Jack surprised me again today. Not surprisingly, it had to do with poop. As the father of a five month old, my life often seems to revolve around it. I fear it, smell it, clean it up, try my best to keep his feet out of it while changing his diaper, and due to our use of cloth diapers, I find myself spending every other day rinsing it out of said diapers and their covers. My wife and I are constantly discussing it: Did he poop? Is he going to poop? What if he poops while we are here? What if he poops while we are there? Do we really need to get used to multiple poop days? Will we ever talk about anything else besides poop?
It really does become quite consuming; it also becomes second nature. Like the book says, “Everyone Poops.” It’s just that when you have to deal with the poop of another on a daily basis that you really have to think about it aside from when you’re the one doing it. It’s not fun. I’ve almost thrown up onto my son’s face at least a half dozen times while changing him. The shit demons that he has expelled in his young life rival anything I’ve seen in my 32 years, even with the internet and its variations of “2Girls1Cup”. You just have to hold your breath, smile, and get used to it, not that you really ever will. Sometimes the poop will surprise you.
You will find yourself surprised about the color, the consistency, the explosiveness, and of course, the smell. You’ll be surprised when it’s absent, and even more so when it’s actually there and you didn’t expect it. You may be most surprised when it has somehow leaked out and gotten places you never thought it could, an especially dangerous situation when it involves a car seat and a seven hour drive. Today, I was surprised by a turd. Yes, an actual solid turd. For some reason, I blame the carrots, he transitioned from “peanut butter pudding surprise” to Mr. Hankey. I couldn’t have been more surprised if it had put on a Santa hat and started dancing. However, I was more surprised that I felt proud. Proud over poop. What the hell is happening to me?
Thankfully, not all of our surprises involve poop, some involve movements of different sorts. One day last week, Jack took a step forward, literally. Sure, he was in his walker, but until a week ago, all he could pull off was a jerking backwards jump walk. Then came the ghost bag. My parents recently visited from Chicago and brought Jack, among other things, a felt Trick or Treat bag in the form of a ghost. You can press a hidden button and the eyes will flicker red and the bag emits a sinister chuckle. For some reason, Jack loves it more than anything but food. Like everything else he touches, he wants to immediately stick it into his mouth. Unlike everything else he touches, he was willing to walk towards it across the kitchen linoleum to grab it off the handle of the door leading to our stairwell.
What I’ve learned over the past five months is that sometimes these physical advancements can be a total fluke. He rolled over for the first time weeks before he would replicate the feat. He laughed his first glorious laugh during a bath on August 13th and didn’t so much as giggle again until mid-September. However, this time, his forward steps were actually that. We have even gotten him to walk to us on occasion, but it helps if you’re holding the ghost bag. He’s a drooling zombie with arms flailing and stretched out over the front walker tray’s row of toys, grabbing at chunks of air. His eyes wide with anticipated focus. It’s really quite remarkable, and it looks fucking exhausting.
Who thinks about walking? We do it like we breathe, right? But the intense concentration on his face every time he attempts to take a step is enough to drain me, nonetheless his fragile, evolving nervous system. Movies and television shows are chock full of scenes where police officers chase suspects on rooftops or the tops of moving train cars. People brace themselves and take leaps of faith each time they jump from roof to roof or car to car; using a combination of concentration and physical exertion. Imagine the thought process that would be involved to maneuver yourself to safety.
Or, imagine taking a field sobriety test while drunk on a sub-zero Winter night. Each shaky step on the yellow line keeping you a step out of trouble. Now imagine that every step you take in your average day takes just as much concentration and bravery as jumping from moving train cars or across city buildings or keeping your balance while hammered and watched by cops while freezing your ass off. That’s got to be what it’s like for a five month old to propel themselves forward with the aid of a harness seat and some little plastic wheels. It probably only gets harder from here, until it becomes easy, and eventually he’ll do it without even thinking about it. I wonder if he’ll still like the ghost bag? I wonder what his next object of desire that sparks another little advancement will be? The little advancements seem to happen every day.
In fact, on the same day as those first forward steps in the walker, baby Jack Houdini escaped from his baby swing. I was warming up a bottle in the kitchen listening to his whining when suddenly it got quiet. Often, this can mean that he found something to stare at, but this time it meant nothing but trouble. It was my first lesson in silence equaling mischief. I walked into the dining room with the warmed up breast milk and noticed Jack quiet and content sitting under the swing with one hand still clutching the base and half his head still resting on the bottom of the seat. He looked at me with a suspicious stare; half confused and half triumphant. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I see that look.
The two events happening on the same day elicited a multitude of warnings from family members concerning the need to start strapping him in to whatever baby device we may place him on or in, and even a suggestion to lower his crib mattress so he wouldn’t start climbing out.
“Really? He can’t even sit up on his own for more than a few minutes, is he really going to start climbing out of his crib?” I responded to my Mother as I brushed off these suggestions for the time being, though knowing full well that soon enough I’d hear the infamous “I told you so.” Sure I was being unnecessarily stubborn, but I just didn’t see him climbing anything anytime in the next two weeks.
“He’s just like your little sis,” my Mom continued, “she climbed out of everything.” She said this with a tone that conveyed a knowing frustration and then relayed a story from when I was about 3 or 4 and accidentally on purpose locked her out of the house while my sister was in her high-chair. “You said ‘Ha Ha Mommy’ and slammed the door on me while I stepped outside for a brief second,” she continued, “then you couldn’t open the door and you were both trapped inside while Amy was in the high-chair. I was so scared that I had to call the police and fire department.”
My sister, apparently quite the escape artist in her infancy, wasn’t in the high-chair for long, having climbed out, down a flight of stairs, up a couch, and onto a bay window seat to wave at my freaked out mom peering in from outside. I vaguely remember this happening. My only memory of the situation being a fireman telling me I shouldn’t shut the door when my mom was outside and teaching me how to unlock it if I did. I could only imagine how embarrassed my mom was. I feel bad now, but it is kind of funny, and I’m sure it was even more hilarious at the time to my toddler sense of humor.
“See, everything turned out okay,” I said, smirking into my cell phone while wiping some drool off of Jack’s face. “He’ll learn,” I continued, knowing full well what she was thinking and what she would say next.
“No Jaybird, you’ll learn, and hopefully not the hard way,” she unsurprisingly responded.
I will learn. I know this. Sometimes the hard way, but hopefully the easy way, if there is even such a thing. All I know is that I seem to learn something everyday, just like my little Jackie boy. It’s a never ending parade of firsts, and I’m just happy to be along for the ride…even if it gets a little poopy sometimes.