Warning: If you aren't a parent and have no intention of becoming one, read no farther. The following contains information you don't want to know, wouldn't understand, and are in no way equipped to stomach.
There. Now that the pantywaists among you have moved on to the Puzzle page, we can discuss some of the everyday details of child rearing you never read about in polite publications--or this newspaper.
For example, you don't realize how much parenthood has transformed you until your gag reflexes are tested by things like this: I recently went to give my three-year- old son a good-night kiss and, just as our lips met, he threw up. I'm not talking about dainty baby-spit. I'm talking about a full-scale re-creation of Linda Blair's dampest scenes from The Exorcist.
Not long ago, my reaction to such an event would have been to scream in disgust between dry heaves while racing to the shower. But as all new parents soon discover, when it's your own poor sickly flesh and blood doing the projectile vomiting, the picture changes entirely. As I stood there with my son's dinner dripping from my beard, my first thought was something along the line of, "Oh, my own poor, sickly flesh and blood!" My second thought was, "Where's the thermometer?" My third thought was, "I hope we've got clean sheets." That's how my dad brain clicked until he was fast asleep. And even then, I was more preoccupied with his condition than with hosing off.
Amazing. Especially since I've yet to recover from my one and only childhood trauma, inflicted by a neighbor brat who spit in my hair. Naturally, as anyone would, I screamed in disgust between dry heaves and raced to the shower. And the memory still revolts me. So prior to fatherhood, if someone had told me, "One day, someone will vomit in your face and you won't mind," I wouldn't have believed him. Even if he'd said the vomiter would be a close relative.
Nor could I have been convinced there'd come a time when I'd regularly volunteer to hold a Kleenex up to somebody else's nose, and that this person would regularly blow, miss the Kleenex entirely, and give me a handful of semifluid that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger scream in disgust between dry heaves while racing to the shower. Or that the cry "I'm done!" would compel me to stop whatever I was doing, make a beeline for the commode, and swab up after someone else's personal business. But not only do moms and dads think nothing of dealing with their child's southernmost eliminations, they become, in the early stages of parenthood, positively obsessed with the subject. Every diaper load is regarded as an up-to-the-minute health report. The color, size, shape, amount, odor, consistency and frequency tell them if they should be speeding toward the family pediatrician or relaxing until the next state-of-the-bowels bulletin.
Here's how bad it can get. In homes without babies, the average husband-wife conversation goes something like this:
"Honey! I'm home!"
"Hello, dear. How was your day at the office?"
"It was hell. Boy, am I glad to be home. Where's the TV Guide, blah blah blah . . . "
Throw a baby into that scenario--a baby that can be asleep, in another room --and it unfolds like this:
"Honey! How's his poop?"
"Well, it's a little dark."
"How dark? Burnt-almond dark or antique-brown dark?"
"Oh, I'd say darker than antique brown, but lighter than burnt almond. Closer to cafe au lait, easy on the lait."
"Hmmm. What color was it yesterday? Wasn't it sort of raw sienna?"
"I thought it was more of a Sicilian umber."
"Geez. I hope it's milk-chocolate by tomorrow morning. Is he asleep?"
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"Let's wake him up. Maybe if we bounce him around a little, he'll poop again."
These dialogues are not limited to the privacy of home and hearth. They take place everywhere fledgling moms and dads go, no matter who's in their company. And you can hardly blame them. Their babies have become their world, and poop monitoring has become their profession. They no longer have hobbies or outside interests or friends. Until the successful completion of toilet training, nothing else matters.
This may explain why people with babies are rarely invited anywhere. Who wants to host a party where half the guests are comparing the irregularities of their offsprings' lower-intestinal output, and the other half are screaming in disgust between dry heaves while racing to the shower?
It's a lonely business, parenting.