Sam is reluctant to poop. Every other day or so, he announces loudly and urgently that he needs to poop, usually in a desperate fast-paced shuffle towards the bathroom, while he’s reaching behind, clutching his butt. It’s such a frenzied scene that I’m always unsure whether to assist him in the bathroom or call 911.
Then, he sits on the toilet and declares, “No, there’s no poop in me.” He hops down and returns to playing, causing him to repeat that behavior thirty to sixty minutes later. For most of the day. And no, bribes don’t work. When Tighe’s home, he physically restrains Sam on the toilet seat and sometimes that works. Sometimes. And then we have to endure high-pitched screeching from the bathroom until he releases the first morsel of a bowel movement. Then he’s perfectly happy again, singing and talking to himself from the porcelain throne.
But a toddler—or an adult for that matter—can only avoid pooping for so long. And so, he’s pooped in many inconvenient places at inopportune times. Like the public library. Or at swim lessons. Or in the car on the way home from the pool. Even in the middle of the night, screaming and doing his butt-clutching shuffle the entire way to our bedroom.
Sam had been exhibiting his poop-averse performance all day last Friday, but I wasn’t worried because I felt like he was gradually getting better, more regular and confident, about the whole defecation procedure.
Tighe was away for the weekend, so like any good health-conscious parent, I told Nate and Sam I’d take them to McDonald’s for dinner. They really don’t eat anything there except the smoothies and since those claim to have fruit-related products in the ingredients, I’m happy to oblige. And they love the Playplace, even though this particular McDonald’s is one the dirtiest fast-food establishments I’ve ever been in. And I’ve been inside the one on York Road in Baltimore’s Govans neighborhood. For those of you unfamiliar with that one, ‘Baltimore’ should be clue enough.
I unpacked their smoothies and Happy Meals—so they’d have cheap plastic toys to shoot at me later—and parked myself at a table, prepared to check emails and Facebook and basically zone out for a while. Nate and Sam darted back and forth between the colorful slides and the table, taking small bites and sips.
It was still early in the dinner hour, and the place was almost empty—just a half dozen or so elderly people catching the early bird special, a 5 year-old girl scampering through the Playplace with Nate and Sam, and her mom seated a safe distance away.
Suddenly, I heard Sam’s “I’ve been wronged” screech. It’s piercing. Heads turned to identify the source of the sound as my eyes scanned the mesh netting looking for Sam.
“I need poop! I need poop!”
Oh, crap. Why didn’t I make him poop before we left the house? What was I thinking?
“Sam, come here right now!” I ordered. “Let’s go find the bathroom!”
I picked him up, though he was still shoeless and screeching about needing to poop, and carried him across the restaurant.
A Spanish-speaking family had just entered the restaurant, the mom corralling the six kids into the Playplace as she collected their dinner orders. They all paused to stare as I passed with my stinky son.
Once in the stall, I pulled down his pants to find a…hmm, a shitload? a ton? a lot? Let’s go with a LOT of poop in his underwear and caked in his butt cheeks. And it stunk, probably because it’d been decaying in his lower intestine for most of the day.
I dumped the remnants into the toilet and tried my best to scrub the skid marks off his cheeks and hamstrings with the soggy, disintegrating toilet paper I had amassed in my fists. The underwear was, in my opinion, unsalvageable—or at least not worth keeping in my purse while Nate and Sam finished their dinners—so I tossed them in a plastic bag and into the trashcan. I pulled his sweatpants back up, sprayed a little body spray in his crotch region and sent him back to play. Then I scrubbed my hands like I was Danny Tanner.
By the time I returned to the play area, at least three more kids had joined the growing gang, and Nate was running happily among them. And Sam, feeling lighter with emptied bowels, didn’t hesitate to rejoin the group. I made a mental note to give them a bath when we got home and returned to the company of my phone.
“I need poop! I need poop! I need poop!”
It came from the very top of the play structure.
He has got to be kidding me!
I saw him standing on the highest landing, grabbing his crotch with one hand and gripping his butt with the other. His face was red, covered in tears and snot.
Parents were peering upwards trying to determine which child was hurt. A group of children had surrounded Sam, some being nosy and others wanting to help this poor toddler.
Nate slid out the bottom of the slide as I marched past it, on my way to retrieve Sam.
“Come on, Nate, we have to leave!”
“Because Sam pooped his pants and this is technically a restaurant.”
I could hear the juvenile inquiries above me:
“Where’s your mom?”
And Sam screamed in reply to all of them: “NO! I want Erin! Erin, come up here!”
“What? Absolutely not. I’m not climbing all the way up there! Slide down the slide and I’ll catch you!”
“No, no, no, no, nooooooo!”
The 5 year-old girl who had befriended us earlier, scooted past me, heading up. “I’ll help him,” she reassured me.
“Okay, thanks,” I said dubiously.
I know enough Spanish to confirm that the Spanish-speaking family sitting behind me was talking about us. How could they not? Every single kid in the place had either climbed up to investigate Sam’s situation or was peering upwards while chomping down greasy fries. Except Nate. He had returned to his seat and was dunking a nugget in ketchup, his back to the giant playground.
“Sam, please come down here right now.”
Defeated, I began my climb, pushing my giant belly to the side as I pulled my legs and feet up to each subsequent level of the play structure. Why did they have to make it so high? The one at Chick-Fil-A is so accessible!
“Whoa! How’d you get up here?” one of the kids said, surprised to see an adult so high in the sky.
I grabbed Sam, clamping the waistband of his pants in case any poop might slip out during our descent.
“Nate, we’re leaving!” Still holding Sam over my shoulder, I threw their shoes into my bag, pitched trash and scraps of food into the trashcan, and convinced Nate to carry not only his own smoothie but Sam’s too.
Sam’s stench was already suffocating me, but I persevered and made it to the car. He was still screaming and could barely hear me telling him how mad I was that he hadn’t pooped in the toilet earlier in the day when I told him to.
We made it home where I deposited them into the tub and scrubbed them clean, which I would have done after any trip to a McDonald’s Playplace. I threw away his sweatpants and lit some scented pumpkin candles to remove the poop memories from my olfactory glands.
I put on a movie for them and sat down with my laptop as they took turns shooting me with their Happy Meal toys. I counted the seconds until bedtime, praying that I wouldn’t be awakened in the middle of the night with another urgent need to poop.