When Your Child Produces Dark, Foul, Adult-Style Excrement

UnderparentingAbout 20 minutes into his nap, the kid started crying. Naptime is usually pretty easy. This business about how little kids don’t understand they’re tired was always mysterious to me. My parents told me that when I was a toddler, I alarmed them by vanishing, having wandered off all on my own to sack out somewhere quiet with a pillow. Much to my pride and relief, the kid is the same way-if I don’t put him down for a nap, he’ll climb into bed on his own or flop down on the floor with a blanket. When you’re tired, you sleep. What’s so hard to understand?

Now, though, with the nap barely begun, something was wrong. I gave it a minute or two to see if the crying would subside. It got louder. He was not going back to sleep without some sort of intervention.

His bedroom door swung open before I got there. This is one of my favorite things he does, the door-opening. It’s simple for him to open it anytime, but he knows that when we’ve closed the door, he’s supposed to stay in his room. So when he lets himself out, it means he has solemnly considered the situation and decided to grant himself an exemption.

A lot of the time, his reasoning is pretty good. Before I even reached him in the doorway, I caught a whiff of poop in the air. This made sense: he hadn’t had one yet, so he probably got uncomfortable and crawled out of bed to work one out. It works better for him standing up. Why? Mysteries of the human body. Change him and get him back to sleep.


I reached around behind him, under his shirttail, to feel his diaper–a long-practiced, automatic movement, to see how big a job I was facing. My hand patted a bare bottom.

My brain shut down for a second or two, to reboot. There was…no diaper? I had put a nice fresh diaper on him before putting him down, because I was being thorough. I looked past the child, into the room. The diaper was dangling from the corner of the bed, hanging open, clean and white inside. I must have not quite sealed the tape on the flaps, so it caught on the edge of the mattress when he started climbing down. The diaper was accounted for.

As for what should have been inside the diaper: it was halfway between the diaper and the child, in the middle of the carpeted floor. It was solid and well shaped, about the size of a cacciatorino, and almost intact. One end was a little bruised, with smudgy yellowish footprints leading away from it.

Overall, in this business of child-having, the part about handling the shit has not been so bad. It is one thing–maybe the only thing–that has been less difficult than I would have thought. You get a long grace period at the beginning, in which the stuff that comes out the baby’s hind end is bafflingly inoffensive-smelling; only gradually, as solid foods come on, does it develop into anything like what comes out of your own intestines. Diaper technology is pretty good nowadays, and baby wipes…I’ll get back to baby wipes shortly.

And by the time your child has worked its way up producing to dark, foul, adult-style excrement, your fastidiousness has been worn away. Oh, no, the baby peed on me, I have to go change, the parent of the newborn says. Then comes the phase where you say, It’s only a little spot of pee, I’ll blot it up and keep going. After that comes, He already spit up on this shirt, so what’s a little pee? Finally, you can’t really remember what fluids may or may not have landed on you, and when. Think of this as fulfillment.

As long as it stays in the vicinity of the diaper, it stops being much of a concern at all. This is why I keep forgetting to start thinking about potty training. Do we really need to mess up the current arrangement and start making him crap in a special bucket? And, what, swab out the special bucket each time? Is that a better deal?

Obviously, you want to end up with a kid who goes off to the toilet and takes care of things himself. Eventually. In China, where he spent his first year and a half, kids are supposed to be trained around age one. But being trained means they run around in crotchless pants and squat down in the street when they feel the urge. All the time-at the park, at the zoo, at the Olympics-you’d see the graduates of this advanced training program, well past the toddler stage, peeing on a wall or a grate or a flowerbed, usually within five yards of a public restroom.

Everything in its proper place and time. Though this turd was neither. Still, I’d seen worse (gushing diarrhea, new white sheepskin rug). We corralled the kid and I got out the wipes.

The wipes! The wipes are unbelievable, magical, redemptive. They are 30 dozen sheets of divine mercy, packed in twin zipper-sealed bricks. The wipes will take food off the wall, pen off a book cover, dried snot off a coat sleeve. They will take hard, dusty grease off the kitchen cabinets. Poop is nothing. The smudgy footprints came right up. I disposed of the turd, and as I did so, I had a brief scato-Proustian childhood flashback to cleaning up after the family rottweilers. No big deal, then or now. You wipe, you blot, it comes out OK. We put him back to bed, and the nap resumed.

Tom Scocca’s first book, Beijing Welcomes You, is in the hands of his editor at Riverhead Books. He also writes intermittently at Tom Scocca dot com, and for newspapers and magazines. He would likely write for you, for money, if you have some. Ask him!

Previously: How To Treat The Screaming Magenta Two-Year-Old