shouldn’t have to comfort a forty-eight year-old, so I pull myself together, kiss him on the head, tell him I’m okay, and head upstairs to check on his brother in the shower, and when I get there I discover he’s covered in shit because he’s shit himself in the shower, again, and I start to cry again, because I’m so tired of the shit.
He was late to potty training, and he was almost potty trained when something went wrong somewhere. My ex and I traced it back to a car trip he took with his aunt, ex-uncle, and cousin to visit my ex’s and her sister’s family in Nebraska. He just started shitting his pants. We had heard that his ex-uncle had berated him for wetting himself in the car and then it sounded like it spiraled down from there, with the ex-uncle forcing him into the bathroom when he didn’t want to or need to go.
Years later when reading about encopresis, I learned that it often starts with withholding behavior, and I can see my son trying not to go to avoid being yelled at by my ex-brother-in-law. Eventually, the body has to go, no matter how hard you try to keep it in and it blows out, or it squeezes past the impaction. Kids often are confused or feel shame and they hide their shit when this happens.
The ex and I found shit under his bed, in the closet, smeared on walls and doors, and in drawers. At preschool, he hid it on bookshelves, under desks, and in his backpack.
The physical denial of it often starts to twine with psychological denial, and if you’ve ever had a kid, you know their poop face. It’s the signal to get them to the bathroom pronto.
So I’d see my kid’s poop face, and try to get him to the bathroom and he’d deny he needed to go while shit leaked down his leg, over his socks, into his shoes and onto the carpet, the linoleum, the wood floor, the concrete sidewalk, the wood shavings at the park, the grass in the back yard, or wherever we happened to be. The encopresis specialist the ex and I had taken him to showed us the x-ray of the impaction and instructed us on the protocols for clean-out, (stimulant laxatives, stool softeners, mineral oil,) and maintenance, (stool softeners, regular toilet sits,) and we tracked his shit against the Bristol Stool Chart. I even wrote a mobile app and brought in spreadsheets with the collected data for checkups.
Then when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s a bit before he was six, I learned that encopresis and autism had high co-morbidity. It also helped explain why he might not have been clueing into what his body was telling him. Knowing all this and doing everything I was capable of still hasn’t stopped the shit from being a big part of my life.
It was still on the walls and floors. It was still in the laundry. It was still the ex and I getting calls from the first grade teacher to come and take him home from school to get cleaned up. It was still going places geared up with wipes and extra clothes and the anxiety of worry around how an accident could throw a monkey wrench into our plans.
It was helping him get cleaned up and changed in small, dirty public bathrooms, on sides of roads, at friend’s and family’s houses, and in locker rooms. It was cursing because I’d run out of wipes, or forgotten extra socks, or going through the third extra pair of underwear for the day and not having any more, or he’d not be paying attention and throw his shit-covered clothes in the bag before pulling out the clean clothes. It was driving home early because he’d gotten it in his hair and needed a shower, or he’d shit himself again immediately after changing and it was clear it was going to be one of those days. It was him sitting on paper and plastic bags or a towel on the car ride home, half-naked. It was winter, and having to choose between driving with the windows down and freeze or fight the gorge in my throat from the smell. It was summer, and fighting the gorge in my throat from the smell even with the windows down because the sun on the plastic bag the clothes were wrapped in cooked the soiled clothes into a humid, fetid stew in the back of the car that nothing could contain.
Incrementally, there was progress. There were days he had no accidents and there was much rejoicing. We all got better at reading his signals, and averted disasters here and there. As my youngest aged, the ex and I used to joke that he would be potty trained before his older brother. It wasn’t funny when that turned out to be the case, even though we were both relieved to be down to just one child that required attention in the fecal department.
Second grade was a disaster. We had moved to a new town, to be nearer to my ex sister-in-law so she could help out, (she didn’t much,) and for better schools. The better school with its progressive special-education class had a teacher new to special education who was a germaphobe, as was the principal. My son quickly learned this, and used it to his advantage to get out of doing work he didn’t want to do.
He didn’t want to do math? He shit himself and she called us to come get him from school to get cleaned up. He didn’t want to do the project of the day? Same thing. When he acted out, they’d put him in the isolation room. The first time I sprung him from there, it was a carpeted room with carpet on the walls to help deaden sound. By the time that school year ended, they had ‘upgraded’ it to linoleum floors that wrapped a few inches up the walls, put padding on the walls that could be wiped down, and put an angled mirror up near the ceiling so they could see right the previous blind spot in front of the other side of the door.
One time I went to retrieve him, he was in there crouched naked on the floor, a pool of urine and a pile of feces next to him. He had smeared some of the shit on the walls. It reminded me of reading about political prisoners protesting in prison.
