“You just learn to read the cues,” Emma elaborated on the air. “He squirms or makes a face, and I know it’s time to pee him.” No, no, no, I thought. Don’t say, “pee him.” I blushed deeply, as though I were somehow responsible for my friend’s ca-ca-mania.
I didn’t want to listen to crazy talk about baby poop on The Leonard Lopate Show. But I made no move to turn the dial. Emma is, after all, my oldest friend. I’ve known her since birth (our mothers were friends before us), and she has generally maintained an advantage over me on the developmental curve: being born, learning to read, getting married, adopting a shelter dog, having a kid. She was the first in my circle to embrace vegetarianism, yoga, meditation and holistic meds. All that is practically mainstream now. Emma is a forward thinker. But when she became a mother, her forward-thinking rocketed into a whole other stratosphere – the loopy-sphere. Yet, clearly she wasn’t alone. She was talking to Lenny Lopate about her baby’s crap, and he was listening.
The guest expert on the radio, a kind-sounding woman with a Midwestern accent, touted other benefits of EC: no diaper rash; no landfills crammed with toxic swaddling. She explained that babies in many other places never wore diapers, such as in parts of Africa, China and India. They had splits in their pants so they could squat by the side of the road, no big deal. My husband, who had wandered back into the living room at this point, snorted. “Those kids don’t have indoor plumbing either.”
“It sounds like a big commitment,” Lopate said. “What about accidents?” Emma’s voice came back on the air. “Sometimes you miss,” she said. “If you miss, you miss! It’s not the end of the world.”
A few weeks later, somewhat against our better judgment, my husband and I rented a vacation house with Emma, her husband and Thor. Our collection of dogs – three of them in all – came, too. In time, we got used to seeing Thor run around in nothing but a T-shirt, Donald Duck style. Occasionally he’d wear snap-on underpants that could be removed quickly – and, if it was cold, colorful leggings that reached the tops of his chubby thighs. “Those leggings are going to haunt that kid,” my husband said the first time he saw them. Usually, though, Thor went bare-bottomed.
At any given moment, he was being dangled over a shrub in the yard (“He loves to go outside,” cooed Emma) or coaxed into a squat behind a truck. Sssss. Emma seemed to have an unlimited reservoir of energy to devote to Thor’s digestive system. She also appeared to possess a direct link to his elimination needs, never missing a beat or tiring of the routine: notice “pee face” or “poopy face” on baby, pick baby up, bring baby to receptacle, gutter I was seeing things I didn’t want to see, frequently.or bush, hold baby in position, aim, wait for result, clean up, set baby free to continue pushing the lock button on friend’s $200 car key.
I was seeing things I didn’t want to see, frequently, and it was exhausting. But I said nothing, choosing instead to exchange condescending glances with my husband each time Emma or her husband whisked Thor off for his eighteenth al fresco piss of the day. Thor’s emissions drew attention from the dogs, too, not surprisingly, but they seemed to lose interest after a while, accepting him as another, hairless, member of the pack.
One afternoon, Thor was kicking it around the vacation-house living room, wearing just the T-shirt. He tagged the chair holding his mother, hit the couch occupied by my husband and me, then skirted the dogs lying on the floor to reach the entertainment unit in the corner. He waved the remote control above his head, squealing and pushing buttons.
“I have a bad feeling,” my husband muttered.
“Don’t worry,” I whispered. “Emma never misses his cues.”
Thor had just made his sixth or seventh circuit of the living room, slapping the television with a cry of delight, when, abruptly, a turd appeared on the floor. It looked as substantial as the piles dropped by our dogs every day. Only, this pile was in the living room, and it had come from Thor.
“Oops!” Emma said, and shot out of her chair so fast that she and Thor had disappeared into the bathroom before I could blink. “I’ll get that in a sec!” she called through the door. But I went ahead and fetched a dog baggie and disposed of it myself. It wasn’t all that different from picking up dog poop on a walk. I held my breath, didn’t look too hard, and it was done.
A few minutes later, Emma and Thor emerged, both looking slightly sheepish. “Thanks for doing that,” Emma said. I felt a surprising rush of affection for my friend. “No problem,” I said. I realized I meant it.
Now, our vacation is over. But my husband and I can’t seem to stop talking about the turd on the floor. Friends ask, “How was your vacation?” and we tell them about Thor’s sudden deposit, and how fast Emma moved, but how it was way too late. “There was no sign,” I say. “It just happened!” “I knew it would happen,” my husband says proudly. He uses the word “pantsless” when referring to Thor. “We lived with a pantsless kid,” he says. “The inevitable occurred.”
Hearing this story, another of my friends, herself a mother to a toddler, emails me the following: “Potty-training a previously-diapered child also involves lots of poop on the floor. Alec has left turds on his bedroom rug, the hallway, and worstWho’s to say Emma isn’t on to something good with the no-diaper philosophy? of all, while taking a bath, which sounds like it would be more hygienic but is actually a total disaster.”
Then, I see a parenting blog that reads, “People with no children read about people with children to make judgments. They love saying, ‘If that was me, I wouldn’t do that. I’d be perfect.’ I used to do the same thing. Now I know better.”
This all starts me thinking about my own propensity to judge my friend. Anyone can see that Thor is one very happy kid. Who’s to say Emma isn’t on to something good with the no-diaper philosophy, just as she has been so many other times? If I have a baby someday, maybe, just maybe, I’ll find myself forgoing diapers for a prompt word. Given how I used to feel about picking up dog poop before I got a dog, or how I used to feel about being married before I got a husband, anything is possible.
Whatever the case, I hope I will remember Emma’s wisdom. If you miss, you miss. It’s not the end of the world.