When Pippin was a baby, every Monday, J would get home early from work and there would be a changing of the guard, where I’d fill him in on the day so far while I packed my dinner and work stuff and headed out the door. As I raced around the house gathering library books to return, a cardigan, my supper, we’d exchange information in bullet points. My day was good! It’s getting cold out there! Bonnie’s been fed and walked but didn’t poop! The baby probably needs a new diaper!
And at some point, J pointed out that a lot of these conversations centered around the pooping of various creatures. And that at one point in each of our lives, we only had to be concerned about our own personal pooping.
Fast forward, and now we worry about an aging dog, a (mostly!) potty trained three-year-old, and a baby fast developing a taste for solid foods. I spend a lot of time changing diapers, carrying plastic bags around the park, and removing unsavory stains from articles of clothing.
Let’s just say, it’s not anyone’s favorite part of grown-up life.
And it’s optional, of course. If I’d played my cards differently, I might have gotten another fifty years where my poop and only my poop was my private business. That’s the way a lot of us do it now.
But the way I see it, historically, that’s an anomaly. The world used to be a lot more community-based and a lot more hierarchical. If you weren’t concerned with the nourishment and cleanliness of a whole household, then probably, someone was tasked with worrying about yours. Maybe you lived as a nobleman in a castle and had to worry about the sanitation of, I don’t know, the moat, and keeping everyone fed and plague-free in a siege. Maybe you lived in a little sod hut on the prairie with your five children and your chickens and your cow, Hilda, and things got pretty ripe in the long winter months, you all squeezed in together. (But then, I may just be traumatized by stupid Giants in the Earth.)
Sometimes it’s easy to think I shouldn’t have to deal with all this, well, shit. I MADE GOOD GRADES, I sniff to myself with intolerable snobbishness. I could maybe outsource some of the diapers and cold weather walks to daycare, doggy and otherwise, although I’m coming up short on someone who would tackle the most harrowing of the laundry issues.
We are burdens to each other, and rightfully so, in the beginning and end of our lives, if not, sometimes, in the middle. As an old First Things piece argues, “Is this not in large measure what it means to belong to a family: to burden each other—and to find, almost miraculously, that others are willing, even happy, to carry such burdens?”
None of us likes to think of the disgusting, lowly things someone did for us when we were babies, or even worse, the humbling care we might require at the end of our lives. We as a culture want to opt out and pretend we are exempt. But you know, I feel a sort of kinship with all those blessedly crowded folks from long ago, who I’d imagine as I stomped my feet to keep warm while Bonnie took ages to find the perfect pooping spot, out there on the edge of the cold, moonlit New England woods. It is the humblest act of loving someone, a privilege with which I’m entrusted by those little weirdos in my care. I hope I’m up to the task.