He was angry, very angry. I had to wrap him in a blanket to keep his windmilling arms from hitting me as I took him to the car, and then he locked himself in the car. Once I unlocked the car, he bolted, and I had to chase my naked and angry, shit-covered kid through the elementary school parking lot.
Third grade was better at a new school in a different town, fourth was pretty good when he returned back to our town at a different school, and this year is too early to call.
But time and again, it comes back to shit.
Shit that must be picked up, scrubbed off, and wiped down. Surfaces to be sanitized, laundry to be bleached, clothes to be thrown away, and underwear treated as disposable, single-use objects.
Things have gotten better on this front, they really have. Very rarely is shit hidden or smeared any more. When he has an accident at school, he has a shower and change routine, well-practiced from home.
But tonight, tonight I cried. I haven’t been able to keep up. The kid’s bathroom is dirty and I have no energy to clean it. Showers have increased in frequency again with the new school year and I haven’t been able to keep up with the towels. And now the carpet needs cleaning, again. I own a portable carpet cleaner and a stand up carpet cleaner and that’s what tonight’s mess will need, but I remembered that the last time I tried to use it, it didn’t work so I’ll have to fix that before I can really clean the carpet.
That made me remember that I’d also forgotten to call my real estate agent back about a question he had about listing the condo that’s been costing me $900 a month and that made me remember that I forgot to email the transgender care coordinator at my insurance company about a pre-approval I’ve been trying to get for over a year and that made me remember that I forgot to call the last encopresis specialist we saw for a counseling referral for my son and that reminded me that I forgot to call my bank about my mortgage payment that turned out to be short because they’re charging me for insurance that I forgot to pay for and that reminded me that I meant to get some cash today to pay my kids their allowance and that reminded me that we still needed to go to the store so there was food for breakfast and that reminded me that I needed to pack some extra clothes for my son to take to school to change into if he has another accident and that reminded me that tomorrow I have to drive to work because I’m leaving early to go meet my tax accountant to find out if I’m getting a refund or owe money for last year and that reminded me that I have an early meeting to be at where my program area is reviewed as one of many and that made me think that I need to dress up a bit tomorrow and that reminded me that I’m short on clothes to wear because I haven’t been able to keep up with the laundry and that reminded me that I feel like I’ve hardly been able to say hi to my friends let alone see them because I can’t even stay on top of my own shit and that reminded me of all the other things still yet to be done that need to be done like the gutters, the oil change, cleaning the garage, and exercising.
And it all just hit me, hard.
It hit me how overwhelmed I’ve felt this past year being a single mom who works full-time. How my regular job is ending in less than three weeks and I’m terrified that I won’t be able to earn enough as a freelancer to pay my bills and how I’ll be on the hook for health insurance. How schools and teachers have processes and expectations built entirely around the assumption that kids have two parents that live in the same house, that one does not work, that one is the mom and one is the dad, and that there are no siblings.
Forms come home from school with fields labeled, “Mother’s Name” and “Father’s Name” and a single address line and I don’t know what to do with that. It’s realizing parent’s night for your kids are on the same night at the same time at different schools and having to coordinate with my ex on which schools which of us will attend and only realizing a week later that she didn’t tell me some important stuff about homework.
Overwhelmed is getting to work late and leaving early when I have my kids and having those days be non-stop and only getting 5 hours of sleep a night. Overwhelmed is saying you have a hard stop at 4 PM so you can be home by 5:30 to pick up your kids from daycare to a room full of 35 people, including the senior leadership team, right before a major project review and getting the, “are you fucking kidding me?” looks from some of them and wondering how much of you being asked to resign is the fact that you have kids that you have to be there for.
And then there’s my recent transition and everything that has come with that. And finally finalizing my divorce. And going through an intense love affair that ended painfully. And my aunt dying last month.
But there’s the pee on the carpet tonight. And I know how much shit is up in the bathroom that will need cleaning. And my youngest is hugging me, hugging me tight, asking me if I’d like to read to him because he knows I love doing that, or playing chess with me because he knows I love that too, and we played chess instead of reading because I always read to him at bedtime.
He taught me a new chess game while his brother was in the shower, monster chess, that I’d never played before, and we battled to a draw. He told me he went easy on me, and I know he did. A draw is as good as a win in some cases, so I took it from my precocious seven year-old.
He saw me smile as we played, and he said, “See, I knew this would cheer you up!”
And it did, it did cheer me up. It also killed me, because I feel like I’m falling apart and failing everyone around me. But I can’t fall apart, because I have to deal with all the shit in my life. And I can’t fail, because people are depending on me.
But fucking hell, I’m sick of all the shit.