Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Every Parent Has to Pull Plastic Wrap Out of a Kid’s Butt at Some Point. Or Not.

Ha! That got your attention didn’t it!

I did not actually pull plastic wrap out of my daughter’s butt. It was a piece of sautéed spinach. But in so doing, I had a freaky sense not of revulsion – as would be appropriate for any non-parent – but of déjà vu.

When I was in graduate school, living on a graduate stipend roughly the size of a postage stamp (a reasonably large postage stamp as far as these things go, but still), I did some odd jobs to earn extra cash. In later years, I found out that I could loan my brain to science for $25/hour and all I had to do was lie perfectly still in an MRI scanner for 3-4 hours listening to the radio and looking at pictures. The only downside was that I lad to lay off 24-ounce lattes for a few hours beforehand – a lesson I learned the hard way during my very first scan. I only had one more series of tasks to complete for a researcher I respected, when I realized that I needed a bathroom, and fast. To add insult to my mortification I had to squeeze a little horn to alert the researcher to my sorry state – the kind kids and clowns have on their bicycles - and despite her pleading that I just try to stick out the last fifteen minutes, I ended up begging to be wheeled down the hall to the restroom. To this day, that little horn mocks me and I have no interest in going to the circus.

But I digress.

Before I learned that I could earn big money ($75!) for relatively no effort, I had a brief career as a house and dog sitter. Housesitting is like going grocery shopping with a two year old. It seems like a much better idea when you aren't actually doing it. In my fantasy, I would get paid to trade my tiny studio apartment for a weekend spent in luxury. Sleeping on someone else's high thread count sheets! Plundering their gourmet pantry! Watching movies on their premium cable! The main problem with this plan was that the people for which I house-sat did not share my definition of luxury.

Although they gallantly urged me to “help myself to anything in the refrigerator,” all I found was a mostly-expired selection of condiments. They didn’t have cable. Their sheets were approximately as scratchy as my own.

And then there was the dog.

The dog was an aging basset hound named Winston. Or Rufus. The name is irrelevant. Either one perfectly captures the whimsical melancholy of that particular breed. Basset hounds still strike me as a kind of evolutionary experiment: an animal designed by children’s flip book with that low, long body like a sausage barely propped up on those floppy banana feet, ears flapping around like a miniature elephant, staring up at you with those surprisingly deep and doleful eyes.

The owners warned me that the dog “drooled.” They also cautioned me not to leave food near the edge of the kitchen counters, because Rufus – or Winston – could stand up on his hindquarters and pillage anything on the first 8-12 inches. This seemed improbable considering that Winston – or Rufus – could barely make it up the stairs, but dog owners love to exaggerate their pet's prowess.

What the owners failed to explain was that basset hound “drool” is actually a thick white mucous that clings to everything it touches in sticky threads, kind of like opaque egg whites. My first thought when I saw it was “rabies.” My second was “gross.”

In additional to incessant “drooling” Winston (we’ll still with this name from now on) also had a habit of licking lotion off my legs. I’d be sitting in the kitchen eating pickles, or expired cocktail onions, wondering if it made sense to blow the day’s earnings on delivery pizza, and all of a sudden I would feel some warm, moist, sandpaper working its way around my ankle.

I stopped wearing lotion. Turned out Winston liked sweat equally well. It was summer in St. Louis. It was an old house with an ancient air conditioning system. Sweat was a unavoidable part of life. I took to hiding out from Winston. But I felt badly about it. Who among of us isn’t a slave to some annoying habit? I resolved to be nicer, and promised Winston a nice long walk after lunch on our final day together.

Lunch that day consisted of a block of aged white cheddar cheese that I had found in the back of a crisper drawer and wasn’t too terribly past the use-by date. It was packaged in wax and for some reason the homeowners had also added about three feet of plastic wrap. I set it on the countertop – at least 12 inches from the edge – and went to the pantry to look for some crackers.

When I came back the cheese was gone. Rufus – whoops! I mean, Winston, - was standing there looking up at me with those innocent, imploring eyes. Once again I contemplated his physiology. It seemed physically impossible that he could have a.) reached the cheese and b.) consumed it in its entirety in the time I was gone.

I searched the kitchen thoroughly for the missing cheddar: the floor under the table, the silverware drawers, back to the fridge, even the pantry in case I had mistakenly carried it with me. No luck. Winston looked at me, giving away nothing but drool. 

We started out for our walk but it was brutally hot. I explained to Winston we would have to wait until after dinner, when it was cooler, and let him out in the backyard to do his business while I washed up the dishes from my simple cracker luncheon.

As I watched out the window above the sink, I saw Winston pooping. Thank you for that parting gift, sweet Winston! But instead of dragging himself around on his butt – the dog equivalent of toilet paper – Winston turned around and started sniffing, and then attacking, and then eating whatever he had just come out of his butt.

Well, this was something new.

For a minute I was paralyzed with horror, but then I did what any non-dog owner would do: completely freaked out. I ran out the back door waving my arms yelling “stop stop stop stop!” Winston saw me, immediately panicked and started running away to prevent me from confiscating whatever he hadn’t finished re-consuming. It looked suspiciously like several feet of plastic wrap.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I had a few more functioning brain cells in those days than I do now, and when I put two and two together, I figured out that the plastic wrap must have come from the cheese. And then from Winston's butt. Even better, it must still smell delicious, like cheddar. Hence it's immediate - and requisite - re-consumption.

I knew what this meant: no more unsupervised pooping for Winston. He seemed to know this as well when we headed out for his evening walk with less than the usual drag in his step.

We were about halfway down the block when Winston settled himself into the universal dog-pooping stance. I stood ready to pounce with a plastic grocery bag. You know how the saying goes: eat your own poop once, shame on you. Eat your own poop twice, shame on me.

And sure enough, the plastic wrap emerged. But before the full measure was ejected, it got stuck. I mean, it was a lot of plastic wrap, even for a lot of dog. I stepped in to help, grabbing the end and pulling on it as Winston scooted away.

A friend of mine had come over for moral support and was along on the walk. As he watched me dispose of the twice-digested plastic wrap he said, “Wow. You’re going to be a really good mom some day.”

That sort of took me aback. My first thought was that if I EVER had to pull three feet of plastic wrap out of my kid’s butt, then that would probably make me the opposite of a good mom. However, I now know from my own experience, and that of friends, that you find all sorts of things in your kid's diapers – stickers, plastic googly eyes, hair, rocks, even parts of pinecones and pennies (not my kid, but apparently true). Red construction paper is particularly freaky because it looks like blood.

But so far, we have avoided plastic wrap. Spinach and hair has been the worst of it.

Still, I am reluctant to think that this makes me a good mother.
Last week I dropped my daughter off at the gym daycare after a nutritious breakfast of french fries, jelly beans, and princess gummy vitamins. Yesterday night, I explained to my daughter how we don't throw things - as I was throwing the empty cup of water she had just dumped on the floor across the kitchen into the sink. This morning we started the day with her walking around with a cold hot dog straight out of the package in each hand, eating them "on the cob" like corn. (Hey, it was her request - and those little bites keep it from being a choking hazard! Score!)

Needless to say, I am not the parent I thought I would be.

But perhaps I am too hard on myself? If she ever eats the plastic packaging on those hot dogs, I am all over it, shopping bag at the ready.

No comments:

Post a Comment