Picture this. Early March 2014. I don’t know if it was being cooped up all winter with a newborn and a potty training toddler, or the unusually beautiful late winter weather we were having that day, but I decided to finally venture out of the house for the first time by myself (other than a quick trip to the doctor’s office or store) with both boys together. My oldest was nearing his third birthday, and my youngest was about six months old.
We went to the park. I had always loved taking my oldest to the park, watching as he learned to master new skills and played imaginatively with the other kids. On this particular day, we were the only ones at the park, but that was okay. After taking my youngest out of his carrier/car seat and lugging him in my arms (I somehow had two very large babies) while also holding my toddler’s hand during the super far walk from the parking lot to the playground, I was a little winded, but otherwise, we were doing well. My oldest ran off to play on the play scape while I pushed my youngest in the baby swing. I could hear my oldest giggle as he slid down the slide, and my youngest appeared content as I pushed him back and forth, back and forth. “This isn’t so hard,” I thought, “What have I been so afraid of?”
And then it came. “Mommy, I have to go poop.” The dreaded words of any newly potty trained child. Because “I have to go poop” does not simply mean “I have to go poop.” It really means, “I had to go poop twenty minutes ago, so THIS.IS.AN.EMERGENCY.”
Panic set in as I glanced around. In the far distance, I could see a portable potty, but could we make it in time with his little legs going as fast as they could?!? We had to try. I grabbed his hand and darted in that direction.
Shoot! The baby. Right. I must take the baby. But the baby cannot stand on his own. And his carrier is in my car, even farther in the other direction. We could never make it. I will have to hold the baby. But, wait. How then would I hold my oldest over the nasty toilet seat? Gasp. I can’t let him just sit on the toilet seat in a portable potty. Ok, we will put toilet paper down to cover the seat first. Yes, toilet paper! It’s not ideal, but it will suffice.
He tugged at my arm. “Mommy, I have to poop NOW!” I looked down at his panicked face. This was serious. And although all that planning I had done in my head was quite productive, we had not actually moved a single step in that direction.
And so, with my youngest still strapped in the baby swing, I took my oldest fifteen feet out of the way to a more secluded grassy area near the woods, where I pulled his pants down and let him poop in the grass. Afterwards, he went off to play completely un-phased. In fact, he thought pooping in the grass was kind of cool—like “camping and how the animals do it.”
But as I tried to bury his deposit with grass and leaves, a part of my previous self, the person I was before I had two insanely energetic little boys, the ‘Type-A, how-would-this-look-to-others, I am supposed to have my shit together (no pun intended)’ self, died. Right there. At the park that day.
Now, I know that there are some people who would 100% judge how I handled that situation—perhaps I should have preemptively also lugged a child size potty chair across the parking lot to the playground just in case. There are people who might even argue that I had no clue what I was doing – and they would not be entirely wrong.
But, as I walked back to resume pushing my youngest on the swing, again hearing my oldest giggling as he played, I thought, “Holy cow. That situation was rough, and I handled it. It wasn’t ideal, but we are all okay.”
That day in the park was a defining moment for me as a mother. It was the day that I stopped second-guessing my abilities; that I realized that I cannot control everything; the day that I stopped caring about how everything looked to other people. There had never been anything in life—not in my upbringing, not in my undergraduate and graduate education and training, not in my career—that had given me the confidence that I felt that day. It was the day that I recognized that life was harder and more complicated and messier now than it ever had been, but I could handle it. And I have.
Since that day over three years ago, raising my two boys has been challenging to say the least. They have done some of the most disgusting, embarrassing, outrageous things that one could even imagine. Before I had kids, I had this idea in my head of the well-behaved, calm, rule-following children that I was going to have … because that is who I am, and because that was how I was going to raise them. You know what I am talking about … Adults, only smaller. But God did not give me kids with the temperaments that I thought I wanted. Instead, he gave me normal kids, and it turns out, that is exactly what I needed; kids who taught me not to take myself or my life so seriously; who taught me to relax; to calm down instead of worrying about everything. I was blessed with kids. And because of that, I realized that I am not only as good as the things that I can practice over and over or the things that I can control.
And whenever I hear another mom share a watered down version of some horrifying parenting moment because she is embarrassed or questioning herself, I share the true, tell-all version of some of mine—because we are all in over our heads at times, we are all doing the best we can even when we fall short, and we are also all in this together.
There is beauty in even some of our worst parenting moments. I shared the above story once to some friends, and one of them asked, “…but weren’t you embarrassed?”
And, after thinking about it for a moment, I replied, “No. That was the day that I realized that I am a badass.”